We all want the shepherd without the staff and the grace without the judgment, the fruit without the pruning and the salvation without the suffering, and the wilderness without the wildness. Yet, the calling of Christ is nearly always to traverse the spiritual landscapes most avoided.
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Why go into the wilderness?
Because it is Spirit led.
You’re left alone with only God and your temptations.
To figure out your deepest identity.
Faith is formed in desert.
Because we all need to be tempted, one of the surest ways to encounter your stuff, encounter your self and encounter God.
Yes, you’ll feel the pressure of being tested but the wild will reveal your true learning.
Yes, you’ll feel the isolation of loneliness but the wild will reveal your true companions.
Yes, you’ll feel the pangs of hunger but the wild will reveal your true appetite.
Lent is the wilderness invitation to deal with your devils.
A man woke up to the same struggle every morning, a 40 of liquor waiting on the night stand. The family intervention didn’t work; the 12 steps couldn’t keep up; the stint in rehab wouldn’t stick.
“Hush your 100 proof promises and your lies of invincibility. Away with you alcohol,” he would scream at the bottle before twisting off the lid.
Until one morning decades later, he cradled the bottle in his hands, not to drink but to dry out, and said, “Brother Alcohol, I’ve treated you like a stranger for all this time, but today I welcome you as a member of my family.” He never drank again. (paraphrased story)
The dove brought back an olive branch but not until after the flood. The Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land but not until after the exile. Jesus was ministered to by the angels but not until after the wilderness.
“It can be pretty depressing business all in all,” says Fredrick Buechner, “but if sackcloth and ashes are at the beginning of it, something like Easter maybe at the end.”
So come to the altar to be marked with the ashen cross, to give public witness that Lent begins not by avoiding our temptations but by confronting them for 40 days.