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Lent 4, Yr B, March 11, 2018
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
Guess what? The last time I preached from these texts, Lent 4 yr B, three years ago was when I supplied for William here at Emmanuel. Isn’t that cool?!
I looked back at the sermon. It was remarkably like what I wanted to share with you today.
When I was growing up, our bed-night process included a story from the Moody Bible Story Book.
It was a big thick book, put together by people who felt they needed to pass on to children their conviction of the literal inerrancy of scripture –
so none of the stories, not even the violent ones, were left out.
I still remember the bronze serpent; I think there was even a picture. The story had a kind of logic I sensed even as a kid.
It’s a story that illustrates a major psychological principal: the paradox of healing, that illness, like small pox or polio, often contains the seeds of it’s own cure.
The People of God are wandering in wilderness. They’re on the road to freedom,
but it takes a long time to get to freedom and it’s not an easy road, so they’re full of complaints.
“There’s no food and no water here, and we detest this miserable food.” It made me laugh, reminded me of my kids as teenagers,
“There’s no food in this house!” “Wait a minute, the fridge is full of manna, what’s the problem?” “That detestable food?”
And so poisonous serpents invade the camp. Snake bites, what a perfect metaphor for complaining. Persistent negativity really does make people sick.
In fact, snakebite is a good metaphor for many sins: think about envy (how someone else’s success or good fortune or laudable qualities “bite” at you).
And lust (how what the BCP calls “inordinate desires” and their accompanying thoughts and fantasies can buzz around you and bite like mosquitoes),
how anger and pride and greed “nip at your heels.”
Snakebites that settle in can poison the whole system. William Blake’s poem, “A Poison Tree,” goes like this:
We like to see ourselves as honorable people, or at least justifiably dishonorable. We don’t like to see certain other qualities or actions in ourselves – they cause shame, we want to deny them, to ignore them, to push them away.
The great psychologist Carl Jung described what he called the shadow side of personality,
the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, that we try to hide, emotions that we were subtly taught we weren’t “supposed” to feel.
When pushed away, like rejected children, they become a cause of suffering, hurting us and the people around us,
because when we fear and reject the qualities in ourselves that we don’t like, we inevitably project them onto others, condemning them and ourselves.
Ever notice that, that the people we don’t like exhibit qualities that we have rejected in ourselves.
Snakebites. Not fun. The people come back to Moses – “Moses, Moses, our bad. Take these snakes away!” We don’t like these feelings.
But instead of taking them away, God tells Moses to make the great bronze snake,
mount it on a pole, and put it in the middle of the camp, so that the people can look at it – and be healed.
“Look at it.” Look at our shadow selves, our sins. Instead of pushing away our feelings of anger, envy, greed or pride,
we need to look at them, name them, tell the truth about them, and ask even them what they have to teach us.
Another poem, this one by Rumi
Psychologist Carl Rogers taught that we can’t change until we first accept ourselves as we are, until we are willing to say,
I’m wounded, I’m rebellious, I’m proud, I’m bull-headed. The beginning of healing in AA is to say, “My name is John and I am an alcoholic.”
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus says to Nicodemus – just as the People looked up at the serpent in the wilderness and were healed,
look up at me, TELL me THE TRUTH of who you think you are, let me bring you healing.
My first Spiritual Director talked about prayer as five parts: Show up, pay attention, TELL THE TRUTH, do your best, detach from the outcome.
Telling the truth is hard, we often carry a boatload of shame, we expect to be judged and condemned,
we anticipate it, we project it out in judgment and condemnation of others, but really it is condemnation internalized.
But the message of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus goes on to share with Nicodemus is that God loves and does not condemn.
It can be hard to accept that God truly loves us, loves all creation. It can be hard for us to believe that as far as God is concerned, love trumps condemnation every time.
It can be hard for us to open ourselves to the Light, to let go the fear or the habits of hiding.
But hiding is self-condemnation, choosing to reject the acceptance and the healing that comes from TRUTH TELLING.
The central message is that there is no need to fear. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love,
…perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment” and living in fear works against being able to receive God’s love.
Of course we sin. Of course we get snakebites. Sometimes we go looking for the snakes. 1 John is frank about it.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” But when we tell the truth about it,
when we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just forgives them and wipes the slate clean.
