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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lent 1: The Testing

The Greek word "ago" (to lead) occurs twice. First, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert, then the satan leads Jesus to Jerusalem. Jesus is being led, all of us are being led. We need to discern by whom?

The desert (eremos),  also means "solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited" and theologically refers to "Exodus", where the first generation of Hebrew slaves perished during the forty years that they wandered in the desert. The paradox, in the lonely place God speaks to them, is connected to the language. The Hebrew word for desert yeshemon comes from the word yasham (desolate) which shares a common root with shema (listen, hear, speech). The desert was also thought to be the abode of demons. It is in the empty, lonely, quiet place--so quiet that we can hear God's voice or another.

This is where Jesus is led. Jesus hears both voices. The temptations are Biblical and paradigmatic. Jesus (the New Adam) must choose. Jesus (the New Israel) must sojourn in His desert exodus (40 days//years).

"Make Bread" is obviously connected to the manna. Human hunger is powerful. The temptation of bread is a test to see if Jesus will be like Israel which complained that they were hungry and put God to the test. Jesus was very hungry, but He remained focused. We are all hungry, each of us. Our hungers impact our choices. Satan says, "eat!" Jesus says, "there is more than bread, there is God's Word---that is what truly satisfies our deepest human hunger." For Jesus, probably, this temptation was worst when He looked into the hungry faces of the poor of Judah. The third world poor, crying out for a morsel, and His compassionate heart aching to feed them, to feed them all. The temptation is to take care of the pressing biological needs and hungers and desires-- to be driven by the flesh and lose the spirit. Jesus knows that even the hungriest person needs God's Word. We must remember it as well. The hunger deepest in us--the hunger that can't go away--is for God.

The second temptation is power! "If I were king of the world," we contemplate,"think of all the good I could do!" Why I could make people treat each other right. This is the temptation of every King and every government. (Think of Lord of the Rings) We are familiar with the horrors of the dictators of the past century. That was not Jesus' temptation. He was loving and kind. Yet even a benevolent dictator must micromanage ever aspect of your life to keep you safe and secure. The ruler of power takes away freedom in the best interest of human beings deciding for us what we shall want, and when, and where. This offer of power by Satan comes through the people who would make Jesus king (after being fed by loaves!). But Jesus says no. His crown will be thorns. His throne a cross, His power will be a self sacrifice of redemptive love. He will only be ruler of a responsive, willing heart. He is king to those who love Him and take Him in. "But for their own good...," Satan whispers, "be the King!" Jesus answers, "I am the King, and I am for their good, but they must choose me."

The last temptation seems is for "faith and believing the Bible." This to me is the hardest test. "Trust God," Satan says, "trust Him just like the Bible says." Herein lies the problem with the Bible and the word 'faith'. Taken on its face, Satan is right. However, Jesus knows the Father. He knows what faith really is and what the Bible really says. He quotes another Scripture: "do not test God." Jesus thought jumping off the temple was not a sign of faith, but an act of defiance. He did not care what a Bible verse out of context said.  We live in a confusing world, pulled between irrational faith and bible reading, on the one hand, and cynical reason and unbelief, on the other. Two weeks ago I preached on adult Christianity. A grown up faith reading the Bible as an adult. Yes, Faith is trust in God, but it is also God's trust in us. He promises to be with us in our mission, not to perform a circus act. Jesus was seeking the Father's will. Scripture verses must be read within the context of our vocation and mission. Like Jesus, we must say: "I have come to do the will of Him who sent me!"

Like Jesus we are being tested.
Will we be satisfied giving into our appetites, of giving others what they want instead of what they need?
Will we seek power in the name of good, or the weakness of Jesus love because you know that power corrupts?
Will we employ bumper sticker theology about faith and Scripture; and fail to be about the work of the Kingdom?

We are all tested in the solitary, lonely place, where two voices can be heard.
We are all tempted in the city, especially by those things which seem to be good.
Life is hard, following Jesus is especially hard. Lent is a time to empty out so that God can fill us up.

Be aware, we are all being led somewhere by someone. Pay attention: is it the Holy Spirit or an evil spirit? Listen to the offers in life, and weigh them in the face of your sacred calling; and remember that the most dangerous temptations are not for bad things, its for good things which get in the way of the mission.

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