“With Wild Beasts”
1st Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Welcome to Lent;
Our 40-day period of preparation by
Prayer, confession, repentance, charity and self-denial.
This is what we do.
Prayer, confession, repentance, charity and self-denial.
These are the disciplines we practice, especially during Lent.
What are we preparing for? You ask.
These traditional disciplines prepare us annually
To receive the message,
To be spiritually strengthened by the message,
That we might join with Jesus in proclaiming the message.
This is the message:
That by dying, Jesus Christ removes our sins and the sins of the world, and
That by rising from the dead, Jesus Christ saves us and the world into eternal life.
This is the Good News of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hear the message.
Proclaim the message.
As powerful as this message may be,
We are preparing ourselves for even more:
Our annual journey through Lent is an opportunity to be transformed.
By reliving and retelling the story
We make space in our existence for the Spirit to enter,
To warm our soul, open our mind, and reveal God’s will.
With the Spirit’s entry,
We are drawn closer together and closer to God.
With the Spirit’s strength, daring, and direction
We are transformed into God’s people
Called to transform the world.
That God might transform the world.
The first Sunday of Lent
Always begins with the Gospel account
Of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Matthew and Luke give elaborate, detailed accounts
Of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.
You’ve heard the story of Satan’s temptations before:
‘Throw yourself down from this mountain and call up angels to save you.’
‘Turn those stones into bread to satisfy your hunger.’
‘All these kingdoms can be yours, if you but fall down and worship me.’
You know the details.
I can still recall as a child in Sunday School
Wondering if Jesus was alone with Satan those 40 days,
Who was writing down the details?!!!
Our Gospel of Mark is quite a study in contrast.
There are no details in Mark.
Mark is the shortest of all the Gospel books,
And is believed to be the source document
Upon which other apostolic traditions authored their own Gospel accounts.
Over the course of time and by means of great effort and councils,
The Church concluded Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Best reflected the core of Christian faith,
And included them into the collection of sacred texts
That today we call the Bible.
The brevity of Mark
Gives us a little bit more room for interpretation.
We can allow the Spirit to influence our imagination,
To lead us where it is too difficult to go
If mired down in endless details.
Today, we follow Jesus
First, at his baptism, receiving the Spirit, and the affirmation of God’s words, to, Secondly, being immediately being driven by the same Spirit
Out into the wilderness, where he was “tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beast; and the angels waited on him.”
Thirdly, Jesus emerges from his harrowing ordeal,
Goes north to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.
A few thoughts.
1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness
To be tempted by the strongest source of personified evil, Satan himself.
It has always made me wonder about this,
I mean, on whose team is the Holy Spirit playing?
What possibly could be the motive for the Spirit of God
To drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?
The two greatest opposed sources of power in the world
Are destined to clash in a cataclysmic confrontation.
Why? is a question I cannot answer.
What we can learn by observation, however, is
With the Holy Spirit present and active
Sometimes means blessings,
Nearly always, mystery.
2. The site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is
In the Southern Jordan valley, near Jericho.
The wilderness land to the West leads straight uphill 18 miles to Jerusalem,
A difference of 3,320 feet in elevation.
That’s a linear slope of 3.5% … quite a steep hike.
This is the wilderness where Jesus was tempted.
Think rocks, cliffs, white compacted gravel, and steep mountains paths.
Think dry, sediment filled stream beds at the bottom of impassable chasms,
(That only see water once or twice a year,
When the rare Mediterranean storm clouds
Make it over the central mountains).
Think hot in the day and near freezing at night.
Think danger behind every scrub bush,
Bandits and Bedouins, around every turn,
Lurking in every canyon and cave,
Ready to beat you up, rob you blind, and leave you for dead.
Simply being in the wilderness places Jesus in mortal danger.
3. Forty days.
Forty days, or five weeks and five days,
Is a long time to roast in the day
And freeze at night.
Forty days is a long time to go without eating,
As reported in the other Gospels, but absent in Mark.
