February 14, 2016 – The Rev. James Richardson

Take a deep breath. Relax.

My entire sermon today can be summed up in two words: Enjoy Lent.

Let me repeat that: Enjoy Lent.

This Lent, give yourself a break – a Sabbath, if you will, from the heaviness of life.

Traditionally Lent is a time of austerity and self-denial. All the Alleluias in our worship go away for a time.

But let me suggest that rather than seeing Lent as an obligation, look at Lent as a gift.

Last week we were on the mountaintop at the Transfiguration with Jesus shimmering in the clouds. This week we walk down into the valley of Lent.

Valleys have rich soil. The valley of Lent can be a fertile place for our souls if we take the time to nurture what is good in our lives.

Easter is coming, but not yet.

First comes the journey through Lent, and it is tempting to skip.

But don’t do that. We are asked to pay attention to what we see and experience on our walk through the valley to Easter.

Take time for yourself. Pay attention to what is really important in your life.

This Lent, give up working so hard that you don’t notice the small amazing moments in life that will never come again.

These moments are God’s gifts just for you.

This Lent, take time to notice the holy all around you – not in the thunderclaps, but in the stillness of the night, or in a child’s laughter, or in the smile of friend.

Lent is the time of purple, and purple is a rich color, the color of royalty.

So consider this Lent to be a time of spiritual richness, a time of discovering anew that which makes you whole, and healthy, and treat yourself royally.

Lent is a time set aside for being just a little more intentional about our walk with God.

Lent is also a time for examining what separates us from God. The classic definition of sin is turn away from God through our behaviors and attitudes.

Ask yourself this Lent: What is it you do or think that disconnects you from God?

The word “repent” in its classical definition means simply to “turn around” and see God new, face-to-face – to reconnect.

Lent calls us into a time of self-examination about our barriers so that we might “turn around” – repent – and reconnect with God – and reconnect with each other.

It is traditional in Lent to “give up” something for Lent.

The reason we “give up” something is to strip away that which gets in our way of noticing the living God in front of us.

Usually we give up something like chocolate or potato chips.

But let me suggest this Lent, give up something really significant:

Give up worry for Lent. You can worry all you want after Easter, but this Lent, give up worry.

Or give up feeling guilty. You can feel guilty all you want after Easter, but this Lent, give up feeling guilty.

Or give up fear for Lent. You can feel afraid all you want after Easter, but this Lent, give up fear.

Not so easy, is it? It might be easier to give up chocolate and potato chips.

Worry, guilt, fear block our way more than potato chips.

What gets in your way?

Is there an unhealthy attitude, or habit in your life that needs amending? Too much alcohol, or smoking, or bad eating or not enough exercise?

Your body is God’s gift to you. What is getting in the way of you nurturing this greatest of gifts, your body?

How about your soul? Do you take time to pray each day?

If we do a little personal work, we might just catch a glimpse of the promise that is ours before we ask:

That God adores each of us for who we are right now, and loves us for who we are in the act of becoming.

Doing this kind of personal spiritual work means stepping out and taking a risk.

Yesterday, many of us from our parish and all over the diocese gathered here at Incarnation for a day of conversation and self-examination about our racial attitudes, and the privileges many of us take for granted.

It was hard work because it is a hard, uncomfortable, risky topic.

But this conversation was so very Lenten because it calls us to a place of repentance and transformation.

Today we hear the story of Jesus stepping out and taking a risk in the wilderness for 40 days.

This story may sound unreal or fantastic to our ears, but I can tell you this kind of journey is a very common practice among people who live in the desert.

The aboriginal people of Australia call this a “walkabout” and that is what Jesus is doing.

Jesus faces three temptations – each of these temptations involves worldly power.

He turns away from these temptations to be among us not as a lordly dictator but as a common person who feels as we feel, suffers as we suffer.

Ultimately, Jesus finds he has strength go to the Cross to show us that there is life beyond the Cross. There will be more to life than what we see now.

So how will we make our walkabout this Lent? This may sound counter-intuitive, but we can start by relaxing a little.

Take time to pray. Maybe get up a half-hour earlier than usual to pray and reflect. Find a prayer partner who will pray for you as you pray for them.

If you aren’t sure how to pray, you can use this – the prayer book. I’m happy to loan you one today.

We also have many resources in the bookstore.

And give yourself a break this Lent.

Slow down, and give thanks for what really matters in your life. Rest from your work and your worries. Enjoy a good meal with the people you feel closest to.

Love your friends, love your family. Be slow to anger, quick to forgive. Practice patience and kindness.

When you fall short, as surely all of us will, dust yourself off, make amends, and move on. Be ready for surprises.

My sisters and brothers, it is my deepest prayer that each of us will be open to the gifts of this blessed season of Lent, that we will find true repentance, amendment of life, the forgiveness that is ours before we ask, and experience together the richness of God’s blessings and love.

May these blessings and more find you this Lent. Amen.