Confession is a central part of Christian practice. We say a confession together every Sunday
but there is also a Rite in the Prayer Book for making a personal confession, perhaps during Lent or at any time.
I would be happy to talk with you about that if you wish, and you can find the words in the prayer book, on p. 447.
Jesus takes the bronze serpent image to its deepest level. He himself has become the source of healing for the sins of the whole world.
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Later, just before his death, Jesus says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
“Whoever believes in him…” These verses in John are troublesome to many people.
We’re not sure what John means by “…believing in…” because “belief” commonly has come to mean adhering to a certain set of precepts.
But the real meaning of the word “believing” comes from an Old English word that is more like “beloving,”
or the Latin word “credo,” “I believe,” as in “I give my heart to…” To believe is to trust.
When we belove, when we trust, and we bring our whole selves into the Light, the sting of death and sin is removed.
God’s self-giving love revealed in Jesus’ self-giving death on the cross has overcome it. That is the grace that saves us.
You were dead, says Paul in Ephesians 2:1. But God who is rich in mercy, the riches of whose grace and loving-kindness are immeasurable,
that God loved us, with all our deadness exposed in the Light, not only loves us but saves us, lifts us up, brings us to sit beside him. It is purely grace, pure gift.
The result? “There is therefore no condemnation,” and there is also no boasting, no self-made human, only God-made humanity.
Ephesians 2:10 in the King James Version, the way I learned it originally says, “...for we are God’s workmanship,”
God’s weaving, God’s woodworking project, God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus,
to join God in doing God’s work. That becomes our way of life.
We aren’t intended for condemnation but for freedom from shame, freedom from fear.
We are intended for a way of life that brings abundant joy to our deepest selves, to all around us, and above all, to God.
Join me; let us celebrate this abundant life together as we gather at the Table of the Lord. Amen.
Lent 3, Yr B, March 4, 2018, Emmanuel
Exodus 20:1-17; Ps. 19; 1 Cor 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
The Ten Commandments. We’ve just chanted them as part of the Lenten Penitential Office and here they are again in our readings.
So familiar – in some ways. However, that familiarity, as well as the perverse ways the Ten Commandments have been used politically, has bred some contempt for them.
Which is really unfortunate because they are an extraordinary set of guidelines for human society and connection with God.
Separating them from the symbolic nonsense that sometimes surrounds them, this week I read them very slowly, listening. Amazing!
The first one is not a commandment at all; it’s a statement – the same statement spoken in each of God’s Covenant promises:
in Creation, to Noah after the flood, to Abram as we read last week, now on Mt. Sinai to Moses and the Israelites,
and finally, to us in the Covenant of the Incarnation, Jesus. Each time it’s the same statement: I will be God to you.
I am committed to you. I love you. And because I love you, I offer you freedom, from fear, to live with joy and wholeness, in relationship:
the words say, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you, [who brings you] out of the house of slavery.”
Only, you can’t keep putting yourself back into slavery. Because that’s what happens whenever you try to fill the God-space in your being. with anything other than God.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol,” says God. What do we make paramount in our lives?
Whether it’s material things – “my truck, my gun and my woman,” stocks and bonds, good-looking physiques, our addictions –
or conceptual ideas –reputation, patriotism, rights – idolatry will always land people back in slavery.
God knows that.
God also knows the human tendency to claim what we want – using God’s name. The words: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.”
I don’t think the third commandment has nearly as much to do with swearing as it does with those kinds of claims.
How many wars have been fought with the claim of “God on our side!” How many times has God’s name been used to justify oppression or discrimination or genocide?
How many prosperity gospel preachers claim that God wants them to have four homes and a luxury jet – just send me your money.
How many times do people say to a grieving survivor, God needed another angel in heaven?
What does the psalmist say, “Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins?”
It is a serious and even dangerous thing to invoke the Name of God for petty, selfish or heinous actions.
The fourth commandment is to rest, to make room in our lives for Sabbath. Some years ago, a friend of mine and her family made Sabbath a priority in their life. Their Sunday became a quiet but precious family time.
They didn’t shop, or clean, or play video games, and there was no late Sunday afternoon dread of unfinished homework.
Ultimately, she said, it was freeing, not burdensome.
There it is again. God offers freedom, the kind of freedom that lives in relationship, in the human social realm as well.
Honoring the elders and honoring the children, holding to the value of human life, faithfulness, not taking other people’s stuff, telling the truth.
