February 18, 2024 – First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; I Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

The Rev. Candice B. Frazer

Back in the 80s, when MTV actually showed music videos, there was a song whose background chorus kept repeating, “I want my MTV.” It was a dumb song—no disrespect to Dire Straights—that really didn’t have anything to say other than a repeated lament for pleasure and ease—“your money for nothing and your chicks for free.” That was our kryptonite of the 80s—a life of pleasure without the expense of hard work or sacrifice. It was an era in which hair defined the popularity of a band rather than music or notes; when the lines of division were clear—Russia was the enemy and the whole of the USA could bond behind a flag or a sports team that would defeat our enemy on an ice rink. There was a sense of unity even in the midst of opposing viewpoints and disagreements. It was the time of the blockbuster movie—producing such hits as Indiana Jones, Top Gun, and Ghost Busters—movies that could be watched multiple times at the theater and at home on a VCR. As far as an era goes, the 80s were my favorite, though I wonder if most of us would describe our growing up years that way if only for reasons of nostalgia.

The problem with nostalgia is that it often ignores the darker side of whatever we seem to remember so fondly. We focus on the happy memories trying to push past or even deny the downside of things. In my heart I want my MTV at times, though I know that I cannot bring back the 80s nor do I really want too. The 80s seemed all Beverly Hills, an ever expanding choice on cable television, and big hair but it was also the time of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, prejudice toward those of a non-traditional sexual orientation, the underlying drug culture of America, a rise in terrorism specifically in the Middle East. Though the news stories of the day were significant, it is the underlying desire of our culture to distract ourselves—to look for pleasure rather than true joy—a hallmark of the 80s.

Our God is mighty to save. But he does not save in the same way that the world attempts to save. God doesn’t extend simple pleasures as distractions from the great tragedy of mankind. Just as God knows our weaknesses, so do those who drive our world—culturally, politically, economically. Those who know our worldly weakness use them against us—not necessarily for nefarious reasons though certainly financial greed and lust for power drive many of them—such that we are assaulted by many temptations. We can defend the assaults of our enemies as simply the actions of those who know our desires—our want of “my MTV” so to speak—and deliver upon them. Are they then at fault for giving the people what they want? Or are we, who in order to form a more perfect union, got domestic tranquility confused with pursuit of pleasure?

Regardless of who you might blame, those who provide the distractions or those who succumb to them, we have allowed the assault to limit ourselves as a society. Chris Anderson in his 2006 book, The Long Tail, says that “a society that is hit driven, and makes way and room for only those films that are expected to be a hit, is in fact a limited society.” He is talking about the modern blockbuster movie, but I think his meaning can be applied to our modern day temptations especially of the “influencer” variety that inundate our social media and drives our lust for affirmation of whatever we want to believe about the world.

Media bias has limited our society and driven us into division not simply with those who are our traditional enemies, but within our own country, our friend groups, even amongst family members. The pen has indeed become mightier than the sword, or maybe I should say the keyboard. No longer is it used to simply defeat an enemy, it is used to create one. 

Our media bias polarizes us no matter your source of information—CNN, Fox News, Facebook, even the Barbie movie. Instead of claiming a unity through difference, we force a unanimity that requires someone to lose. The irony is, that because of our access to media—the creation and distribution of content—the victor is not necessarily the most reasonable. Instead of a society working out our problems together, we have become obstructionists who declare one particular set of values pre-imminent and work only to that success. We find few occasions anymore to bond together as a nation, even as Christians.

Our collect this morning prays that in knowing the weakness of each of us, that each one of us might find God mighty to save. The great irony is that BigInfo—the conglomeration of tech companies that drive content on the web—knows those same weaknesses. Instead of using them to save each of us, they use them to draw us further into the wilderness amidst a barrage of constant temptation.

I don’t know that we are led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan, but I do know that Jesus, being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, contributes to a relationship of hope we share with the divine as a God who has embraced the fullness of our humanity in his earthly life. It is telling that in the advent of Jesus’s earthly ministry, at the moment of his baptism, his humanity would be tempted. Of course, Jesus knows the weakness of each of us. 

In those forty days of hunger and fear and temptation, Jesus didn’t fall victim to click bait. He offered himself as a living sacrifice—sharing in our temptations but not succumbing to them. We are not Jesus—and the story of Jesus in the wilderness is about Jesus, not us. But it is a distinctive story of Jesus’ humanity—the part of Jesus that we can most fully relate too. If we were to think of this in terms of WWJD—Jesus would suffer temptation. The story names that, our collect names that. In this season of Lent, maybe naming that we are tempted is our first step.

Back in the 80s we couldn’t name that our life and desire for leisure was a temptation. We believed it to be the American dream and bought into all the possibilities it seemed to afford without weighing the costs. We are wiser now, but no more reasonable. I’m not going to declare that the internet is the modern day wilderness, but anyone who has ever found themselves immersed in TikTok only to look up hours later and realize they’ve lost the day just might.

Most of us cannot “give up our screens” for Lent. And few of us are successful when we do try to give up social media or television. Those who are, often go right back to watching tv or checking out Facebook as soon as Lent is over. I wonder if we were to name our weaknesses, whatever screen-related habits that get us lost in a dopamine-driven click-bait world on our home screens, and offer them to God might we find ourselves being tended by the angels instead of being surrounded by wild beasts. The collect for today gives us just the language to do so anytime we are assaulted by temptation, “let each one find you mighty to save.” Trust in the salvation of God; trust in the sacrificial life that through our baptism reminds us that as we die to the simple pleasures of this life we are reborn into its more fulfilling purposes. Change your background chorus from “I want my MTV” (or whatever worldly thing that calls your name) to “I want my mighty God.” Make that your covenant this Lent and through all the days of your wandering life.