1 Lent – March 6, 2022
Luke 4:1-13

So, we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday…remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return….we hear these words as we are marked with ashes on our foreheads. It is done to remind us of our Creator God. It is done to remind us whose we are.

And this first Sunday in Lent we hear the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Just before this passage, keep in mind, is the story of Jesus’ baptism where we heard God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”.  This is important to the story of Jesus’ temptation.  Why?  Because at its heart, it is a story about identity and that is crucial to how Jesus (and how we, for that matter) navigate temptation and therefore, how we navigate our lives.

When push comes to shove, all the various temptations we may encounter stem from the primary temptation to forget whose we are and therefore to forget who we are. Because once you don’t remember who you are and whose you are, you’ll do all kinds of things to dispel the insecurity that is present in any human life and you’ll do all kinds of things to find that sense of security and acceptance that is you feel is essential to being happy.

The devil also tries to undermine Jesus’ relationship with God by suggesting it is not secure, that he should test it by throwing himself off the pinnacle, or that he should go his own way by creating food for himself, or that he should seek the protection and patronage of the devil rather than trust God’s provision. The devil is presenting Jesus with worldly power, which is, in reality, a fleeting power.

At each point Jesus resists, not simply by quoting Scripture in general but by quoting Scripture that reminds him of God’s trustworthiness, the need to depend on God for all good things, and consequently of God’s promise to care for all God’s children.

Jesus falls back on his relationship with God, reminding himself whose he is and so remembering who he is, a dependent, but beloved, child of God – dependent on the providence, care, and protection, of the God who has promised to do anything to care for him and all of us.

At his baptism, Jesus hears the bottom-line truth about his identity: he is God’s Son, precious and beloved.  But when the Spirit leads him into the wilderness, he has to face a series of powerful assaults on that truth.  He has to learn how to discern God’s presence in a bleak and lonely wasteland.  He has to trust that he can be beloved and famished, valued and vulnerable at the same time.  He has to learn that God’s care resides within his flesh-and-blood humanity — within a fragile vessel that can crack and shatter.

There is ancient wisdom found in the seasons of the church. Lent is the season set aside as a period of self-examination and it’s based on this story of Jesus’ retreat to the wilderness, the desert. With the waters of baptism still clinging to him, Jesus enters the wilderness, where for forty days and forty nights he fasts and prays. Son of God he may be, but here at the outset of his ministry, he needs this liminal space, this in-between space, to deepen his clarity and to prepare him for what lies ahead. In this harsh landscape, Jesus comes to a vivid knowing about who he is and what is essential to his ministry.

We are all essentially artists, involved in the construction of our own world. How do we draw our world, how do we construct our landscape? That’s the question that the desert gives us, isn’t it? What are we doing here? Not just: what are you doing here in this physical place, but also: what are you doing here in this life? How do you feed your soul? What do you feed your soul in order to construct your life?

Sometimes it takes going into the wilderness, the landscape of body or of soul, to find the answer to these questions. Stepping over the threshold into a different space and time. Traveling where the familiar contours of our lives disappear. Leaving the landmarks behind, the people and patterns and possessions that orient us. That’s where Jesus goes.

Sometimes music can take us to that liminal place, that in-between space. John O’Donohue and Krista Tippet were once talking about the music of Ireland.

O’Donohue shares “One of the things I’m always amazed about Irish music, for instance, is how in some way the lines of the landscape find their way into the music, the memory of the landscape, almost; the memory of the people too, and that in some sense, despite the sorrow that we’ve endured — and I mean, Ireland has hundreds of years of an awful history of suffering. And you hear that in the music. You hear that even in the fast music, the light gay music, the celebratory music. You hear the undertones and the quiet spaces where the echo of this hauntedness comes through. And yet, it’s inextricably linked with exuberance and vitality. And I know friends of mine who play, and when they play, they’re unreachable. You can’t find them. They’re serving the music. They’re just in another place.”

So what are you doing here? At the outset of the Lenten journey, why are you where you are? What do you need from the Forty Day Place that this season offers? Is there a wilderness you need to enter—with your body or with your soul or with both—in order to gain clarity at this point in your life? What might that look like?

To quote Debi Thomas, “We are the children of a God who accompanies us in our suffering, not a God who guarantees us a lifetime of immunity.  Why is this good news?  It is good news because we are also the children of a God who resurrects. There is no suffering we will ever endure that God will not redeem. The story of humanity is not a story that ends in despair.  It’s a story that culminates at an empty tomb, in a kingdom of hope, healing, consolation, and joy.

What does this mean for us as we begin our Lenten journeys this year?  Maybe it means it’s time to follow Jesus into the desert.  It’s time to stay and look evil in the face. Time to hear evil’s voice, recognize its allure, and confess its appeal. It’s time to decide who we are and whose we are.  Remember, Lent is not a time to do penance for being human.  It’s a time to embrace all that it means to be human.  Human and hungry.  Human and vulnerable.  Human and beloved.

As you travel into this Lenten landscape, may you find what you most need, may you receive the gift you never expected, may you find strength in those who have journeyed there before you, and may angels attend your way. Blessings.  Amen.