Forty days is a long time to be in search of water,
And when found, to stay close to water.
Forty days is a long time to think.
Forty days is a lot of time for the mind to wander.
Forty days in the wilderness makes Jesus very vulnerable.
No details are given.
By definition, however,
A temptation is a desire to do something,
Especially something wrong or unwise.
Something wrong would indicate
Satan was attempting to get Jesus
To break righteous adherence to Jewish Law.
Something unwise would indicate
Satan was attempting to elevate the humanist nature of Jesus
To the detriment of his Divine nature.
Tempted by Satan.
It is impossible to know
If this was one temptation drawn out over a full forty days,
Or, if this is multiple temptations over the course of forty days.
What can be observed, however,
Is the fact that temptation was for forty days,
And that’s enough to break any man down.
Being tempted for 40 days would make even the strongest person weak.
5. Wild beasts.
Therion in the Greek,
Meaning a dangerous, life-threatening carnivore.
In the wilderness for forty days surrounded by animals that want to eat you.
Think jackals, wolves, hyaenas, leopards,
And, yes, even lions and cheetahs before they were hunted to extinction.
It is interesting to me that this little detail
About wild beasts is left out of Matthew and Luke’s accounts.
Is this intentional? Or an oversight?
Does it make a difference? Or not?
Regardless, I can imagine the last light of the day fading away
And the night coming to life with the sounds of circling, hungry, wild beasts.
Forty days in the wilderness is forty days living in anxiety and fear.
6. Angels waiting on him.
Waiting, or Diekonomn in the Greek,
Which, of course, contains the same root as deacon,
Meaning to minister, to serve.
This is what deacons do; they serve.
Much the same way as the restored to health mother-in-law of Simon Peter
(Yes, the same word is used).
Angels ministered to Jesus,
Replacing his weakness with God’s strength.
It is important to recognize,
God’s angels are capable of serving, too.
Though shrouded in mystery,
Exposed to mortal danger, vulnerable, weak, anxious and living in fear,
God takes care of God’s own.
God takes care of God’s own Son, Jesus.
And, in my experience, God can and will
Take care of you and me, too.
Certainly, on this first Sunday of Lent
There are many unanswerable questions from the Gospel of Mark.
Where I believe we are called to place our attention,
Is on those pinch points where we can align ourselves with the life of Jesus.
Consider times and places in life that are shrouded in mystery,
(Like when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness).
Are we capable of trusting in God to send us His angels
Even though we don’t know Why? How? When?
Even though we don’t know God’s will or motives?
Beloved, it is a sign of faithful maturity
To be at peace with the mystery of God,
Especially when apparent contradictions cause the stomach to churn.
Consider times and circumstances in life
When we are anxious, frightened, vulnerable, weak, or in mortal danger.
Are we capable of trusting in God to carry us through
Every crisis, every temptation, every disaster?
Even when drawing up face-to-face with death
And our personal faith is in danger of failing,
Can we place our entire dependence upon God,
And come to peace
Even in the presence of remaining uncertainty?
The tragic events of this past week
Certainly have left every parent asking,
Would our life end
If the unthinkable happened to our son, or daughter, wife, or husband?
I can not fathom such pain, fear, or vulnerability.
The temptation to flee would be so powerful.
Know this to be true,
Drawn from our account from St. Mark this day
Of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by none other than Satan himself,
If we depend on God,
God can take the strain.
God can bear the burden.
The Lord takes responsibility for His creation,
Especially for His children.
The Lord strengthens the weak.
God protects the vulnerable.
God calms our every fear.
And God is willing, able, and eager
To strengthen us back to health
After the crisis has passed.
After all, our God is a God of healing and restoration.
At the end of the day,
Let us discipline ourselves.
Just as the Heavenly Father took care of Jesus,
God takes care of God’s own.
At the end of this 40-day journey,
Let us join with Jesus in proclaiming the Good News of God.