Confession: Lent is my favorite season.
It is not because I enjoy suffering or even sober events.
It is, however, because it is honest and authentic.
We are beautifully flawed and broken people, who live among beautifully flawed and broken people in a beautifully flawed and broken creation. Our flaws, our brokenness, and those of others and the creation separate us from one another, from neighbor, and from God.
Ash Wednesday humbly reminded us that we, our neighbors, and all of creation are temporary. It all was created from ash/dust and to ash/dust it will all return.
As a girl from the ‘Valley of the Sun’, I am aware that the phoenix dies, becomes ash, then rises again stronger than before. Similarly, we (as individuals, communities, and institutions) are called to die, to become ashes, to rise by the grace of God stronger and further shaped into the one that God has called us each to be.
THIS is the work of Lent.
It is about becoming aware of the distractions
that separate us from God and neighbor…
in order for vulnerable soul-searching…
in order for uncomfortable ‘Come to Jesus’ moments…
in order to return our attention to the cross, to Jesus the Christ,
and to the Triune God…
in order that we may be reconciled and reconnected to God and neighbor alike.
Thus, it is not about resisting temptation or suffering while testing your self-control against chocolate, caffeine, adult beverages, social media, or the sort…
UNLESS it is a distraction for you from God and/or neighbor.
Our Lenten Sundays begin with Jesus’ temptation in the desert wilderness, but his temptations were significantly more intense than our cravings for chocolate, caffeine, or the sort.
Although the Gospel accounts all share Jesus’ desert wilderness temptation immediately after his baptism, Luke as an interestingly different focus. Luke has an emphasis on the Holy Spirit interwoven in Jesus’ actions, ministry, mission, and purpose.
This may be unnerving for Lutherans because it implies that the Holy Spirit, who is wildly unpredictable, is unleashed and active in our world. Oh, the chaos! But, Oh, the possibilities!
The Holy Spirit was present at Jesus’ baptism, then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert wilderness. After 40 days without food, Jesus is at his most vulnerable (at least to date) and this is when the devil launches a targeted attack of Jesus. Although the devil attempts to tempt him at least three times, these temptations may not be as they first appear:
One, Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread, but it was not about food and his hunger. It was about if Jesus would misuse and abuse his miracle-performing powers for his own benefit.
Two, Jesus was tempted to ‘bow down’ to the devil in exchange for all the earthly kingdoms and their wealth, which apparently the devil has been granted temporary reign, but it was not about the authority, the power, and its wealth. It was about if Jesus’ integrity and mission could be derailed by a desire for authority, power, and wealth rooted in greed.
Three, Jesus was tempted to ‘test’ God. It is not about if God would or would not save Jesus. It was about the desire or efforts to provoke, manipulate, or control God even for the sake of God’s Son himself.
These temptations are ultimately about if Jesus would honestly and authentically live into his vocation and mission with integrity. Jesus, you could say, passed the test.
It seems that in the midst of Jesus’ temptation in the desert wilderness, the Holy Spirit, who is the very activity and presence of God in our world, never abandoned Jesus. And she never abandons us.
Then, Luke writes that the Holy Spirit led Jesus from the desert wilderness to his hometown synagogue, filled with the Spirit read an Isaiah passage proclaiming the mission of his public ministry. It is to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favor, which is release to the slave, servant, captive, prisoner, and the oppressed; and the forgiveness of debts. Jesus also proclaims himself as the long-awaited Messiah who cannot be manipulated and controlled by the hometown neighbors, which causes them to chase him out of town with the desire of throwing him off a cliff.
This cements Luke’s understand that the Holy Spirit is continually guiding and leading Jesus in his vocation, which especially requires his ability to resist those temptations or distractions.
May we this Lenten season seek to strip away
the temptations and distractions that
separate us from God and neighbor.
May we search our vulnerable hearts and souls
about our own authenticity and intentions.
May we cooperate with the Holy Spirit
continually guiding and leading us deeper and deeper
into a death that results in ashes;
ashes which we will rise from by the grace of God
stronger and further empowered to live
into our own vocations with more honesty, more authenticity,
and the utmost integrity… like Jesus. Amen.