There are three signs that you are getting old. One is memory loss. I can’t remember the other four.
What’s your memory like? When was the last time you put down your house keys, or your glasses, or your phone – and then couldn’t find them again?
I lost my house keys this week. But that’s not a problem. I have an electronic tag on my keys so that if I can’t find them, I just press a button in an app on my phone – it then shows me where my keys last were so I know whether they’re in the house somewhere, or if I’ve lost them outside. It makes the tag on the keys play a tune when the keys are nearby so I can hear the keys and locate them. At least – it does if you remembered to replace the battery when it ran out. It even makes it easy for you to remember, by telling you when the battery is low and needs replacing. But if you ignore the instructions, and forget to replace the battery, the system is useless. It won’t find your keys. So you end up searching all over the place – as I did – and panicking, until you finally find them. I’ve now put a battery in the tag!
Of course, being lost yourself is no fun either. But the advent of the smartphone with its ability to show you on a map exactly where you are has made it far more difficult to be lost. And travelling is easier these days – it’s far harder to get lost on a car journey with sat-nav there to guide us on our way.
The old days of pouring over those massive car atlases with someone saying, “I think it’s the next left,” only for them to say when you take the next left, “No – I meant the next proper left!” are behind us. Take a wrong turning with sat-nav and it promptly works out a new route to get you back on the right track.
Well, here we are again, beginning our journey through Lent. And Lent starts by making us face up to the reality that we are lost! That we are well and truly lost! And that we need to turn to God if we are to find ourselves, recognise where we are, and get ourselves back on track, heading for our ultimate eternal destination. The problem is that most people – including many Christians – do not realise that they are lost!
Where have we got to on our journey? Do we still know where we are supposed to be going? Are there things we need to do to get back on the right road? Are we so lost that we need help from others? Or do we think we are not lost at all – have we forgotten that, on a spiritual level, we need to be found and guided back on the right way?
The problem is that too many people don’t want to, or don’t bother to think about, the journey. Or they look for short cuts – ways of making the journey easier and more straightforward. Short cuts, though, are not necessarily a good idea. “Short cuts make long delays,” says the hobbit Pippin in Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings and that’s certainly true of the Christian’s journey. There are no short cuts – you really must take the journey seriously.
And knowing that we are lost is so key to our relationship with God. Because sin – our sin – and its consequence is serious business. Sin is all the stuff that is wrong with the world, the stuff that is getting in the way of God’s ideals of love, of justice. But sin isn’t something that other people do. We all sin – though we don’t like to admit it. We all think things, and do things, and behave in ways that God doesn’t like. Or we ignore what he tells us about how to behave, how to live, how to love God and our neighbour. And sometimes we know what we’re doing and sometimes we don’t – but we need to say to God, “I’m sorry – I am wrong and I need your help to be better in the future.”
And once a year along comes Lent to give us a chance to remember what our relationship with God is all about. So we begin Lent by facing up to our sins and asking God for his forgiveness – and then we can allow him to help us find our way again on our spiritual journey.
And a recognition that we have lost our way somehow will lead many of us to go to Lent courses, read a Lent book, make an effort to pray more or to read our Bibles more regularly, or changing our lifestyle for the better somehow. And I hope you’re thinking about doing one or more of those. Don’t fall into the temptation of thinking that you don’t need any of those things – that’s a sure sign that you’re lost and don’t know it. There are no short cuts.
Jesus had to undertake his own spiritual journey. It wasn’t all plain sailing after his baptism as we saw in our gospel reading this morning. Because we saw how once John had baptised him Jesus didn’t just go straight off and get going with his mission. No – the Spirit of God drove him out into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for forty days.
It wasn’t a good time for Jesus – it was hard and difficult and a struggle. But only after he had gone through his desert experience was he ready to come back and begin the preaching of the good news of repentance followed by belief being the way to the kingdom. Jesus, of course, didn’t sin – but he knew the reality of temptation and he struggled with it at the beginning of his ministry.
And if it was necessary for Jesus to go through that experience before he could carry out his God-given ministry, how much more do we need to work through the issues of temptation and sin if we are to then go on and carry out the ministry to which we have been called as his people. Because unlike Jesus we constantly give in to temptation, and we lose our way and need to be found.
There are no short cuts.
The problem is that we can become awfully forgetful when it comes to sin. We are very good at spotting it in others but very bad at remembering our own. Lent is a time when we face up to our sin, a time when we recover our memories and remember. And like the time Jesus spent in the desert, facing up to all that is wrong in our lives is a real challenge because our human nature is such that we never like admitting we are wrong and need help.
Lent is a time when we turn to God and ask forgiveness. We recognise that we are lost and that Jesus needs to find us again, and we do what we can to help that process through those Lenten acts of discipline – of fasting, of reading of Scripture, of prayer, of self-examination, of confession. These are all ways that help us to remember the way we are going, the way that Jesus is taking us, because if we let him Jesus will take us by the hand and show us the way.
And however lost we may have been we find our way again and can continue our journey to our eternal home. All we need to do is recognise that we are lost, hold out a hand and allow Jesus to take it and lead us home.