Tune In

The Rev. John Lane. This sermon is based on Luke 4:1-2.

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.

Today’s gospel reading describes Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness tempted by the devil.  Back in 1993, I took a course at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. The first day, we were taken up to the Mount of Olives on the eastern side of the city. We had a good view of the Old City. Then our teacher told us to turn around, and look toward the Dead Sea. It was a very stark contrast: the relative vibrancy of Jerusalem to the west and the empty wilderness to the east. This wilderness area is where Jesus spent 40 days after his baptism. He must have had his moments of “Get me out of here!”

In 2009,  John & Ruth Ward, Robert & Misa Stuart, Dawn Frankfurt, Tucker Heitman, Bizzy & I were in the Sinai Desert. Driving from Cairo to Mt Sinai, we knew why the Israelites were convinced they were being led to their death. It’s very grim terrain. By contrast, the Judean wilderness was the land of milk and honey.

The devil tempts Jesus with three things: making stones into bread, ruling all the nations of the world, and jumping off the top of the temple.

Making stones into bread, feeding himself and feeding the world, was indeed tempting.  Jesus was very hungry and thirsty. Even today, world hunger and malnutrition are huge problems. What if, as followers of Jesus, we could provide food for everyone in the world? We would be powerful. Maybe all would become devout Christians. Maybe not.

Ruling all the nations of the world? Jesus wasn’t interested in that, any more than the Creator in Genesis was interested in controlling Adam and Eve. Free will, not always with good judgment, is human nature.

Sometimes I think the United States should have paid attention to this memo. Ruling all the nations of the world, involving ourselves in fighting all the problems of the world since World War II—in places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan—hasn’t been terribly successful. Maybe we should have followed Jesus’ lead, and passed on this temptation.

Jumping off the top of the temple? I’ve seen two movies, a documentary and a drama, about Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk, 1350 feet up, between the towers of the World Trade Center. I’m sure people looking up from the street must have said, “Jesus!”

The Gospels tell us Jesus performed a number of miracles—making water into wine, and healing the deaf, the demon-possessed, and the man born blind. He drew attention to himself or more accurately to the Kingdom of God, but the Bible and history are full of people who just don’t get it. It’s always tempting to look at Jesus as a superhero or an oddity, to look for some human explanation for his mighty acts. Every one of us has trouble with making the leap of faith from time to time.

As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”

That sums up the problem pretty well. The things we can resist aren’t sufficiently tempting, I suppose. A good question might be What can I resist?—at least for 40 days, more or less. A bigger question might be What can’t I resist? That’s where we need to be putting our effort.

At diocesan council  2 weeks ago in Roanoke, the principal speaker quoted somebody-or-other about the Internet Age: “We live in an age of Continuous Partial Attention.” Continuous Partial Attention.

Maybe instead of giving up chocolate this Lent we ought to do something about Continuous Partial Attention. Our daughter Mary says she is giving up Facebook on her phone for Lent. Considering how much stuff comes even to me from Facebook—and I’m not much of a player—Mary’s resolve may have some real benefit for reducing stress and increasing her focus on the more important things in life.

What can I do, what can you do to focus on more important things? I believe this involves some strategy to ignore a lot of things.

One of my favorite quotations is from Pope John XXIII: “See everything. Ignore a great deal. Change a little.”

I’m working on a list right now of all the things I can ignore between now and Easter. What’s on your list?

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.