This sermon is the first in our Lenten series called Fully Living: Living as Warrior, Mystic, Monk.
Let’s do a Zoom poll but without actually being on Zoom.How many of you have had a practice of observing Lent at some point in your life — either you grew up with or it or it was something you did as an adult? For those of you who have done that, for how many of you was it about giving something up? I’m not down on that practice. There’s something to be said for having a season during which we exercise self-control. That can be good training.
The whole archetype — a word we’ll be using throughout this series — around Lent is one of austerity, deprivation, going without. Lent came at a time of year in Europe when traditionally winter stores of food were growing very thin and the spring harvest hadn’t come yet, so this season of holy fasting actually made a virtue of necessity, which can also be a good thing.
But many people, including myself, want to reframe Lent for a different time. I was struck by the fact that the word Lent comes from an old English word meaning spring. So, Lent, you could say, is the springtime of the soul. Lent is the 40 days of preparation leading up to Easter, and what is Easter but a celebration of new life, of resurrection? Lent is really about preparing for new life, about being attentive to the new life that is coming alive in us.
So, instead of: What are you giving up for Lent? What is coming alive in you? What is longing to come to life in you?
There’s a famous quote by one of the earliest church leaders, Iraneaus, who lived in the second century. He said, “The glory of God is a human fully alive.” When I first heard that decades ago, it almost instantly reframed for me what discipleship was. I had been brought up in a Mennonite tradition that equated discipleship or following in the way of Jesus with suffering, making hard choices, denying yourself. And that emphasis isn’t wrong. It is true that in order for us to hew to our deepest values, we may need at times to suffer, to d do hard things, to deny ourselves. But this emphasis is too one-sided. Jesus, Yeshua, announced and enacted the realm of God, the Lifeforce. And Yeshua said, “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance.” That’s about being fully alive.
Throughout Lent, we’re going to be looking at the ancient archetypes of warrior, mystic and monk as a way of talking about full aliveness. According to Paul Grout, who wrote the reference book we’re using for this series (Encounter A Place Apart: A Companion for Warrior Mystic Monk): A warrior is one who rejects all forms of violence, but who prepares for spiritual battle through training, discipline and strategy. A mystic one who sees beyond the surface to see God in all things, and who takes time to pray and commune with God. A monk is a person who lives a life of ordered devotion to God, focusing especially on community, service and hospitality. Grout writes that Jesus calls his followers “to be warriors, mystics and monks for the sake of their own genuine aliveness and for the sake of the new reign of the Lifeforce” or the realm of God.
A bit about archetypes. Archetypes are symbols or patterns of behavior that keep showing up throughout human history across many different cultures because they speak deeply to something about what it means to be human, because they speak to deep longings in our psyche. The Hero. The Trickster. The Wise Old Woman or Man. The Quest. Overcoming the Monster. Similarly, the archetypes of warrior, monk and mystic are more than vocational descriptions, they are archetypes or mythological symbols that emerge in remarkably similar presentations from the ancient times to the present, says Grout — from the Gilgamesh to Stars Wars, from Beowulf to Lord of the Rings.
Let’s just, for the sake of fun, look at Lord of the Rings. The dwarves are the warriors. Elves are also, but the elves don’t live for the fight in the same way that the dwarves do. Your elves are mystics. Supposedly J.R. Tolkien saw the elves as what humans would be had the Fall never occurred. Elves still live in that state of communion with the One. And then you have the hobbits, who are earthy, communal, hospitable people who in their own way live an ordered, simple life.
Grout sees the Jedi from Star Wars as representing the integration of all three of these archetypes. While the Jedi certainly aren’t nonviolent warriors, they do try to seek nonviolent options to safeguard peace whenever possible. Violence is a last resort. They train constantly and are highly disciplined. They are also mystics, attuned to the Force, which is the source of their power. An they are monks, living an ordered life in community, in which they are in service to all beings.
That integration is really important. We may gravitate toward one of these archetypes — and last time that we did this series, many of you were having fun identifying yourself with one of those archetypes, kind of like your Enneagram number. But the goal here is to live as much as possible all three of these archetypes. It’s true that at different times of our life, we may more fully engage one of the archetypes. I can very much identify a more mystic phase of my life, and a more warrior phase, etc. But we need to always keep the balance between the three in mind.
