First Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2010
1Lent2010 Luke 4:1-13 February 21, 2010
(See Devotional for individual or group use on page 4)
With Lent we enter a new spiritual season – a season calling us home – calling us to remember who and whose we are. It’s a season urging us to turn anew to our core. We’ve heard of Lent as a time to give something up. But more and more, Christians across denominations are talking of – instead of giving things up – taking on, with greater intentionality, that which gives us life.
The First Sunday of Lent in all three liturgical years – Matthew, Mark and Luke, gives us the temptation story of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel tells the story in two sentences. Matthew and Luke are longer, but all three Gospels begin in the same powerful way. All three name the Holy Spirit the instigator. The Spirit is either to blame or to credit for leading Jesus into the wilderness.
This instigating Spirit is depicted often as a dove or bird, probably because the Gospels speak of the Holy Spirit descending LIKE a dove. We can find all kinds of pictures that such Holy Spirit.
But this Spirit is of course far more than like a dove, though the image of bird isn’t bad. Birds are free. They fly where they will. I love Gerhard Forde’s use of the image as he encourages us to find courage and nerve to preach the Gospel unconditionally. He says “simply let the bird of the Spirit fly.” He repeats it at the end of his article: All we have to do is “just let the bird fly.”
The temptation stories are grounded in the Spirit and twice refer to Jesus’ baptism. At his baptism, Jesus is hovered over by the Spirit and is called beloved. And he has hardly dried off from that dunking in the Jordan River when he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus’ feet would have still been wet. Water would have still dripped from his long first-century hair style. The temptation story in all three Gospels begins with Jesus wet with the promise of the Spirit! Wet with blessing. Wet with belovedness. It is clear, Jesus is beloved of God!
That belovedness must grasp us if we are to hear the story. We must catch that Jesus is wet to the core with belovedness! Unconditional love undergirds all that will happen next in the wilderness. If we miss that context – if we miss the love – we miss what brings the story home to us. The Spirit that hovered over Jesus with belovedness now leads him into the wild, the desert, the experience of life as harsh, as depleting rather than refreshing, as dry rather than affirming.
We all know these experiences. We have all lived through moments where our hearts feel dry as bone – like we’re living where no water flows. On a spiritual level, we know or will know sometime in our lives, the desert, the heartaches, the barrenness where belovedness is tested.
All three Gospels agree that the Holy Spirit was with Jesus in that wilderness – but what the message is for the hearer to learn is different in each Gospel. Since we are in the Year of Luke, it is good to remember Luke was written to first century Christians who had discovered God to be as near as the breaking of bread. They had experienced joy in Christian community. They had chosen to be baptized and to follow the pattern of life modeled by Jesus the Christ.
But then, no sooner had they been baptized – before they even dried off – while they were still dripping wet, persecutions started coming their way. Christians were being thrown out of their homes and assaulted with oppression after oppression, simply for professing their faith.
Luke’s temptation story called that late first-century community to look to Jesus – himself just baptized – still wet – and yet finding himself tempted to depend on himself rather than on the love and mercy of God. Jesus was famished – so hungry he could have eaten a horse, as the idiom goes. But Luke shows Jesus not giving in to his cravings. Luke encouraged his community to not be afraid of what they were going through; to not grab at instant gratification; to not exchange the foundation of their faith for a quick fix of comfort, power or entitlement.
Self-made bread would not sustain them – God would – even when they were famished and could not sustain themselves. Jesus trusted God to still be calling him to act on his faith – to still live as the beloved no matter the circumstance. After the high of his baptism, Jesus is tested in the low of the desert. And if it happened to Jesus, we might as well expect it can happen to us.
It’s easy to believe we are beloved when we’re lavished with affirmation and encouragement. But it may not be so easy when what we do and say as followers of Christ is not popular. Jesus told us to love one another as we had been loved. He taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus taught us to treat the least and the last and the outsider as honored guests. Jesus spoke of holding all things in common and not worrying about tomorrow.
