Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Heart is... Deceitful? (A Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent)

Disclaimer: Though a student of theology, though a student of Christian thought, though at the beginning of deep learning in these fields, I am not a theologian. I am not yet wise in the ways of living faithfully. But I hope in this season of Lent, of preparation and hungry patience, of running with you to the Cross, I can offer some words to reflect on, as we lean forward to Easter.

This Sunday marks the first Sunday in Lent, and our focus turns towards Jesus' temptations. Three times we read that Satan challenges, provokes and tempts Jesus towards serving himself above God. Satan challenges - "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Satan challenges - "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you.'" Satan challenges - "All these [the kingdoms of the world] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 

And Jesus feels the gravity of sin. He knows what it is like to hear those challenges to self, those challenges to defy, to stake a claim for yourself, to seize the pleasure or the power or the moment. 

This morning while I yawned and sniffled my way through the silent procession and the beginning prayers, I was not thinking about how deeply Jesus knows that gravity. It is so easy, so much more convenient, to think of his divine powers as a kind of impenetrable firewall against Satan's offering. As if Jesus, because he is fully God, couldn't really know what it is like to hear the beckoning call of the fruit of disobedience. As if Jesus suffers, dies, and is resurrected all without really knowing the battles we fight with temptation. But Lent begins with this sharp reminder: Jesus knows temptation. 

Jesus knows exactly how appealing that fruit is. Jesus knows exactly how deceitful my own heart is. He knows how I eat of it, how I step close to the vortex, to the spinning gravity of sin and fall in. He peers inside me, my feeble barriers and shadowy disguises no match for his all-knowing: and he sees everything. Almighty God, unto you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. Uh-oh. My deceitful heart is that fully known. 

Jeremiah 17.9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" 

My heart is deceitful. I think the last time I paused to reflect on that was... a year ago? Maybe more? I think I said something about my heart being deceitful when I believed I could successfully run a small group, a committee, take classes, work, and be a good friend... Maybe I said that when I figured out that, after all, the boy didn't have feelings for me? Maybe I said my heart was deceitful when I believed she would never say that about me all the way back in high school?  

Is it so easy to forget? I know that lies exist. I know that I lie to others, and other lie to me. But my heart is deceitful towards me, too. I tell myself the story that is convenient. I tell myself the story that is easier on the eyes, easier on the emotions. I tell myself that I'm not responsible, or it's not my fault, or "I'm learning how to do this..." I comfort and coddle and nestle the harsh light of the Cross in the warm lullabies of deceit. 

And all the while, I forget the tough truth of 1 Lent: my heart is deceitful. And I look around, the March sunlight twinkling in the panes of stained glass, and I hear Father Michael say, "This is the struggle to breathe under three feet of water, and the struggle for joy, and the struggle for life."

He reminds us of Hebrews 10.19-24: 

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
 And having an high priest over the house of God;
 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works...

And in the same breath that I am whacked over the head with my deceitful heart, I am also reminded that I draw near, even in fear, with a true heart in full assurance of faith. And so begins the fight to see honestly, to provoke my deceitful, sinful heart unto love, and to good works. And so begins the journey of holding fast to the profession of faith, to the Cross, to the One who knows temptation. Who can know my deceitful heart? Jesus Christ, who came into the world for the life of the world. Who came because he knows how good that fruit looks, and how hard it is not to eat it. 

But he comes to bring us life.

So hold fast, children of the Father, and look with eagerness and reverence towards the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Pray with me:

First Sunday in Lent (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer)
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be
tempted of Satan; Make speed to help thy servants who are
assaulted by manifold temptations; and, as thou knowest
their several infirmities, let each one find thee mighty to save;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
ever. Amen.


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