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February 19, 2016, 10:08 AM

Wilderness


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and are settled there, take some of the early produce of the fertile ground that you have harvested from the land the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket. Then go to the location the Lord your God selects for God’s name to reside. Go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him: “I am declaring right now before the Lord my God that I have indeed arrived in the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
The priest will then take the basket from you and place it before the Lord your God’s altar. Then you should solemnly state before the Lord your God: “My father was a starving Aramean. He went down to Egypt, living as an immigrant there with few family members, but that is where he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. The Egyptians treated us terribly, oppressing us and forcing hard labor on us. So we cried out for help to the Lord, our ancestors’ God. The Lord heard our call. God saw our misery, our trouble, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, and with signs and wonders. The Lord brought us to this place and gave us this land—a land full of milk and honey.10 So now I am bringing the early produce of the fertile ground that you, Lord, have given me.”
Set the produce before the Lord your God, bowing down before the Lord your God. 11 Then celebrate all the good things the Lord your God has done for you and your family—each one of you along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among you.
 
Luke 4:1-13
Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only God.”
The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: God will command the angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.[c]
12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”[d] 13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.
 
“Wilderness”
 
The Holy Spirit led Jesus from the Jordan River out into the wilderness. Lent begins with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We have so few details from Jesus’ life prior to his baptism at the Jordan and his testing in the wilderness. Luke gives us the most details. Luke shares the birth stories of John and Jesus, and Jesus’ dedication at the Temple. Then there is silence for years until Jesus pops up at the Temple once again, this time 12 years old for his bar mitzvah. Jesus teaches the teachers who the real teacher is (say that three times fast). Then there is even more silence until Jesus arrives on the banks of the Jordan River where John is busy in his ministry; washing the people of Israel who have come and calling them to turn in a new direction, to turn toward God. Jesus is washed by John, and as he is praying God’s Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove and God proclaims, “This is my Son, my Beloved.” Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, becomes the ‘Anointed One;’ messiac in Hebrew—Messiah, christos in Greek—Christ. This anointing Spirit then leads Jesus further into the wilderness for a time of testing and commissioning; to answer the question, “what kind of Messiah will Jesus be?”
 
Wilderness. Every time that word shows up in scripture it should be with a capital ‘W.’ Wilderness. It is loaded with meaning and history. Wilderness…Exodus. The Exodus story is the defining story for the people Israel. It is the foundation of their life and worship.  All worship at one point or another recounts the story of God’s deliverance from Egypt, God’s journey with the people in the wilderness, God’s guidance to the Promised Land. This story, this wilderness story, is Israel’s identity. They were formed into God’s nation in that wilderness school. They are called in all their calendar events of worship to remember this story, remember who they were, who they are.
 
Look at the identities they proclaim in this rich and powerful story. They acknowledge that they were slaves, prisoners, oppressed, persecuted. They proclaim that they were refugees, homeless, wanderers. They proclaim they were immigrants, strangers, foreigners. And in all these realities, God never abandoned them. God freed them. God journeyed with them, guided them. God set up God’s tent among them, lived with them. God partnered with Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to care for them when they were slaves, refugees, and immigrants. Now, as God’s people secure in the Land, they were to partner with God to do the same for others; to be a blessing to the nations.
 
But we know the stories. Israel forgot, again and again. In their security, they forgot their history and their identity. God sent prophets with calls to turn around and return to God, to remind them of who they were and who they are. But this was met with limited and short-lived success. Finally, God sends Jesus, God’s Word in the flesh—Messiah, Christ. And it begins once again in the wilderness, to reclaim their identity, to lift up the choice between God’s way and the world’s way. Jesus enters the wilderness to face the test and the tester. Jesus faces critical choices. Will he choose to take care only of himself? “Since you are God’s Son, turn this rock into a loaf of bread.” Feed yourself. Will Jesus choose to listen to the world’s stories and heed the world’s ways? Will he choose power and might and glory and hierarchy? Will Jesus choose extravagant religiosity, showy religion? Will Jesus choose to test God’s providence and care for him?
 
Or, will Jesus choose to truly be God with us? Will he choose to come alongside us, to embody true fellowship, partnership, relationship? Will Jesus choose to walk alongside us, to be incarnate? Will he submerge his life into our lives and be among us, not apart from us? We know what Jesus chose. Now the choice is ours.
 
Here we are, at the start of Lent, and the journey begins in the wilderness. The testing and commissioning stands before us if we plan to partner with Christ. Will our lives be only lived for ourselves? Will we listen to the world’s story of power and wealth, fear and distrust? Will we wrap ourselves in our own religiosity, a blanket wrapped around us making us blind to the world? Will we choose our own safety over the ministry Jesus’ calls us to? At our first stop on the Lenten journey, as we stand on the edge of the wilderness, who will we choose to be?
 
This Sunday we mark our passports and our map with those still lost in the wilderness—refugees around the world. According to Church World Service, every five seconds a person is displaced in this world. Some are cast out into the cold. Some flee in the midst of violence. Many with just the clothes on their backs. Jesus reclaimed our identity from the wilderness. Once we were slaves, once we were refugees, once we were immigrants, lost and afraid. God delivered us. God journeyed with us to a place of safety and abundance. Now God calls us to do the same, to partner with God, with Jesus, and enter the wilderness for others. Let us grab our passports and go.

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