In our 21st century world, one has to ask how wise Jesus’ teachings are. Ours is a competitive world. How wise are Jesus’ teaching in the midst of a recession? How safe is it in our day and age to love enemies who won’t love us back; or welcome outsiders who don’t live by our rules?
We don’t live in the first century where Christians were being oppressed, but our world isn’t always loving either. To really love our neighbor is to become vulnerable to their needs like we are vulnerable to our own. To really love ourselves may mean we can’t meet everyone’s expectations. To really accept our belovedness and each other’s belovedness is a radical thing.
That’s why it seems a good alternative this Lent to consider taking on a practice – like practicing living our belovedness and each other’s belovedness – really attending to it and claiming it daily – rather than giving up something. Or we could see it as giving up our lack of attentiveness to how beloved of God we all really are. What if we were to daily say to each other “God loves you and God loves me!” That’s what was said to Jesus when the Holy Spirit lighted on him in his baptism – “you are my beloved!” And the Holy Spirit has said the same of us!
I found an especially beautiful Holy Spirit painting by Colleen Shay.
Isn’t it an inviting portrayal! In the next moments I’d like to invite us to gaze on this picture as on an icon – allowing its penetrating colors and descending wings to draw to mind for us how the Holy Spirit is hovering over us with words of love in the midst of whatever wilderness we, or a loved one, might be traveling through. We are never alone in the wild places of life. The Spirit always abides and the Spirit always breathes love.
Looking at the picture, reflect for a moment on the Holy Spirit in your life. If you have been baptized, the Holy Spirit has hovered over you and named you beloved. You are a beloved child of God. And if you haven’t been baptized perhaps you would like to consider receiving that gift. You are welcome. Let the news of God’s love sink into your hearts. Breathe it in. Savor it. Hear the waters and believe that God calls you beloved. (pour water and be still…)
Prior to any wilderness in our life, there is love. Beloved is who we are. That is our identity. We are not our circumstances. We are beloved.
We are not the harsh dryness we feel. We are beloved.
We are not the sorrows that wound us. We are beloved.
Our roots go deep into the eternal waters that name us who we really are: beloved.
No famine or fasting or failure or fear can quench that rushing river.
Our baptismal identity trumps all other claims and judgments. We are beloved.
The Prayer of the Day sums it up well and I invite you to pray it with me:
O God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the Promised Land. Guide us now, so that following your Beloved Son, we may walk safely on our wilderness roads toward the life you alone can give your beloved children, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, to the glory of God
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA
*Take Home Devotional provided on following sheet
Gaze on this picture as on an icon – allowing its penetrating colors and descending wings to draw to mind the Holy Spirit hovering over you with words of love in the midst of whatever wilderness you, or a loved one, might be traveling through. You are never alone in the wild dry places of life. The Spirit always abides and the Spirit always breathes love.
Looking at the picture, reflect on the Holy Spirit in your life. You are a beloved child of God. Remember your baptism by marking the sign of the cross on your forehead. Let the good news of God’s love sink into your heart. Breathe it in. Savor it. Know you are splashed afresh each day with love. If you are near a source of water, dip your hand in, splashing with refreshment.
Prior to any wilderness in our life, there is love. Beloved is who we are. That is our identity.
We are not our circumstances. We are beloved!
We are not the harsh dryness we feel. We are beloved!
We are not the sorrows that wound us. We are beloved!
Our roots go deep into the eternal waters that name us who we really are: beloved!
No famine or fasting, no failure or fear can quench that rushing river.
Our baptismal identity trumps all other claims and judgments. We are beloved!
The Prayer of the Day for the First Sunday of Lent (ELW) sums it up well:
O God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the Promised Land. Guide us now, so that following your Beloved Child, we may walk safely on our wilderness roads toward the life you alone can give your beloved children, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Holy Spirit painting by Colleen Shay. (Google images)
Devotion by Rev, Peg Schultz-Akerson, D.Min.
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA