Date: March 10, 2019, First Sunday of Lent
Scripture Lessons: Joel 2:1-17 and Luke 4:1-13
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Our daughter, Angela, spent a semester in college at the University of Nottingham in England. When we arrived at the school, we were greeted by a student who was from Kenya. She was assigned to help Angela get settled in. I mentioned that we had been to Kenya about 10 years before and had a wonderful time. And I can remember the host’s response. She thought about it. And then she announced with great delight and glee, “Yes, we Kenyans are amazing!” Frankly, I was a bit taken aback, but I readily agreed with her because she spoke the truth. Kenyans are amazing!
In the reading from Joel, we heard a very vivid portrayal of the character of God: Gracious. Merciful. Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love. Relents from punishing. Bestower of blessing. How amazing is that? And if that is how God is, then we know that that is how we are to be because we are created in the image of God. This description captures the capability and potential inherent in every human being. It conveys our nature and our calling. Gracious. Merciful. Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love. Relents from punishing. Bestower of blessing. How amazing is that?!
When the Kenyan woman proclaimed that Kenyans are amazing, I remember feeling surprised. Yes, Kenyans are amazing, but I wouldn’t have said that about myself. To me a statement like that would feel boastful and prideful. And maybe even socially boorish. And as a Christian, thinking about cultivating humility we try not to pepper our speech with braggadocio. We don’t want to think too highly of ourselves. But the other side of that is thinking too little of ourselves. When we perceive ourselves as weak and of little significance, this contributes to apathy and indifference. What can I do? I don’t deserve any better. And neither do you. And then we are easily swayed and manipulated.
With a degraded sense of worth we settle for less and yet we desperately seek approval. We want to belong. Be part of the in crowd. We want wealth to show that we’re successful so that other people know we are worth something. We want the latest fashion and technology to demonstrate that we are up to date, “with it.” We seek these outer trappings to build up our worth in the eyes of others and ourselves. We are constantly seeking approval. On her speaking tours in the United States, Mother Teresa was always quick to point out that the obscene abundance of the West fostered malnourished souls. [Suzanne Guthrie, http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/lent1c.html ] And so our poverty of spirit leaves the door wide open for evil to creep in, seep in, or storm in to our lives and our society.
Jesus was able to resist the temptations of evil because he centered himself on the God within. He was focused on manifesting the attributes of God that were within him and are within all of us: Graciousness. Mercy. Slowness to anger. Full of steadfast love. Not interested in punishing. Bestower of blessing. Jesus was centered on God and that kept him fully occupied so that he was not concerned with being a people pleaser or a devil pleaser. He wasn’t obsessed with accruing acclaim and being a powerful ruler. He was not tempted by the trappings of wealth and power. He was not out to win a popularity contest. He didn’t want to wheedle his way in with the rich and powerful. He knew his worth as a creature created in the image of God and that was enough. With that foundation he set out to love his neighbor as himself. In Jesus’ world view, success comes from embodying the traits and characteristics of God, being true to God alone. Success does not come from impressing other people, amassing wealth, and certainly not from negating yourself.
Like Jesus, we are called to encourage the God within us to rule our lives, to guide our behavior and our relationships and the way we go through life in this world. We, too, want to cultivate the attributes of God within us.
At the end of the passage from Joel, the desperation of the people is expressed. With destruction looming, they are afraid of being humiliated in the eyes of of the world. They plead: “. . . do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” [Joel 2:17] Where is their God? Where is the grace and mercy? Where is the restraint of anger? Where is the abounding love? Where is the pardon and the blessing? These are standard character traits of God. Where is this God? This God is within us, each of us, as human creatures. The world sees God when human beings exhibit these traits in the world. Where is their God? God is within us. Eager to be expressed. Hungering to be shown to the world.
Gracious. Merciful. Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love. Relenting from punishing. Bestower of blessing. Truly, we human beings are amazing! Amen.
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