In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, one God. Amen.
The Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness, a popular spot for introspection. There is no signal in the desert. No wifi. No Netflix. No Amazon. There are no distractions, no commercials, no political campaigns ads. There are no Facebook posts or publicly declarations of Facebook departures. No tweets or snaps — nothing social at all. No food, no drink. Nothing but time to think.
And when the hunger sets in, the conversation begins.
Temptation is a conversation; between a serpent and a human, between the devil and the Son of God. Or sometimes, between two sides of a mirror.
In the 2016 film, “Last Days in the Desert.” Ewan McGregor plays Jesus—a white, British Jesus—in his final stretch of the 40 day fast. The film is slow-moving and spacious, much like the desert, itself. Stark and mostly silent. Jesus McGregor is approached in the desert by another dashing Englishman who is his spitting image, if not a little bit cleaner.
Then begins a conversation. A series of propositions. Suggestions. All of them, temptations. It's a conversation between two Jesuses. One who lies and mocks and pokes at the weak spots at exactly the wrong moments. The satan with a mask on, if you will. And the other: one who struggles, who hungers, who prays to God even when God does not respond.
In this film the fake Jesus puts the real Jesus to the test, and he almost get’s him. But the real Jesus does the one thing that makes him who he is.
Jesus trusts in God.
Jesus—not the white, Hollywood star–but the brown carpenter in occupied territory Jesus—he trusts in God.
Now, Imagine for a moment that he hadn’t. Imagine for a moment that that stone sitting in front of him was that stone, no different than any stone you might kick down the sidewalk or pull out of your shoe. And he transforms it into a loaf of bread. That really good bread. That fresh out of the oven, warm and steamy bread. Maybe a little salt sprinkled on top bread.
Wouldn’t it be a useful miracle to turn these stones into bread, especially in this city of hungry people, littered with stones and pebbles just waiting to become baguettes and biscuits?
Now imagine for a moment the sight of this working class Jesús perched atop the highest point of St. Michael’s, and then imagine it 3 times higher. And then, Jesús leaps off and plummets toward the courtyard and just the last moment a whole Host of Angels, wings wide extended, swoop down to catch him, sparing him from breaking a bone or even stubbing one precious, holy toe.
Wouldn’t that miracle be sensational? Like, sensational enough to go viral! To be internet famous. I mean, we’d have to add a 5th service up in here to hold all of the people who came to see the courtyard of Jesus and all his angels. Jesús, mind you.
Now, imagine a famished and fragile, skin and bones person, one subject to collonial oppression, who is given this satellite view of this war-torn planet. He can see all the arguments, all the fighting, the fear of the next shooting, the next pandemic, the next headline. And he is given that choice that every socially conscious venture capitalists would kill for: the one choice that gives him the power to fix everything himself. To make every war cease in an instant. To feed all the hungry. To cure all diseases. Right all wrongs. To have the power to punish those who really deserve it.
And imagine that he makes that choice, that they claims the power that, maybe deep down, we all might like to have. I mean, wouldn’t it be a miracle to have the power to finally set this world right.... yourself?
All it would take is one little betrayal. One shift in allegiance.
It's shocking to see how easy it is to imagine these things, isn't it? To imagine an argument for usefulness, sensationalism, and power. To be on the devil’s side of the conversation.
So Jesus does not choose what the accuser is offering him. And, in case any of you are wondering, I don’t think we should, either.
But it’s tempting. You can do a lot of good with a little bit'a evil, the devil says from the other side of the mirror. The only problem is you’ve gotta break a covenant
to do it.
My homiletics professor, Dr. Eunjoo Mary Kim, told me that the central theological theme of Lent, the season we find ourselvs in now, is “the renewal of the promise through the suffering and death of Christ in light of his resurrection.” The renewal of God’s promise: a covenant made between God and us.
Observing a Holy Lent, which, on behalf of the Church James invited us all to do this past Wednesday, is not about the usefulness of our Lenten discipline, or the sensationalism of our self-denial, or even the power we feel by getting to Easter
with a perfect record of not slipping – even once.
We don’t win Lent.
And here me: we don’t earn Easter.
We are not the reason for either of those seasons, for we are not the center of our faith. Jesus was not at the center of his faith, either. The center is the one he called, “Abba.”
But the accuser tries to undermine his covenantal relationship with God when he challenges Jesus to deny the nourishment of God’s word; to test God; to bow down and worship the source of evil; to become some power-hungry leader.
But when faced with those temptations, Jesus doesn’t budge. He just points to the one who he trusts.
Jesus trusts in God, because he loves God. And if you wanna love God, you’ve gotta trust God.
If you wanna love God, you’ve gotta trust God with your whole heart, soul, mind, & strength. If you wanna love God, you’ve gotta trust God with your weakness. If you wanna love God, you've gotta trust God. And friends, when we’re
tired and hungry and lonely and alone in whatever wilderness the Spirit has led us to, and we see the tempter comign forward to strike up a conversation, we can remember - God loves us.
When you see yourself in the mirror, and your reflection pokes at all those weak spots at exactly the wrong moments, you can remember - God trusts you.
God has made a covenant with us. A promise of life abundant. A promise of a kingdom of kinship. A promise of an age beyond this age of violence and death; an age of abundant life – life everlasting. It’s the promise fulfilled at the end of this season. A glimpse of the new age initiated by Christ’s resurrection.
So, we don’t know what’s in store for us during this season of Lent. But we do know how Jesus ended his 40 days. We know how he responds to the temptation to turn away from God and toward the temptations of usefulness, the temptations of sensationalism, the temptations of power. We know that, in the sight of that conversation, he points to the One he trusts.
Jesus trusts in God, because Jesus loves God. And if you wanna love God,
you gotta trust God.
God loves you.
God trusts you.
May we follow Jesus in love and trust on our journey to Jerusalem.