In the tenth commandment and as Jesus confirms in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s not just about actions taken, it’s about what is harbored in the heart:
don’t even let envy fester in your heart, nor hatred, nor any other harmful desire. The basis for healthy human society.
I was fascinated in John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath, by the code of behavior that grew up among the traveling people making their way from the Oklahoma dustbowl to the promised land of California.
They weren’t called the Ten Commandments, but they were very clearly akin, especially to the last six.
But all ten are about relationship. No wonder the psalmist speaks as he or she does:
this way of being revives the soul, it leads the innocent not into cynicism but into wisdom;
this way of being is just, and so it rejoices the heart and gives light to the eyes; let me live this way, O God, in the words of my mouth and in my interior thoughts as well.
But --- the unilateral free gift of God’s total generosity is something that we humans don’t “get.”
We are deal-makers – I’ll do this for you and you do this for me; I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.
Think about it. The economy of the world, the social arrangements, all the systems that run the world –
the political system, the religious system, the economic system, and even the day to day operations among people are in one way or another, about making deals.
The corollary, of course, is that if you won’t do this for me, I won’t do that for you. You have to make it worth my while to do something for you.
People say, “My children are grown; why should I pay taxes to support the schools?”
People say, “I’ve got mine; why should I care about you?” When people say things like this, they are betraying our fundamental shared humanity,
but the comments come from a deal-making mindset.
So it didn’t take long for people to see God as the biggest deal-maker of all, instead of the source of “a free flow of spiritual life and love that cannot be bought, bartered, bargained, or bribed,” as commentator John Shea puts it.
It didn’t take long for people to exchange the Covenant, the guidance of God meant to help them live peaceably in a community of love, for a system of deal-making
and creating in their minds a God who says, “you keep my rules and I’ll bless you, you break my rules and I’ll punish you.”
No wonder so many people see God this way. Without spiritual transformation, we can’t wrap our minds around a God whose love holds creation together,
whose love is expressed as free gift, whose love is poured out in self-giving.
In the lesson we read from John’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that human wisdom, the wisdom of this world that Paul describes in the Epistle lesson,
twists the wondrous Law of the Lord from Covenant Relationship into a transaction,
turns the unconditional offer of God “to be God to us” into a conditional “if-then” exchange.
That is what Jesus is demonstrating when he upturns all the tables of the money changers in the temple.
The temple worship, while ostensibly being about the Sinai Covenant, has become an exchange:
“God and worshippers relate commercially. Exchange is the name of the game. …The worshipper gives God a sacrificial animal and, in return, God gives the worshipper forgiveness for sins and help in various endeavors.”
Is that so foreign to the way people often understand Christianity? Is that just a construct of the Ancient Near East?
Or does it sound familiar, maybe even on some level at least, the way we ourselves might think.
I’ll be good and God will bless me. I’ll keep the rules and God will reward me. God punishes people who break the rules. God’s love for me is conditional upon my keeping my half of the bargain.
A bargain. The language of the marketplace, the temple marketplace that Jesus upends, scattering tables, animals and money boxes all over the place.
The God that Jesus calls Father is not a deal-maker; that God is a lover.
God, in Jesus and in the Ten Commandments, desires relationship, connection, and the greatest good for us and for all God’s creation.
God desires true freedom and abundant life for God’s people.
That’s why God gave Moses these tablets of the Law – here is the way to live abundantly and freely with God and with other fellow humans.
It’s for that reason that Jesus accepts his death at the hands of the so-called wise of this world and promises his third-day resurrection, an opaque reference totally lost on them.
It’s why Paul says, “[though] Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, we proclaim Christ crucified [and yet alive], …Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
And finally, it is for this reason that Mark’s Gospel account of this same incident says “My [Father’s] house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”
A house of prayer, a place of relationship, with God and with other people in God. Will we be such a place?
Posting plaques of the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn won’t make it so, but prayer will.
Being the Body of Christ, the Beloved Community of the risen Lord Jesus, will. Intentionally learning who this God is, who has promised to be God to us, will.
Serving the world around us in God’s name, will.
May we be a house of prayer; may Emmanuel be a place where we and those who come here meet God in true relationship. Amen.
*John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, Mark, Yr B, “Third Sunday of Lent,” pp 90-94.
Lent 2, Yr B, February 28, 2018
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Earlier this week, I noticed Michael’s ring on the windowsill in the kitchen, not his wedding right but a silver ring made by his cousin,
a silversmith in Taos, New Mexico.
I picked it up and held it in the palm of my hand, feeling its heft, admiring its beauty, and looking at some scratches on it. I looked at its inner surface, half-expecting to see some words in elven script.
I hope most of you are somewhat familiar with The Lord of the Rings, the epic novels of J.R.R. Tolkien.
I shook off a shiver, reminding myself that it was Michael’s ring, not Frodo’s, and though it was beautiful and precious to Michael, it was not a ring of power, and had no chilling words inscribed within it.
But made me think of old Bilbo on his birthday, when he is about to go spend his last years in Rivendell with the elves.
He plans to leave his ring for his favorite nephew, Frodo, but he finds he just can’t do it. He can’t let go of it.
He puts it into an envelope and sets it up on the mantle, but he can’t pull his hand away, and there is it, back in his hand, envelope on the floor.
He means to give it to Frodo, really he does. But it has a hold on him, on his mind and spirit, and keeping it as he wants to would ultimately be his undoing.
Fortunately, the wizard Gandalf intervenes and sends Frodo and the ring to Mt Doom where it is undone itself and its power broken.
Anyway, thinking about The Lord of the Rings, one of my favorite books of all times, it occurred to me that at least in a way, our lives are like Bilbo’s ring.
Different in some major ways: the ring was made by an evil energy, our lives are amazingly made in love; the ring’s purpose is to destroy by exerting power over, the purpose of our lives is abundant joy.
BUT, in the story, Bilbo’s ring takes hold of him, pulls his will into itself, causes him to hold it tight, to keep it under his control, making him into a smaller, paler, less real version of himself.
In a similar way, when we perceive our lives as belonging solely to ourselves, when we start believing that we are in control, when we are driven by fear to focus on saving our own skins, we have begun to lose our lives.
Jesus calls us to something completely different. Hold your life lightly, says Jesus. It is yours, yes, but it is yours to give away.
Episcopal singer-songwriter Bob Franke wrote these lyrics for the wedding of some friends of his:
Make love to each other, be free with each other, be prisoners of love ‘til you lie in the sod. Make friends with each other, forgive one another, see God in each other, be beggars to God.”
Beggars to God. Everything that we have has been given us. Our lives and certainly all our stuff has never really been ours, not to hold onto in fear.
The more we live out of fear, the more we live in bondage. The more we live out of fear, the more fear takes hold of us, the tighter our grasp becomes, and the less capable we are of experiencing joy, freedom, hope, grace, peace, and certainly love.
So how can we live with that kind of freedom, freedom to love our lives and still let them go?
We don’t live in the time of Jesus or of the early church or in places where our lives are forfeit for being followers of Jesus. How do we lose our lives for the sake of the gospel?
It’s a great question and I don’t know the answer. I would love to have a discussion and hear what you all think.
However, in our time and place, it seems to me that holding our lives lightly might begin with holding possessions lightly, being generous, not just with money but with time.
Being generous with our attention in listening to each other, not just thinking about and planning our next response.
Being generous with forgiveness, and empathy, and our God-given talents. Holding our lives lightly might mean holding our opinions and perceptions lightly,
being willing to consider the opinions and perceptions of others, even changing our minds.
Jesus calls his disciples to self-denial, taking up a cross, and following him. “In the context of Mark’s Gospel, to deny ourselves involves more than giving up chocolate for Lent or belittling ourselves…
Rather, it is a call to radically reorient our lives so that we [are seeking not] our own priorities but those of Jesus Christ.”
The cross has to do with being vulnerable, as well as being “willing to suffer the consequences” the dominant culture imposes on faithfulness to God’s commands to welcome the stranger or to care for the poor or to speak truth to power.
And to follow Jesus is to risk choices “that promise to be both dangerous and life-giving.”
And why do this? Because of love. Because we have been loved. Because we dare to trust. Because we are members of a covenant of relationship centered in and manifested by the loving-kindness of God.
The first giving of the covenant was at creation, when God breathed out God’s Spirit, sang out God’s Word song, and all things came into being.
Last week the Hebrew Scripture lesson was about the Noah covenant, the rainbow, God’s promise agreement, made not just with Noah and his family, but – I love this –
“…with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark, …every living creature of all flesh.”
