Last week there was a baptism in the Parish and a little fellow named Logan was welcomed into the Christian faith and into the fellowship of the Church. This week we begin our observance of Lent has begun and we are undoubtedly asking each other, “So, what are you giving up for Lent?” This is what go me to thinking about being tested and tempted by things and wondering if giving something up for Lent is actually a productive thing for most of us. I was thinking about giving up caffeine. But the thing with caffeine in our society is that it is incredibly hard to get away from. And what is the point of giving it up for Lent if we are going to take it up again on Easter Day or just thereafter? What do we actually get from it but maybe some self-satisfaction?
When I think of Jesus being led by the Spirit (Matthew 4.1-13) out into the Wilderness (please note I did not call it the Desert, because it does not have cactus, sand, endless roads, Wylie E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Wilderness (Jeshimmon). He was led there as he was with what little he might have had at his own Baptism. The Wilderness was also known as “the Devastation” It was an area of Israel 35 miles long by 15 miles wide. It stands between the inhabited plateau of Judea and the Dead Sea. The hills were like dust heaps. The limestone looked like it had blistered and flaked. It felt like a glowing crucible. Jesus went here intentionally to be tested concerning his ideas about ministry and how he would serve God. He was to be tested as he considered how to win the hearts of men and women so that he could draw them into the kingdom of God. It was a battle would not end until his last breath on the Cross at Calvary.
Think of it this way: before you actually begin a project of any kind, it is important to think about and carefully choose the methods that you are going to use to get to your goal. And if I understand things correctly, Jesus is treating salvation like air conditioning. It is great to be in and even better to be shared. But in order for it to be a blessing, you have to choose to walk into it. It is free to all who would come into but it is not free to provide it.
Jesus, by going to the Wilderness, left behind the world. By not resorting to the uses of divine grace and power, chose to leave behind the easier path of riches, power and fame to get people to salvation. Instead, he chose the path of suffering, humiliation and death – the harder road by far. Jesus was tested in every way that we are. He was given the opportunity to use power for himself, to call upon his relationship with his Father and to compromise his way into things by offering his worship to someone else. He was tested in every way, as we are, but did not sin.
As I look at the Church today, I often here the grumbles and stumbles of those people who were led on that first Exodus out of slavery in Egypt and into the Wilderness. I wonder who often Moses and Joshua heard the same question, “Are we there yet?” How many times did Moses have to put up with the people asking, “Were there no graves in Egypt, that you had to bring us out here? It is better to go back and serve the Egyptians and die there.” It is easier perhaps to live the thing one has always done. But if there is going to be real change in the life of the Church, if there is going to be real life, true faith and deepening trust in God and in each other, then we are going to need to take some risks to make things different and better for those who are going to follow behind us into the future, into eternity. We are not here to preserve the past to make us comfortable with ourselves, but rather to serve and make sacrifices for family, friends and neighbours in the present so that those who would walk into eternity and into God’s kingdom with us, can do so.
We need to move away from counting the number of heads that are in Church on a Sunday morning and start considering how many times between each hour of prayer we manage to impact another person for the kingdom of God because Jesus would. We need to start considering how we can impact the lives of people around us and then bring that to worship so that we can invigorate our worship. We need to go and do then come and pray so that we are learning how to do for God and then learn how to ask for what’s next.
Are we more committed to God and to each other than we were 5 years ago? Are we more involved? Where have we grown and what have we learned in the last 5 years? Are we a more compassionate people? Are we closer to becoming the worshipping community that we want to be? How are we fulfilling the mission we believe that God has called us to?
It is easy to look around and think that this kind of talk is pointless... there is only hope for the church building to be around for a little while longer and then everything is going to come crashing down. Only thing is that is the kind of idolatry that satan wants – self-idolatry. We can become our own worst idols through thinking only of ourselves. We have been experiencing all that God can give us – do we expect him to stop giving?
Is God done with us yet? Are you dead enough yet, that God can raise you up to new life? Will you live out your baptism and mission according to what God asked of you? This is the test. How did you study?