If You Fall Down

Learning to Live Inside Out

First Sunday in Lent, Year A

If we endeavor to work in the world around us, we will fall down. From time to time, we will fail; our efforts will not be received in the spirit intended; the fruit will be slow in coming. So, if we must fall, let us fall down in worship of the one who redeems us.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Thank you, Lao Tzu. Whatever that means. I mean, we think we know. It sounds great. Something powerful, something that sounds impossible, has humble beginnings. Supposedly, the original quote said “a thousand li” journey. A li was an ancient Chinese measurement that equaled three hundred and sixty miles. So, he actually said a journey of 360,000 miles begins with a single step. Wow. How far do you have to go today? More than a quarter of a million, but just short of a half a million miles! Yikes, better sit down. Do you realize that is more than a hundred thousand miles past the moon? OK, now I’m tired. Thanks, Lao Tzu.

We’re on a journey. That’s how we describe the season of Lent. The Lenten Journey. The very concept implies at least two things: one, that we are moving. This isn’t a static, sit-and-contemplate event. We often think of Lent as a time of consideration, self-reflection, and introspection. And certainly, there is an element of that inherent in the design of the season. But movement is built into the pattern of the season. We are walking with Christ. And Christ is on his way somewhere.

That’s the second implication of the season: we have a destination. This journey isn’t just random wandering in the wilderness, even though it often feels that way. We are on a path; we are moving toward the cross. That’s our destination. The culmination of our Lenten journey is not Easter sunrise, as much as we wish it were. No, Easter is something completely different. We can no more journey to Easter than we could travel a hundred thousand miles past the moon. Easter is another dimension of time and of space. No, actually it is beyond time and space. It is completely out of reach. More on that to come ... really.

No, our destination is much more earthy. Much more real. And, unfortunately, more painful. It requires more sacrifice, more surrender. The journey to the cross is a journey laden with struggle, with a wrestling match with our greatest foe: ourselves. You were hoping for an enemy to conquer. A stranger who’s a threat. The bad guy. Them. You know those people, that type, the evil empire, all that stuff. Yeah, no, sorry. It’s you. Old Pogo had it right. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” And because he is us, because this journey is an inner journey at least in part, we’d just as soon not. We’d give it a pass, and most of the time we do. No thanks, I’m fine. Our usual social response. No thanks, I’m fine. All on my own, I’m good. It’s everyone else who is the problem. If it weren’t for them, all would be peachy.

This means that our philosophical aphorism ought to be “a journey of a thousand (or three hundred sixty thousand) miles begins with a single stumble.” We fall down a lot. That’s kind of our story. We start out that way. Remember when the kids were learning to walk all those years ago? Falling down seemed to be the way of it. Hardly any attempt was made without crashing down on their (thankfully) well-padded existential ground of being. Sometimes there were tears. Sometimes frustration. Sometimes the ground seemed a safer place, and the attempt was put off until another day. We fall down. Any journey that gets us anywhere important is going to include a few stumbles. A stubbed toe, a cracked shin, a bloody nose, a teary moment, an unplanned detour, a lack of resources, a mechanical failure, a ... well, point taken. We fall down.

This leads us to continually ask, “Why bother? If the journey is too great, why take it? If I’m likely to fall down, why set out—especially heading someplace that is ‘good for me’?” God, save us from what is good for us. That just seems to scream “painful, exhausting, humiliating, and ultimately asking for change.”

Who does that? Who seeks that strenuous, wrestling with self that leads to surrender and sacrifice and then transformation? Who does that? Read Matthew 4:1-11.

Yeah, okay. Him. He would go for that. But then he’s ... him. Well, take another look. Matthew (and Luke) says that he was led up. He didn’t go looking for it. He didn’t run to meet it. He shuffled forward in the line at Ash Wednesday with the same slumped shoulders as the rest of us. Mark even goes further and says that the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. Kicking and screaming perhaps. I don’t wanna; I don’t wanna. Or maybe not; maybe he knew that this journey was one worth taking, even though it ended at what seemed like a dead end. Even though it ended with a painful betrayal and an agonizing night, and a lonely and broken surrender of life on a hill that looked like a skull, under a blazing sun that didn’t weep until it was too late for him to feel it.

But that was his journey, not ours, surely. We don’t spend forty hungry days in a desert, hallucinating conversations around impossibilities and sleight of hand. Do we? No, of course not. We can’t turn stones into bread; that wouldn’t enter our minds. But we can turn every hunger into a physical one and satisfy spiritual needs by stuffing our faces or filling our closets. We can’t leap from the pinnacle of the temple and be caught by angels. But we can leap into self-destructive habits that lead to death more often than not in the misguided belief that we are immortal as long as we don’t think about it. We aren’t shown the kingdoms of the world in their splendor and given the keys to these kingdoms if we just fall down again. Yet we believe we deserve everything, anything our hearts desire, in an odd confusion about rights and freedoms.

We fall down. Over and over. The painful realization is that our journey is not just the forty days of Lent, but the whole of our lives. Every day, we are given opportunities to claim the gift of life that we’ve been given in Christ, and we fall down. We surrender to our own temptations, to our own selfishness, me time. Instead of surrendering to the cross upon which we can nail all our falling down, all our brokenness. Instead of journeying to the death of self and of sin, we wrestle with the adversary inside us, our own willfulness. And we fall down.

We seem to think Lent is about falling down, about collapsing in tears and remorse and regret and this overwhelming sense of sinfulness. “That’s the only way to move forward,” we seem to think. But maybe, like the one we follow, our Lenten opportunity is to not fall down. For once. We stand in the arms of the one who stood for us. We stand and we walk with him all the way to the cross.

So, old Lao Tzu was right. It’s not about falling down, not about stumbling. It’s about standing and stepping. It’s about taking the first step, putting our hands in his hand and taking that first step on the road to the cross. It’s a long painful journey, but one worth taking. Walk with me. Walk with him. All the way to the cross.

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes


  • Purple

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes