In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Well, here we are, another Lent. That ancient introspective season that begins with those morbid words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

With those words on Ash Wednesday, imposed a disfiguring mark of ash upon our foreheads depending upon the artistic dexterity of the priest imposing. It was either a cross or perhaps just a smudge.

Now those of us pious enough to have presented ourselves for the Ash Wednesday liturgy, probably spent the rest of the day with puzzled friends, associates, even strangers saying, “Ah, excuse me, but there’s something on your forehead.”

Yes, indeed, there was something on our foreheads. But more importantly, we as Christians believe there is something on our souls: the mark of Jesus Christ. Yes, imposed upon our mortal nature is the cross of Christ–once the sign of death, now the glorious sign of hope as resurrection, redemptive life. At our baptism, the priest said, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ owned forever.” Deeper than the smudge on our foreheads at Ash Wednesday is the sign of the mark of Christ, which reminds us who we are and whose we are.

Lent then is a time for us to reaffirm, to rediscover, and to grow in our identity as Christ’s people.

Of course, Lent is a time when many Christians begin a period of some austerity. We adopt disciplines such as spiritual retreats, some of us have spiritual directors, others of us have spiritual friends. And if you’ve not had a spiritual director or if you’ve never had a partner, someone that you can say, “Will you walk with me during this time? Let’s pray together. Let’s study Scripture together.” This might be a time to build a relationship with someone who will be a spiritual friend.

For some of us it is a time of a new discipline of prayer. It is a time of greater church attendance. It is a time when we study more intensely the faith. It can be even a time of reading Scripture. We do, as Episcopalians, lots of things with the Prayer Book. But this may be a time to choose, maybe one of the Gospels, or one of the Pastoral Epistles of Paul, and just plan to read it during Lent.

You may know the story of the Episcopalian who decided that they were going to read the Scripture during this particular Lent, and was surprised that the Bible so often quoted the Prayer Book. It might be a time to acquaint yourself with Scripture. It is also a time when we offer our time, our talent and our money in special ways for charitable purposes. And for many it is a period of fasting, the abstaining from meals or from certain of the repetitive pleasures in our lives. We lay them aside. And by breaking the pattern of our daily routine, whatever it may be that we apply as our Lenten discipline, by breaking the routine of our daily patterns, we then begin to remind ourselves of our inner life and of our attending spiritual life. We come to discover our trust self.

Now, some of us mistakenly decide that we are going to diet during Lent. I’ve done that, too. “I’m going to lose weight this Lent.” But the theologian Tilden Edwards said, “Diet is done for physical health, but fasting is done to become available to God.”

And so it is with any Lenten discipline. The purpose is to become more available to God, to check our sense of awareness of God and the channels of communications with which we interact with God. So for some this is a time of heightened spiritual renewal and introspection.

I’m also aware that it is for others a dreadfully repressive period, of religious obligations and demands. Some see it as a season in which there are special liturgies and long litanies in which we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins, a season in which we accentuate our utter dependence on God. And we do this in churches diminished of their usual adornments of flowers, of veiled crosses, absent of exuberant “alleluias.”

As a young priest I with great enthusiasm encountered a parishioner who, as he explained it to me, had suffered many Lents. But with undaunted and sophoric enthusiasm, I continued. “So what are you going to give up for Lent this year?” He replied, “Lent.”

One could wonder how we continue such traditional observances century after century. Or even why the church seems, at times, to do comparatively good business in this season. But I believe it is because all human beings have a need for a time of introspection, of examination, of renewal, and of recommitment. I believe that all religions understand this, and speak to it. For example, for the Islamic community, there is the season of Ramadan. For the Jewish community there is the season of Rosh Hashanah, particularly Yom Kippur. And the Buddhist and the Hindus and others have their seasons. For Christians, traditionally it is Lent. In fact, even our evangelical sisters and brothers in Christ who would not dare make any fuss over liturgical observances such as Lent, most often have their annual revivals, services to revive the faithful, during the period of Lent, or shortly thereafter.

Religious people need a time of introspective and spiritual examination.

First of all let me say to be a religious person is to acknowledge that life is not simply social, political, professional, but that life is spiritual at its core. How we see the world, how we respond to the world, has to do with the shape of our spirit. That we are not the sum totals of our genes and our chromosomes, that we are truly defined by our spirits.

To be religious is to believe that the essential nature of our being is spiritual, and thus it requires a nutrient that is other than that which is material or rational or even emotion.

St. Augustine prayed it well when he prayed, “Thou has made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

There is also a difference between one being simply moral and one being religious. And the differences are these: Faith, worship and prayer.