If we become too mystic, we can kind of go off on our own and start to live in our own inner world in a way that can sometimes get weird. We need a community of support and accountability to help ground us in that situation. And those experiences need to eventually lead to a deeper service to humanity and all creation; they need to fuel our nonviolent struggles for justice or right relationship. Too much monk, and you can have your nice simple humble life with others, but you might never take on the pain of the world and seek to alleviate it as the warrior does. Honestly, I think of the Amish in this way. They have such a lovely monkish life. But my critique is that they’re separatists who aren’t trying to “fight” for what is right. And then you have the warrior who, absent that connection to God and to the humility of service, can become a pretty harsh, shrill, unloving crusader.
In Jesus — and Grout says, also in Mary, the mother of Jesus — we see the embodiment of all three of these archetypes. We’ll be talking about that more throughout this series. And especially in our story for today, we see Jesus in full mystic mode as he goes off by himself to pray, fast and commune with God. But this story is also very warrior. He’s going off into the wilderness for a 40 days to be tested, to physically, mentally, spiritually prepare himself for his public ministry, to train for the spiritual battle that’s coming.
One Biblical commentator I read cautions us to resist reducing the meaning of this story of Jesus’ temptation to concerns about private morality, like: “I shall resist the temptation to swear or watch X rated videos.” “The little world of little things is not the focus of the passage,” he says. The focus is clearly vocational. “Take time out to face who you are and what is your calling. Face up to the alternatives! In Lent, in particular, we are reminded of the importance of doing so for ourselves. This is something not just for heroes. What agenda drives us?”
Jesus had to face his own shadow, the agendas counter to the realm of God that threatened to drive him. Perhaps Jesus’ shadow was that he wanted power — so the devil, or the Adversary, takes him up and shows him the kingdoms of the world and says “I’ll give this to you.” Nope. His was not going to be the power of power over, of domination. Perhaps Jesus’ wanted to be spectacular, to show people just how special he was. And so the Adversary says throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple, because you know the angels will save you. Nope. The focus here is the Lifeforce, not him. He wasn’t going to be like those miracle workers going around who did stunts to get people to follow them. Perhaps Jesus had a Messiah complex. Perhaps he wanted to be able to make stones into bread so he could effortlessly provide the basics of life to people. Even this, this good: Nope. Trust in the Creator and the goodness of Creation. Trust that I am the same God who provided for you into the wilderness for 40 years (notice the length of time Jesus is in the wilderness) and will continue to do so.Trust in me.
What are our temptations? What tempts us off the path of full aliveness>
I just want to say, in conclusion, that this full aliveness is so important right now. We know this. We are in a climate emergency. We are in an ecological emergency. The threats of authoritarianism, fake news, propaganda, AI, rampant racial and wealth inequality are real. Pat and I, who were both around when we did this series first time, have been struck by how different it feels now from 10 years ago. A decade ago, Barack Obama had just been sworn in for his second term. Trump was a reality TV star whose political ambitions no one took seriously. Inequality and climate change were of course still very real at that time, but many people — for good or for ill — had a sense of optimism about how we were addressing these things.
We live in more apocalyptic times now — just like in Jesus’ time. A time of intensifying conflict when people are really feeling a black and white choice between the way that leads us to new life or the way that continues us on this path that is bringing us to catastrophe. As Grout writers, “Humanity, for the sake of its continue existence cannot continue on this same path. On some level, all of us know this. We know things cannot keep going the way they always have…. We find ourselves as a species in need of a radical spiritual awakening that will catch us up to the (technological) world we have created.” Two thousand years ago, he said, Jesus was also telling us that things cannot keep going like this. We must be reborn into more full aliveness for the sake of ourselves and also for the sake of the kindom of God.
So, yeah. Stakes are pretty high. But this is a journey of joy, of growing into aliveness. And so I encourage you this Lent to take up a practice of aliveness. On Tuesday, you’re going to get a special emailing with warrior, monk, mystic practices. See if there’s one or two of them that call to you. Or perhaps that list will inspire you to come up with your own practice.
As we begin this season of Lent, of springtime, hear the words of the prophet Hosea, words that were surely in Jesus’ consciousness as he stepped into the wilderness for his 40 days. “I will lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart.” Amen.