February 21, 2010, 1st Sunday in Lent
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Deuteronomy26:1-11, Ps. 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b13, Luke 4:1-13
Lent 1, Year C
We gather on this first Sunday of Lent to start the journey to Holy Week, to the cross, and ultimately to the joy of Easter. But if the state of my soul is at all in synch with yours I come to this day with my attention divided and distracted. It has been a hard week for us here in this community. I suspect that like many if not all of you I have a heart that is bearing much sorrow. Death has been a main part of our life this week with the death of Bruce’s mother, Alice Sedgwick, and the death of Walter Close on Ash Wednesday late at night. While we grieve, we also trust in the words of the psalm we heard today: God’s angles have charge over us to keep us in all our ways, they will bear us up, we will be delivered because we are bound to God in love. These words live and hold true during our mortal life, during our death, and into our eternal life in God’s loving presence. It is a constant of God’s reality and a promise that is not broken. And while we ask our questions of why—because death is part of life—and think that it is not fair—no it is not—we cling deep down to a trust in the essential goodness of God and life. We hold fast to the trust that our lives through their great joys and deep sorrows are meant to aim towards God and be places where the kingdom and grace are found.
Which is not a bad way to view the weeks of Lent ahead. We are on a journey as we continue our growth in knowing God and following Jesus, of being persons shaped by a rich and active spiritual life. Much tempts us along the way to turn to other options: People who are skeptical of our faith and make us feel uncomfortable for having a belief in God; hurtful experiences at the hands of other Christians; hardships and sometimes overwhelming challenges in life; times of spiritual emptiness or despair; and so on. We can often find simpler or easier answers appealing and as givers of seeming security and certainty. Or, like Jesus, within our faith and life we can be tempted away from God.
One of the most overused words in our Church parlance at the moment is “discernment”. It’s a good word meaning thoughtful reflection and examination to do as best we can to discern, figure out, what is the godly, the good, path or decision to follow. At its heart it is creating the space to let God inform and direct us, even if the answer is surprising or still quite murky. God rarely sends telegrams or explicit instructions.
In the Gospel today we hear of Jesus’ discerning, discovering and reaffirming what God is calling him to do. He gets no direct instruction from God, no messages. He has to struggle and find his own way forward. He is tempted as we are to follow, using God as a justifying and legitimating factor, the desire for personal satisfaction and success, wealth, power, and the ability to meet others needs in sweeping fashion. All of this is done by appeal to God, to need, to talent, to control, to perhaps even serving good ends. Scripture is used to argue both sides…which is why we must read and pray so carefully with it. While our tests are not as dramatic as the ones Jesus experiences, at least not for most of us, we are still lured by the same things and have to untangle where our faith is truly calling us and where we are using our faith to support our own worldly desires, illusions, and at times sin.
I doubt that these temptations were as easy for Jesus to counteract as the story makes it sound. He spent forty days wrestling with them, and I think spent much time soul-searching, seeking and praying about what to do and how to do it. I doubt that the devil’s voice about turning stones into bread came as a rapid fire question to which he gave an immediate and fully formed answer, all within the space of a few moments. I think the process took some time, which is how truly discerning works.
What Jesus keeps coming back to as his touchstone, as his truest lifeline, is the foundational statement of faith and identity of the Jewish people, of his people. It is the Sh’ema. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The Sh’ema is found in Deuteronomy and Numbers. Two of Jesus’ replies are quotes from Deuteronomy that immediately follow the Sh’ema. Jesus is holding fast to the deepest and most essential command given by God to the Israelites. In turning always towards God he is able to follow his path in a way that serves God first rather than other ends.
There is an important distinction between his responses and the devil’s invitations. If you notice, the devil always frames things to be about Jesus. He uses the word “you” all the time, makes it about what Jesus can do or be, even in very beneficial ways. And it’s all framed as what God can do for you, Jesus. And Jesus in his answers puts things back in the right order by putting God first, what he can do for God or what he shouldn’t ask of God. This is first and most fundamental part of following God—keeping God God and us us, remembering that what we do is for God’s glory and in keeping with God’s hope for us.
Does this give us set answers to complicated social, theological, ethical and political issues? No. But it does give us a very firm place to start from as we struggle to make our lives instruments of the kingdom. Looking to God’s vision of justice, mercy, forgiveness, peacemaking, caring, curing we put our ideas and agendas and philosophies into conversation with that vision. We can ask a variety of reflective questions to help us untangle to a greater degree our own wants from the vision held forth by God. Does this hurt people or support and respect them? If it seems a trade-off between groups is there another path we haven’t seen yet that can meet the needs of all to some degree? What is the selfishness or the preconceived notion at play? Where might this be about greed or power or control? If I do this and never get recognized can I be at peace with that, find joy and satisfaction in it? Do I do this for respect, status, honor, or is it stemming from a deep compassion for others no matter what people think of me or ascribe to me? Am I willing to accept loss and struggle, maybe even significant sacrifice, but still keep on working?
These are just some of the questions that can help us as we face our own temptations and seek as best we can to serve God rather than ourselves, especially ourselves with a holy veneer attached! Like Jesus we need to pray, to take time to scrutinize things, be patient and not jump to easy or familiar answers, and to simply be quiet to let God work on us. If we listen long enough, it is God’s voice that we will hear; the devil’s voice is compelling, but if we tell it to wait it is also impatient and will tire.
At the end of the day, however, we are humble enough to realize that even doing our best to follow and serve God we don’t do it perfectly. There is always more to learn; there are always things that happen that we didn’t intend. And that’s okay. That’s why God is God and we are human, able to be shifted and moved by the divine energy. But the even better news is that if we listen to and face the temptations we can bring so much light and love and hope to the world. We can take up the vision, the hope, the life of Christ and bring it to a world and its people that hunger and thirst for these gifts to feed their souls.