Lent is a journey into the desert but it is not a journey we take alone. God is with us.
“The notion that God is absent is the fundamental illusion of the human condition.”—Thomas Keating
The temptation of Jesus in the desert takes three aspects.
First comes a temptation to rescue, to take upon himself the role of deliverer from distress, from scarcity, from despair, without reference or resort to God.
Turn these stones into bread, if you’re so holy. If you’re so holy, you don’t need God. You can do it on your own. You have powers! You don’t need anybody. And besides, where are they?
Lent means length of days, and forty days means a lot of days. It has been a long time, and Jesus is hungry. Forty days is a long time to go without food. Imagine it. Try it as a thought experiment. For four seconds, don’t think about food, don’t think about food, don’t think about food, don’t think about food… easy? Now forty seconds! Minutes! Hours! Days!
And yet Jesus replies, citing the words of Deuteronomy (8:3), which says:
“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
He is in the wilderness, now. If there is anything to eat, it is nothing he has seen before.
And besides, he is fasting. He is waiting on the word of God. He is, led by the Spirit. He is the servant of God, not his commander, out here in the wilderness, and so he will be the servant and not the commander in Galilee, in Jerusalem, and in the world.
He will eat, and break, and share the bread of Faith.
He will eat, and break, and share the bread of Faith.
Worship me, and all this can be yours! Temptation two: Rule the Domination System, cooperate with – control – the powers of this world, to best the Emperor at his own game.
That’s set your people free! Won’t it? Will it ever set them free? Or is power, power over others, just another form of slavery?
This power over others is one he can set aside. He chooses the service that is perfect freedom. He will challenge the powers that be. He will be the challenger of the system. He will be the one who speaks truth in the face of power. And he will not despair.
God’s kingdom will come. And his power is the power of obedience – and of Love.
Number three. But Jesus surely God loves you enough to save you. If you play the victim, the spectacular victim, he will rescue you, won’t he? Don’t do anything. You sit back and receive. He will come and save you. After all there is nothing, really, that you can do. You might as well make a spectacular end of it – go out in a blaze of glory – then they’ll know that you really were the son of God, Elijah returned, the prophet of the ages, and they missed it! But Jesus says no. God is not to be tested, not even by Despair.
Even if there is only just a little you can do, you can do that little. And keep hope alive. And his salvation is the salvation not of fear or despair or the avoidance of suffering. It is the saving Hope that God is with us even in despair, even through the path of suffering, even through the valley of death.
And so Jesus (1) confronted by the temptation to be the hero, the rescuer, chooses to be the servant. Tempted (2) to take control of his destiny, to sell out, to be in the driver’s seat, he says no. And challenges the powers that be. Tempted (3) to be in despair or to indulge in spectacular victim-hood, he says no, a third time, and does not play the victim. He will not accept the role of passive recipient of fate. He chooses to take an active part. He will be a servant, a challenger, and an active participant in God’s work in the world.
And so he is ready to come in from the wilderness. Faith, hope and love: these three, are beside him, and with him comes the ever-present glory of God.
The challenge for us is this: are we ready to be servants, not rescuers, challengers, not power-seekers, actors, not victims? Are we ready to live, not by bread alone, but in hope, and faith, and love, by the sure and certain promise, and presence, and challenge, of the word of God?
Are we ready to be transformed? To be servants of God? Proclaimers of his word?
To trust God, serve him only, and become bread for the world?
Lent is a call to conversion, to taking responsibility for our own behavior, as individuals, and as a community, for emotional, intellectual, moral, religious, social and political, and economic aspects of our lives. That is our challenge, and our calling.
God is the source of all blessing.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. You guide us through the wilderness, to the land of your abundance. You guide us through times of trial, and lead us into the place of peace. You refresh us when we are weak, or lonely, or in despair, and give us strength to bear good news into your world.
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts and the deeds of our hands, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
Conversations with Paul Mitchell, Susanne Kromberg, and John Forman, and with the St Alban's Men's Group, Lee Forsberg, Ron Sodetani, Jim Nichols, and Al Walker, were helpful and informative in preparing this sermon. JRL+