Sunday, March 1, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Our spiritual pilgrimage of Lent began four days ago on Ash Wednesday, not just for we here at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, or churches all over the country, but for the Christian Church all over the world. The cross of ashes on our foreheads marked the beginning of our pilgrimage to the cross. It is a pilgrimage and not simply a journey from one place to another because we anticipate and expect transformation.
Jesus’ transformation began with his baptism when Matthew tells us that “Just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And then that same Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness where he would be greatly tempted. Jesus’ own pilgrimage to the cross began in the wilderness.
He didn’t take anything with him. He carried no provisions. And Matthew tells us that he fasted for forty days and forty nights, and as you can imagine, he was famished. There alone in the wilderness, hungry and tired, he was at his weakest point. It was then that the devil seized the opportunity to temp him. When any of us are at our weakest point that is the opportunity for evil to try and take hold of us.
Since the very beginning of creation, the first humans were so focused on what they couldn’t have, so focused on the possibility of being what they weren’t – God – that they forgot who they were- people created in the image of God. And we humans continue to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. It’s what causes us to function from a mindset of scarcity rather than a mindset of abundance.
The temptations of life can pull us apart from our true selves. They can pull us apart from each other. And they can most definitely pull us apart from God. Yet, the pilgrimage of Lent can change that. It can re-connect us again with who we really are – beloved children of God made in God’s own image. Jesus’ own experience showed us the way.
The temptations Jesus faced were about provisions. When the devil or the deceiver tried to convince Jesus to turn stones to bread to satisfy his hunger it was a temptation for Jesus to provide for himself. He certainly could have, but Jesus’ response was that God was the ultimate provider. Jesus trusted that God’s word would be sufficient.
When the devil tried to convince Jesus to throw himself off the high cliff to prove he was the Son of God, it was a test to see if God would really provide and send angels to intervene. Yet Jesus didn’t succumb to proving himself to anyone. He trusted that his faith meant he didn’t have to test God.
And when the devil promised him everything if he would worship him, it was a temptation to let the devil provide. But Jesus said absolutely not; he was not willing to compromise his commitment to his faith. He trusted that God would provide for him. It wouldn’t be the last time the devil would try and tempt Jesus from completing his pilgrimage, his purpose from God, but this wilderness experience – as hard as it was – was exactly what Jesus needed to gain the strength for the rest of his life’s work.
And our pilgrimage through the wilderness of Lent to the cross is exactly what we need to gain spiritual strength as well. Pilgrimages are risky; they involve danger. We don’t know who or what we’ll meet on the way. We don’t know what temptations, or trials, or challenges we’ll face. And we’ll be tempted when exhausted to give in to the voices of deception – from others and ourselves – that God will not provide for whatever it is we need. That is the ultimate temptation in life – the lack of trust in God. Yet the truth is that God always provides. Jesus showed us that we may not see how God will provide at a certain time, but that we must trust that God will be true the promise made to be with us always.
There is a beautiful poem by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet, that speaks about this trust beautifully. It is called “A Small Green Island.”
“A Small Green Island”
There is a small green island
where one white cow lives alone, a meadow of an island.
The cow grazes till nightfull, full and fat,
but during the night she panics
and grows thin as a single hair.
What shall I eat tomorrow? There is nothing left.
By dawn the grass has grown up again, waist-high.
The cow starts eating and by dark
the meadow is clipped short.
She is full of strength and energy, but she panics
in the dark as before and grows abnormally thin overnight.
The cow does this over and over,
and this is all she does.
She never thinks, This meadow has never failed
to grow back. Why should I be afraid every night
that it won’t. The cow is the bodily soul.
The island field is this world where that grows
lean with fear and fat with blessing, lean and fat.
White cow, don’t make yourself miserable
with what’s to come, or not to come.
And so on our pilgrimage of Lent we too can bring with us a trust in God who will provide all we need. God will provide for us personally, and communally. Wherever the Holy Spirit leads us, we can say yes with a confident trust that God who never fails us, will provide all we need. Let us carry trust with us as we travel this pilgrimage of Lent. Amen.