In this week’s lesson, God goes further and makes a covenant with one man, Abram, promising him that at age 99 he will become the ancestor of as many descendants as the stars of the heavens.
God changes his name to Abraham to mark this promise, and then God goes further.
“I will establish my covenant between me and you, …for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you, and to your offspring after you.”
I will be God to you.
There is this succession of covenants, each a little more particular, and at the same time, a little more inclusive of personhood:
the covenant of creation itself, the covenant made with Noah, the covenant made with Abraham, and the covenant made with Moses at Sinai.
In each of the covenants, in a slightly more personal way each time, there is the message “I will be God to you.”
And this is what I think. In the Incarnation of Jesus, God once again is expressing God’s covenantal loving-kindness, “I will be God to you.”
You are my beloved. I love you. I treasure you. I pour out myself for you. Your selfhood is so precious to me that it is utterly safe for you to hold your own selfhood lightly.
You can be as free as I am, in giving yourself away, because in me you have an eternal life.
The Eucharist is the Sacrament of that Covenant, God’s own life given for us and to us, in order to take root within us. But the Eucharist is also the Sacrament of Self-giving, because it is not just for us, not just to feed us.
Look at it this way. We say that the Sacramental Bread and Wine are the Body of Christ, given for our salvation.
We take the bread, bless it, break it and give it; those are the four movements of the Eucharist.
But we also say that we are the Body of Christ. We, the people of God, gathered here this morning, soon to come forward to the altar, are also the Body of Christ.
And Christ takes us. Christ lifts us to bless us. And then we are broken open, yes, broken open and given, given for the life of the world God loves.
If we are intent upon saving our own lives, staying intact, unwilling to love, unwilling to allow love to break us open, we will find that our lives have evaporated.
But if we give ourselves, broken open by love, bursting with good news of God’s love, we will find that God’s life in us will make our lives far more beautiful, more joyous, more peaceful than we could have ever imagined.
“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, will save it.”
As we gather here in a community of trust and covenant love, may we receive grace to live God’s love in a loveless world. Amen.
Lent 1, Yr B, February 18, 2018
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
I know I’ve talked before about the Godly Play stories that use the “desert box,” and about the way the storyteller sits beside it,
running her hands through the sand, piling it up along one side, then changing the shape again as she speaks:
“The desert is a strange and dangerous place. The wind blows the sand into changing hills and valleys and it is very easy to get lost.
There is little water and the extremes of heat and cold are great. No one goes into the desert unless they have to.”
But (pause) many important stories in the Bible take place in the desert, and the one in today’s gospel is no exception.
The first Sunday in January we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and the Renewal of our own Baptismal Covenant,
but today’s gospel lesson takes us a step further. Mark, never one to mince words, describes Jesus’ baptism in a unique way –
and remember, Mark’s was the first Gospel to be written down, telling the Jesus story with an intensity that the other Gospels tone down a bit.
Mark says, at the baptism of Jesus, the heavens are torn apart, and the Spirit descends upon him,
with the Voice proclaiming him the Son, the Beloved, the source of God’s good pleasure.
But then that same Spirit, in the very next verse, immediately drives him into the desert!
Mark draws a very tight connection between these two events: Jesus’ baptism and his forty days of trial from wild beasts and the evil one.
But before we talk about the desert, first think with me about the torn open heavens. At the end of Mark, when Jesus dies, the great curtain in the Jerusalem temple,
the curtain that cordons off and separates the most holy part of the temple, where only the chief priest may go and only once a year to make atonement for all the people’s sins,
that curtain is torn in two. It is the same verb and it has the same meaning: the separation between heaven and earth is undone forever.
One commentator writes, “…the protecting barriers are gone and God, unwilling to be confined to sacred spaces, is on the loose in our land.”
Or with a slightly different slant, because sin is by definition separation from God, at the baptism of Jesus,
“…God crosses the impenetrable boundary between divine and human realms and acts as one who identifies fully with human sin, life and longing.
Jesus’ coming shatters our assumptions and confounds our sense of what is expected.
His baptism not only identifies him as God’s Son but also empowers him for ministry to all people.” It’s a done deal, right?
So why does the Spirit drive him into the wilderness immediately? What is the significance of the wilderness? And why for forty days?
