Today Paul tells us:
"The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
On Wednesday I spoke about the nearness - the very closeness of God...And the idea of abiding there - abiding not simply as waiting, but being present - bearing witness to that relationship which involves keeping awake: Being present to your nature as part of God’s beloved Creation.
The Gospel is from Luke today - and Luke is all about “keeping awake.” Jesus asks the disciples several times to “keep awake.” He asks us to be present.
Luke’s gospel also has a major emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus is baptized and the Spirit descends upon him, it is one of the few times in the Gospels that we actually hear God’s voice.
The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Each time we hear the voice from above it is a loving and affirming voice.
I start out with the baptism because today’s Gospel is about understanding exactly who Jesus is.
I’d like to bracket the Gospel story today: If we look at the Baptism leading up to the temptation - and what follows the temptation we will see how Luke is ensuring we understand who this Jesus is: his identity as the son of God, and what the Son of God is here to do!
Upon his baptism, filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is immediately led into the Wilderness and is tempted by the devil. It says immediately but in between, just before our passage today, the author of Luke inserts an entire lineage. (You may forget because we often don’t read it.) Jesus’s lineage leading all of the way back, not only to the house of David, and Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham - but ALL of the way back to Adam...To Creation!
So Jesus goes into the wilderness, and we the audience AND the devil know very well who he is. He is the descendent of God. The word (God incarnate) is near you... on your lips and in your heart. And God is on Jesus’ lips. He responds each time to the devil’s guile with scripture. Jesus is wide awake!
Worldliness is another traditional way to speak of being asleep. And the devil tempts Jesus with the ways of worldliness: of being sated, of power, rule and might and the power to be impervious to injury, to control the outcome of events. He tempts Jesus with all of the “worldly” things we as humans are susceptible to, including being “asleep,” being so sated in our comforts that we forget what’s real and true. We become so addicted to being “in control” that we forget what’s important.
This passage is iconic in its mythological nature: The devil whisking Jesus to different locations with different temptations. Very cinematic. This story in all of its rich imagery shows us just what the Son of God is made of. And What the Kingdom of God is about.
...And if you had any doubts, the scene that directly follows the temptation secures it for us. Jesus goes back home, and on the Sabbath he stands up to read in the synagogue and “the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written”
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
If you had any doubts about what kind of messiah this is, Luke gives you two dramatic versions to help us understand that Jesus, the Son of God will not be tempted by worldliness. He has come here to represent the needs of the oppressed, not the needs of the powerful. He is here, as his mother proclaims (in the beginning of Luke) to “lift up the lowly.”
(Radical mother, radical son.)
The passage tells us “all of the eyes were fixed on him!” Jesus woke some people up that day... and thankfully continues to do so through us as the body of Christ.
So many of you are doing good works and engaged in wonderful helping ministries. In doing so you are helping to keep others present to the Word. So never doubt your important contribution as part of the body.
How else might we think about this story in our own lives? And through Lent? One of Jesus’ quotes that I find so interesting and helpful is further on in Luke 25 with his remark that essentially you might sweep your house of all temptation but then the wicked spirits will come back sevenfold. For any of us - when we attempt to gain freedom from the things that tempt us, we may very well experience a profound craving (not realizing how powerful the hold they have actually had on us).
Try giving up chocolate and every candy bar in the check out line seems to jump into your awareness. Try to quiet your mind and you will recognize a million thoughts racing in to fill the space. Jesus’ experience with the devil is an exaggeration of what we live with daily... What satiates me? What power do I seek? What control do I need to let go of?
Going back to quieting the mind, meditation, centering prayer: this is a kind of prayer that works with your mind, with your heart and with understanding temptations and distractions. Specifically with quieting the mind, we attempt to abide with God in our heart. The mind does throw a million thoughts our way to distract us from God, but each time we recognize that distraction - is an opportunity to turn again to God. That in itself is a prayer. As the psalmist sings:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, * abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
With this abiding prayer you begin to become more awake to how you are functioning in your daily life. Each time you may catch yourself just comfortably falling into a routine or habit you wish to shake... it is not necessary to beat yourself up... but rather consider it another opportunity to turn...Another opportunity to recognize that God is in your life and how you aim to move nearer.
Try abiding with faith and trust and forgiveness and the better we get at being aware to how these states operate in our lives - the more we see - the more we become awake to our reality. It is like unpeeling the onion: You find the layers go deeper and deeper, not necessarily that there is more sin to unveil, but that the nuance of your understanding of yourself and your needs and the world’s needs becomes keener...
The reality of who you are and what God wants for you and for the world becomes more discerning. You become more awake to a deeper reality, and then a deeper set of intentions to live into the life you are working toward becoming nearer to God. This is ultimately always extended and intended for our community and world. Becoming awake to ourselves and to reality is for the benefit of the entire community. It is not a selfish endeavor, but rather a very helpful starting place to bring change to a hurting world - to believe and to offer:
"The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
Because here in a hurting world is where God dwells as one of us. Jesus was not born to rule the World as the devil would have him do. He came to teach us how to build the Body of Christ: who is friend to the oppressed, the victim, the poor, the needy - and a lover of all Creation. Amen.