First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: March 10, 2019
Scripture: Islam, Qur’an 41:53 | Luke 4:1-13
Sermon: “Where are You Going?”
Hear these words of the ancients, our past story, connecting us to one another:
We shall show then Our signs on the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the Truth.
And from the book of Luke
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 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. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 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. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.”’
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, for it is written, “God will command the angels concerning you,
to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
May we be mindful of the Spirit who speaks here and now…
Thanks be to God.
It was the first semester of my first year of seminary. My last class on Thursday night ended at 9:00pm and I had a 2 ½ hour drive home. That very first semester I encountered more about the faith, the bible, other beliefs than I had ever encountered before. I was wrestling with what it meant to believe, follow, understand, not only in regards to being in ministry, but just being me.
I remember driving down Interstate 70 having a rather animated conversation with God, albeit a one-sided conversation, asking questions… what I am I doing? What are you doing? Where am I going? I really love what I am learning…but should I?
I will never forget the feeling… right in the middle of my questioning …a presence. Perhaps it was my imagination…perhaps not… but an intense feeling I was not alone in my little Chevy Metro buzzing west on I70 at 75 miles per hour. I remember wondering what I would do if I looked to my right and there would be someone…something… sitting in the passenger seat… I looked … there was not… “Whew!”
I remember then a profound sense of peace. There were no lightning bolts, no burning bushes on the side of the road, no voices inside the car other than mine… just this sense… It did not come with answers to my bajillion questions, no rebuke because I was wrong, no confirmation that I was right… just this profound sense I was not alone… The Presence, The Divine, The Spirit was with me on this journey.
There are days I remember that experience when things seem to be falling apart…
There are days I wish I had remembered that experience when things were falling apart.
In each moment of this new Lenten Journey, I pray, we never forget… where ever it takes us.. We are not alone. We are in this together!
Today we begin our Lenten journey with the image of the labyrinth. This journey will be connected to Edward Hayes’ book, The Lenten Labyrinth. He writes of the ancient labyrinths being over 4,000 years old. The original ones appeared in the middle of the third century B.C.E. in Egypt. Some of them were below ground and some above ground. They have taken a variety of forms, among the most common are walled gardens with tall hedges shaped in the form of a maze, and others, intricate passageways. Hayes states that contrary to what some may have been taught, in regards to journeying into or to God, such a voyage is not a long linear path, but more like a complicated labyrinth.
And so, we begin. Lent is a journey, an inward Journey into who and Whose we are, and perhaps where we are and where we are going. This season of Lent almost always begins in the lectionary with Jesus own journey. Just baptized by his Cousin John, we are told by the storyteller he is “led” into desert. Led by the Spirit… Willing? Perhaps… With anxiety and Apprehension? Perhaps. Led nonetheless. We are told… it is The Jesus story…The beginnings of his Own journey, Reminiscent of the Exodus story out of Egypt into the desert. A journey into who and whose he was; Self-discovery. Other traditions have it Vision Quests, Sweat Lodges,
Where one goes off alone to find themselves?
After 40 days without food the vision comes…a vision of the tempter, we are told… he is found in a state of weakness. I think, on one level or another, when we are weak…we are tempted most? When we are weak and vulnerable. Jesus is there, he too wrestling with who he is, confronted with his hunger, and the tempter says, “Turn these stones to bread…” Jesus responds, “Life isn’t just about Bread, he says.” There is more to life than just this fragile hungry body… we are more than a bag of bones and organs, life is not about eating and surviving, it is about living. “Okay,” the accuser thinks, “From this pinnacle throw yourself down God will protect you.” Yet… no…life is not about protection…a life of faith is not tempting God or fate. It is about vulnerability, giving not tempting, taking risk yes, but not pushing your luck.
“From the mountaintop, the devil says, “All the kingdoms of the world!” “The whole of the world as a matter of fact …” Yours, all yours! And yet…sonship…Child of God-ness…Is not about power… Or possession. It is about serving not being served, it is about the Divine nature, the Divine spark, within you, within all of us. Is not about some all-powerful one, wielding power and authority, rather, it is about a vulnerable, suffering ability to be with others not as master… but servant.
