From Mourning to Dancing: Perspective

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Join us for worship on the First Sunday of Lent. This Lent, we are exploring the 8 Pillars of Joy as discussed by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. We begin with the first pillar: perspective and with Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. How might a new or different perspective help cultivate a life of joy, so that we experience joy not as a fleeting emotion but as an enduring part of our lives?
This Lent, journey with us from mourning to dancing, from pain to peace, from sorrow to joy!

Sermon Video



This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scriptures

 

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

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Full Text of Sermon

 

Lent began this past week with Ash Wednesday. We had record turn-out for worship this year. We must all desperately need a reminder that all things change, that everything is dust and to dust we shall all return, that no illness, pandemic, no powers nor principalities, that nothing is permanent, except God’s love. If you worshipped with us in the chapel, you know that our Lenten theme for this year is “From Mourning to Dancing” taken from Psalm 30 which served as our Call to Worship today. Lent is ordinarily experienced as a season of penitence and fasting. We often view it as a time for repentance and self-denial. Perhaps you have given something up for Lent or taken up a practice or a new discipline.

Today’s scripture lesson tells us that Jesus, after being baptized, is sent into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.  And that’s why our Lenten season is also 40 days and 40 nights, to remember, to walk with, to be in solidarity with Jesus in his fast in the wilderness. Now, you gotta know how to count during Lent to come up with these 40 days. So it starts with Ash Wednesday; that’s day one. And then you count each day, except for Sundays. Sundays do not count during Lent because Sundays are always a remembrance of the resurrection, mini-Easters if you will, and we continue to observe that even in Lent.  So Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, minus the Sundays gives us 40 days and 40 nights. That is the math of Lent. That’s about as much math as I’ll ever do in the pulpit. But the heart of Lent is a spirit of preparation and renewal that journeys with Jesus, not just to the cross but to the empty tomb.  There is a deep joy that awaits us on Easter. So this year, while we all have reasons to grieve and mourn, both in our personal lives and in the world, Calvary is choosing to fortify our hearts and our spirits with the 8 pillars of Joy as discussed by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in
The Book of Joy.

These 8 pillars include (1) perspective, (2) humility, (3) humor, (4) acceptance,
(5) forgiveness, (6) gratitude, (7) compassion, and (8) generosity.

We will explore these together in worship and in small groups. We will get through six of them during Sunday worship, and then explore the other two on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The question is: How can these pillars shape us, so that we experience joy not as a reactionary emotion, but as an enduring part of our lives; not as an ephemeral state but as an enduring trait; not as a fleeting feeling but a lasting way of being?

This morning, on the first Sunday of Lent, we look at the first pillar: perspective. And it is fitting that the story of Jesus’ temptation is the lectionary text for the day. You see, in this story, we overhear a conversation between Jesus and the personified embodiment of temptation called “the devil.” And they are both using the same method to tempt and to resist temptation, that is, they are using and quoting Hebrew scripture. But their perspectives on scripture and how to use scripture are completely different. The tempter uses scripture as a weapon and as a tool for self-aggrandizement and power. It is a means to obtain and uphold selfish needs and personal satisfaction.

You and I know people today who call themselves Christian and who still use scripture in this way. I’m thinking of some televangelists who twist scripture to justify raising money to fund their own personal jets. You might be thinking of other people. But depending on our perspective, we can use and abuse scripture for our own gain OR scripture can serve to correct us, to guide us, and to help us to be more selfless, loving, and just individuals in this world. Jesus sought the latter perspective.

The first temptation is about physical needs – the very human need to eat and to survive. I already know I likely would’ve failed this particular test because when I’m hungry I can hardly focus, let alone thwart temptation. And Jesus knows, he does need to eat. He probably could turn those stones into bread, and maybe really wants to.  But his perspective reframes and refocuses his situation, and using scripture, he lifts up that life is not just about the survival of our bodies,
but about the thriving of our spirits.  And that is achieved not just by meeting our physical needs, but through a fullness of life that comes from God.

