The Lenten Journey — An Invitation to Say No or to Say Yes?

Jesus was tempted. So are we. He was tempted by Satan to be relevant (turn stones into bread);  to be spectacular (throw yourself down and not get hurt); and to be powerful (I will give your charge over the whole creation; all recounted in Luke 4:1-13). Three very big temptations. We are also tempted, as Jesus was, to be relevant (to come up with the right word or phrase to impress our friends); to be spectacular (to win the lottery or imagine that we can do something that will win us an A — be it an award, acclaim, accumulation, or approbation); or to be powerful (to least have some unchallenged authority over at least some part of our world).

But there is another temptation that has been pulling at most of us these past two weeks. It is the temptation to despair, in the wake of the illegal and evil invasion of Ukraine. Despair for the people of Ukraine, despair for Europe — and despair for us, some 5000 miles away, because worst case scenarios as to what may unfold are pretty horrific.

In the story of the temptations of Jesus, which begins the season of Lent, Jesus said no.  Three times. And because of his courage, and his grit, not to mention his faith, he was ministered to by the angels.

For much of my life, I have tried to emulate Jesus’ no by giving things up. In various Lenten seasons I have said no to French fries, drinking beer, listening to sports radio, playing video games. It is a fairly long list.

What I have discovered over the past few years, when considering the story of Jesus temptations, is that before Jesus said no to Satan, he said yes to God. His yes enabled him to say no. His yes came first.

Lent has now become a time for me to emulate Jesus by saying yes. Yes to God, yes to life — yes to the presence of God that can be seen in one another if I look hard enough.

And yes to hope. This is especially hard, because despair lurks just behind hope. But like many of us, my hope is kindled and quickened when I see the people of Ukraine, and hear its President, Volodymyr Zelensky— taking on the role of David against a venal and violent Goliath. Their hope has become a weapon. That hope may not ultimately thwart the Russian invasion, but whatever happens in terms of the war, hope will not be extinguished. Evil may win the battle, and cause immense suffering; but it cannot be sustained. Hope will prevail. That is a foundational dimension of faith.

My favorite definition of hope comes from Christian author and social activist Jim Wallis: hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.

I firmly believe that we are ministered to by the angels when we say yes to God and yes to life and yes to hope. The yes strengthens the soul and short circuits the temptation to despair — and deepens our capacity to hope. In the wake of the continuing horror in Ukraine, let us offer our hope and our yes.  Let us join with the angels. Let us become evidence changers.

 

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