Boot Camp for the Soul: The Need for Change
Psalm 32; Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 5, 2017
This week begins the 40 days of Lent in which we prepare ourselves spiritually for Jesus’, arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, burial and then on Easter morning, the glorious resurrection. Lent is one of our oldest Christian traditions and though the traditions may have changed over the centuries, its purpose has remained the same. Lent is “a time of self-examination and penitence, which can be demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter.”
It is believed Lent began as a two or three-day observance which grew in 325 A.D, during the Council of Nicea, into the 40 day tradition we now observe. It’s believed to have begun as a time of preparation for new Christians who were preparing for baptism that would occur on Easter morning. The time of preparation was then extended to encompass the entire congregation. It wasn’t until the 600’s when Gregory the Great moved the beginning of Lent to a Wednesday and it was named “Ash Wednesday” to give us the 40 days to Easter, not including Sundays which were feast days, or non-fasting days.
It was Gregory who established the Ash Wednesday tradition, “as Christians came to the church for forgiveness, he marked their foreheads with ashes reminding them of the biblical symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes) and reminded them of their own mortality: “You are dust, and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19).”
Many of us gathered this past Wednesday to receive ashes, both at Starbucks and here during our Wednesday night worship. The ash on our forehead signified our acknowledgement of the beginning of this season, the season of Lent. We will journey together over the next 40 days, as we begin what I am calling the “Boot Camp for the Soul.”
How many of you went to boot camp? It’s really called basic training with the military? Do you remember what that was like? (rigorous, exhaustive, mentally and physically challenging?) This week I spoke to Bob Triolo about his experience at Boot Camp. He enlisted with the Army in 1966 when he was just 18 years old. Going into the Army was his first experience traveling outside of his home town. He described the experience as one that built self-confidence and whipped him into shape.
Basic Training in the Army is divided into three phases. The first phase is called the red phase and is known for totally controlling the recruits; “their every action monitored and corrected by drill sergeants. The first week of training is commonly referred to as “Hell Week,” due to the intense period of adjustment required on the part of the new recruits.”
In the second phase, also known as the “White Phase,” soldiers begin firing weapons and familiarizing themselves with a full range of weaponry. “The course also includes an obstacle course which the soldiers are expected to negotiate in a certain amount of time. Additionally, Phase II includes continual, intense Physical Training or PT, along with drill and ceremony training.
Phase III or the “Blue Phase,” is the culmination and the most challenging of all the training phases. A final PT test is administered during the first week and recruits who fail are frequently retested, often up until the morning of their cycle’s graduation. If they do not pass, then they are recycled to another platoon until they meet the fitness standards. Upon completion of Basic Combat Training, a recruit is now a soldier.”
Bob remembered particularly the lack of sleep and the stress he felt daily trying to keep up, learning everything thrown at him and trying to do so with skill and excellence. Following eight weeks of intense physical, psychological, and emotional training, Bob graduated and entered into soldier life. His time at boot camp forever stamped in his memory.
Why is it so important for our military to undergo such intense training? Why does it matter? Their very lives are at stake, their lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers and of all Americans who rely on their dedication and service to keep us safe and secure at home. Their training matters. What about us? Should we consider the same intensity when we look at our training to be Christians in our community, those “Onward Christian Soldiers”? Should we consider taking this season of Lent and demanding more of ourselves as we strive to be more and more like Christ, transforming ourselves so that we are radiant in our love of God and are able to share that joy with others? Anyone ready to begin boot camp?
Our time at boot camp can also be divided into three phases. The first phase is submission, we must submit to God and recommit our lives to live as Christ did, loving others and putting their needs ahead of our own. The second phase is one of intense training – we have at our fingertips excellent tools to increase our knowledge of God and to give us experiences that will lead us to Christ, helping us to be the best God created. Then the third phase is where we are sent out to exhibit to the world all that we have learned.
Anytime we begin something new there is a learning curve. Rarely do we start something new and are instantly great at it. Think about when you first learned to drive, it took months of practice and lessons to get the hang of steering, braking and keeping up with traffic safely. When we started a new job often we undergo weeks of training to learn all the aspects of the job so we can be good employees and perform well. I want to encourage us to approach Lent 2017 as a boot camp, a way to push us beyond our limits in ways that will ultimately strengthen us.
I have to warn you, it won’t be without struggle, it won’t be without pain, there will be some bloodshed and agony! As we imitate Christ through this season we must experience these things so that when Easter comes we are ready for the glory that comes when we find the tomb is empty. But we must avoid moving too quickly, we must avoid jumping to the end of the story. We must pace ourselves.
When we turn to our scripture lesson this morning we see that when Jesus Christ began something new, after he left the safety of his family’s home and stepped out into public ministry, he entered into his own 40-day boot camp experience. Following his baptism by his cousin John in the Jordan River, scripture says he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The devil was waiting for him, waiting to lure him, seduce him or entice him away from God. The devil was the drill sergeant who did what he could to break him, to deem him unworthy for the assignment before him. Lives were on the line; all bets were off! This was a life and death struggle.
