Jesus in the wilderness scared and vulnerable…. Yes, the lesson begins “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit….” And we read that Jesus had great answers for the Devil’s questions – and the passage ends with his apparent victory until the next ‘opportune’ time.
If you read on – Jesus, again “filled with the power of the Spirit” begins his ministry claiming the mantle of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me;
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
But before we get all caught up in the invincibility of Jesus – the power of Jesus, the “untouchable” Jesus, the Jesus we can hardly relate to, the Jesus we put up on the pedestal and proclaim divine–I want us to look at, for just a few moments, another side of Jesus, another face of Jesus – the vulnerable and scared Jesus, the one stuck in the wilderness for forty days, the Jesus who doesn’t know where he is going: a Jesus who doesn’t even really know who he is; a Jesus who is tempted – for if I am to take temptation seriously – then I have to take seriously that Jesus actually felt alone and thought about and almost took the Devil up on the invitation to seize power, and command attention, and really be a miracle worker. It would have made his life so much easier!
The Jesus who had this amazing spiritual experience at the river Jordan – the heavens opened and a dove flew down – wouldn’t that be amazing… and now, in the dessert, alone, and wandering and wondering and trying to figure out; “who the heck am I?”
We can relate: You have fallen head over heels in love; the most wonderful experience and then you get a dose of reality; that love is not only about passion and feeling – and you have to figure out what you need to do.
You have graduated and it feels wonderful; you have accomplished this amazing goal – and now you have choices to make and no dorm room and friends to return to.
You have just retired at last “I have time to do what I want to do…” but in a week you are driving my spouse crazy and it feels as if life is over…..or worse, you retire and want to travel and you get a doctor’s report that changes everything.
You make a decision and go to bed feeling good about it, and then you begin to wonder, and the clock shows 2:30 a.m.
This happen a lot: I woke up feeling so good, the Cavs won, the coffee was delicious and by noon I am wondering why I crawled out of bed.
You can be in the wilderness in the middle of a shopping mall. You can feel lost standing in your kitchen. You can be all alone in a room full of people. You can be elated the one moment and despairing the next.
So many voices and choices, options and paths – Trump telling you this, Sanders telling you that; Verizon or T-Mobile; maybe I don’t have to declare that on my 1040; Oh, just one drink, or another piece of cake; trying to figure out who you really are.
In the New Testament we get many faces of Jesus – the healer, the teacher, the proclaimer, the prophet, the angry table turner, the pastoral lily lover, the broken dead body cradled by his mother, the triumphant resurrected untouchable.
I am just saying that anyone who has a spiritual bone in his or her body knows wilderness and temptation. Anyone who has decided to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, or start a spirit walk, or is alive – knows wilderness, knows confusion, knows abandonment… knows fear, knows doubt, knows loneliness. This is life, this is faith… it is where we spend most of our time, when you really think about it.
And Jesus walks into the middle of it and stands there – with you, with me, with us. It is why Jesus prayed “lead me NOT into temptation!” He knew how hard it was. But only by going into it – will you ever find wisdom, and find yourself.
The Lenten journey is into the wilderness. The Lenten journey drives you into the dessert and calls you to attention. It is uncomfortable.
Many religions point to the wilderness as the place for discovery: Native Americans have their “dream quest,” and the aboriginal peoples of Australia their “walk about.”
I think maybe Forest Hill Church is in a bit of a wilderness – peering into our future; who are we going to be? Who is going to lead us? How do we control the outcome?
I think our nation is in the wilderness – feeling unsure, angry … but maybe because White America is finally sensing the wilderness, while the folks who have been in the wilderness for centuries, have endured middle passage, and Jim Crow are ready are step out and claim their call. One man’s dessert can be another woman’s oasis.
I sense that our Black History Month is the Spirit of God driving us into the wilderness of self-reflection; making us face some things, how do we become the beloved community. So many temptations to control, to dismiss, to change.
I guess all I am trying to say this morning is that this temptation story is not unique to Jesus… EVERYBODY enters the wilderness – the only question is going to be how you deal with it?
The wilderness always drives you to take a look at yourself; look into that mirror dimly, and what do you see?
And the example of Jesus is also one that you and I can take – he shows us the way; he has laid a road map so we are not as lost as he was…
Don’t go for the quick fix – take the full forty days.
Don’t take the first answer that comes to mind.
Don’t be so sure – as the prophet Micah reminds us: Humility above all things.
And Jesus clings to a deeper identity, and desires to explore this deeper identity. He had heard it once, the voice, and he decided to trust “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
And that is the only thing I offer you today – what God called Jesus, God calls you – son or daughter–The Beloved. And I am telling you, because I know it to be true, that beloved identity is the only thing that matters; that clinging on to that one thing, is the only thing that matters. The only thing that will save you, the only thing that will pave the way in and out of the wilderness for you.
As you enter Lent, and take your first step into the wilderness, I offer you this prayer from Thomas Merton:
“My Lord God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Take the step into the wilderness, but… you gotta’ eat first! Can’t wait to see you on the other side!