Like most expatriates living in Europe, nearly all our furniture came from the Swedish furniture store Ikea. We all felt at home in one another’s houses because we had similar furniture.
You hauled the stuff home in a flat box and then
assembled it. I was smarter the second
time, after having some problems the first time in Belgium. I ended up prying some things apart and
breaking a few edges. In Italy, I
followed the instructions meticulously, rereading each section, and at times
getting clarifying counsel from my wife.
The order of assembly was very important.
So it is with life; the order of things is
important. Lent is about getting things
back in the right order.
In the fifth century, the church had a practice
where poor farmers with little cash would bring in homemade bread and
wine. It would then be served back to
them in communion, symbolically receiving what they had brought. It was a reminder that everything came from
God; it was all gift. In a time when
starvation was common and survival a daily concern, this practice reminded them
of the proper order of things.
In Matthew 3, Jesus is declared the beloved Son of
God in whom God is well pleased. Then in Matthew 4, Jesus is tested to see if in
his hunger he remembers the proper order of things. The tempter in the wilderness says “If/since
you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” What harm is there is bread? How can this be a temptation? Jesus is hungry; turning stones to bread
would be a great idea.
Henri Nouwen sees this as the temptation to be
relevant. We are encouraged to be
relevant, to make a difference, to improve things. Those are worthy goals, but are they primordial
values? Nouwen writes “the Christian
leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this
world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self (In the Name of Jesus—Reflections on
Christian Leadership, p. 17).”
Later in the story Jesus will feed the multitudes
with bread, heal the sick, and make whole the lame. He will be relevant, but primarily he will
offer himself in all his vulnerability and move with solidarity among those in
need and at risk, the excluded and the forgotten. That is primary in his life.
Irrelevance is not a worthy goal, but vulnerability
and solidarity are of the first order in following Jesus. Lent is about getting the order right.
Executive Minister--American Baptist Churches of New York State