First Sunday in Lent 2019
by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “ToScripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
youI will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9Then 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, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Lent is a confusing and strange time to me anymore. It’s a season that we certainly do different things in the church and I’m always wondering if our Lenten plans and disciplines get the results we desire. It is certainly a time of reflection, reevaluation, and journey.
In today’s theatrical presentation we have four characters, yes four. We have Jesus, the Spirit, the Devil, and yes our final mystery guest, The Wilderness.
Jesus has just come from the Transfiguration mountain where the disciples are told to “LISTEN TO MY SON.” Jesus now accompanied with the Spirit is driven into the wilderness. The wilderness is not necessarily a desert…The Wilderness is a place of silence, solitude, and even possibly, a place where God presents certain gifts in our lives.
Let me remind you that The Spirit accompanies Jesus into this wilderness: Jesus is NOT alone and in our own world, our own wildernesses: God is with us. I cannot emphasize that enough. When I have had my own wildernesses: loss due to death, great disappointment, hurt, abuse, and sometimes those hard truths we all have to hear, I know God is with me. I may feel utterly alone, but I ultimately feel God’s presence. Sometimes my wilderness is just being a pastor. There is much of my life that is in solitude and wilderness listening to the Spirit and the call that he has for me and for this community.
My experience of the wilderness is also a way I enter into the lives of fellow sufferers. When I visit people in the hospital, when people are near death themselves or loved ones, devastating life events, I am assured that the Spirit is with those who suffer in that wilderness.
Wilderness means many things to many people. Its root word is wild, not the desert region, but something that is wild. Wilderness for the people of the Middle East is probably very different than the wilderness of us New Englanders. Wilderness can be something has wild as Jackmon Ridge at Camp Calumet, or Thoreau’s Walden Pond, or something as scary as Walt Disney World during Spring Break.
But with that understanding the word and the land of the wild, what about the wild creatures that we will meet there?
Obviously, Jesus meets a wild creature, the devil. The devil does his usual bag of tricks and tests Jesus’ human limitations immediately in the form of hunger. Jesus is hungry, famished and we all know if one is sufficiently starving, one will do anything to eat. It is instinctual and truly human. The other tests come in the form of idolatry and testing God. Jesus actually quotes the law from the OT book of Deuteronomy here quite effectively. Interestingly enough, the devil has a pretty darn good command of scripture. This further tells me that yes, the devil is pretty much capable of anything: from memorizing Scripture and probably even memorizing something like a catechism. Because my friends, it’s the action behind the words and the response to which we’re called.
So, how are we open to God’s grace while we’re on this wilderness path? In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus encounters angels, in Mark’s gospel Jesus encounters wild animals and the angels attend to him, and here in Luke, the devil just departs.
Even though we don’t hear of wild animals or angels in Luke, I imagine that Jesus was not alone. There were constant reminders of living entirely on the grace of God. And here at the end of this gospel reading, Jesus is left in the desert living entirely on the grace of God. His companions are the wilderness, the Spirit, angels, and these wild animals. And here at First Lutheran, though not a wilderness, we have the Holy Spirit and each other.
As we journey throughout the Wilderness of Lent and indeed that Wilderness of our lives, rest assure that gifts are in the least likely place and God shows up in remarkable ways.