Here we are again. We began our Lenten journey with ashes and solemnity on Ash Wednesday. Now we have the purple, the quiet. We’re surrounded by bare branches, the silence of snow.

It’s Lent: the winter of the church year, even as the sun today warms the daffodils pushing through the melting ice.

And always this first Sunday as we are beginning our Lenten journeys, we hear of Jesus’ trek into the wilderness. His journey into a place where the wild things are—and we know those wild things, for they live in us as well. Jesus goes to a place where he is alone with himself and God. A place where he comes face to face with temptation and struggles with the questions that we are all familiar with: Who am I? What does it mean to be a child of God? What am I called to do?

He is first tempted by the demon of instant gratification. Turn stones into bread, get what you want. Indulge yourself; you deserve it. Do whatever you need to do. Fast food, instant love, quick fixes to complicated problems. Take the short cut.

But when mere food doesn’t work, let’s try wealth and power. Jesus is tempted by the demon of control. He is offered the opportunity to become CEO of the world… and sometimes maybe we wonder why that would be such a bad idea. Don’t we pray each week that “thy will be done on earth as in heaven?” But God desires that we do the right thing because we choose to do it, not because we are forced to do it. God is the God of freedom and love, not control. While Jesus knows that God is ultimately in control of all that is, human hearts must be won by love, not force.

Then the demon of pride and arrogance tempts Jesus to throw himself from the Temple, to jump and say “Hey God, catch me,” in order to prove his identity and authority from God. He would be immediately established as God’s chosen one. Instead of doubts about Jesus, there would be enthusiasm. Instead of mistrust by the authorities, there would be security. Instead of abandonment by his friends, there would be safety and comfort. No betrayal, no arrest, no Good Friday…and no Easter…

Jesus is tempted to believe that there can be an easy way through life, a shortcut to salvation.

As Jesus struggles with these demons, he is trying to answer the questions each of us face: Who am I? What does it mean to be a child of God? What am I called to do?

And we face those questions all our lives.

Just this week, a friend sat with me and said, “Maybe it’s the classic mid-life crisis, but I’m feeling stuck. Ten years ago I thought I was set up for success: family, good job, security, success. But now what I thought would make me happy seems empty.”

Lent is not a bad time to think about whether we are living lives that make us truly happy. And reflecting on this shoves us into the paradoxes of the Christian faith.

On Ash Wednesday, we remember that we are dust and then we thank God for the gift of everlasting life. We talk about “dying in order to live.” We give up material things to receive spiritual benefits. We say that the way of the cross is the way of life. We talk of endings and death even as God’s creation stretches and yawns with the beginnings of spring.

Lent is a season of paradox and that makes some of us impatient. We are used to solving problems, or at least laying out a logical plan for someone to solve them. But the paradoxes of faith are not problems to be solved or even to be understood. They are mysteries that we enter into.

Who are we? What are we called to do as children of God?

A wise man suggested that everyone should have two pieces of paper (adapted and expanded from a passage in Genesis by Bill Moyers). On one sheet is written

I am but dust and ashes

When we believe that we are controlling our lives, when we are proud of what we have and have achieved, when we think the world depends on us, we should take that piece of paper out and read it.

I am but dust and ashes

But on the second piece of paper is the reminder

I am God’s beloved; created in God’s image.

When we are sorrowful or feel abandoned, when hope seems far away, when we feel we’ve spent weeks or months in the Lenten wilderness already, we need to take that piece of paper out and read it.

I am God’s beloved; created in God’s image.

Who are we? What are we called to do as children of God?

I am God’s beloved; created in God’s image.   or   I am but dust and ashes.

Both statements are absolutely true. Which do you need to hear this Lent?

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