First Sunday of Lent – C – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2013                                                                                            First Sunday of Lent – C

Deuteronomy 26:4–10
Romans 10:8–13
Luke 4:1–13

 In each of the readings today, we hear a profession of faith. We hear someone professing their belief in God or the Lord Jesus. On the First Sunday of Lent this year it is a creed, a profession of faith that is put before our gathering.

 In the book of Deuteronomy we find ourselves at a liturgy. Someone has come with the first fruits from the land. They are offering it to the Lord God. But as they present their offering to the priest, they must also recite the creed. But the creed is really a recounting of events. It is the story of how God guided and protected their people. How God did not abandon them in Egypt. This creed goes on to professes a faith in a God who heard their cry, who actively listened to his people. That listening led to a response, a bringing out of his people from slavery and oppression into a land that he himself gave them. It is from the gift of this land that these first fruits have come.

 What is the center of this profession of faith? What is at the heart of this story? It is God first being attentive to the cry of his own and then using his power and strength to save, to bring his people out of slavery. The heart of the story is Exodus—bringing people, his people, from misery and carrying them, as it were, to a new land of milk and honey.

 This Exodus story, this passing out of Egypt was the wonderful thing God did for the Israelites. This was what they remembered when they brought grains for an offering of thanks. It is not enough to offer first fruits, to fill the basket and then leave it in front of the altar. You must confess your faith in the God who made it possible for you to bring this gift of offering to him. You may bring your offering, but with it you must remember that once you were in slavery and now you are enjoying a freedom that you did not have before. There has been a change in your situation. You must confess that change and whose power brought it about when you come to worship and bring an offering. Worshipping God, bringing an offering, being grateful, professing your faith in God who fought for you: all this goes hand in hand.

 What is this Lenten season we are beginning? A going back to the beginning of things. It is getting back to the basics. That is just what the Israelite did. When he came with his offering, he went back to telling, to professing the basics of his faith. And the content of his faith is nothing less than the moments God pulled him forward and set him on a new journey just as God had done with his ancestors. The confessing Israelite found himself in the same line as his ancestors. He understood that their God was his God. He is the recipient of God’s plan to save, to redeem, and to make new. Each time the Israelite came to worship and bow down before God, he or she put themselves in the same line as those who first felt God’s call and mighty power. He or she declares themselves an heir to the first recipients of the gift of freedom and land.

 Paul also speaks of confessing and believing. The confession of faith is simple: confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead. For us Christians that says it all. It looks and sounds simple and it is. The heart of our confession of faith is another exodus, the passing of Jesus through death into the new life of resurrection. The Christian creed is very simple. Jesus has become Lord and defeated every power that would oppress and strike down humanity, death being our greatest enemy. Jesus has become the mighty arm the God of Exodus once wielded at the Red Sea. In Jesus God shattered humanity’s last chain called sin and death.

 To be a Christian means that the heart has been taken over of the risen and victorious Lord. It also means that this good news of God’s victory in Jesus is not a secret. It must be spoken about. There is a connection between heart and mouth, heart and word. What you say, says who you are. A Christian has his or her words shaped by a heart that holds firm to the new and imperishable life Jesus holds out to us. It is a double confession as it were: Our God has acted on behalf of life and he has acted in his Son. It is that simple creed that governs all our actions and choices.

 All of this, of course, is the Easter story: Christ’s victory over sin, evil and death. Each Sunday of Lent that good news is told to us even before we come to the great feast of Easter. Lent is the time to remember what is basic to our faith. Lent is the time to prepare the heart to be able to speak again what has happened in its recesses. Ultimately our faith, our creed, is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of our heart having experienced the mighty power of God that set life over death.

 The Lenten journey is a journey of being able to put into words what has happened to our hearts. Like the Israelite of old Lent is the remembering time, remembering the mighty act of God that made us one of his very own. Remembering, too, each mighty act of God in our lives when we were tested and tempted to let go of the strong hand of God and make it on our own. But God held on and pulled us through. Lent is the time for remembering the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection.

 Ritually Lent is a time for us to prepare to speak our heart again at the Paschal Vigil. There we will once more stand at the water, the water of the Red Sea, the water of Baptism, and we will have to say in whom we believe, in whom we trust, who it is our heart follows, who it is who has brought us back to life from our slaveries, our lostness, our hopelessness.

 When we come to the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday, what is in the basket of our lives? What first fruit are we bringing to offer? Do we realize that our lives, the basket is a gift? Do we know what precious gift we are bringing to the Lord? And with what words do we come each Sunday with our offering? Words that express our faith, our trust? Words that acknowledge that we are loved? Words that can accompany our love in return?

 This is the season for preparing the first fruits of our life, getting the basket ready to be brought to the Paschal Feast. Lent is the time for the heart to find those words that will come with our basket. And when we come with our life basket, we will be met by God’s gracious and powerful hand as he reaches out to take our lives and bring them through the final exodus to the land flowing with milk and honey.

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