Tīrthahalli The Journey Begins
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 6, 2022
1st Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
Merriam-Webster defines wilderness as a tract or region uninhabited by human beings; a place essentially undisturbed by human activity; an empty or pathless area. In Scripture, however, the wilderness has other meanings. It is an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended, and new possibilities emerge. From the Israelites we learn that the wilderness is a place of danger, temptation, and chaos. It is also a place of solitude, nourishment, and revelation. These same themes emerge in Jesus’ journey into the wilderness.[i]
Most of us have likely spent little time in an actual wilderness. But there are other kinds of wildernesses we experience in life. For example, we may experience wilderness time in the transitions of life like the move from middle school to high school or from high school to college or from physical health to weakness or disease. We may feel we have been left alone to fend for ourselves in the desert when we change jobs or move to a new city. Certainly, divorce or the death of a loved one or a global pandemic is wilderness time. If given a choice, no one would choose a difficult path, a path on which we might stumble, a path that leads through harsh circumstances, a path that might even serve as a place of discipline and spiritual growth. Yet isn’t it true that to learn to depend on the Most High God, we must be challenged to do so?
Jesus does not ask for trials and temptations, but he accepts them as God’s will. And not even the Son of God wakes up one morning, rolls out of bed and starts preaching. For him, too, training is needed. He’s trained in Scripture. We know this because he uses it so often and so well. And he’s trained in the wilderness when the Holy Spirit leads him into a time of temptation and trial. But Jesus is not just dropped off to fend for himself—the Spirit is with him. After a 40 day fast, Jesus is drained, vulnerable, and famished. So, of course, this is the opportune time for the devil to slink into the wilderness to try to disturb, disrupt, and distort the will of God for Jesus’ life and ministry.
With our modern-day sensibilities, we may perceive Jesus’ time out in the wilderness as nothing less than dreadful. But what happens during those 40 days and nights, gives Jesus the strength and focus he needs for the journey ahead. There in that quiet, desolate place, Jesus is being formed. Jesus—Emmanuel—God with us—comes to do the Father’s will—not his own. Because of this time of preparation, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus conquers the powers of evil. Through his trust and faith in his Abba Father and his reliance upon God’s Word as his weapon against evil, he shows us the way ahead, too. He is our model because he is our brother and he left us with the same Spirit who is his own Companion and Friend. Great is the mystery of our faith.
“From dust you came; to dust you shall return,” are words that mark the beginning of the Season of Lent, as our foreheads are marked with ashes in the sign of the cross. “From dust you came; to dust you shall return” are stark words that get our attention. Hopefully, they also serve as an invitation to begin our time of Lenten preparation on the right foot. During Lent we look our mortality in the face. We consider who we are and whose we are. It’s time to reflect on who we are becoming in God’s plan of salvation for the world. It’s time to ask questions like, “What are we doing with this one wonderful life we’ve been given?”
In a meditation on this season of the church year, Maggie Dawn offers a word of encouragement:
Pausing to contemplate our mortality [and our true nature during the Season of Lent] is not for the sake of making us bleak, but to startle us into an awareness of the gift of life. We’re neither perfect nor immortal: we are merely and yet wonderfully human, and we need to know who we are in our imperfections as well as our gifts in order to live every day as if it counts for something. The call to repentance isn’t supposed to leave us dour or morbidly obsessed with our failings. Instead, it’s a call to turn away…from what keeps us from God, alienates us from other people and stops us from living well. Lent [offers] a challenge to clear out the mental and spiritual clutter and so discover how to live life to the full.[ii]
Jesus has a full life. In three short years of ministry, he accomplishes things beyond our comprehension. When the Devil entices Jesus with lies of dominion and power over the physical, political, and spiritual world, Jesus does not waver. Instead, he keeps his eyes on his Abba Father. The temptations offer Jesus instant gratification but he does not settle and he will sacrifice his own life so that we don’t have to settle either. All this, and much more, Jesus endures and for what? For lowly humans who are often better at giving God a hard time than anything else. But Jesus wants so much more for us. Jesus wants us to have a full life, an abundant life—here on this earth and in the life to come.
Consider this: Whenever believers partake of Holy Communion, mere mortals, seemingly of little significance in the great scheme of things, are invited to enjoy manna from heaven—the body of Christ given for us—the blood of Christ, poured out for us. Should we really settle for anything less than what God intends for us—when this is what is on the menu?
Jesus whole life and ministry demonstrate the bigger picture of God’s plan for us. No, Jesus won’t turn stones into bread at the Devil’s bidding, but he will repeatedly make feeding the hungry a priority. No, Jesus won’t accept political power on Satan’s terms, but he will, throughout his ministry, speak truth to power when it comes to justice and peace for all people. No, Jesus won’t jump from the Temple to see if God will send angels to catch him, but he will go to the cross where he will die for love of all humanity.
Being faithful to God, day in and day out, isn’t easy. But if we choose the Lenten journey, if we choose the way of Jesus, God’s grace will rain down upon us in ways beyond our imaginings. For God does not lead us into the wilderness and leave us alone. No, God goes with us through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Glory be to God. Amen!
[ii] Maggie Dawn, Giving it Up, 15.
*Cover Art “The Temptation of Christ” by Felix Joseph Barrias, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; Music CCLI 20016020/13