“In the Wilderness”
A message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Based on the theme: Where Your Journey Meets Jesus
Coral Isle Church – UCC
March 6, 2022
Luke 4: 1-13
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
We begin this season of Lent in yet another world crisis it seems. We’ve survived COVID -some of us, I mean. We survived a lot of craziness before that. But, really, what era hasn’t had a fair share of craziness? Now we have Russia invading Ukraine and the craziness of a possible World War that may mean no one survives. If we understand a “wilderness” place as being a wild and even dangerous place it seems the present qualifies.
At the same time, each of us faces personal wilderness times. Maybe you are in one now, or have recently escaped your personal wilderness. Or maybe you feel like you are standing on the border of a new wilderness and are wondering what the future holds. The challenge is to decide what do we do, how do we live in this wilderness? How do we survive it, move beyond it, find new hope on the other edge of the wilderness?
This morning I want to invite us all to reflect on the theme, “Where our Journey Meets Jesus.” Our Scripture this morning describes Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. The Scriptures describe it as an encounter between Jesus and the Devil. Whether one believes in a red-suited, horn-headed, spear-tailed demon in some literal way, or in more metaphorical terms, there is truth in this story for us to learn, or relearn for the living of these days, and the facing of this hour. As we enter into this season of Lent and the strange wilderness of Now, what can we learn from this story? Where do we meet Jesus in our journey in the wilderness of Now?
The first temptation, or test, or challenge Jesus faces is hunger. He has not eaten for forty days, the Scripture tells us. Real physical hunger is a real challenge in our world. Hunger is a wilderness for far too many children in the richest nation in the history of the world, and an even worse reality for many countries with far less. Few of us personally face this reality, so this morning I want to focus on the spiritual hunger every one of us faces on our journey.
Sooner or later, everyone’s journey leads them into the wilderness. There are many wilderness experiences but the most common human one is the wilderness of spiritual hunger. To be human means we are all on a journey to define ourselves in this life. When we get lost, when we wander in the wilderness, when we become starving spiritually. To put it another way, we forget, or we fail to ever truly appreciate our identity. We become unsure of our value, and so we begin to try to satisfy our uncertainty, and so often it just leads us further into a wilderness where we starve spiritually.
What I mean is we try to satisfy our deepest hungers with spiritual junk food. We eat too much, or we try to starve ourselves to be thin enough to be loved by someone Our souls are empty and we thirst so we drink too much, take too many pills or try to deny our thirst while we drown in unhappiness, denying we are in denial. Or, we buy too much, we grab too much power, we try to control others, we try to make ourselves into gods and goddesses and all these efforts fail. They leave us starving. They leave us in the wilderness.
But the good news is this is the very place you can meet Jesus and he is the “Bread of Life,” the Gospel of John tells us. Jesus faced the hunger of the soul, alone there in the desert. Sure he hadn’t eaten for 40 days. But when the Tempter invites him to turn stones into bread, because he could, he chooses not to because he knows who he is.
If you are wandering in that wilderness part of your journey and you are starving, if you can’t find satisfaction, if you can sing like Mick Jagger, “I can’t get no sa – tis – fact – ion,” let me feed you. When we are starving at the feast it’s because we don’t know who we are. Jesus knew who he was so he was able to defeat the Tester’s test. Do you know who you are? The Tempter said to Jesus: “IF you are the Son of God….” His test was whether Jesus knew who he was, do you know who you are?
The Bible makes it simple. From the very beginning the Bible tells us we are the beloved children of God. God created a perfect Garden Paradise for us to live in. God gave us all the food we could every hunger for and God gave us perfect relationships to satisfy our spiritual need for companionship - a human companion and the spiritual companionship of God’s very self. We were given perfection and we weren’t satisfied, we hungered for something else. The funny thing is we didn’t know we were hungry for it because we actually already had it. But something – the Bible uses the symbol of a serpent – led us to believe we didn’t know the difference between good and evil. Something always leads us to believe we need more than God. But you see if we know God, we already have the knowledge of Good and Evil. But even though we had everything somehow, we become convinced we can have something more and that leads us into a wilderness of suffering. We look for something out there, that we already have the answer for here with us.
The real answer for our hunger is to remember our identity. We are the beloved children of the Creator of the Universe. We are the daughters and sons of God as truly as Adam and Eve and as truly as Jesus of Nazareth. We were created for perfect relationships with one another and with God. The problem is we either think we aren’t good enough or we think that God’s love isn’t enough. Both lead us out into a wilderness of starvation spiritually. If you are there now, this is where you can meet Jesus on your journey.
It is Jesus who will remind you that you are God’s beloved child. It is Jesus who will remind you that you are worth more than just a slice of Wonder Bread. It is Jesus, who you will meet on your journey, and who will invite you into a relationship with the Bread of Life. You and I need not hunger. We need only to know our true identity and in knowing it, we will also know that everyone we meet is also a beloved child of God. And when we really know that, and when we build relationships with one another on that one single belief, we will find the satisfaction we long for the most. When we forget these things that is when we sin – what our faith defines as broken relationships between us and God and between us and others.
The other two temptations Jesus encounters are simple confirmations of this simple slice of truth. The offer of power – the empires of the world – is a hollow offer for Jesus and for everyone who abuses power. Jesus already had power over all the empires of creation. Again, that was his identity. He knew real power. But he also knew that humans have misunderstood and misused power from the beginning. Those first humans – Adam and Eve they were called – had the power to live the perfect life, but they misused it and before the memory of Paradise Lost was lost their son was murdering his brother. From then on humans have misunderstood and misused power.
We have power to love others, to free others, to serve others, to bless others and these are the greatest powers in the universe, given to us by God. But instead we use power to control, abuse, take, make war, kill, and none of these things can ever satisfy. Want all the power of the empires of the world? Love others, serve others, bless others every chance you can and see what power you have! Do these things and you will have the same power as God! For these are the powers that God has and gives to us so that we might never wander in the wilderness alone.
The last test in the wilderness for Jesus does not seem like one we might face. But it might be best described as the temptation to prove to others that God loves us more. Or at least enough to prove it to ourselves. Throwing ourselves off a bridge or a skyscraper or a mountain to get God’s attention, or to prove that God loves us, or to show everyone God loves us more is really pretty childish. If we are that hungry for God’s attention, we have already fallen for the first temptation, the false belief that we are not God’s beloved, blessed children. A child throws a tantrum because he wants what he wants, but really it is a wild and foolish effort to control the parent’s actions, attention, and affection – as if to say, “prove you love me, do what I want.”
Well, the Bible says we are God’s beloved children. It says it over and over and over again. Even when it talks about God’s punishments or threats of punishments it is confirming that God simply wants us to remember who we are: God’s beloved children. God created a perfect paradise for us to live in, yet we become dissatisfied and want more. God created us to have a perfect relationship of love with God, and just as perfect a relationship with every other daughter and son of God, yet we want something better. What is better? All we find when we do this is a wilderness of bitterness. We starve for affection at a banquet of free love. We are given everything we want, and we demand something else. We lust to be loved and yet we turn away from the Perfect Love of God. But fear not. You will meet Jesus on that journey, and he will invite you to remember who you are.
It will almost be like coming to a table where there is food and drink and you are hungry and thirsty and you will meet a stranger there who will offer you that bread and cup and he will tell you, here, this is for you. God made it for you as a sign of how much you are loved. Take and eat. Drink and be blessed. Then when you go out from here remember how much you are loved, so you don’t get hungry and go wandering, lost in the wilderness again. That table, God’s table of grace, is prepared for all of us who are hungry, and thirsty, and wandering. So let us find ourselves in the love of God once more. AMEN.