As we journey through Lent together, read a sermon by the Rev. Kristin Sermon on finding ways that God wants to feed us. Follow us on Instagram and #lentwithgrace.
The night before Ash Wednesday, I came home late after our fabulous Carnivale to discover a rather unusual sight: my husband (who I had been sure would be in bed), was sitting on the couch in his pajamas, happily strumming out a bossa nova song on his guitar. As I stood in the doorframe staring at him and wondering if this was the first time he’d touched said instrument since we moved from New York a year and a half ago, he looked up and said, cheerfully: “I figured out what I’m going to do for Lent! I’m going to play some music everyday. Because I think that’s how God wants to feed me right now.”
How does God want to feed us right now? It’s an arresting question in a season that tends to focus on fasting more than feeding, on deprivation over nourishment. It’s an especially interesting question to ask in light of these two temptation scenes that we just read, both of which center around food and being fed – temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. In Lent, as we work out our own personal disciplines, we often focus on what we’re eating – or not eating. But these readings invite us to look deeper, not just at food but at all forms of consumption. How do we relate to what we’re consuming? And, even more importantly, what is the source of the sustenance we take in? Are we, like Adam and Eve, reaching for the forbidden fruits of our own day, sure that we know better than God what is good for us? Or are we actually listening to God, welcoming the nourishment that is so abundantly on offer?
In Matthew’s Gospel, the tempter tries to goad Jesus into relieving his hunger by using his divine power to turn stones into bread. To which Jesus replies, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Taken literally, this verse becomes a justification for fasting from food during Lent, an invitation to prioritize spiritual nourishment over physical consumption of calories. But what happens if we look a little deeper?
Jesus’ response to the tempter is about power, and refusing to abuse it for the sake of convenience. Jesus knows who he is and how God wants to feed him. His response to Satan is an invitation to remember that we are not our own source; that we are dependent on God for life and sustenance. It is a call to be mindful of what we are consuming, to diversify our spiritual diets, and to remember at all times that God is the one doing the feeding, not us. When we fast, if we fast, however we fast, it is never to glorify ourselves, improve ourselves, or compete with anyone else. It is to make room for what God is trying to feed us.
And sometimes we discover, to our delight and surprise, that what God is trying to feed us is really tasty. Lent is not designed to make us miserable. It’s designed as a season of preparation for the ultimate joy that awaits us at Easter. And sometimes the timeline of fasting and feasting isn’t neat and tidy – if the joy of Easter starts to sneak into your life through whatever you’re doing or not doing this Lent, then embrace it. Joy is permitted even in the wilderness.
So instead of asking what you’re going to give up or take on this Lent; I invite you to reframe the question: How does God want to feed you? Not how do you think God should feed you, but what is tugging on your heart right now? What makes you feel the most alive? Maybe you are being nudged to dust off a neglected musical instrument, or another creative outlet that lets you commune with the divine. Maybe God wants to feed you through silence, or natural beauty, or the book you’ve been meaning to read for three years, or the comp day you’ve been meaning to take for three months. It doesn’t have to be programmatic. It doesn’t have to yield measurable results. It doesn’t have to feel heavy or onerous. Maybe simply asking the question gives you strength and sustenance.
Because, however God wants to feed each of us this Lent, the end goal is the same: to remind us of our fundamental belovedness. The key to this temptation scene lies in the tempter’s opening line: “If you are a child of God…” That if, that seed of doubt is the bait the devil uses to try to lure Jesus off track – to make him doubt his true identity and the solidity of God’s love. That’s usually how temptation works for us too, however cleverly it may be disguised, making us doubt who we are and whose we are. Leaving us scrambling to prove ourselves and one-up each other in an economy of scarcity and fear that there isn’t enough love to go around. Lent is about rewriting the narrative, about grounding ourselves, as Jesus does, in God’s unshakeable love, so that we can resist the voices that whisper in our ear that we’re not enough.
So what practices will help you along that road? How does God want to feed you this Lent? How might we feast on God’s love in these forty days?
This Lent, may we find abundance in the wilderness. Amen.