The Wilderness and Comfort Zones: Lent 1

The Wilderness and Comfort Zones: Lent 1

Year C, Lent 1
March 6, 2022
Historic Beckford Parish, Mt. Jackson & Woodstock

Year C: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

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When I was a kid, I loved to go to Girl Scout camp. I was never one of those kids who got homesick. I like to tease that the counselors would have to pack for me when it was time to leave.

One of my favorite activities at Girl Scout camp was “primitive camping.” We found a part of the camp, encompassing about 300 acres in total, that were “remote,” pitched out tents, dug out a hole – you get the idea. I also did it when I was a counselor at the same camp. I’d forgotten by then that kids have a great propensity for pitching tents over rocks and bushes. I like to say these days that unless there’s a concierge at a camp, I’m not interested.

In some way, however, I think what we, as campers and counselors, were trying to create a little wilderness for ourselves. Now, this was in the Poconos, so help was never far away, and I don’t want to make it into something more profound than it was, but I think we were testing ourselves just a little. And, yes, we did have more than one encounter of the bear and skunk kind.

That’s what adventure is – something that takes you out of your comfort zone and stretches you a bit.

I think that’s what Lent is—taking us out of our comfort zone and stretching us.

When we hear stories of faith, the wilderness is a place where people are tested and allowed to see who they really are.

When Moses led his people into the wilderness, where they spent 40 years, it was an in-between place, between slavery in Egypt and freedom in the Promised Land. It was a place to encounter God, and it wasn’t an easy place. The people were thirsty and hungry, and they complained—a lot. And when the food they needed came, they didn’t like it.

When they thought Moses had left them for too long, they made their own god, a golden calf that they worshipped. Their weaknesses and failings were very clearly on display, but it was also where they learned who and whose they truly were. It was where they came to know their true identity as God’s chosen people.

And Jesus goes out to the wilderness after he is baptized and is tested there. He’s tested repeatedly by the devil. The devil is trying to do here is to confuse issues, undermine clarity, and mislead.

Each question is designed to get Jesus to focus on his own power and concerns and to regard the spiritual as Jesus’ magic personal power rather than being in the service of God. The devil is trying to mislead Jesus by making him think it was all about having superpowers – like a Biblical Spiderman – rather than being God’s son and a fully human son at that.

Jesus was human. Here he was in the middle of his fast, and he was hungry. “There’s no reason to go hungry—just do a magic trick—take care of what YOU want in ways that aren’t available to others.” But Jesus’ response is a beautiful commentary on the source of Life – the spiritual, not the material: “One does not live by bread alone.”

Then the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers him “all the glory and all the authority.” All Jesus had to do was worship him. It had to be very tempting. We have certainly seen people who have pursued this bargain over the years.

But in Jesus’ case, the devil doesn’t get his desired response. Jesus says, so very simply: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”[1]

The devil is not finished. He takes Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. He tells Jesus to ask God to show off his power dramatically. But Jesus is not about power. He is about God’s love and mercy for all of God’s people. And Jesus says: “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”[2]     

We’ve heard about three kinds of power in today’s Gospel lesson: material, political and religious. Those who desire power regard these powers as magic that can take the place of human honesty, compassion, generosity, and common sense. But Jesus focused on telling the truth and healing people. That was not popular with those who wanted to use power for other purposes, but it was okay with Jesus. Jesus taught us that the Kingdom of Heaven is gained through loyalty to the Lord of Heaven, not gathering power to ourselves.

Would we be able to turn down all the power and authority in the world so easily? Maybe not. My own Lenten discipline is not nearly as difficult as fasting in the wilderness for forty days and having all the power and authority in the world dangled before my eyes. If Jesus could resist that, surely, I should be able to resist my own temptations. Right?

Maybe. But Lent isn’t a contest. Lent isn’t about who can read the most of their Bible, lose the most weight, or who can restrict themselves from the most things for the next forty-or-so days. Lent is about the re-ordering of our lives, our reorientation toward God.

This can be done in various ways, either formally or informally. For those intentionally giving something up or taking something on, these practices are a way of becoming closer to God, either by adding something to aid in focusing on God or by removing something that one feels is impeding closeness with God.

Maybe you don’t have a specific Lenten practice. And that’s okay because we each learn about God and love God differently.

Maybe you want to read your Bible more in Lent, with each bit of time spent in the Scriptures giving you an extra chance to learn about God. Or maybe you gave up fast food for Lent, and each temptation is the chance to decide to put only wholesome foods into your body.

Maybe it means adding prayer time every day instead of watching Netflix, HBO Max, or Amazon Prime or not buying new things during Lent and giving the money you would spend on yourself to a charity.

No matter what you are doing in this season, we are all growing ever closer to the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.

We’re still early on in this Lenten season and have a lot of temptations that will come before us.

The good news is the resurrection of Jesus Christ awaits us.

The good news is today’s reminder from Romans that there is neither Jew nor Greek and that “the Lord is generous to all who call on him.”[3]

The good news is in the words of Deuteronomy that tell the story of the Israelites who have wandered in the desert for forty years, the words that tell us of God’s fulfillment of his promise to his people, words that assure us of God’s faithfulness.

And the good news is in the words of Jesus Christ, that “man does not live by bread alone.”[4]

Jesus saw that to be faithful, there was no simple way, no easy solution. Life is just more complicated than that.

This Lent, let us challenge ourselves, not to be more of who we think the world wants us to be: thinner, brighter, faster. Instead, I challenge you to be who God calls you to be: humble, thankful, trusting, and human.

Amen.

[1] Luke 4:9, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] Luke 4:12, NRSV

[3] Romans 10:12, NRSV

[4] Luke 4:4, NRSV


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