March 6, 2022

"Wilderness Wanderings/Wonderings"

Rev. Scott Landis

Luke 4: 1-13

It’s a challenge to move from the high excitement and emotional celebration of today which we have experienced through inspired singing and beautiful poetry to this very sobering text which is always read on the first Sunday in Lent. Yet, I believe the juxtaposition of our liturgical calendar and current events (local and beyond) demand our attention – and this text may be a helpful guide.

The dilemma faced by Jesus in this story is not unfamiliar to us. In fact, this is well-known territory. Every day we face competing temptations that can throw us off-track, or styme us completely leaving us feeling bewildered, confused, and uncertain about decisions that MUST be made. [Pause]

The story is a rather simple one whose veracity has sometimes been questioned given the fact that there were no eyewitnesses. But you may find yourself resonating with the struggles of Jesus – and particularly today. See if you don’t agree.

Read literally, Jesus spent 40 days (give or take a few) in the wilderness in fasting and prayer – 40 being a number indicating “a LONG period of time” and paralleling the 40 years (give or take a few) his Israelite ancestors endured as they made their way to the “Promised Land.” At the end of the 40 days a famished Jesus was confronted by the Devil who dangled in front of him 1. Food to satisfy his hunger, 2. Power to satisfy his greed, and 3. The opportunity to demonstrate invincibility to satisfy his ego. The ONLY thing he needed to do was relinquish his dependence on “The Lord his God,” and pledge his allegiance to the power of darkness.

You know the story. Jesus withstands the test. The Devil departs from him “until an opportune time.” And we are reminded that the Evil One is never very far away. In fact, it WILL appear again in Jesus’ life, which we will see as we travel further on this journey of Lent.

So, what do we make of the Devil, the Holy Spirit, and a Savior confronted by competing forces? [Pause]

For this story, and many others like it, I often refer to words that you have heard me say before. They were the words often used by Native American storytellers when they began their tales. The same words were popularized by Marcus Borg in his must-read book, “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.” They began their stories with this simple yet profound phrase, “I don’t know whether this happened or not – but I know that it’s True.”

I echo that sentiment in reading this account. I don’t know whether this happened in the life of Jesus, but like all good mythology it contains vital Truth (capital T) for us to ponder. There are lessons here from which we can learn if we are willing to struggle with their implications. [Pause]

The Truth that I find calling for my attention in Jesus’ wilderness experience with the Devil does not center so much on my issues with hunger, greed, or ego – as it does with the deeper issue of struggling with making good decisions — calling on all the resources at my disposal — when I find myself in the wilderness – often feeling all-alone. As I wander about in my wilderness, I find myself wondering what IS the right thing to do? What is the right direction to lead? What are words that might be helpful as I preach? [Pause]

That has been my internal wrestling during these past two years that will forever be known in our lives as “The Pandemic.” If “wilderness” is a place of uncertainty than I believe we are all well-familiar with its complexity, inescapable struggles, and necessary decisions. As your pastor, I have sat with our leaders regularly to discuss whether or not to open our doors on Sunday mornings – a decision that, I doubt, was ever given much thought in our nearly 200-year history. While our hearts were often saying one thing, medical science and our own common sense called for another – leaving us with a sense of wilderness and internal debate I’ve never faced before in my 40 years of ministry.

And now that the pandemic seems to be waning (at least for the time being) we are thrust into another wilderness as we stand on the precipice of what could be another major if not a world war. Again, as your pastor, my heart beckons me to re-hear the words of Jesus – the Prince of Peace – who called for and demonstrated the way of peace and NOT violence as the means of resolve. Trusting not in worldly power to replace the power of God. Yet I know there are many who see this as a time for the United States to flex its muscles and show the world where real power lies. It feels good to win – to show the world who is in charge – but at what cost? I think Jesus confronted that same question.

He could have had it all – food, power, and the admiration of everyone, but he would have had to sell his soul in the process.

I don’t really know what to make of this mythological figure the gospel writers call “the Devil,” but I sure know firsthand the powerful and beguiling temptations that are visited upon me on a regular basis – temptations that can derail all my good intentions. I often do not even realize it is happening as my values are slowly compromised and my seemingly innocent decisions are rationalized. It’s so easy to lose sight of what is true and right or as we say “pono.” That’s why we depend on one another – why we listen to one another – WE who are who are called together to be the church – we who have committed ourselves to walk this spiritual journey together.

We’ve learned to do that rather well in the past two years. We’ve been through a lot together and in so doing, our spiritual ‘ohana has strengthened NOT weakened. And that’s why saying goodbye to two beloved saints of our ‘ohana today is so damn hard.

And so, I refer you to the opening verse of our gospel lesson for today for. It reminds of of what Jesus relied upon and it is what binds us together and keeps us together even in the wilderness.

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.

Members and friends of Keawala’i, and every one of us who claim Jesus Christ as our primary example of how to live a life of Truth – we are not doing this alone. We, too, are filled with the Holy Spirit – and we, too, can be led by that Spirit. It is a spirit of courage, it is a spirit of peace, it is a spirit of wisdom, and it is a spirit of unity. It binds us together AND gives us the grace to let go when that time comes.

Our community is in such transition. We have felt that profoundly over the past two years. The temptation might be to wallow and wonder “how do we go on.” But, I believe, the Holy Spirit might be inviting something more in our wandering. What — exactly? I have no idea. But God does and that gives me hope for today.


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