The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 4th Chapter
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
It would make a good movie. A Passion prequel. The rough and bedraggled Jesus slowly making his way through the empty wilderness, just barely hanging on, starved almost to death and then, just when we thought it could get no worse, the devil appears. It looks like the end for our hero, but then…!
It sounds like a great movie and because it sounds like a great movie it’s a bit hard to think how this sort of situation could ever happen to us. It’s not likely that you or I would go 40 days without eating. Even 40 hours… HECK 40 minutes would be a lot! It’s not likely that you or I would find ourselves in the wilderness, alone and cut off from the world, and it's REALLY not likely that some dripping devilish monster would pop out and force us to remember Bible passages in order to win the day.
It’s not likely to happen, at least not like that. But you know; this church, The Church @ 209 is the body of Christ. We as a congregation aren't just called to be like Jesus, we ARE The Body of Christ! 209 is full of the Holy Spirit just like Jesus was at the beginning of this lesson. We each individually received that gift in the waters of our Baptisms BUT we affirm our baptisms TOGETHER as one Body. Individually, we know about wilderness times, the empty times… the painful times. The times when we feel like we are lost, forgotten; times when we feel as empty as the desert.
But together, as one Body, as the Church @ 209, we also know what it feels like to be in the wilderness as a community of faith. It feels like THIS! THIS is not like where we were before! THIS is not a time of kittens, rainbows and unicorns! THIS is spiky, prickly, dry and empty feeling. It isn’t at all comfortable to any one of us, although we’d never all agree on what or why or who is making it all so damn uncomfortable.
It’s wilderness time. We don’t need IMAX, 3D or Dolby surround sound booming down on us from a big screen to know what the wilderness is like. We’re living it! Now, I’ll grant you that there isn’t a red suited, pitchfork wielding, horned beast staring us in the face, but that doesn’t make it any LESS the wilderness and it doesn’t mean that we aren’t facing the exact same temptations in our wilderness that Jesus faced in his… because we are.
The devil knew exactly who Jesus was. That was not the question, Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God; even the devil confessed that. And the devil knows exactly who we are too. We are The Church @ 209. We’re an experiment of four different congregations trying to figure if there could possibly be a way to serve and live out our calling together as ONE, in a world that is infinitely different than it was just 30 years ago. We’re the Body of Christ! And the devil’s happy to admit to that too!
The real question for Jesus was not WHETHER he was God’s Son. The REAL question for him was HOW would he live out being God’s Son… and the real question for us is not WHETHER we are the Body of Christ… we are! The REAL question for us is HOW will these four congregations live out being the Body of Christ.
Temptation number one. Get the bread. For Jesus the temptation was to give in and make himself a loaf of bread out of stone. He was hungry. He had the power to make abundance out of scarcity. The temptation for Jesus was would he choose to use that power to feed his own very real, very deeply felt personal need OR wait and use that power later to multiply loaves and fishes in order to feed OTHERS before himself.
Temptation number two. Flex the muscle. The temptation here was for Jesus to make things right in the world. The world was a mess! The temptation was to make the world, manipulate the world, to force the world into the way it was created to work with violence, intimidation and manipulation OR would Jesus choose instead to use the power of self sacrificing LOVE to transform the world to work the way God wanted it to work.
Temptation three. Make the cover. The temptation Jesus had here was to jump off the Temple, get the angels to save him and cheat death in a spectacular, headline grabbing way. Jesus would make the cover of the Jerusalem Times! He’d get 24 hour coverage on CNN and after that, everyone would listen to him… everyone would follow him. OR would Jesus choose not just to cheat death for himself, but to DEFEAT death, once and for all for all of creation. All three temptations Jesus faced were choices between using the gifts God had given him for himself or using those gifts in ways that were larger than himself.
When it comes to our temptations, there’s no literal demonic pitchfork poised in “Temptation mode”, aimed at The Church @ 209, but we as the Body of Christ, are in the wilderness… right there facing the same temptations that Jesus faced. We have been led into this wilderness by the Spirit and are being asked some very important questions. NOT, “Are you the Body of Christ” because we are! But, “HOW will we be the Body of Christ together?” This season of reflection, this season of wilderness time, this season of Lent is calling us into that difficult, painful, fear-filled question.
Temptations like that would be a lot easier to handle if they didn’t happen in the wilderness when we are worn, when we feel divided, alone, scared and hungry. Temptations would be a lot easier to handle if they came from a literal guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork. But the Holy Spirit is smarter than that. The Spirit knows that when we’re full, safe, getting our way and in control we have just about ZERO chance of allowing ourselves to be transformed by God. That’s why the Spirit DRIVES us, like the Spirit drove Jesus, out into the wilderness so that we might be broken open with hunger, insecurity and fear, because it is there in that brokenness… there in that wilderness time… there on the cross and HERE and NOW in our wilderness, that we have the same opportunity Jesus had to be transformed.
Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit and Jesus chose to allow God to hone him into the Messiah God wanted him to be. It was painful, and happened by grinding him on the devil’s stone-hard heart for 40 days. This Lent we find ourselves led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness facing that same question... Will we allow God to hone us into the Body of Christ God is calling us to be? Are we willing to be transformed even though it means some painful scraping and grinding? This Lent our question is HOW will we be the Body of Christ? Amen.