A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, TX.
The lectionary readings for the First Sunday in Lent are here.
What does the word wilderness conjure up for you? Fear, anticipation, peace? A week from tomorrow, Jim and I are heading out to our favorite wilderness: Terlingua Ranch, near Big Bend. We have no other plans than to set up the camper on our desert property and just BE. I’ll read and write, he’ll take photographs, we’ll walk with the dogs, and just be, no agenda, no schedule, no ‘to-do’ lists. Unfortunately there is cell phone service but no internet connection or cable tv, just us and the incredible beauty and peacefulness of God’s creation.
I think it’s so appropriate that we are taking this time away in the season of Lent, a time when all of us are to focus on letting go of the obstacles we’ve placed between us and our relationship with God; clearing out things that distract us from Whose we are; asking God to reveal to us how we can grow deeper into who God created us to be. Spending regular time in what many would call the wilderness of Texas, for both Jim and me, helps us with all of this. And whether wilderness time be a locational, emotional, or spiritual wilderness, I can look back and say I’ve always come out of the wilderness a little wiser than when I entered.
Time in the wilderness throughout our holy scriptures is a description of time in which people are given the opportunity to step rightly into relationship with God, to develop the understanding that God is God and we are not, to be humbled, not humiliated, and strengthened, not beaten down, and in general they come out of the wilderness a little bit wiser than when they entered.
The Israelites’ time in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt was a time for them to learn dependence on God, to discover that God is the source of their goodness and righteousness, their strength and wellbeing.
Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness, but why? Jesus doesn’t need to be reminded of Who he is. Because Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, came to show us what it looks like in flesh and blood how to live as we are created to live, whose and who we really are.
In this story, the devil is asking Jesus to deny the very act of his Baptism, to forget that he is God’s beloved, to create a new image for himself rather than claiming the Image of God. And as we read and imagine this story, the temptations the devil presents to Jesus are questions for us.
You are so very hungry, the devil says, turn these stones into bread. Put your own comfort above your relationship with God. Ignore God’s created order, don’t trust God to provide anything.
Do we know who really provides for us? All that we are and all that we have comes from God. Yes, we work to earn money to pay for our ‘bread’ but it is God who gives us the skills and talents and abilities to do what we do. It is God who created our magnificent bodies with the ability to take bread and sustain life. The lesson of this temptation isn’t about our physical comfort but about knowing that everything is a gracious gift of God. God is the source of all things, both stones and bread.
This lesson goes against the world telling us we must be self-sufficient. The temptation is to ignore or deny the gift of relationship both with God and others. We aren’t created to do this thing called life alone or autonomously or individualistically. We can only be fully human as God created us to be when we live in healthy relationship with God and each other. Remember we aren’t created to live by bread alone, we also need nourishment for our souls.
The devil says to Jesus, there’s no need to wait, take what you want, take the whole world and do with it as you please, you don’t need God. In other words, worship not the God of Creation but who and what God created.
This temptation asks the question why do we do what we do? For our own glory or to reveal the glory of God to the world, to shine God’s light from within us or to seek the spotlight for ourselves? And turned another way, who do we let influence us more, celebrities or saints? The world says celebrities have way more credibility than the saints. Do we seek to serve who the world says are powerful or the One God who created all people? Remember we are created to worship and serve God.
The devil tries one more time – since you are the Son of God, prove God loves you by intentionally putting yourself in harm’s way.
And so we ask ourselves, do we take this gift of life for granted, not caring for ourselves or being intentionally careless with any part of creation, individually and collectively, expecting God to clean up the messes we make? Remember God is with us, we don’t need to test that reality. But we do need to continually cultivate our awareness of God, spending intentional time each day opening ourselves up to God’s transforming love.
These temptations came immediately after Jesus’ baptism, and are an assault on his identity. Jesus is God’s beloved child, created for a life lived in humble relationship with God, Do we live in the confident knowing that God is with us, in us, around us always? Do we live believing that God really does love us?
God is the true source of all good gifts, those things which sustain the life God gave us, our ‘original’ gift. Do we proclaim “God is Good” even in times of scarcity and suffering? Or can we only see goodness when we get what we want?
The ideologies of the temptations reveal the difference between taking and receiving. We receive God’s blessings and it is God’s desire to give us good gifts, not so we can claim God loves us more than some other group but so that we can share God’s blessings with others, revealing God as the source of all.
Our method of worship help us to remember the lessons of the temptation. The way we arrange the space: with God’s table in the center. The readers and yes, the preacher, stand to the side, what we do isn’t about our own glorification but to point everyone to God. It’s why we dress alike up here, it’s why we preach constrained by the pulpit and the lectionary, it’s why we use the liturgy given us by the Book of Common Prayer instead of just making it up as we go along. It’s not my show or Fr. David’s show, but the humble act of coming before God, all of us together, to be reminded of Whose and who we are.
We see this in the way we come forward to receive the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Jesus. We approach humbly and confident that God will provide our nourishment, with empty hands and humble hearts. We open our hands to receive the blessing of communion, the outward sign of physical nourishment revealing the inner nourishment of our souls, the core of our being as God’s beloved children.
In this Lenten season, in our imaginings of wilderness time, how do we each deny Whose and who we are? How do we take instead of receive? What obstacles have we put in the way of deepening our relationship with God and with each other?
When we pray “give us this day our daily bread” are we voicing our complete reliance on God’s good gifts or stating what we feel entitled to?
When we pray “they kingdom come on earth as in heaven” are we giving ourselves over to serve God and reveal God’s glory in this world or seeking our own power over others?
When we pray “lead us not into temptation” are we really acknowledging our full trust in God or just voicing an expectation that God will clean up our messes?
All that we do and say in our corporate worship is intended to shape and transform us so that we live into the full humanness of our selves as God’s beloved children every moment of every day in between. Our worship time isn’t the goal, but a means to better equip us to follow Jesus into the world, filled with the Spirit, in right relationship with God our Loving Creator, on a continuous life-long journey of discovering and remembering Whose and who we are. Amen.