Walter White is a very good science teacher and loving husband. He also has cancer and not enough insurance. How does he take care of his family? How does he take care of his health? Well, in the hit TV series “Breaking Bad” Walter White becomes the best methamphetamine maker and dealer and moves from one horrible choice to another. A good man, breaking bad. An identity crisis if there ever was one.
It had only been moments since Jesus had heard the words: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” as he was arising from the waters of baptism.
But the very next verse tells us, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
So the same spirit of God that identifies Jesus as the beloved Son also leads him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? What’s going on?
Well, Jesus is having an identity crisis: Jesus has to figure out what “beloved” means. Is he going to break bad, or break good?
It’s the same for you, right? Do you know who you are? Or what that means at any particular moment? I am still John, with the same gifts and “issues” – but I am different now than I was at 16, or 25, or 40.
It is never just a one shot deal, is it? Isn’t your whole life spent coming to know who you are?
As Paul writes in Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
So the best we get is dim reflection, and partial knowledge in a complex world. Life is all about the process of finding out who you are and whose you are.
At any moment in life are we fully complete? Totally satisfied? Fully in control? I find at this stage in my life I am looking at folks older than I am so I can see how to handle myself – who am I when the kids go away? Who am I when my parents die and I am on the front line of mortality? Who am I if Deanne would die? Who am I if I could no longer exercise? Who am I if I lost my job?
So, even my core belief that I am a beloved, baptized, ordained, preacher of the Word, minister of the Sacrament “child of God”– does not protect me from the ongoing discernment of an identity crisis: How am I going to live my ordination out? How is this call on my life going to be revealed – how does it deepen?
In fact, the very fact of my belovedness drives me into lonely places sometimes…. It is the way life and faith work. Why would we expect anything else?
Jesus needs to figure out what it means to be a beloved Son? That is a deep question.
Who is Jesus? What do he do with this experience he just had?
The biblical story describes a temptation with the devil. But the “devil,” or “Satan” means the tempter. The devil here isn’t bad, really. Rather, the devil is the agitator – the one who makes you look seriously at the tension within – the growing edge. What are you going to do? Who are you going to be?
What Jesus went through was real. You and I have been there too. What are you going to do? Who are you going to be? It takes discernment, choice.
And let me tell you something about discernment – it isn’t a choice between an obvious good and an obvious bad – that is just common sense: discernment is always, I think, more complicated – a choice between two or more perhaps very good paths or a choice away from several bad options: Do I become more involved with Greater Cleveland Congregation, or do Leadership Cleveland, or spend more time reading?
Jesus could have solved the world hunger problem by turning stones into bread.
Jesus could have solved the religious conundrum of why so many religions – just throw yourself from the pinnacle of the Temple – show who you are.
Jesus could have solved the political problem – you are supposed to be King of the world. Solve the crisis in Ukraine!
And Jesus said “no” to all these things – No! My discernment is that I must continue to discern. My identity I know now in part – that it calls me to obedience, to service, to listening, to action, to suffering…. my identity as “beloved son” is not complete.
And I think that Jesus didn’t really know what it all meant until he spread wide his arms on the cross and said: “Into thy hands, I commit my spirit.”
The moment in the garden of Gethsemane was a discerning moment too – Jesus coming to know what his identity would mean – what the unfolding of his “belovedness” would cost. He could have hidden in the dark, but he stepped forward.
This is the Lenten path for Jesus – first led into the wilderness, then led up the hill, then released to glory.
This identity crisis – this discernment that the spirit led Jesus into – was not finally realized until the stone is removed and all is made new. The writer of the hymn in 2nd Philippians knows well the development of Christ’s life:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and become obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. THEREFORE God also highly exalted him, and gave him the name above every name…
He didn’t get his name until he went through it all.
What goes for Jesus goes for you – the temptations you face, the decisions you must make, this process of discernment is ongoing – you are not going to get final clarity, ever – only glimpses and glimmers along the path as you journey on.
So you have to remember that you too are beloved – it is the starting point of the journey – and the endpoint of the search – and how you are going to live out your belovedness is the challenge and frankly the delight of life – and, here is the wonderful truth: If you trust your belovedness… then there really are no mistakes, and no wasted moments… only opportunities for knowledge, for revelation, for learning, for hope. For “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
And so now all there is to do is to discover what that means.
It is the same spirit who calls you by name, and blesses every hair (or lack thereof) on your head that leads you into life, and the wilderness of discernment…. And it is all good….
And on top of that – God has given you food for the journey, and it is laid out here.
And God has given you community to help you on the way.
Into the wilderness we go to discover and discern in ever deepening ways what it means to be a beloved child of God – with whom God is well pleased.