Last Sunday, churches that follow the Revised Standard Lectionary concluded the season of Epiphany with the Feast of the Transfiguration; I'm writing on Thursday, so yesterday on Ash Wednesday we opened our lives to six weeks of Lent with slower-paced songs, more thought-provoking prayers and readings, wearing a cross made from ashes and oil inscribed on our forehead. Ashes left after burning palms from the previous Palm Sunday / Lent 6 has been the tradition and the ideal, but doesn't necessarily need to be. Ashes and oil carry a multitude of meanings, but most immediately, ashes signal the mortality of our bodies created from earthbound elements that one day will return into the ground. Oil? Anointing for burial after death, but more urgently, a reminder of the oil – chrism – that in the HS anoints us at baptism into Jesus' threefold public ministry of prophet, priest, and king.
Every year on the First Sunday in (but not of, since every Lord's Day is a "little easter") Lent, we listen to, hear, and ponder Jesus' desert temptations. Steeped in scripture, Jesus refutes all three of the tempter's [devil, adversary, satan, prosecuting attorney] challenges with scripture.
A lead-in to saying the RCL scripture readings during the past few weeks have included Matthew's Sermon on the Mount for the gospel, instructions from the Pentateuch for the first reading from the Hebrew Bible. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announces how people with certain attitudes and behaviors toward those in their community and others in the wider world out there have God's favor and blessings. Essentially, in the Sermon on the Mount, in Luke's Sermon on the Plain, in his entire life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus interpreted the commandments. Simplifying them in some ways; making the commandments even more impossible to fulfill in others. Hebrew Bible passages have been about acting with justice and righteousness toward all, about showing hospitality to any outsider who enters our space. On Epiphany 7 we harkened to God's command and promise from Leviticus 19 that opens with 1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy and leads into ways a holy God and holy people act always with justice, compassion, love, and generosity.
We know Jesus' resurrection as the first fruits of the New Creation happened over two thousand years ago. We realize the new creation isn't pristine in the same sense of the first creation, yet we live and sometimes feel like dying amongst evidence of broken, sinful lives, institutions, and relationships that are anything but resplendently redeemed. Do you remember how the book of Acts begins with Jesus' disciples asking if he'd restore the Kingdom to Israel now? Not sure if they imagined the return of the united kingdom or simply more functional versions of the monarchs that reigned afterwards, but on some level Jesus knew his rising from death and burial, though conclusive, was only the beginning of what needed to follow. Without saying it's not now or yet and not my current calling, Jesus told the disciples to wait where they were in Jerusalem so they could receive the power – and the freedom – of the Spirit of Life on the day of Pentecost and could continue Jesus' life work of justice, love, righteousness, healing—and resurrection.
Jesus said to the desert-haunting devil after his baptism into public ministry, The writings tell us: thou shalt (promise and commandment) worship the Lord your God and serve only the one true God. And how?
Leviticus 19 explains:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings...You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another ... you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning ... You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment ... but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.Kristin Hill Taylor's blog graphic tells us, "Here I am, to say you're my God." No. Other. Gods. The ELCA's slogan says, "God's work, our hands."
Whether we hear God ask who to send in I, the Lord of sea and sky or God's charge to "splash the water, break the bread" in I, the Lord of font and cup in the power of the Spirit of Pentecost, anointed into Jesus' threefold royal, prophetic, priesthood, our response can be, "Here I am, God. I hear your call! Send me!!"