Artwork: "First Fruits,” created by Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman
A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org, used with permission
As we begin our Lenten journey, this morning’s scriptures bring us into two wilderness stories. In the first, we come alongside Jesus after his 40 days in the wilderness. And in the second, we come alongside the people of Israel after their 40 years in the wilderness.
In some ways, though, Jesus’s story may feel a little more intense, a bit more concentrated. Just after he is baptized, just after he hears a voice from heaven say “you are my beloved child,” Jesus – full of the Holy Spirit – is led out into the wilderness. There, he finds himself stripped of all he needs – alone, vulnerable, with nothing to eat for 40 days. The Scripture says Jesus is famished.
And an Adversary – an Accuser – comes along – whom this translation calls the Devil. This Adversary shows up with some offers: “Jesus, here you are – alone and empty – let me help you – let me fill you with what you need.” On their face, the Adversary’s offers don’t seem all that unreasonable. The Adversary offers Jesus the things we might think he needs.
· Jesus, you are hungry. Let me give you some bread.
· Here you are, stuck in this world where power pushes down on the people. Let me give you some authority.
· Your world is spinning out of control – 40 days in the wilderness with no food? Let me help you take charge; call the shots. Let me help you find some security.
When we looked at these offers in Worship Team, someone said, “You know, I could do with just a little bit of each of those – I don’t need a whole lot – just a little food, a little power, a little security.”
But Jesus says, “No.” No thanks. The bread God provides is enough. I don’t want the kind of power you offer – power-over. I’ll go with the abiding power of the presence of God. And, I don’t need to call the shots – to force my way. I’ll live with some uncertainty and trust that God will be with me whatever happens next.
In the wilderness, broken and bereft, Jesus says no to being filled with the wrong things – the things that don’t ultimately sustain. In his baptism, Jesus has been filled with the fullness of the Spirit of God – and just after this, Jesus will stand up and say, The Spirit of God is upon me – I’ve come to bring good news to the poor. Even in the wilderness, Jesus is filled to overflowing, and he knows that fullness to overflowing will be good news to the poor, and to the hungry, and to the oppressed.
As we enter into our Lenten journey with the theme “Full to the Brim” – this first story offers up the question: Full to the Brim? Full to the Brim with what? Full to the Brim with the fullness of what?
The second wilderness story invites us to look at the experience of wilderness itself. As the second scripture opens, the people are so close to the end of their wilderness wandering. They’ve almost made it. After 40 years, they make it to the Jordan – they can see the promised land in the distance – and Moses stops them and says, “Before you go in, I’ve got some things to say.” They stand there and listen. And what Moses has to say is basically the whole book of Deuteronomy – all 34 chapters. Can you imagine?
But here in Chapter 26, Moses says this, still standing in the wilderness, looking into the Promised Land: “When you come into the land, and you make a home, and you plant your crops, and the harvest comes... remember. Take the first fruits of those crops – the best of the bounty – and bring it to the altar... and remember the wilderness journey that brought you here, saying this:
“My father – my mother – was a wandering Aramean – they were strangers in a strange land. When we were still wandering without a home, God welcomed us, and made us to thrive. When we found ourselves in slavery in Egypt – living in hard labor and misery – God heard our cries, and brought us up out of Egypt. When we were wandering in the wilderness – year after year – God sustained us with water from the rock, and manna in the morning, and brought us into this land.”
When the land around you is flowing with milk and honey, remember your wilderness wandering – how God was there – remember how you were Full to the Brim with everything you really needed – remember the expansive life you lived – even there – and give thanks. Celebrate – and with your overflowing bounty, share what you have – with those who now are strangers in the midst of you – with those now who don’t have enough – with others now in their wilderness – remember the journey that brought you here.
I remember, that last fall, about six-months into pandemic, we spent some time thinking about the biblical stories of those 40 years in the wilderness – what we called their “Long-Haul Living.” And we thought of our own long-haul living – as we sojourned on through pandemic. We are not in any way all the way through our experience of pandemic – we haven’t reached the promised land we hoped for – the land of “Beyond Pandemic.” The virus is still among us, though at a low ebb right now. In our midst, there are those we love who are immunocompromised and still living in relative isolation – waiting for the government to do with treatments like Evusheld what we have done with vaccines. We are still in the wilderness in many ways.
We have covered enough ground, though, to remember and reflect.
Do you remember the shock of those first days – when all of the sudden, we couldn’t gather? The sorrow of that. Do you remember having to learn Zoom? The awkwardness of it – “Martha, you’re muted – you’re muted – you’re muted”— the frustration of learning new things – of not being physically in person? Even so, we found new ways of being together.
When the rules kept all of us so strictly isolated, I remember someone saying to me, “I look forward to that hour on Zoom on Sunday morning because it’s the one time every week that I know I will be seen.” Someone else said, “You know, in a strange way, when no one has been in my house for months, on Zoom, it can feel like we’re sitting across the kitchen table from each other.”
Do you remember the folks in New York and around the world who sang from balconies each night?