Notice if you will, that before the temptation, Jesus prepared himself by fasting and praying. He spent the time alone, getting himself ready for the temptation that he knew was coming. That was his phase 1. And unlike Adam and Eve who were tempted and succumbed to the temptation of the snake, Jesus would hold fast, he would not be deterred from his mission and ministry. Jesus would be victorious! And Jesus is our example!
As we enter our boot camp experience, we have the opportunity to make necessary changes, through our own dedication and hard work. We are invited to join Christ in a “similar season of introspection, a time of discernment of sin and all that separates us from the knowledge and love of God, and to enter into a time of repentance and renewal of life in preparation for Easter.”
We begin our own season of preparation with a cautionary reminder that we too will be tempted as Jesus was. We too will be asked to denounce God and to put our own self, or our own pride ahead of Christ. We must be armed against the temptations in a similar manner that Jesus was. Did you notice the powerful sword that Jesus used at each temptation? Three times the devil came at him and three times Jesus used this weapon to disarm Satan. Jesus’ time spent in phase 2 of his boot camp training was powerful!
What was it? It was scripture! With the precision of a soldier, Jesus knocks down the devil’s attempts to engage him, to draw him away from his path, from his destiny. Jesus knew that the best defense was to know and use his strength and his strength was with the Lord. And with God by his side, there was nothing that the devil could do to dissuade him. Years of scripture study prepared Jesus for that day, that most important day of testing. Make no mistake, the choice wasn’t easy for Jesus. It isn’t easy for us today.
Can you think of something that tempts you? Food? Drugs? Alcohol? Lust? Laziness? My bed tempts me – in the morning when I need to crawl out of bed, my bed tempts me to stay in bed, just a little longer. It’s so warm and snuggly! It will be ok! Staying in bed isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if I succumb to the temptation to lay in bed and sleep, I am not able to do what God has called me to do that day. There would be people who aren’t tended to, situations that are forgotten and lives that could have been transformed through our ministries that are left unchanged.
Years ago, I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and one of the speakers shared that alcohol was his greatest temptation. Alcohol lied to him daily, trying to get him drinking again. He said, it tried to seduce him into thinking that the only thing that would make him feel better was drinking. He shared that he had to fight hard not to believe the lies that the drink was telling him. We must take inventory on what we are telling ourselves; what lies do we hear in our head that we believe? “I don’t have time, I don’t have the resources, God can’t use me that way, I am not good sharing about Jesus, I can’t be useful.”
Sisters and brothers, the more we dedicate ourselves to Christ, the more the opposition comes against us. We must prepare for the temptation or distraction that will inevitably be levied. We must arm ourselves with the knowledge that as we move toward a deeper relationship, the evil one will do all in his power to side track us, to lure us away. If we can be distracted then we lose, and God’s impact on the world is lessened.
When we become powerful in our faith, as we dig deeper and make real transformation in our lives and our relationship with God, the devil gets a little itchy. Know what I mean? The more powerful God’s people become, the less control the devil has over us in this realm and he’s not amused.
We must stand firm against the temptation to do things that God finds grievous, those things that separate us from the love of God, those things we call sin. Sin is anything that puts up a wall between you and God. If Lent is like a boot camp for the soul, what is the hard work that can be done in this limited, and very intensive time? What shall we do in our own phase 2, after we have submitted to the season, to the opportunity for transformation?
First read scripture – put yourself onto a plan to regularly spend time with God through scripture. Next spend time with God in prayer – kneeling, sharing, and opening yourself to God though quiet time alone. Join in a small group – come to the men’s breakfast, the women’s coffee, join in a bible study on Sunday morning, at Myra’s home on Thursday afternoon or monthly at Theo Pub. Joining with others helps us to hold one another accountable!
Try something new. I want to challenge everyone this morning to a new experience. Many of you may not know this but at St. Andrews Catholic Community has the most beautiful labyrinth. You know what a labyrinth is right? It is a pattern that leads one walking around and around until you reach the center, and then after spending some time in the middle, you come back out again. It is different from a maze in that there is only one path, only one way into the center, and one way back out.
Some call the labyrinth a “sacred path,” or “sacred gateway.” Labyrinths are used to help us connect with God. It is a tool that we can use during our boot camp for the soul. I’d like to invite you to join me this week at the labyrinth at St. Andrews on San Felipe. I will be there Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. and next Saturday at 9 a.m.
As we arm ourselves against temptation, as we begin our boot camp we must DO something different. We must commit to our spiritual journey to the cross and experiencing the labyrinth is one way that we can do that individually and corporately as the family of God. Won’t you join me at boot camp?
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, allow us to step out in faith to draw ever closer to you, to be touched by the Holy Spirit in new and profound ways. Give us the enlightenment we desire to transform us into dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ. As we give ourselves over to you fully and completely, protect us from the temptation that may befall us. Empower us to protect ourselves with scripture, prayer and Godly relationships so that we can be powerful warriors for you. We ask this all in Jesus name. Amen.
 http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/beginning-of-lent.html Accessed March 4, 2017
 Miller Kelly, Jessica. A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. How Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, KY. 2016. Page 22