Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited Episcopalians (and anyone else, of course) to read the Gospel of Luke in Lent, and the Acts of the Apostles in Easter. It will be interesting to see what happens when we all engage with the same story. In this Monday message, in weeks ahead, I will share readings that have been assigned for each week, and reflect on something in that passage. If you want to know more about this effort led by Forward Movement: www.goodbookclub.org.
You can get an app which gives you the reading each day, and the readings in Forward Day by Day will guide you through these two important biblical books.
This week, you’re invited to start reading the Gospel of Luke, beginning at the beginning (smart) and reading through the end of Chapter 4. Next week, we’ll invite you to read Luke 5-8.
Today’s focus: 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,
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,
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.
When have you been in the wilderness?
As a young adult, I drove across country, something everyone should do once but need not do twice, in my humble opinion. I remember driving some back road in the middle of Nevada, in a less than reliable vehicle, seeing a sign for a next gas station, like 256 miles away. The lunar landscape scared me in that pre-cell phone, pre-GPS world, any comfort station far from view. I felt small and a bit lost.
I remember standing still in the middle of Grand Central Station, just a few years after graduating from college. I was looking for a job, not sure what I wanted to do or where to go or which way to go, surrounded by purposeful people headed somewhere in a hurry. Though in a crowd, I look back on it as one of the loneliest moments in my life.
In my work, as I meet with Episcopalians in different places, I learn from asking questions about their own spiritual growth. First, when were times of spiritual growth? What was that about? Second, when were times of spiritual challenge or inertia? What was that about?
In both cases (and this is anecdotal data), the most common answer to what caused growth and what got in the way is the same. It was something akin to a wilderness experience, a time of crisis or challenge, when those things which numb us to the pain of life are stripped away and we are called to look with clarity at our own life and think about how in hell we can move forward.
So as we begin a season of Lent, compared in many ways to a wilderness, and as we read the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke as part of the Good Book Club, and as this coming Sunday we travel with Jesus to the wilderness (Mark 1:9-15), it seems to me that this Monday morning we’re asked to think about what we do with the wilderness that is part of everyone’s experience.
The wilderness is a persistent image in scripture. Moses spent 40 years in that place, prince of Egypt demoted to shepherd until a burning bush spoke to him and clarified mission. He then led the children of Israel, without Garmin, for forty years in the wilderness. It was a time of challenge, but it was also a time of formation. When Elijah fled to the wilderness because Jezebel, the queen of mean, wanted to kill him, a still small voice in the wilderness transformed his fears into vocation. And at the start of his ministry, Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days, where in hunger and isolation he was tempted with the things that would make his life easy, and make him think that he was in charge.
If you’re not in the wilderness this morning, how might you express gratitude for that? If you find yourself in the wilderness this morning, what resources can you draw on in that experience? (Note that when Jesus was in the wilderness, the resources on which he relied were his scriptures.) If you have been in the wilderness in the past, what did you learn from that time and place? If you see wilderness on the horizon (I believe it comes to each one of us. A mentor has said: Suffering is the only promise life keeps), what will help you see that as a time with the potential for formation as well as challenge?
I’m looking forward to the next weeks, the seasons of Lent and Easter, as we read our way through Luke’s writings. For me, as I reflect on my own passages through wilderness, the stories of the Bible have often carried me through. I hope you will find that true as well.
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