February 14, 2016 / Consider the Birds / Sara Wolbrecht / Luke 4:1-13
On Wednesday, Ash Wednesday we started Ed’s story. Let’s catch up on Ed: Ed is a pastor – he said how he always loved the way Christmas was celebrated at his church. Until the Christmas when he learned he was dying. ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease is a degenerative disease. Your body slowly over a few years, stops working – while your mind stays perfectly sharp. The final moment comes when your lungs stop and you die. Ed was given 2-3 years to live. He had wanted to walk his daughter down the aisle, to have grandchildren. But after the diagnosis he didn’t want to see anyone, and he nearly gave up. Until. He got a phone call from his friend Sid. Sid has been through more suffering than almost anybody – years of addiction, HIV positive, Hepatitis B, his wife died in his arms, his son is missing. And Sid said: Ed, it ain’t over til it’s over. And for Ed, that was God speaking to him with a NY accent.
Ed could have given up – but he realized he had a story to tell – and a life to live. And if he had given up, he would have missed walking his daughter down the aisle, the birth of all five grandchildren. When he got his diagnosis, he thought it might be his last Christmas – he has since had 10. We all know we’re going to die and what Ed is going to reveal for us, is that: It’s not about how long we have left. It’s about how we spend the time we do have. As we live through Ed’s story and Jesus’ story for these Sundays together in Lent, we’ll engage with the stuff of life that really matters, and we’ll open ourselves up to living into those beautiful, difficult things, together with one another and with the grace of God.
For today, to get us ready to continue Ed’s story, we turn first to Luke’s gospel. The readings that are read in the season of Lent help us get at the heart of who we are – which parallels Ed’s story, beautifully. And that is true for this text today. For here, Jesus, having just been freshly baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan, God spoke this word over Jesus – this is my son, my beloved. Jesus is then sent where? The wilderness. There, he is tempted by the devil in three ways.
And here is how I want us to hear and set up this text, by beginning with reflection on our own lives through this question: when have I been in the wilderness?
Not literally in an actual forest or desert wilderness – but the times that have felt like a wilderness time – lost, overwhelmed, unsure of who we are, facing an uncertain future, facing pain or illness, betrayed by a friend. And it can be that a part of our life feels like the wilderness, even as much of our life feels fabulous. Stillthere may be wilderness. And frankly, that time might be right now.
I can think of a few times for me that were very bleak wilderness times in my life. Like, before I started dating Jason – I was in my first year after college, and I ended a three-year relationship with someone else I thought I would marry. Great guy, but not the right guy. And that time after breaking up - it felt like the wilderness. Did I do the right thing? I was no longer in college and connected to community, no longer with the partner that I had shared life with, feeling so hopeless about love and finding someone to be with. Wilderness.
Or when I was pregnant with our second kid (many of you know him now – Levi). Early tests came back during my pregnancy that our baby was high risk for Down syndrome – had a 1/100 chance of having it. What do we do? Do we do an amniocentesis, a test where a needle draws out amniotic fluid, even though with that procedure there is a risk of miscarriage? If we did it then we could know for certain and be emotionally ready for our child’s birth, or do we wait until this child’s birth? And what if our child does have Down syndrome? Wilderness.
When have been your wilderness times? Is it now?
When we find ourselves there, wilderness, we are in a space where the basics of what we need are not there. And so out of (what can be) desperation, we lean into God, depend on God, we long and hunger for what really matters in a way that we just don’t when everything is going fine. It sucks at the time, and yet, when we look back at those wilderness times, we see them as the times when our faith grows, when we actually have experiences of God’s love and care showing up in our lives. Those times for me, for those I’ve witnessed, have become the very times that I am most grateful for.
But that’s all later, when we’re through it, right? What is so hard in the midst of the wilderness, is living in the day to day reality of not knowing how it is going to go tomorrow. No control. Not doing the quick fix or easy answer. Living through the next day and the next as we await relief or answers or whatever it is we long for.
So that’s fun. So now let’s read about Jesus in one of his wilderness times – literally, in the desert. And here we witness his living through the temptations that come up. We too, like Jesus (we’ll see in a moment), are tempted to scramble out of those times with what appears to be simple or easy ways out. The quick fix. The dulling of the angst and pain. But that is not usually what we need over the long haul. How do we live, faithfully, authentically, in the wilderness times? How do we live, also, in times of temptation? Especially when we live in a culture that is so not ok with being uncomfortable or with actually being patient and waiting and living through something slowly and intentionally. Let’s turn to Luke 4 now – notice the three ways in which the devil tempts Jesus – and notice the kinds of response Jesus offers…
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
First, let us make a note that as we envision what we have just read, it’s not that Jesus engaged with a visible figure, “the devil,” with whom he was talking – so it was NOT like this (picture 1). Got it? But instead it was more like this (picture 2).
Ok, we’re really going to dive into this text for about five minutes – there is so much more to say about it than we have time, but we’re going to rip through a little bit of it – so I invite you to put on your game face and dive in with me. Alright.
The devil’s voice appears as a string of natural ideas in Jesus’ own head. Does that make sense? And notice: they are plausible, attractive ideas, and make what we would think to be, a lot of sense. Here is some bread, because God can’t want his beloved son to be famished with hunger, can he? And here is a quick way to have authority over all the kingdoms, because, if God wants Jesus to be sovereign over the world (which is what the angel Gabriel told Mary), then why not go for it in one easy stride? Here it is! And here, jump off this temple and appear to descend from heaven because, if Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, why not prove it by spectacular displays of power? Hey, yeah, those three things sound pretty good. So let’s name how in our own realities, our own temptations, our own inner voices play out just like this – particularly in those times in the wilderness – are absolutely played out as good-sounding ideas in our own head – I have never arm wrestled with the devil, yet I know the devil gets up in my thoughts and business, right?
Now let’s notice Jesus’ responses. Jesus responds to the devil, not by attempting to argue with the voices. One of my favorite theologians N. T. Wright makes the point that: “Arguing with temptation is often a way of playing with the idea until it becomes too attractive to resist.” N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone. We keep spinning on something as a way of actually warming up to it, justifying it.
Jesus does not argue, but quotes what? Scripture. The passages he draws on come from the story of Israel in the wilderness – the theme of the wilderness is one of the big-themes of the bible. Good to pay attention to. And what does he say? The devil offers his aching stomach some bread. Bread does sound good, physical needs and wants are important, but loyalty to God is more important still. And he looks out over the kingdoms around him – becoming the ruler of all? Yeah, Jesus is indeed to become the world’s true lord, but the path to that status, and the mode of it when it arrives, is humble service, not a greedy seeking after status and power. And, to throw himself off the temple in a fantastic and dramatic show of being saved by God? Trust in God doesn’t mean acting stupidly to force God into a spectacular rescue. That power that Jesus already has, is to be used for healing, for restoring others to life and strength, not for cheap stunts. For Jesus, to be God’s son, commits him to the strange path of humility, service and finally death. And Jesus sticks to that path – even through the wilderness.
Now, honestly. Chances that we would be tempted in the same way by these same things as Jesus here? Not likely. But we all find ourselves in wilderness times. Every one of us wrestles with those voices – and so we ask together, how do we live in those times? How do we live fully into the present moment, when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring? …I would like a few answers to these questions, anyone else?
With these questions, aware of our own wilderness times, we turn now back to Ed’s story. Holding with us Jesus’ words and own struggle in the wilderness, asking how do we live into today and tomorrow and the next day, we hear Ed’s Story #2: Consider the Birds.
VIDEO: ED’S STORY: Consider the Birds