FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
March 9, 2014
One of my favorite people in today’s church world is Walter Brueggeman, a theologian, Old Testament scholar, professor, prolific author, and perhaps one of the religious world’s strongest advocates for the common good – the well-being of all humanity.
With Brueggemann on my mind, and seeking a launching point for my sermon on this first Sunday of Lent, I conducted a Google search - “Brueggemann and salvation.” Much to my surprise, the first thing I came across was not a website filled with Brueggemann quotations, but a blog written by Jim Gordan, a Baptist pastor and Scottish Baptist College director. Gordon’s blog discusses Brueggemann’s recently published collection of essays entitled
Disruptive Grace: Reflections on God, Scripture and the Church. It is quite powerful. He writes,
“The Body of Christ in the world is a subversive community daring to embody a Gospel of reconciliation. We are people gathered beneath the cross, but with our faces turned towards the dawn, and that displaced stone, discarded shroud and defeated grave, - these are the realities for the church - Realities by which we live, and by which we take on both the hell and the high water. And the last people who should be afraid of high water are baptized Christians, who through immersion declare the resurrection; and the last people to fear hell are those who have the nerve to call Jesus Lord, and in doing so hold their nerve in the face of whatever.
I have no idea where the church is now going - how and in what shape it will survive in such a messy, mashed up, and scintillatingly unpredictable world with its polarities and similarities, its paradoxes and possibilities. But wherever it is going - John 3.16 remains a defining statement of its destiny - it is a God-loved world, and the business of the church is to go on arguing that - by the way we live in faithfully following Jesus.”
Gordon’s words are incredibly bold and powerful. They are words intended to stir up passion and purpose. They are excellent words with which to define the focus of our Lenten journey of prayer, reflection, and penance. A journey intended to bring us into deeper relationship to God as we follow Jesus on his journey to the cross.
A journey that is meant to move us as disciples of Christ beyond the cross and onto a path that emulates Jesus in his amazing journey of servanthood, compassion and love.
A journey that is launched in response to our call from God to bring the Light of Christ – his compassion and love - to a world filled with turmoil, violence, and despair.
Gordon’s words of inspiration and Brueggemann’s passion for the common good speak to the core message of today’s gospel story. Once called by God, we will be tested in our call. The test – will we follow Jesus or not?
Today’s message from Matthew is clear - the purpose of the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness was that he must be tested. Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, directly following his baptism; Jesus’ assured confidence in defying the Devil; Jesus’ selfless declaration of commitment to his call as God’s Beloved Son - The entire wilderness experience shows us what it means to be called by God – and Jesus showed us how to follow that call. He showed us the way.
Newly anointed by the Spirit as the Beloved Son of God and led by the Spirit into the stark and, most certainly, terrifying wilderness of the ancient desert, and there the Devil taunted a hungry, thirsty and tired Jesus saying–“ You are special, above all this, let me offer you a quick and glamorous way out of a dreadful and dreary situation.” Jesus was having none of it. He rebuked the Devil saying that his call was to “Worship the Lord God, and only him.”
The Devil was persistent though wasn’t he? He didn’t give up. The Devil tempted Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. He lured Jesus with visions of comfort, power and glory. He continually encouraged him to take advantage of his status as the Beloved Son of God saying, “If you are the Son of God…”
“You are all powerful Jesus. Go ahead, seize the brass ring. Take the easy way out”
Jesus stood firm. Three times he rebuked the devil saying – “I live by God’s word – not yours.”
The devil offered Jesus the Kingdom without a cross. Jesus pushed the devil away in disgust. The message is clear - the privilege of being God’s chosen people does not come without testing – without a cross. If we are truly to be a people gathered beneath the cross with our faces turned to the dawn, we must be absolutely clear about our intent to rebuke the devil. We must be absolutely clear about our commitment to listen to and follow Jesus.
Jesus’ mission involved the cross, and whether we like it or not, so does ours. This is what Gordon is referring to when he writes, “We are people gathered beneath the cross but with our faces turned towards the dawn and that displaced stone, discarded shroud and defeated grave, - these are the realities for the church, by which we live, and by which we take on both the hell and the high water. And the last people who should be afraid of high water are baptized Christians, who through immersion declare the resurrection; and the last people to fear hell are those who have the nerve to call Jesus Lord, and in doing so hold their nerve in the face of whatever.”
Gordon’s words underscore the reality that as baptized Christians we, like Jesus, are called by God and then led by the Spirit. And, like Jesus, we too will be led into the wilderness. We too will be tested. Indeed, most of us have undergone many tests and have experienced far more than one wilderness period in our lives.
I would bet that many of us, if not most of us, are being tested right now as we sit here in the pews of St. Paul’s savoring the grace of the community and beauty that surrounds us in the moment, but knowing that once we walk through the church doors and back into our lives, the challenges, the pain, the anxiety, and the suffering of our wilderness will still be there.
None of us are strangers to temptation. None of us are strangers to tragedy. None of us are strangers to suffering. None of us are strangers to the cross.
My friends, I pray that you will take time during the next forty days to be with Jesus on his journey through the wilderness as your struggle with you own wilderness journey.
I pray that you will listen to Jesus’ words as he journeys to Jerusalem and the cross – as he struggles with the Devil not only in the wilderness but in the cities, in the Temple, with his beloved disciples and at the hands of the Roman officials and guards.
I pray that you will be with Jesus as he brings us closer to God - A God who continually amazes us with His compassion and love – His acceptance of us all – ALL OF US- as His beloved children.
I pray that we all will listen to and follow Jesus as we grow together as a body of Christ in a world filled with trouble, turmoil, and violence; and, “as we turn our faces turned towards the dawn and that displaced stone, discarded shroud and defeated grave.”
I pray that we will remember words spoken by Walter Brueggemann, “If Jesus is alive all sorts of power is loosed in the world that the Empire cannot control.”
I pray that we will listen to Jesus as he says to Peter and his disciples, “Follow me.”