And in that moment, Jesus looks at his tempter, his nemesis and says, “Satan, you go to hell.” That’s a paraphrase.
I believe this journey of Jesus’ was an embracing of who he was, human, what it meant to be Jesus. Confronted with the same issues as all of humanity … hunger, selfishness, power…confronted with good and evil… and a willingness to embrace that there is some of both in what it means to be human. Consider, if this wasn’t true even for Jesus, would it really have been a “temptation” at all?
Fresh out of the muck and mud of the Jordon, fresh out of a baptism with those who stood in line with him. This was a wrestling with what it meant to acknowledge, own, embrace, one’s humanness and struggles.
Walter Wink in his book, “The Human Being” says this was the point of this Wilderness Exam a journey into …and Distinguishing between good and evil, true and false, and what it means to be a child of God, which relates to us as well.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her sermon, The Wilderness Exam, talks about this journey into self, it is a willingness to venture into the “Dark places in our lives” to acknowledge we possess both, and a willingness to open our eyes to the fact and see in the dark, however it is not about, guilt, or a negative guilt laden journey, it is about freedom. Freedom from those things, a willingness to let them go, turning loose of the fear that drives us, and an embracing of the human being we are. This is as much our story as it is Jesus’ story. It is about our own humanness in all its glory and frailty.
It is our story because when we find ourselves lost in the desert, we are tempted as well. Looking at our world today, though we may perhaps be tempted in different contexts by the same things… tempted as nations and individuals to turn bread into guns by ever increasing defense spending and ever declining programs of social uplift.
Tempted to stand atop the pinnacles of life and be concerned only with our personal safety, our personal lives rather than the web of life of which we are all a part.
Tempted on the mountaintops of wealth and commerce to amass great volumes of wealth, great volumes of power, and leave the rest of the world to fend for itself, as the chasm between the ultra-rich and poor continues to grow ever wider.
This narrative, this story we have, tells us it is about Jesus but perhaps we should find caution, lest we be tempted to think this story is ONLY about Jesus. Some God/Man who is perfect and really couldn’t be tempted in the first place … NO …
We should beware, lest we be tempted to think this story is only about Jesus’ own journey, and rocks and bread… Of pinnacles/tempting, mountains/kingdoms. No … there is more …
This story is about us and our own journey into a desert of uncertainty, unknown, frustration, and anxiety. The desert of life, and a willingness to open our eyes in the dark. To let go of those Things that bind us, cause us to fear of others & ourselves… To move into an embracing of our humanness, our great strengths and our great weaknesses. To be willing to sit in the desert of life, with nothing but our own thoughts, nothing but ourselves, alone in the desert, and be able to fully embrace who and whose we are, and to know, even then, we are not alone. It is a story about us.
I attended the play Corpus Christi some years ago. On the cover of the program there was a statement I have never forgotten. A statement that has found its words planted deep within me words that I somehow I have believed before, though had never seen,
“He [Jesus] belongs to all of us, because he Is all of us…”
This story, this journey, is about all of us. And maybe in this context, today, right here right now…We may find ourselves especially connected with such a journey as we discern together, where do we go from here? What decisions do we make? Do they serve us or others? Are those decisions about power and protection or about vulnerability and love?
We are the story of…“The Body of the Life and Ministry of Jesus” A story of humanity, about living into what it means to be human. Which, is what Jesus was doing in this story. What we are doing in our story? Living fully into this, our humanity. Living deeply, loving deeply, serving deeply, with eyes wide open into the mystery of where we are going. To do that, to embrace fully who we are as children of the Divine, created and loved in the very image of the Spirit within, among, and through us… IS Divine.
We journey this Divine path of the Lenten Labyrinth together…together. We are not alone.
May we discover the newness of what the Spirit is about in our midst.
May it be so… Amen.