The second temptation tests Jesus’ relationship with God. Does God really love you? If so, God should keep you from getting hurt. But we all know that that’s not true. God does indeed love us, but we’ve all felt pain and gotten hurt. Now Jesus, too, of course knows God loves him, just 40 days before, he was baptized, and the Spirit of God came down and said, “This is my beloved with whom I am well pleased.” But I think it is tempting for us as human beings to try and get the people in our lives to prove their love for us. Or to try and manipulate our relationships to see what we can get out of it. Or to wonder how can we use the networks and relationships we’ve built to better ourselves and get the most for our own lives?

How do we approach relationships?

Jesus has a different perspective. It’s not about using or manipulating people. It’s not about how our relationships can get us ahead in life or benefit our own status and prestige. But it’s about love and trust and the flourishing of all humanity, together. And then the final temptation offers the kingdoms of the world. The devils tempts Jesus with power and prestige and control. But Jesus knows that God is already in charge. And any sense of control or power we may think we have is an illusion.  Jesus, though fully human, is also fully divine, and he is able to access and hold onto a divine perspective, allowing him to transcend the temptations presented before him.

The divine perspective is the view from an eternal perspective, the view that knows the beginning and the end, and all that will come in between, the view that loves and holds us personally, but can also cradle the entire universe. And, to be honest, that view is beyond our knowing. But we might catch glimpses of it here and there. I remember the first time I heard the English phrase, “I can’t see the forest through the trees.”  You all have heard this?  I was in my twenties the first time I heard that. And it blew my mind because it’s so true. We’ve become wired to focus on the trees right in front of us that we miss the forest altogether. The kind of perspective that helps cultivate joy, pulls us out of that kind of myopia.

It encourages us to see a situation from multiple angles. In fact, the Dalai Lama recommends looking at any given situation or problem from at least six different angles: from a wider, zoomed-out lens that steps back and tries to see a fuller picture, or simply from a different angle that sees the situation from someone else’s perspective.

Dewitt Jones is a photographic journalist who has worked for National Geographic and on award-winning ad campaigns. His gift is photography. But the reason he does it so well, is that he is unafraid to look at what’s before him from multiple angles. He zooms in; he zooms out; he comes up from below and looks down from above. He tries on new perspectives with every shoot, and he says that each photograph is a “right answer,” but that there’s always more than just one right answer, and he’s trying to capture them all. I love that he emphasizes that none of these photographs are wrong or a mistake, even the ones he chooses not to use. He says, ““I’m not worried about making mistakes, I’m just looking for the next right answer.” And now, these days, so much of photography is digital, that there’s very little risk in trying on a new perspective. Dewitt Jones has a few Ted Talks and other resources that shares about his process. I would encourage looking him up and seeing what he’s created. In one of his talks, he says his gut was telling him to turn around; face the other direction and see the perspective from there. And that’s when he got the shot he chose to use. If only we could approach our own lives through the eyes of photography.

From a human timeline, we all know that hindsight is what? 20/20.  Søren Kierkegaard says: “Life is to be lived forward but to be understood backwards.” I would add that, even then, some things don’t seem to make sense, and we don’t always get all the answers we want. But perhaps during this season of Lent, we can cultivate a habit of trying on multiple perspectives. Being like Dewitt Jones and focusing in and focusing out, trying to see the forest even when the trees are so tall and demand so much attention. And perhaps during this season of Lent, we can even try to be a bit like Jesus who was tempted in the wilderness. What Jesus saw from his perspective was not just his own needs or wants or desires, but the heart of God. Eclipsing all that was set before him and offered to him as temptations, was the love and presence of the one who has created the universe and loves each and every one of us unconditionally and without end. Trusting in God’s promises, how might our perspectives change to be more eternal, to be more inclusive, to be more justice-minded and God-oriented. How might our perspective help cultivate a lasting joy?

Friends, I know that there is so much in this world and in your lives that cause deep grief. The pain and the suffering are real. We are not trying to mitigate those or pretend they don’t exist. What we are hoping to do, is to strengthen one another and to walk with each other, so that we can experience abundant life even in the midst of brokenness.

Author Vivian Greene once said, “Life is not about waiting for storms to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.”

O God,
Turn our mourning into dancing.
Help us to weather even these storms, and teach us to dance in the rain.
Place in our hearts your eternal perspective, and throughout this Lenten season, may we experience your presence anew.
We pray this in the name of Jesus the Christ who was tempted and tried and found a new perspective in the wilderness,

Amen.