March 5th, 2017
First Sunday of Lent
by Rev. Joanne Izzo
Almighty God come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save. Amen
Right after being baptized by John in the Jordan, without warning The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness where he will remain for six weeks. Jesus follows where the Spirit leads. He remains there fasting 40 days and nights.
Why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? Why would the Spirit leave him there on his own and to be tempted by Satan? If we stop and think for a moment of our images of the Holy Spirit, we tend to imagine the Spirit as a dove, gentle, pure, white. Life the mobile suspended from the ceiling, floating above it all and descending upon us and filling us with a warm, all is right with the world feeling, bringing wisdom and light. And then we open our Bibles, read this and wham that bubble bursts without warning or apology. Sacred scripture is not going to let us hold on to that fantasy about the gentle spirit for more than a Nano second. As a woman I know said in conversation about the Holy Spirit: “She is a tough ol’bird.”
You know, I think Lent should come with a warning label on it! For the next six weeks Lent can be hazardous to our health. The Holy spirit is going to deposit us in some wilderness take off and leave us at the corner of cactus and tumble weed just to have our neatly ordered our lives challenged. All the filled spaces and every crack and chink that we have blocked from God’s reach is officially up for grabs for the next six weeks.
The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness and then is not heard from again until after Jesus emerges from the wilderness. Is it any wonder we pray today, come quickly to help us?
In the time of Jesus, the desert wilderness, was believed to be a place out of God’s reach, out of God’s sight, a place beyond where God will be found. Because of this Divine Absence, it was believed to be the place inhabited by other beings of the invisible order; demons.
In the time of Jesus, before and until the destruction of the temple, once a year on Yom Kippur the High Priest would lay hands on a goat and impose all of the sins of Israel upon it and then send it under the weight and burned of Israel’s sins off into the wilderness, out of God’s sight, to the place where God would no longer be reminded of or remember the sins of Israel. Jesus as fully human raised and steeped in scripture and tradition follows the spirit leading right out of God’s sight!
The Spirit (The Advocate) led Jesus into precisely that place, out of God’s sight, out of God’s reach, a place where demons, devils and The Satan (Adversary) makes their home. After the six week fast Jesus is famished. In this state of vulnerability, hunger, weakness enters the Adversary, the Satan, to take advantage of the situation to tempt him.
The Satan, (adversary) doesn’t make elaborate arguments, no pyrotechnics for the exorcist or Hollywood horror shows; the Adversary uses a small word, “If” to tempt Jesus to doubt:
At each turn the Adversary is tempting Jesus to do something which challenges the ground of his relationship with God, heavenly beings and the created world.
The Satan tempts Jesus’ through his body, after six weeks of fasting suggesting an option so that the hunger that can be easily satisfied. The Adversary tempts Jesus’ mind to use logic to justify an action to prove God will take care of him. Finally, Satan tempts Jesus’ soul to seek power in something other than God.
Here in this place, believed to be beyond the reach of God, out of God’s sight the edge of all that is visible, familiar and safe the simple truth about the nature of temptation, all temptations, is revealed. The truth is this; that the core of any temptation is the temptation to break a bond of relationship.
Let’s go deeper still to look at the nature of sin. Sin, all sin, large or little is fundamentally the breaking a relationship and the bond of trust that is part of a relationship. Whatever is an offense against love; is sin. An offense against love means that we have first doubted something about who we are in relation to God, heavenly powers and the created world. We shift the center of gravity from a loving we to a needy me.
Temptation to sin, to break from a loving we to a needy me is part of being human. That is not the whole story offered by our text today. The larger story is that while these things are true, we learn that it is Jesus, Son of Mary and Son of God, who went out into the wilderness so that we might know that there is no place that is out of God’s sight, beyond God’s reach, out of God’s awareness. There is no place we can go where Jesus has not first gone ahead of us.
Lent is a dangerous time, the warning label makes it clear that something we have long held onto is about to go up in smoke. It will leave behind a residue of ashes as a reminder that we have a choice to live in relationship with God, with the communion of saints and heavenly beings, and with one another. Jesus walked out of the wilderness we have made of our world to tell us, there is no place we can go in this world or in our own inner landscape where God is Not.
Lent is a time to walk out into the world and make it a less dangerous place, by incarnating the Saving Love of Jesus: through acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with God. In so doing others will know that He Lives.