Alone in a Room with God

jesus and the devil iconA sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2019.  The scripture readings are Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, and Luke 4:1-13.

Listen to the sermon HERE.

One of the great deposits of wisdom in the Christian Tradition comes from the Sayings of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, collections of stories and sayings from Christians who, especially in the 4th century, went into the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia, to pursue a deeper relationship with God.

One day, a person trying to figure out their faith approached one of these Desert Fathers saying, “Father, give a word.” In order words, the seeker was asking, “How does one grow in God? How does one pray? How does one learn to be more loving and forgiving…how, how, how?”  The wise old teacher responded simply, “Go and sit in your room, and your room will teach you everything.” [The conventional saying, of course, uses “cell” instead of “room,” but modern hearers will perhaps hear “room” more smoothly.] Whether it’s a special room for prayer, or a bedroom, or a kitchen, or a church—the wisdom is the same:  sit still, pray and meditate and be present with yourself, your deepest self, and God will show up—for you, and in you, and around you. But it might not always be pretty.

Having just been baptized and filled with the Spirit, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and there (while not so much in a room), Jesus is brought face to face with himself. And within himself, temptations surface up in the form of Satan. Perhaps Satan showed up in person. Perhaps Satan showed up in a vision, or in Jesus’s imagination— whatever way we imagine it, it felt real to Jesus—as real as temptations feel when they show up for us.

Whether we picture the devil as a little red man with a tail and pitchfork, or whether the devil is more that little voice inside each of us that second-guesses and accuses, the temptations Jesus faces are ones that we might be confronted with from time to time.

The temptation of turning stones into bread, is really the temptation of gluttony, to satisfy ourselves with food and drink and stuff, to find happiness in these things.

The temptation of pursuing glory and authority of the world is not so different for us. There are the countless choices we make between doing the thing that will better our paycheck or professional standing or status, as opposed to doing the just, honest, true and decent thing.

And finally, the third temptation for Jesus to jump off the temple top and be rescued by angels. Perhaps it relates to us when we’re so uncomfortable in our own skin or our own situation, that we’re tempted to jump in any direction, to do something tragic or dramatic simply to change the situation.

To each of the temptations offered by the devil, Jesus quotes scripture. In other words, Jesus takes a deep breath, touches his spiritual base, and does whatever he needs to do to center himself and remind himself of who he is and of whose he is. Jesus can withstand the devil’s voice because Jesus has trained for this—through prayer, through showing and sharing compassion, and by spending time alone, learning from his room, from his garden, and from the sometimes painful silence that comes in the face of Truth.

This Season of Lent invites us to practice being along with God, being present with God.  Prayer, spiritual disciplines, self-reflection, growth in faith—all of this is training for spiritual battle.

On Ash Wednesday and throughout this season we’re reminded of classic spiritual disciplines such as spiritual reading or meditating on scripture, praying in a new way, saving money for a particular project or cause and giving it, fasting (whether that means giving up a particular food or drink, or fasting in a more creative way—avoiding waste, or limiting the use of water or plastic or gasoline.) Other things might easily become spiritual disciplines to clarify and steady: a daily walk, a time of reading or sitting still or writing in a journal. All of these, almost anything, really, if given over to God, if done with intention and mindfulness and a willingness to be used by God, can become spiritual disciplines to sharpen us and help us know when we’re being tempted. They help us focus. They bring clarity.

Wherever our spiritual “room” might be—whether a special place at home, or with others, or in the church, in a park, or a yoga studio or gym—may we have the courage to meet God and the strength, with Jesus, to stare down the devil.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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