Once on a middle school retreat, a girl had a shirt that said, “It really IS all about me.” She spent a lot of time that weekend living this out. She had to be seen doing the most important things with the right people so she could say she was faithful. But she also carefully carved out the world she thought ought to be, and banished anything that might wreck her world view. What mattered was keeping everything just right in HER youth group. When she was asked to interact with those beyond her limits you’d have thought she was being sent out to be with wild animals. Because they just didn’t have anything to do with her and her world. But for just this weekend she supposed she could compromise her needs, as long as you knew just how much she was sacrificing. It was like keeping score and it really was all about her.
Sometimes this is how see the world.Then we get to Lent and hear about needing to look at who we are, and repent. Often this means giving something up. Out of curiosity I wonder how many gave something up? Not many. For those who do it’s about giving up something because we confess we’ve failed and feel bad, and hope to be a better person what WE give up. But even for the rest of us, we fall into the same pattern. Perhaps it means giving up some of our time to come to an extra weekly worship service instead of giving up something we eat or do that is an indulgence. Or we remember the poor. Doing things we don’t automatically do. Whatever it is its, it can at times seem like this is about re-setting the score with God. And in church we give up things too-certain music WE listen to, candles or flowers WE normally look at. At least for the 40 days of Lent- I mean, if Jesus made it 40 days so can we. But we keep it pretty safe-if we give things up, they’re things that are easy. If we take things on, we make them be something we want to do. “If I’m coming to an extra worship service, there better be food.” We should take stock of how we are living as the baptized, but can you hear it? It’s like we are putting on that shirt that says, “It really IS all about me.” Our Lenten focus can often remains about us- What we do, what
we don’t do. Somehow the greater and more important thing gets lost.
What’s God up to in Jesus and what does this mean not just for us but for God’s vision of all God has created? Today we’re again here at the point where Jesus is baptized but then he is driven out from that place. We just heard this at the beginning of Epiphany and you might be tempted to say- “I’ve already heard this.” But perhaps we can hear it a little differently by focusing on the verse that’s right in the middle- the one that seems a little odd and seems to have nothing to do with US.
The one about Jesus and the wild animals in the wilderness. Why does this matter at ALL to us? Perhaps it shows us Jesus tends to hang out just beyond the edge of everything we consider safe. Or that in the midst of all that’s threatening, God gives protection to carry out God’s will. True, but today let’s focus on the fact that this verse also shows us-it really ISN’T all about us- It’s about God-who cares for all of creation. Who makes promises and acknowledges the problems aren’t all solved. Who was hurt and angry in Genesis, when everything went off the tracks again. Angry enough to just start over, again. But who then decides to hang up the weapons of anger. To hang up the bow in the sky and say, “No more.” The symbol of the rainbow began as an image that recalled hanging up a real bow in the sky by God-who then promised one who would come to continue restoring what God has created- and this one is Jesus.
So notice where Jesus starts to carry out what God has decided it is time for. He goes back to the outer limits of what’s been set apart, beginning restoration where it all began-and bringing order out of chaos, starting with the wild things-creatures banished after creation went awry. Then he goes on to the people who find themselves in the wilderness. And like pulling on a thread, he starts pulling it all back together. And while there’s risk, this is a story about restoration.
Of course evil tries to tempt Jesus away from this. Because ultimately there’s no room for evil in the kingdom of God drawing near. We are children of this kingdom being drawn near as the baptized. And God wants us to shift from looking only at our world and to see God’s work in God’s world.
Lent is a time for this- to step away things that tempt us- in our distractions. To leave behind our limits, our needs, our failings that convince us not to work for the kingdom. And remember that God in Christ takes who we are- limits and faults and all, and draws us in, remembering the “me” God created in each of us. But God is also remembering the “we” in all of us. Who we are created to be.
This is the real intent of Lenten disciplines-the disciplines of prayer, giving to the needy, and fasting are about restoring us, and the Kingdom. Self-examination helps us continuing this purpose by drawing us near, and strengthening us in all the places we’ll be tempted not to bother. The discipline of prayer becomes a way to draw us closer in our conversation with God, to remember how God is with us in the good and in the scary. Giving to others becomes really sharing ourselves to draw back those left out. Fasting becomes rethinking how much we consume and how it governs our lives. All ways to rethink our ability to answer God’s call.
These disciplines aren’t about looking good and resetting the score between God and us to zero. And they aren’t about believing we can change everything that’s wrong. They are about embracing and drawing closer to everything that’s right-things that are right because God created and arranged it. Deepening our awareness that God’s still here amidst all of brokenness, still drawing us near.
Today in Jesus’ baptism we hear the words “you are my Son.” But by Easter, we’ll hear more- We’ll hear “You are all my children.” This reality is what Lent encourages us to embrace for all of God’s creation. Let’s make the journey together, learning more about God, and about ourselves. And surrounded by God’s promise to do more than fix us on our terms. Because it not a scorecard, it’s a relationship. And it really isn’t all about us. Thank God, it’s not all about us.