Do you remember going out into our own yards and howling in support of health care workers? I’ve watched the three girls next door grow up – and I can remember the littlest one – now not so little – sounding not so much like a coyote – more like a rooster.
I remember rushing to Florida to be with my Dad – and in the weeks and months that followed – still being able to be in connection with you. Without really thinking it through, we just kept on going – worshipping, and gathering on Zoom, and caring for each other – as if there weren’t a continent between us.
I remember thinking a couple months ago – when I had COVID during that last surge – I remember thinking how much worse that surge would have been one year earlier – wondering how many lives have been saved by the vaccines.
Do you remember the challenges of music? How we discovered that trying to sing on Zoom was a holy mess – and then folks like Linda, and Vivian, and Robin, and Dave and Marita – led our singing – as we sang along together, each from our home. And then, Daniel, Natusko, and the choir figured out how to record and weave together their music – all the hard work to create those music videos beautiful in both sight and sound. Do you remember that one music video with the choir singing as a murmuration of sparrows flowed so gracefully through the air?
We come to this morning’s scriptures – these wilderness stories – and we find them brimming with God’s grace – filled with the Spirit of God, filled with the presence of God, filled to overflowing, wells of grace, springing up in the wilderness.
Our theme this Lent is Full to the Brim – an expansive Lent. This theme comes from SanctifiedArt – a collective of artists in ministry. They describe it like this: “Full to the Brim is an invitation – into a radically different Lent, into a full life. It’s an invitation to be authentically who you are, to counter scarcity and injustice at every turn, to pour out even more grace wherever it is needed. It disrupts the scarcity mentality that capitalism, oppression, and hierarchy can plant inside of us. When we allow ourselves to be filled to the brim with God’s lavish love, that love spills over. It reaches beyond ourselves; like water, it rushes and flows, touching everything in its path.”
It’s quite common to think of Lent as wilderness journey – as we travel together with Jesus through the 40 days of Lent, toward Holy Week, and the cross – and beyond the cross, the hope of Resurrection. This Lent, we arrive already in the midst of a wilderness journey – we know in our bones our own collective wilderness journeys and the wilderness journeys each of us has travelled to get here – and we remember – we remember all the ways that God has met us along the way.
This remembering is itself a Lenten discipline – a Lenten practice. We remember our own wilderness journeys and how we found and experienced God there – God’s overflowing life-giving grace. We remember that experience – so that we are ready for our next wilderness.
We remember the God who loved us then, loves us now, and loves the whole world on into forever.
This “Full to the Brim” isn’t about looking for a glib silver lining. It’s about taking seriously and naming plainly the wilderness experiences of our day and of our lives – as we move through pandemic – as we tremble with the rumbling of war – as we grope our way through climate emergency – as we move through the challenges and the losses of our daily lives. Even in the wilderness, we open our eyes and our hearts to see how God’s grace is already overflowing – so that we might live expansive lives – God’s grace overflowing through us – drenching a parched and weary world in love.
As we take these first steps into this expansive Lent – here are some questions that might help us on the way:
· In these days, what has been your wilderness?
· How have you experienced God’s love along the way?
· Where do you hear the lament of the world?
· In this wilderness, where do you see God’s love overflowing?
· What do you have to share?
The memory of two years ago – those first days when pandemic became real for us – has been vivid these past few days. Back in March 2020, the Session had worked with the Marin Street Chaplaincy to support their production of Godspell. Many remembered the music of Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the years before – and the cast was ready to sing – we were eager to hear – and together, we were primed and ready to do a good thing for the Street Chaplaincy ministry so close to the hearts of so many. But COVID had other plans, and Kim and Nick those of us working with them here – and the County – saw with clarity that we couldn’t move forward then. But Kim and Nick and the cast kept that dream kindled through the summer, and then on into 2021, and on into 2022.
And this morning, did you hear Phillip sing?
Friday, and yesterday, and this morning, and this afternoon – this space – and this morning our Zoom space, too – has been filled with music. In March 2020, to protect each other’s lives, we entered into a season of quiet, and uncertainty, with no small amount of fear. Today, still making our way through pandemic, still moving through wilderness, remembering the life we have lived along the way – together, with God’s help our gathering today is full to the brim with music, and joy, and hope.
We remember the journey that has brought us here, so that in the wilderness of our today – in a broken and hurting world – we can drink deeply from the well of grace – and let that grace overflow in us and out from us, with love and courage to meet the challenges of our day. This Lent – “Full to the Brim” invites us into an expansive Lent – to live an expansive life – to live an expansive love – with more than enough grace to bless and heal the world God loves.
© 2022 Scott Clark
 Our worship series this Lent draws from resources created by SanctifiedArt, a collective of artists in ministry, including scriptural commentary by Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt, Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, and Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity. See also Sharon Ringe, Luke (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995); and commentaries in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).  See Justin Michael Reed, Commentary on Working Preacher, at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-in-lent-3/commentary-on-deuteronomy-261-11-5