Welcome to the first Sunday in Lent, the period observed before Easter Sunday which this year comes on April 16th. Hopefully since Easter is in mid-April it’ll be little warmer down at Indian Lake for the Sunrise Service this year. Let’s hope so! The two scripture texts read today have much in common (Matthew 4:1-11, Psalm 32). Both texts describe an individual’s struggle in relation to God and I’d like to explore that.
I read somewhere that the famous “Biggest Loser” TV show fitness guru Bob Harper, who was in tip top shape, had a massive heart attack. How does that happen? It seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? An expert in health and nutrition spends so much time and energy getting it right and yet, there he was in the throes of a heart failure. How like that is Jesus in the Gospel today? Jesus had faith beyond which you and I have yet to experience, I think we can all agree. You might say after years of prayer and Bible studies Jesus was spiritually fit, an expert. Yet, his endurance was challenged while in the middle of a desert wilderness and he was subject to all the temptations a person could possibly encounter. Scripture tells us he was “led by the spirit” to be there yet when the devil showed up Jesus must have thought to himself, can’t a guy catch a break even out here in the wilderness where nobody else is around?
Imagine fasting for forty days – how difficult that would be! If you have had certain medical procedures, perhaps you fasted a day or two prior and that in itself is not easy. In my 20’s, I fasted from solid food and just drank juice and water for a week and my boyfriend made it to 10 days but it made us both weak and rather squirrely in the head and I certainly would not recommend it. Jesus did 40 days of fasting and during that time encountered all manner of temptation to distract him from it. That old devil just kept coming at him. First the devil attacks his hunger, which must have been exceedingly painful, by reminding Jesus he had the ability to turn the rocks into biscuits. Or bread it actually says, but to me the temptation of warm buttermilk biscuits seems more difficult to withstand. However starving he must have been, Jesus resisted.
Next, Satan dramatically flew him up to the top of a temple where he can see everything for miles around and dared Jesus to test his relationship with God by jumping off the pinnacle and allowing God to save him from dying. Jesus sticks by his faith and angrily tells him to cease testing God’s presence and ability. Jesus knows God is with him and does not need to prove anything to this wily old coyote, Satan. You might think by this time the devil would just give up but instead he drags Jesus all the way up to the top of a mountain and offers him the world by pointing out everything in sight and saying it could be his “if only” he would deny God and worship the devil instead. To which, our friend Jesus plainly refuses saying “for it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” One wonders if Jesus was quite as polite as that in rebuking the devil.
This text describes the start of Jesus’ active ministry and so it is a new beginning for him and a turning point in his life. It’s intriguing that Jesus chose to begin ministry with a long period of meditation, contemplating what he was about to take on. We mortals think of him as alone in the desert but remember, the scripture actually says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” so he wasn’t really alone at all. Do you believe in the presence of the Spirit of God in your life? I know there are many faithful people here in our Congregation and I am always interested in hearing your testimonies and witnessing to that faith.
Anybody want to give witness to their faith this morning?
Where are you with the concept of the Spirit leading you through your path in life?
Do you trust that Spirit?
What moves you to begin new things?
For me, Lent is like that. This period of 40 days prior to our celebration of the Resurrection can be a way to begin something new or to renew something you may have let go by the wayside. I don’t say that during Lent you must do this or that or give up this or that. Although, if there is something you want to forego or accomplish that’s perfectly fine. Lent can simply be a very personal, private time of inner reflection. This year I am engaging in the act of giving up something but not telling anyone what it is. Perhaps keeping it private is a normal thing for people to do during Lent, but not for me! I like to talk it all out to anybody I can drag off the street, “sharing” my joy, or grief, depending on the situation at hand. This year, 2017, I am choosing not to share it. So, part of my resisting temptation to broadcast it will be to keep it private and that in itself is a challenge.
I can look to today’s Psalm 32 for help with this, as can you if you so choose. It says in 32:3 “While I kept silence my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.” Wow, the scripture says I get to groan and complain all day long? Now we’re talkin’! Further down in 32:7 it says, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.” Psalms of love and protection like that are so helpful. Do you ever go to the psalms when you are feeling low or afraid? You’d be surprised how spot on they can be. Try it, the next time you are down. Crack open the Psalms, which are pretty much in the middle of the Bible and find one that really works for you. Write it down or write in on your heart. I believe the Spirit we were talking about earlier works through the words of the Psalms, you just need to find one that works for you. My personal favorite is Psalm 121 but this Psalm 32 today is very effective too.
What do you think is the role or symbolism of the wilderness” in this story? The word translated “wilderness” can also be translated as “desert” – a place that is desolate. Yet it is not always to be understood as a negative; sometimes it is good to “get away from it all.” The other day I took my dog Bella for a long drive up to the reservoir and intentionally left my phone at home. I am almost never without my phone for pastoral as well as personal reasons, but this day I thought I would just leave it home and experience touring in the car and walking in the outdoors without a phone. You know what? It was glorious! I actually had a conversation with God while walking around out there in the cold sunshine, watching the glimmering water. I told God that I was very grateful for all that I have and for all the people in my life who help me to be a better person. Honestly, it was just a brief moment of sacred connection with the Creator and I don’t think I would have had it if I had been thinking about my phone or looking for texts and e-mail messages. During my walking prayer I thought, how do I make sense of the options available to me? What do I do next and what has God got in store for me? You never know what The Spirit’s next move is going to be, you just need to be open to her.
How can we know that we are following the will of God as we enter a new adventure? That’s a tough one. I wonder if Jesus also had to grapple with those kinds of doubts or if he was so close to God that he felt confident in his choices. In today’s scripture it doesn’t seem that he wavered but still, you wonder. What can we do if we discover, along the path, that we are not in line with God’s will?
I can only speak for myself here but when I am not on the straight and narrow with God my stomach tells me so. I get a knot in my stomach and it’s like someone is tapping me on the shoulder and saying “uh-uh-uh!” in that admonishing way. Do you know what I mean? “Uh-uh-uh, what you just said to that co-worker or parishioner was not so kind.” So then I need to go back, apologize and make amends to them. Or “uh-uh-uh you don’t need to buy that dress that looks almost exactly like the last one you bought” but rather you can give that money to a person in need. Or “uh-uh-uh you just told a little white lie to your best friend in order to stay on their good side.” If your friend is really your friend, do you need to do that? How about “uh-uh-uh – do you really need that second or third pancake or another piece of cake?” Yes, it’s good to eat the cake of life but let’s not go crazy! As we begin Lent, think about taking some time to being alone with God in the wilderness. The extent and effectiveness of your faith is all about that relationship.