Lent I; March 10, 2019
Your Worship Design Group has decided this Lent that we should focus on the Cross in its various forms. For years we have had a wonderful selection of crosses hanging in the front of our Sanctuary during Lent, but in the years I have been here we’ve never talked about them. This year we’ll tell you about each one and we’ll take time every Sunday to focus on them.
Whenever the many demands of life begin to feel overwhelming, it’s time to focus. Have you ever tried to have a meaningful conversation with a friend in a sports bar, where multiple screens all around you are showing several different events? If you are able to have that conversation, it’s because you have trained yourself to focus: you can focus on your friend’s face and your friend’s words, even though someone has just made a three-pointer or a terrific spike.
When we pray it usually helps to have a focus. Some may use a candle, others an icon or a picture, or a cross. And Lent is a good time to focus on the Cross, even if for only a few minutes, and to let the other distractions wait for those few minutes.
Jesus didn’t have a visual thing that he focused on during his time in the desert, but he had something internal. He had his calling. I don’t know what you pray about for forty days – I hardly ever pray for even forty minutes – but Jesus had a lot on his mind right after his baptism. Right after his baptism, Luke says, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit,” and where did that lead him? To a great praise service with a really wonderful band? Last Sunday I preached in a Pentecostal church, New Harvest Church in San Juan de la Concepción, Nicaragua, and it was exciting. A great band with a driving beat, really raucous singing and praising, people jumping up and down and shouting “¡Gloria a Dios!” and “¡Alelúia!” It was grand. It was what you and I normally think of as being “full of the Holy Spirit.”
There was no drum set and subwoofer when Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit;” instead, he went into the wilderness and fasted forty days. And then he was hungry. Oh, yeah. And the rest of the story suggests to me that he spent a lot of his time there praying about his calling. I’ve had this amazing experience – the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, a voice saying, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” – so what do I do now? What is my calling? What is the road that I am supposed to walk?
The Devil came to Jesus, focusing on his surface needs: “Jesus, you’re hungry; why not make these stones into bread? You’re the Messiah of God and are to rule over the nations; let me make it easy for you. You need to reveal to people your glory; I know just what you ought to do.” The Devil tried to distract Jesus with his surface needs; they are real needs, but not his deepest needs. Jesus was able to stay focused on his deepest need: the need to follow his calling, to walk the way of God.
And so the Devil left him, figuring he would get his chance later. The Devil thought that the Cross would be his chance to get Jesus for his own. Boy, was he wrong. And maybe that’s why we focus on the Cross during Lent, because the Cross shows us that Jesus’ deepest need was to walk the way of God, a way that led him to the Cross.
Although all of us who think of ourselves as people of Jesus Christ have this in common, that we are trying to walk the way of God, each of us has a slightly different calling on that way. Perhaps you know clearly what your way is. Some of you may think you’re retired; no, you retire from a job but you don’t retire from walking the way of God. But I’ll bet a lot of us still struggle, every day, to know what our calling is, how to walk the way of God. It’s time to focus, to set aside distractions, even if for only a few minutes a day, and focus on the way of God.
Here’s a question for you to ponder this week: What can you use to help you focus on the way of God? Maybe you have a picture or an object or something you can look at every day for a few minutes to help you focus. Or perhaps it’s a song that puts your mind in the right place. Or a short piece of Scripture, or one of the Lent devotional books we have for you this year. What will help you focus?
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master