“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

By The Rev. Javier Garcia

For centuries Christians have read the story of Jesus’ temptations on the first Sunday in Lent, the season of repentance, a time to take stock of our lives and the direction we’re headed, a time to concentrate on renewal.  But too much emphasis on temptation can deform our sense of repentance.  Temptation talk limits our understanding of repentance to its association with sin. 

Lent is a time to deal with our sin, our separation from God, how we’ve missed the mark, but it’s a lot more than that as well.  Lent is not just for moralists. Repentance means more than being sorry that we’ve drifted and succumbed to temptation.

 The gospel writer St. Mark summarized Jesus’ basic message as God’s kingdom, his rule of love has arrived. Repent. Believe the gospel. But we notice as we read the gospel that Jesus hung out with a lot of people whether they repented from their sins or not. 

 While Jesus called on people in general to repent, he never told individuals to repent.  Never.  Jesus hung out with sinners and criminals, but he did not condemn them, or scold them, or criticize them.  Some of the sinners repented after they had been part of Jesus’ circle, but not because Jesus ordered them to repent.  They belonged first, felt accepted, close to Jesus, and then they changed.

 The gospels suggest that Jesus enjoyed the company of sinners, possibly more than the company of religious folks. 

Let’s do an exercise, close your eyes and think of someone you disapprove of.  Think of a group of people you disapprove of.  Now think of Jesus hanging out with them, laughing with them, enjoying their company.  He didn’t tell them to change their ways or reinforce their shame.  Instead, he identified with them, became friends with them. 

This is an example to the church, that people don’t earn their way to God, that it’s a gift, that Christians might try to widen our own circles.  It tells me: lighten up, reach out, appreciate every person you meet, accept people as they are. 

I bet that Jesus never told any individual to repent because that would have been drawing a line, implying that some people need to repent and others don’t.  The deeper truth is that we all need to repent: not repenting merely about succumbing on occasion to temptation, but a fuller repentance. 

I don’t want to give a Greek class, because I I don’t remember that much now, but the word “Repentance” implies seeing in a new way, seeing beyond convention, beyond what we think we know.  There’s an element of learning in it.  Repentance, the season of Lent, places less emphasis on sin and contrition, and more emphasis on change, growth, seeing in new ways, going beyond where we are now.

The value of reading the temptation story in Lent is not merely Jesus the great moral example, the one who can put Satan in his place, quoting scripture to stick it to him.  Perhaps more exciting, Jesus’ responses to the devil helps us see God in new ways, to raise our sights.  Jesus helps us see God’s way more clearly.

 If Jesus had succumbed to any of the temptations, he would have diminished human dignity, his vision of us as children of God.  Instead, the good news: by refusing the devil, Jesus affirmed that we are capable of caring for each other and sharing what we have; that we are capable of working together and being close to each other; that we are capable of growth and learning. 

This is a great way to see the Gospel and the season of Lent today that we are having our annual meeting.

It has almost been a year since I started as your Priest in Charge. I have to admit that this year has been a bit challenging but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t enjoyed it. This experience has changed my life in many ways. For example: I have read a lot of e-mails way way more than I had to before, I have learned many new words in English and surprisingly a few more in Spanish, I have gotten to know many of you on a more personal level and I have learned many many things some good some not so good but all in love, and I have grown in my spiritual life beyond what I expected.

One of the Goals that set at the beginning of the searching for a priest in Charge was to become One Ascension. We have been working together organizing The 1A Sundays with great success. There is one challenging experience that has happened to the church that has helped us live up to the saying One Ascension. I am speaking about the incident that happened to one of our parishioners that was detained. The Church and the Diocese came together in prayer in support to bring him home to his family and his 1A Family. Much support was shown by the overwhelming number of letters and well wishes that were sent to the court on his behalf and I want to thank you for becoming 1A when it really really mattered.

I really believe that if we continue working together, helping each other and growing in our spiritual life we can be a great congregation. You can see all we have accomplished! We are the only church in the diocese that has all these bilingual services, that means we are the only church that is really supporting each other. We still have a long way to go but I believe we are in the right path.

I invite you, during this Lenten season, to pray for each other, to support each other and to continue working all together for God and His Church. Today, Annual meeting AND First Sunday in Lent, is the best opportunity to start something new something different. We need to let the past be in the past and let’s start something new, a new Ascension that is preparing to be resurrected on Easter Day. Let’s grow together in Love, Faith and of course
in numbers. But… Let’s do it together. This is not one person’s job it is Ascension’s Job.

You know I like to give you homework. Well, at the end of the service, the Welcome Team will give you a little present. You will take this present, “that reminder” home and that way you’ll remember what the preacher for that Sunday said. (like your cover letter explains). But, you also can give that present to a friend or a family member with a note saying something about what you heard during the sermon that you like the most. That way we all are going to be preaching the Gospel and helping others to grow in faith.

May God keep giving us the straight to make this Lent different and having less emphasis on sin and contrition, and more emphasis on change, growth, seeing in new ways, going beyond where we are now. Amen.