Luke 4:1-13: After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable to you oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer…
So, we have been talking a lot about change around here lately, and you may even notice that some things are a little different today. You know, just a little…
And I know that that can sometimes be hard for people, because change is uncomfortable. Even talking about changing things makes some people’s skin crawl. And it’s very hard in someplace like church that is wrapped up in all these traditions and rituals that hold sentimental, nostalgic value for us. So, please don’t read this as callous, but I must say, I am a great lover of change.
Things cannot change quick enough for me, like, I just want to go as fast as possible towards a new horizon. I like to say, Jesus can have the wheel, but I want the gas pedal.
And I have this analogy that my friends and I use when we come to big decisions. We call it cliff jumping. And guess what, yes, I am a cliff jumper. I don’t need equipment, I don’t need encouragement, I don’t even really care if it’s all that safe, I just want to jump. I am a leap before you look kind of person.
Thus, I have to also admit, that when I make these cliff jumping decisions and go flying off without even checking first where I’m going, I tend to be thinking about adventure.
That’s what I want when I start on the path God gives me, I want destiny, not desert.
I want the romantic notion of God’s call leading me to some fantastic journey with a machete and a rope bridge, or maybe some hardened inner-city kids who I befriend. I want even the hardest parts of the journey to be kind of magical, something that someone would want to make a movie out of.
I want change without growth, I want adventure without hardship, I want resurrection without death. I want all the good and exciting parts of life, but I don’t want to do the boring and tough bits. I don’t want to be uncomfortable.
I like change so much because I think if I can just move fast enough, the hard parts of it won’t catch up to me.
So, it’s sort of strange that I love the season of Lent. Because this is not a time to move fast, it’s not a time to dodge uncomfortableness. It is, as was said last week, a slow path through a deep and fruitful swamp.
And this is where we begin, in the desert, in the wilderness. And what a place to start.
Because it doesn’t feel like a great place to start. I mean, Jesus has just begun his ministry, he’s
called his disciples, he’s been baptized and God has sent a dove to proclaim that Jesus is his
beloved son. And then, you’d think he’d hit the road, but he doesn’t. He heads into the desert, for forty days! Forty days!
The beloved son of God, instead of fast tracking his ministry, taking things to the next level and
growing his brand, goes out into the wilderness to pray. And he is assailed there by the Devil.
Now, this is where we could get really weird with this sermon, but let’s just think about this for a
second. Jesus goes off, to start his mission from God, with 40 days in the wilderness. And there he meets temptation. Food when he is hungry, certainty when he is unsafe, power when he is powerless.
Now, this story seems dramatic and supernatural, and quite possibly easy to dismiss. Look what it’s become in the hands of modernity, Lent becoming a time to redo New Year’s resolutions to eat less chocolate and have less computer time. It has lost its teeth, it’s significance. It has lost the ability to remind us what is really going on here.
This story is big and wild and maybe doesn’t seem recognizable in our own lives, but it is. Because what the temptations were exactly don’t matter as much as the reasons behind them, and those are ones we all face. The temptation to take the easy way out when something we want conflicts with where we find ourselves. The temptation to certainty in the face of risk and chaos, the choice to pick safe, well-worn paths because we know where they go and staying stagnant instead of growing. The temptation to wield power to protect ourselves from fear and doubt and loneliness.
This doesn’t feel like a great place to start, but it’s the right place to start, because this journey we’re on towards the building of a kingdom requires something different from us, something new. It requires the ability to choose the long, hard path instead of the easy fix. It requires the willingness to risk, to not play it safe, and take the road less traveled. It requires the compassion and humility to acknowledge other people and their needs, the love needed to be a team, a community, rather than all-powerful and dictatorial.
It requires slowing down, and recognizing that the right place to start is the place of prayer, the place of listening to God, the place of intentional letting the Holy Spirit in.
I know that this is asking a lot. It’s asking all of us to sit with, lean into, being uncomfortable, being uncertain, being in the wilderness. And that’s not an easy task. And it can almost feel like punishment. But it’s not.
This time of wilderness, it’s a gift. It’s a strangely-wrapped, awkward gift that gives us so much.
Because it’s the gift of time, the gift of prayer and relationship with God, it’s the gift of trust, it’s the gift of newness, it’s the gift of community.
So, my brothers and sisters, as we make our journey towards the hope of the cross, we have been blessed with opportunities to discover new things in ourselves; to sit with the new ways we are
worshipping and to meditate on how we feel and why; to gather with the children in wonder and experience the building of ritual in the wilderness; to join in community and solidarity with those who are also on this journey, feeling the weight of this time and fighting the loneliness and fear.
It’s like that old saying, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. We have far to go, but we’re going together. So, take this time, beloved, this Holy Lent as a new start where the possibilities are endless, and let us give thanks for the gift of the desert road. Amen.