God of mercy, help us see. Amen.
Perspective is powerful.
Earlier this week, I saw this image of a storm trooper – those Star Wars figures who are the nameless, faceless, white-armored foot soldiers of Darth Vader. The image pointed out that if you turn the Storm Trooper’s helmet upside down, they go from looking like menacing, terror-inducing, villains, to looking like goofy, loveable cartoon characters. The transformation is really remarkable – and all just from a shift in perspective.
It’s like that cartoon that occasionally floats around: it shows a giant number painted on the ground. One person is shouting, “It’s a six!” Another person, on the other side, is shouting, “It’s a nine!” The caption says that maybe both realities are true – maybe we need to consider each other’s perspectives before making a judgement or getting into an argument.
Of course, the counterpoint to that cartoon that always comes up is that no, they aren’t both true. The figure is meant to be either a six or a nine. When there’s a disagreement like that, we need to step back and learn more. Look for context that might give us a hint at the truth. Seek insight on the intent of its creator. Ask for input from people who are more knowledgeable than we are about such things.
But regardless of whether different perspectives can give us different truths, at the very least, different perspectives will always help us to see something differently – maybe to see things that we were missing before.
From my perspective, that’s a big part of what this season of Lent is supposed to be for us in our lives as Christians. It’s a time to systematically shift our perspective – really to practice shifting our perspectives – so that we can shake ourselves out of the ruts that can develop around a faith, unchallenged.
We’ve dramatically changed the language we use during Lent, not because we want to throw a bone to the Rite I’ers. It’s not to please people who long for the older liturgies. The point is so we all hear this familiar dialogue of worship in a different way for a while.
The tradition of self-denial during Lent isn’t really so much so we can better identify with the temptations of Christ. Giving up chocolate or cigarettes or wine for a few weeks might not be pleasant, but come on… it’s nothing compared to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness – away from all comfort and security. The point of self-denial is really more about trying to strip away excesses so we can shift our perspectives a bit more toward what matters most.
Part of what we commemorate in the 40 days of Lent, however, is that period that Jesus spent in the wilderness, preparing for his ministry – the story that we read today.
It’s so interesting to me that the text specifically says that Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Not that Jesus fell in with the wrong crowd and experienced temptation. Not that Jesus rebelled against his faith-centered upbringing and found temptation. Not that he experienced such hardship in his life that these temptations seemed to be the only way out. No – Jesus was led by the Spirit for the specific purpose of being tempted by the devil. Jesus was led by this aspect of God – this person of the Trinity – to a place where his perspective could be so wildly shifted that he would experience temptation.
We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood. Beyond the Christmas stories, there’s really only that one story about him becoming separated from his parents at the Temple. But we have to imagine that his life was reasonably comfortable. His father, Joseph, was a carpenter – a skilled professional. They at least had means enough to leave work periodically for pilgrimages to the Temple. His parents knew something of this life that he was moving toward. Even if they didn’t know the specifics, they knew enough to try to groom him for what was to come.
So, before his ministry would begin, he would be led into the wilderness for a long time, so that he could experience temptation. It’s almost as if God knew – as if God planned – for Jesus to experience a shift in his perspective. It’s as if God thought it was important that he be transported from the life that had become so comfortable, and that he experience something entirely different. That such a new perspective was necessary for the ministry into which he was entering.
I believe that we are being called to the same sort of spiritual practice. God is calling us to see things differently – not just for the season of Lent, but for this new ministry that is being born. We have to be not only willing, but skilled in shifting our perspectives, because the world and its relationship to the church is changing in ways we never could have imagined. The ministry to which we are being called requires new perspectives. And not just new perspectives on strategies for achieving old ideals, but new perspectives to help us see the ideals we haven’t dreamed up yet.
Our bishop, Bishop Hughes, has very often said – and I’m sure I won’t quote her exactly – but she’s often said something like, God has a habit of putting our wildest dreams to shame. God takes our wildest dreams and admires them with us, and then shows us a dream that we are called to make real that is bigger and more meaningful than anything we could have dreamed up on our own.
But we won’t see it if we’re stuck in a rut. We have to be open to changing our perspective – seeing approaches and viewpoints we couldn’t see before. And it takes practice. It takes being open to stumbling a little bit, and not always knowing our way.
We tend to like the ruts we’re in, because we’ve built them in our own image – we’ve built them to suit us. But God is dreaming bigger. God has more in mind. At least for the next few weeks, let’s try to listen for what that is. Let’s try to be open to seeing our calling from a different perspective. Let’s see where that takes us. Let’s aim past our own dreams, and toward God’s. Amen.