Today we hear the same story twice. Same story: different contexts, different characters. But the situation, the choice, is the same: Are you the Child of God or not? In our Gospel translation we hear: If you are the Son of God, but it can just as well be translated: Since you are the Son of God. Fear and evil know just where to strike us: at our identity, at the core of who we believe we are…..Since you are the child of God….
Both of these stories ask the same question of our protagonists: Will you be self-centered and meet your own needs as the snake and the devil lure us to be…..or will you be other-centered, which is to be God-centered, as we are made to be? Since you are the Child of God.
When the Adversary lures the Christ toward his own desires, Jesus responds by turning away from self-centeredness and turning toward God’s desires. This is a living definition of repentance. And do not fail, Beloved, to notice that the Adversary faultlessly quotes Scripture. Knowing Scripture can be used both as a weapon and as a centering guide. We would do well to remember this truth .
It is NOT the quoting of scripture that saves Jesus; it’s the turning toward God—again and again—even when he’s empty and hungry. Because, Beloved, that is always when evil tries to have its way with us: when we are empty and hungry. But even then, the Christ is not drawn away.
There’s an ancient monastic tale that says: an Elder monk said to a businessperson: “As the fish perished on dry land, so you perish when you get entangled in the world. The fish must return to the water and you must return to the Spirit.” The businessperson was aghast and asked: “Are you saying that I must give up my business and go into a monastery?” And the Elder replied: “Definitely not. I am telling you to hold on to your business and go into your heart.”
Go into your heart.
Beloved, here’s my question today: Do we really want to be like Jesus? I mean, really? Do we really want to have the life he had? No place to lay his head; itinerant wanderer; no wife or children; friends who betray him; friends who fail him, friends who refuse to hear him—over and over again.
If we are honest, we probably would rather be one of the Roman leaders: get the best food, the best clothes, better housing—to have some power, authority and status. Or at least maybe a Roman citizen who has a nice quiet life in town. Not bothered by others because you and your rights are protected by the law because you are part of the favored group. Do we really want to be like Jesus: a poor, unknown jewish man in the midst of the Roman Empire?
And if this is what Christianity is about: becoming like Jesus—what does it all mean anyway? Being like Jesus, having Jesus’ life, isn’t exactly the American dream. Why are we even here? What in the world are we doing? Good question.
Beloved, there is one thing that Jesus has that I want. Personally, it’s why I am here. Jesus has one thing that I really, truly want to have: Peace. Peace of mind, body and spirit. Jesus has the ability to handle whatever life throws at him and still see love. Still feel love. Still give love. I want that.
And for Jesus, this peace comes from knowing who he is. With great clarity. Jesus knew from where he came and to where he was going. As the Gospel of John tells us:
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.
Yep, on the night before his death, Jesus didn’t go out and make sure he checked all the items off his bucket list; no Disneyland for Jesus. In his last moments, Jesus served his friends. Jesus got on his knees and served others: washed their feet. Their stinky, dirty feet. Jesus loved others—even in the face of death.
That. That’s what I want. I want to have the ability to face whatever life is going to hand me, and even in its scariest, hardest moments, to still be able to love, to still be able to hope, to still be able to have peace. To be so centered in and on love that fear doesn’t have the ability to take over the reins of my spirit, my body, my mind.
After all, courage is not the absence of fear; courage is the ability to keep moving forward in spite of the fear. And Peace is not the absence of conflict, struggle or tension. Peace is being able to remain calm and centered in the midst of those things.
And that, my friends, is what Jesus has—who Jesus is—that I want to have, that I want to be. When we are grounded and centered in Love, like Jesus, then that aching hole of “What does it mean? And Why are we here? And why did it happen?”---that aching hole is no longer at our center. In fact, that hole shrinks and disappears–filled by the presence of the holy, the truth of belovedness. And what is gained is clarity. Jesus has such deep, abiding peace because Jesus knows exactly who he is and Jesus knows exactly why he is there and Jesus knows exactly what it is all about. Because Jesus trusts God’s dream and plan of restoring all Creation back to unity with each other and with the Holy. Jesus is grounded in the truth of the Common Good and he knows he is part of it. He knows he is a sacrament (an outward and visible sign) of the Common Good, of the healing and restoration of all Creation. And, Beloved, when we wake up (maybe for moments or hours or days or years), but when we wake up to the realization that we are a sacrament of Jesus, a sacrament of the Christ, then we too have access to that clarity, that centeredness, that Peace.
Beloved, what if this lent, we begin with the premise that the wilderness we are called to wander these 40 days is the wilderness of our hearts? Go into your heart. And as we wander, we can fast from those ways of being that keep us from love (in the particular and in the general), and we can intentionally and mindfully, feast on the practices, the habits, the inspirations that feed Love within us. Letting the angels—who are the messengers of God, the harbingers of Love—-care for us as we come home to our selves. Growing Love within our minds and bodies. Strengthening our muscles for compassion, mercy and grace.
I’ve quoted Rachel Macy Stafford recently, and repeatedly, and now I do so again: Today I will choose love. Tomorrow I will choose love. And the day after that, I will choose love. And if I mistakenly choose negativity, distraction or perfection, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.
Since you are the Child of God…..
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.