The number 40 appears in scripture in relation to times of challenge and testing: in the Noah story, it rained for forty days and forty nights, recalling the ancient chaos before creation;
at the Exodus, when the Israelites escape from Egypt, they spend forty years wandering in the wilderness as they are formed into a people of God,
at Mt Sinai, Moses spends forty days up on the mountain in God’s presence, receiving the Torah;
the prophet Elijah hides for forty days on another mountain, from Ahab and Jezebel who want to kill him.
So is Jesus on some sort of vision quest, like a young Native American or African boy who must endure a series of ordeals in order to become a man and a warrior? It is a common archetype and one way that this story is often understood.
Is Jesus sent into the wilderness to come to terms with the meaning of his experience of baptism and to develop “a strategy for ministry?”
I don’t like the boardroom language, but I think that the wilderness often is a place of paring down and clarifying what one is meant to do.
Is the wilderness, the desert, then, just a metaphor for personal development? No, I think there is much more to this process event.
More important than the length of time or the challenge of “a strange and dangerous place,” Jesus is driven from his baptism into the wilderness to confront evil.
And equally, in our baptisms we are impelled by the Spirit to engage with the danger and challenge of being a follower of Jesus and to stand up to and resist evil as well.
There are many kinds of wilderness, and evil appears in many guises. Certainly there is the evil of easy access to AR-15s that mow down innocent school children.
There is the wilderness of inner city food deserts, where the little bit of healthy food in grocery stores costs far beyond the means of the people in the neighborhood.
There is the wilderness of war zones and disaster areas in eastern Congo or Syria or Haiti.
There is the wilderness in which our country seems currently to be wandering, the wilderness of the lack of political will to create affordable health care, to fund research into healing for mental illness or to welcome the stranger.
There is the wilderness of rural poverty, and the lack of affordable housing in Barry County,
no place for homeless men, no place for those being released from jail on drug charges to go to other than the environments that make it all too easy to use or deal again.
There is the evil I learned about this week, a payday lender in Hastings who charged 320% interest on a loan.
And there are always the wild beasts of chaos, violence and fear.
Matthew and Luke offer more detailed descriptions of Jesus’ time in the wilderness;
Mark just says he was tempted by Satan, he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.
The word “tempted” unhelpfully suggests a rather superficial desire for something not good for us;
a particularly rich Swedish Christmas dish is called Jansson’s Temptation, and we talk about being tempted by sinfully delicious chocolate desserts.
That is not what Jesus’ time in the wilderness was about!
Sin of course has a personal component, but it also has a much broader context. In the words of John Shea,
“Satan is the inner, invisible energy of people, groups, and social and political structures that inflict suffering on people,
…ways of thinking and acting that…actively keep people alienated from God and divided among themselves.”
And in the questions of our Baptismal Covenant,
“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God,
…the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, and ...the…desires that draw you [away from] the love of God?”
Being baptized as a Christian is not a light commitment! “The baptismal gift of the Spirit is not a personal privilege but the foundation for a struggle.”
Yet it is the baptismal gift of the Spirit, and therein lies our power to resist evil, not by our own determination, not by our “strategies for ministry,” not by our ideologies, and above all, not by violence, but by the power and freedom and love of the Spirit of God.
In Matthew and Luke’s accounts, Jesus resisted Satan by trusting his Father, knowing the scriptures, and refusing to be moved or guided by fear.
The writer of 1 John says, “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.”
On my office windowsill in Cadillac I have a quote from Gandhi, “Be truthful, gentle and fearless.”
The prophet and man of God Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that.”
It is love that has the power to overcome evil and sustain in the wilderness.
We don’t resist evil in our own strength; like Jesus, we too have been empowered in our baptisms by the very Spirit of God, who is love.
The heavens have been torn apart. There is good news for a tough world. The kingdom of God has come near. Ultimately “God is on the loose…” and our work is to follow.
In his confrontation with evil in the wilderness, Jesus was nourished and cared for by angels.
It is our work as a faith community to nourish and care for one another, spiritually, emotionally, and even sometimes physically as we engage with resisting evil in our various wildernesses.
It is our work to gather nourishment at this table, to receive the Sacrament of Christ’s own Life,
and it is our work to use this holy season of Lent to practice, to train, to strengthen the fearlessness that comes from love.
Why? So that we can indeed go into the wilderness to face down evil in the power of the Spirit. Thanks be to God.