First Sunday in Lent 13 March 2011
(Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11)
“Living Close to the Edge!”
We meet Jesus this morning in the wilderness. He is tempted by the devil. These temptations come in the form of invitations to give up who he was becoming at the very beginning of his ministry. And Jesus says “no” on all accounts!
If I had written this Gospel about Jesus going to the wilderness and being tempted, I would have written it differently. Especially the part at the very end about the angels coming to wait on Jesus after the devil leaves him.
One of the temptations is for Jesus to go to the top of the temple wall and throw himself over the edge. I saw the height of that wall. It’s not an easy jump! (And then angels are supposed to rescue him!)
In the actual story, the angels only show up at the very end, after the devil is gone.
My questions are: Where were the angels for the rest of the story? Did they just fly in at the last minute? Did they get lost along the way? When exactly did Jesus realize they were there?
If I had written the story, I would have put the angels right up front from the very beginning. I think it would have been a lot more efficient to the story if Jesus had known that the angels were close by, like the Secret Service, just waiting to swoop in if they were needed.
From the first moment Jesus went into the wilderness, I think it would have been better for him to know that he had back-up, that he had a safety net, that he had someone there to catch him if he needed the security. A few weeks ago, I went through some of that wilderness in the safety of a bus-load of pastors (oh my!?), and sometimes I felt as if I could have used some back-up!
We are told only that the angels come at the very end to take care of Jesus and maybe give him some bread.
If I had written the story, if I knew I always had back-up; if I had a guarantee of protection in the case I messed up, or if I got myself into a tight spot, I know I’d live my life closer to the edge, with a little more daring. I know I’d take more chances when others needed me.
But it doesn’t work that way. When Jesus came out of the desert to begin his ministry, he took more risks and lived closer to the edge than ever before because he knew where his demons were. And he had no assurances, except from the devil. But he also had great possibilities! And he was willing to take the risks to make those possibilities happen! But look where it got him!
But it is in that space, somewhere between the risks and the possibilities–that’s where we live our faith!
So I wonder, what are the things that prevent us from taking risks, from becoming who we are called to become.
Do our tasks seem so much bigger than our means? Does our anxiety seem so much stronger than our strength? Do our challenges feel so much greater than our courage? Are we afraid the angels will not show up?
And what are the things that draw us closer to the edge? To that place of risk and possibility?
These are questions worth working on during this Lent.
I don’t know your answers. Sometimes I’m not even sure of my own.
l can point you in two directions to an answer!
One is to the desert, to the wilderness. That’s where the desert fathers and mothers went when life became such a distraction that they could no longer see from where came their strength. The wilderness is not an empty place. It’s always a place of encounter. The desert mothers and fathers believed a person brought to the desert everything they needed for living closer to God. Often it is just hidden. So they went to the wilderness to strip away all that was not needed in their lives in order to find their direction.
But it is never pretty to face down our demons. That makes for a good Lenten journey.
The other place I will point you is the Gospel text—back to the very first word we heard. I invite you to turn to page 3 in the pew Bibles. That’s where we began today, and I want you to see the first word: “then.” It’s pretty easy to pass right over it. But it’s not just a “filler” word to get us going. It refers to the entire story immediately preceding where we began today: the story of Jesus’ Baptism.
See, we really cannot separate Jesus being tempted in the wilderness from Jesus being baptized in the Jordon, and especially not separated from the words heard from heaven as Jesus came up out of the water: “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
This is Jesus’ guarantee as he begins his life of ministry. This was the guarantee we celebrated with the Baptism of John Henry Doerfler, IV, this morning. This is the guarantee we celebrate with every baptism, beginning with our own: that we are God’s beloved; that we have been claimed by God, signed and sealed with God’s Holy Spirit. This is our only guarantee as to who we are in the lives we live!
So this Lent, we are called to the desert to face down our demons, to face down those things that keep us from the edge, that keep us from daring to struggle more actively with God’s call to us, but we do this, knowing deeply that we are loved by God, that we are sustained and held close and comforted and forgiven.
What are you hungry for? What are you willing to risk in order to become what you are called to become? What is your guarantee?
“Then the devil left him and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” Amen.