Jesus' temptation in the wilderness comes up every year in the Revised Common Lectionary, though Mark says much less about it than Matthew and Luke. This year, I'm looking at it through a different lens. The truth is we always focus on the end of this story and how Jesus overcame one temptation after another, but this year as we find ourselves nearing the end of a lengthy wilderness experience, these temptations take on a different meaning.
Do you know what I'm hungering for after this lengthy fast of human interaction? I'm hungering for hugs. I'm hungering for group gatherings with friends. I'm hungering for what many would call "normalcy." A Place of Grace volunteers with seven local agencies, and we have avoided in-person, indoor interactions for the safety of our own Mission Madness team members and for the safety of the volunteers and clients working with these agencies. The temptation to return to what many call "normalcy" is great, but as much as I long to ditch the masks inside public places, I have to remember that there are people in my world who are immuno-compromised because of circumstances that are somewhat or fully beyond their control. The command to love my neighbor that has guided me through this wilderness is still applicable because COVID is not eradicated. It is here to stay, and learning to manage its effects means being aware of, sensitive to, and respectful of the needs of those around me, which may or may not be evident to me in a glance.
This week, we have seen the images that reflect what happens when humankind's worship of power overtakes worship of God. The devastating images of destruction coming out of Ukraine in a war they did not provoke are heartbreaking, but we do not have to look around the world to see the destruction that power-mongers are creating. What does it mean to worship God only? It means we decry systems that elevate one person or one culture or one ideology over another. It means we recognize that God created all peoples of the earth, and that all peoples of the earth are meant to live peaceably together, that the marginalized are to be welcomed and intentionally included, and that those who are weakest because of their station are to be most honored. Sadly, that is not what is practiced, even by the church who claims Jesus as Lord. While the temptation to hold onto power is great for those who have it, the invitation of Christ to welcome the stranger and to serve the impoverished and to love one another as we have been loved means sharing power equitably for as we do unto others, so we do unto the Christ who gave himself up for all.
The final temptation was to test God and see if God would save Jesus from harm. I wonder how many of you would walk straight off a cliff saying, "God will save me" as you do. Do not put the Lord your God to the test, says Jesus, and yet we do, in a million different ways, by the choices we make and the choices we take away from others in the name of faith. Faith does not say, "God will save me" and walk off the edge of a cliff. We do not test God if we have explicit trust, nor do we behave irresponsibly to see if God has our back. Faith in God is enacted out of obedience to God with a maturity of faith that recognizes and understands a larger picture.
As we prepare to move out of this wilderness experience into a ministry that declares the Good News that God sent God's only Son not to condemn the world but to save the world through him, may our faith be fortified by the power of the Spirit at work in us, sustaining and transforming us. May we know as we leave this wilderness who God calls us to be, and may we enact the mature Christian faith of those who have faced temptation to put self ahead of God and others and overcome it by the grace of God, whom alone we worship and serve.
May it be so.
Julie participated in the 25th Seminar for Certified Zentangle(R) Teacher Training in June, 2019, trained by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. In addition to creating art as a personal spiritual practice, Julie also incorporates the Zentangle(R) method in Prayer Art Retreats in a variety of contexts, including church groups, friend gatherings, and at a local art gallery. Check out the Upcoming Events page for a calendar of events, or use the Contact Us page to inquire about scheduling an event with your group!
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