First, faith. Faith is more than moral obligation. It is more than obligation to an ideal or principle or a value. Faith assumes trust in an ultimate spiritual being, God.

Next is worship. Worship bids us into a community which shapes our hopes and our fears as well as our religious commitments and beliefs. It is being among a people who are searching and seeking to know and to find greater intimacy with God.

And prayer. Prayer assumes that there can be intimacy and dialogue with God. For prayer is not only speaking to God, prayer is listening to God. As Jesus taught his disciples, God is not distant and removed. When he taught the disciples in the Lord’s Prayer, that God is Abba, daddy, the loving daddy, the loving father, who is forgiving and protecting. For as Jesus taught Nicodemus, God is like a life-giving mother, constantly, lovingly, laboring to give us new life. Jesus taught us also that where your treasure is, there will be your heart. Where you have made your greatest investment, there will be the passions of your life.

Now we all have spiritual lives, that is the inner power which shapes our values and our behaviors, the unconscious reasoning which keeps us moving day after day on automatic pilot, moving from Place A to Place B, from Agenda A to Agenda B, Decision A to Decision B, going from one human interaction to another, day after day, hour after house. Something is shaping and influencing the way in which we make those interactions and decisions.

However, if we have made little investment in our spiritual life, in our relationship with God, then the things of God will cease to shape us, and we must ask, “who or what is guiding my life?”

People who are able to say such things as, “I’ve just placed it in God’s hands,” sometimes bothers us. But the truth of the matter is that to place something in God’s hands means that we trust God, and we cannot trust the one we do not know. And so a life of prayer, a life of worship, enables us to come to know God.

If God is not the primary source of our spiritual life, then the question is, “Then who or what?”

In the lesson today Jesus had to come to grips with that reality. Jesus had to ask the question, “Am I committed to the God who has called me?” His first temptation was to turn stones into bread. Jesus had fasted forty days. He was weak and he was hungry, but the question he had to ask was the question about knowing who he was. Was he going to be the man of miracles, or was he going to be crucified Christ? So often Jesus continued to struggle with this. For the Scripture tells us that the devil choose that he would come at a more opportune time. How many times did Jesus to those that he healed, “Go and tell no one”? How many times did Jesus rebuke those who asked for a sign to prove who he was? Jesus had to make the choice would he be, who he would essentially be made to be, the Messiah. Or would he be a magic man?

And then there was the offer of the kingdoms of the world. Would he be ruler of a political realm, or would he be the suffering servant, would he be the one called to rule by redeeming souls who would submit themselves to him? Just think of it. Jesus could have been a great ruler. If Caesar could have bound the world together, what could Jesus have done? Perhaps today, instead of talking about whether we would have the name of Jesus spoken in schools, we would be reading about Jesus with Caesar and Alexander and others in our school history books. Remember once again, the temper came to Jesus. When people were so moved by his oratory they wanted to make him King. And Jesus had to plea. One wonders whether he was running from the crowds or from himself. But he heard the inner voice. He was called to be the Crucified Messiah.

“And cast yourself down.” Would Jesus allow himself to be constantly proving Scripture in order to deal with his own doubts, or would he live the life of faith?

You know the life of faith does not mean we have no doubts, we have no spiritual insecurities. But it is trusting the one who has called us. And that is why Jesus was so agitated when he said to his disciples that he would die, and Peter said, “Oh, no, you’re not going to die.” And Jesus became exorcised and he said, “Get thee behind me Satan.” Jesus hearing the words of the Temper.

Yes, “where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” And Jesus’ heart, his treasure was that he might be obedient to God, and he listened to the inner voice that called him to his true self.

What do you treasure most in life? What do you treasure most? Do we treasure God, or do we treasure fame? Do we treasure power, or do we treasure our constant doubts?

We must remember who we are, and whose we are. Lent gives us that opportunity to reclaim it in the busy and hectic rhythms of our lives.

Perhaps your mother and father were like mine. Whenever I was getting ready to go out on some corner to be with my buddies, or a hot date, or I was upset with someone and I was going out to get things right, and I can hear my mother’s voice now as I got to the door saying, “Remember who you are.” And I hated that! Because I knew that to be a Baxter meant something that could not be measured or interpreted by the world in which I lived, my buddies, my friends. But there was a higher calling upon my life.

And that is what God says to us. We will take this time in Lent to remember who we are, as we move about the classrooms, the board rooms, the school yards, as we move along the market places, in our homes, we must remember who we are and whose we are. This Lent can be a time for us to renew and deepen our faith. Perhaps in that discipline that we might choose we will find that when we come to Easter Day we will be deeper in our faith, firmer in our identity, and full of the joy that comes from knowing that we Christ’s.