Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills, O God, that we may serve you today and always – Amen
Poor Jesus. There he was, full of the Holy Spirit, fresh off of being baptized by John the Baptist, being told he was God’s own beloved Son with whom God was well pleased – presumably, Jesus was pretty happy at this point. And then, as we hear in today’s Gospel, shortly after his baptism, the Spirit leads him, not beside those peaceful streams of still water we know about from the 23rd Psalm, but rather into wilderness, where Satan confronts him. Talk about your highs and lows.
As we began our Lenten journey with our observance of Ash Wednesday this past week, Martha reminded us that we are invited to enter into a wilderness of sorts, to join Jesus in the desert for the 40 days of this Church season through our own spiritual journey. To have a Holy Lent. This Lenten journey that we are invited to take with Jesus, is often a time full of highs and lows — a time filled with contrition and regret, as well as reconciliation and the joy of being members of Christ’s body and inheritors of God’s Kingdom – a time of reflection, prayer, quietness and preparation in anticipation of a beginning, of new life at Easter.
Lent is a time filled with both … penitential and baptismal themes.
Today’s Gospel certainly is centered around those penitential and baptismal themes as Jesus deals with the temptations put before him, (and there were doubtless more than three but) especially the three temptations we hear about in some detail in Luke and Matthew. I suspect most of us here this morning have heard this Gospel frequently over the years with lots and lots of good commentary. Some of that commentary may have centered on the three temptations as promises to Jesus by Satan of possessions, power, and protection — or perhaps you see them as temptations appealing to his physical nature, intellectual nature and spiritual nature – the body, mind and soul. Whole sermons have been written and preached about any one of those interpretations about Jesus being tempted and his responses – in fact, I wrote one of those sermons for this morning.
However, I put it away because I want to focus on something else from the Gospel. What I want to focus on this morning is – why? I struggled with the question of why Jesus had to go through this time of wilderness. He is after all Jesus, Son of God, part of the Trinity. Moreover, even though he is probably not fully aware of everything that means yet, he knows by now that he is destined.
I believe The Spirit leads him into wilderness because now he needs to get Ready. Get ready to Start. To start and to begin his public ministry and he needs to sort through a few things. Because even as that ministry would be full of joy and love, it also would be full of pain and many trials – culminating in his crucifixion.
So Jesus is figuring out what his ministry will be about, what will be the meaning and shape of his role, his destiny. He is sorting through the trials, pitfalls and temptations he will face throughout his ministry that will challenge his obedience and how his responses and actions will underscore and strengthen his faithfulness to God. Not only is he learning what his ministry will be about, he is also learning how he will become ready to deal with those temptations that he will face during that ministry as he journeys closer and closer to the cross. He is learning — practicing —- if you will, how he will resist giving into the temptations that would prevent him from being obedient to God and separating him from God’s love. He is learning about his relationship to God.
All of us are tempted at some time, by something. I know I am — but you know, sometimes I don’t even know when I’m being tempted, much less that I’ve succumbed to the temptation. Often we are tempted not through our weaknesses but through our strengths, when we forget that it is through God’s gifts, God’s love and grace that we prosper. Maybe we forget to see the face of Christ in those we meet because we are so busy, so absorbed in our lives. Or, we think because we do something good, like making a donation to a good cause, that we can look the other way when faced with the person who is sleeping on the steps of our Cathedral. And sometimes I think we are tempted to do good things but for the wrong reasons. Like someone who gives into the temptation of working hard helping with a good cause because they really enjoy being seen by others as a good person rather than because they are helping as a response to Jesus’s directives to help the needy.
The circumstances involved in our temptations certainly are not the same as Jesus’s. But our need to stop, to enter a self-imposed wilderness of sorts and to prepare for how we deal with temptations and how our responses are going to shape the meaning and the role in this world of our lives, is the same. And to do that we need to know what draws us away from focusing on God’s will – what makes it hard for us to put our trust in God’s unqualified love.
Wilderness can look different at different times and different for different people. Maybe your wilderness is a time of emptying that will strengthen your relationship to God — a way to prepare for an anticipated event. I know that I am entering into such a time of self-imposed wilderness in retreat, as I prepare for a new beginning. I suspect it will be a time punctuated by the extremes of living in community with other’s who are on retreat, as well as a time to take apart from my friends and family and the normal routines of my life, in order to discern again God’s call to ordained ministry. I know it will involve time spent in solitude, listening — A time of reflection……with both…penitential and baptismal themes.
And we have young people here at St. Paul’s who are in a journey of exploration in what may be new and unknown and maybe even scary areas for them through confirmation classes. Classes that will lead to new beginnings involving an enriched understanding of what it means to have been baptized, to be a Christian and to meet Christ at the altar through the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. A time with both ….. penitential and baptismal themes.
Maybe your wilderness this Lent will mean you give up something or take on a new spiritual or physical action, not only because you want to repent, but as a way of changing your relationship with things that distracted you from your relationship with God. A time with both ….. penitential and baptismal themes.
Maybe the circumstances some of us find our lives in now will be an unasked for wilderness – maybe through the loss of a job, a struggle with addiction, the death of a loved one, or a serious illness that confronts us with our own mortality. A time in wilderness for personal reflection about our relationship to Jesus ……. times full of penitential and baptismal themes.
Now, I certainly am not wishing 40 days of strife and angst on anyone, rather, I am inviting us to live into that Holy Lent this year that Martha talked about year by making it a time for quiet reflection with real intention and without any self-loathing. I hope we can find it as a place for personal reflection about our relationship with the Triune God. I hope we can take the time to truly examine what temps us and how it might prevent us from trusting in God’s love so that we are not trapped in the type of wilderness that Jesus triumphed over: the temptation to distrust God.
So how are we called to be obedient to God and what is our relationship? Where will we find our highs and lows this Lenten season? Do we hear God’s message of trust and love on this Valentine’s Day, the love made manifest in the incarnate Jesus? Will we be prepared to start again when we find ourselves at the empty tomb of Easter? Will we be ready to experience the joy of the resurrection?
Yes, this Lenten journey that we take with Jesus in the wilderness can be a time of highs and lows, as we examine what type of new life we are striving for, and recognize that which tempts us away from fulfilling that life.
May we use this gift of time to examine the questions that we need to. May we use this season of preparation (slow) to know that if we find ourselves in the wilderness, self-imposed or unexpectedly, we can trust that with the Spirit’s strength and guidance we can be led out and perhaps find whole new paths on the way.
And when Easter arrives may we be prepared to start a new life, rich with joy, giving great thanks for the resurrection, ready to embrace our renewed life in Christ in joy and with love —- through our Baptismal Covenant.