My sermon for this week was based on Mark 8:27-38.
To download an audio of my sermon, click here.
I think many of us are confused as to what we are supposed to do during Lent and what the season is supposed to signify or accomplish in us. Most people outside the church (and even quite a few inside it for that matter) still labour under the misapprehension that Lent is a season in which we deprive ourselves of something we enjoy in order to repent for our sins, for which Jesus Christ blah blah blah.
For most of us, Lent means we give up chocolate or hard liquor for six weeks and then it's Easter. No one has bothered to explain why we do or what it is supposed to do for us.
I would like to take a stab at what I think one of the principal goals of Lent ought to be.
Much talk has been spared on Lent being a time when we retreat into the wilderness, a metaphorical foray for us into the wilderness Jesus literally went into in order to pray, meditate and commune with God in order to better understand himself, his mission and his purpose.
Although I believe this to be actually be a true and important part of Lent, there is a next step:
Come back out of the wilderness.
Let me tell you about Telemachus. Telemachus was a 4th century ascetic Christian hermit who is single-handedly credited with bringing the gladiatorial games in Rome to an end. After spending years alone with God in the wilderness, Telemachus ultimately came to the conclusion that the hermetic lifestyle was actually profoundly selfish. He decided that God's word was too big and too important to live forever in the isolation of the wilderness. He decided that it was selfish for him to try to stay in his little bubble of communion with God, and so he decided to come back to civilization.
Telemachus made his way to Rome, and reasoning that he wanted to be where people were, he made his way into the Colosseum. He was horrified to see what was happening there.
Prior to Constantine legalizing Christianity in 325, professing Christians were tossed to the lions as entertainment in the Colosseum. However, in an astounding turnabout, the Gladiators were now professing Christians, as were the crowds and the Emperor Honorius who were patronizing the games.
Those who were once the victims of the games were now the players.
Telemachus leaped into the arena to try to separate the gladiators, and at this point, reports vary. Some claim that he was run through by a gladiator, and others claim he was stoned to death by the crowd for ruining there fun. Either way, when the deed was done, the crowd was horrified when they realized what had happened and they fell silent. That very day, so the story goes, Emperor Honorius signed a decree that ended the games which had existed for a thousand years.
Telemachus, like Jesus, came out of the wilderness with a mission and something to say. Like Telemachus, he died for that message, which was one of peace and fellowship. The key point is that they came out of the wilderness. They didn't have to, you know. And this is the key point about the wilderness:
While it is a great place to meet God, it is also a great place to hide.
Having spent time in the wilderness, Telemachus and Jesus both came to the conclusion that God's message was way to important to remain hidden out there. It was something that needed to be shared, no matter what the cost.
And that is the fact about God's message: love, peace, justice , mercy and compassion cannot exist in isolation. They cannot be exercised in the wilderness, and so Telemachus and Jesus had to come out of the wilderness.
Whatever you are doing with your Lenten observance, bear in mind that it is not an end in and of itself. It is a means to an end, and that end is that we have to come out of the wilderness at the end of it.
It is similar to the Transfiguration: Jesus and some disciples go to the top of a mountain to pray, and there they have a great spiritual experience. Moses and Elijah appear to them, The disciples want to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah so that they can live in the moment forever. And who wouldn't want to live there forever, right?
But Jesus calls them down off the mountain, just as God called him out of the wilderness. And that is where we must go.
The wilderness is a great place to recharge, to re-create, and I hope you make time to do that. But at the end of it, I hope you come back our of the wilderness to share the strength, courage and wisdom you gain out there.