It’s Valentine’s Day! Did you hear the one about the husband who approached his wife and asked "If I died tomorrow, would you remarry?" The wife thought for a minute and said "Yes, yes, I think I would." He went off for a while and then returned. "Would you let him use my golf clubs?" "Oh no, no, no," said his wife. "He's left handed."
All of us are subject to temptation, I guess. We’re in good company: Jesus had to struggle himself with the devil in the desert.
How can we make ourselves stronger as we are tempted by so many things in this life? How can we make our congregation stronger, so that our community will shine with the love of Christ on Mass. Avenue?
Many temptations can lead to little lapses – fudging taxes, lapses of integrity at work, irritability at home, envy and jealousy of our neighbors who seem to be doing better than we are. Sometimes there are big lapses: infidelity to a partner, dishonesty in business, vengeful reprisals against someone who crosses us. There’s no shortage of temptation in our lives!
But on Valentine’s Day, we remember how much we love each other, and might feel a twinge of regret that we don’t always act like it.
This Lent, we are focusing on a Rule of Life….a pattern of living that helps us live in love and in faith. Now you may think of a monastic rule, where monks and nuns rise at 4 a.m. to pray each day, wear hair shirts and sackcloth, give away everything they have, and read through all 150 psalms every week in church.
It doesn’t have to be like that. A Rule of Life for the rest of us can be very simple, to help us live more sanely, more generously, more lovingly, more joyfully than we would without it…
Nine of us spent the weekend on retreat exploring what a rule of life might mean for each of us. We all know some of the traditional elements – daily prayer, moderation in our appetites, acts of compassion. We discovered that this can be much more about being intentional about practices that feed us and bring us joy and peace…and not about punishing ourselves with demands that we can hardly meet. It may mean less about adding hard things to our to-do list, and more about committing ourselves to a do-not-do list. What could a do-not-do list look like?
· I will not beat up on myself, or on other people, when we make an honest mistake.
·When I am tired, I will not feel guilty about stopping to rest when I can.
· I will not say yes to things when I need to say no.
· I will not claim all the credit, or take all the blame, when it doesn’t all belong to me.
· I will not neglect the ones I love the most.
Does that sound like a rule of life that might help you live better? I know it would be good for me.
Congregations can have a rule of life too – common norms that we all support, to make our community as healthy and Godly as we can be. Our vestry consultant Ed Kelaher mentioned some of these rules of healthy congregations:
· I will pray that God will send the Holy Spirit into our church, and I will pray for our leaders who have hard jobs, and for our ministries.
· I will always work for the greatest good of the church, even when I don’t get my own way.
· I will express thanks to God and to all the people who make our church a beautiful community of faith.
· I will not engage in negative talk to my friends about some else in church; I’ll speak directly to the person.
Before Jesus really got started preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God, he was led by God’s own Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Why did God do this? For one reason, it was so that Jesus would know the many temptations that all of us face in life – to be selfish, to indulge our appetites too much, to show off, or to try to manipulate other people, or manipulate God. For another reason, this time of hunger and temptation was meant, I believe, to harden Jesus, to toughen him up, to make him strong to face what he would have to face. This was Jesus’ “boot camp,” his basic training for life.
Maybe we can look at our temptations in life in the same way, and derive some benefit from the struggle – renewed strength, renewed trust in God. Lent is a good time to take another honest look at your life as an individual child of God, and see if some changes need to be made. It’s a good time to examine our life as a Christian congregation – the Body of Christ – and ask not what our church can do for us, but what we can do for our church. Temptations will never go away in life; it’s up to us to face them openly and honestly, and ask God’s help to overcome them. And God is so happy to be asked! So happy to be invited into our lives, even our messy lives, to walk with us. That’s what Jesus learned, and what Jesus is trying to teach us today. AMEN.