We are starting a new Lenten worship series on the mystery of God. We all have different concepts of God, and over our lifetime those concepts may change. We also have these foundational stories, origin stories, and Jesus stories. How do these help us frame our faith journey and our understanding of God?
In this worship series we will be engaging with a set of questions that Jesus asked his disciples and others. Today: What are you looking for? This comes from
Let’s explore this question through our first reading, about the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. What were Eve and then Adam looking for? Knowledge of good and evil that would make them like God. But when they got that knowledge, the first things they experienced were shame—shame at their nakedness, shame for disobeying God, shame at their own foolishness and mistake.
This feels like the story of every human being who has ever hit puberty. Gone are the days of running around naked or feeling like your body is just fine. Gone are the days of innocence before you knew how to deceive your parents. And at a certain point, as adults, we may look back at our choices and realize that we have made mistakes that separate us from God. We are ashamed, and we may not know what to do.
There are consequences for mistakes. God casts Eve and Adam out of the Garden of Eden and into the wilderness. Ever since then, faith seekers have been trying to figure out how to get back to that garden. Again, looking at this story as metaphor, maybe the garden represents our early years as children, when, if we were so blessed, our parents took care of us, fed us, and provided everything we needed. Eventually we grow up and leave that safe nest, that garden. We make our way out in the wilderness.
And we have to discern what we’re looking for. Is it knowledge of good and evil, like Eve and Adam? Is it expertise in some given area that piques our interest? Is it romantic love, wealth, fame, power? Is it healing? Safety? Comfort? Adventure? Forgiveness and grace?
What are you looking for?
What was Jesus looking for? In our second reading today, Jesus has just been baptized and hears the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). I don’t know if that’s what Jesus was looking for, but when he hears it, he recognizes that he is being called to live in a new way—to serve God first and foremost. He has found what he may not have even known he was looking for, and now he goes out into the wilderness for 40 days to discern what to do with this calling. He is looking for clarity and parameters around this new ministry that he is about to begin.
And he is tempted. We can understand that temptation as the devil, a distinct entity set on evil, in conversation with Jesus. We may have experienced internal conversations like this when we were wrestling with our own temptations. Sometimes we visualize it as an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.
So Jesus is tempted. “Here: be comfortable. Live a life with plenty of food whenever you like.” Jesus thinks about this. Maybe he tries to imagine that life for a while. And he realizes that it doesn’t feel true to this calling he is experiencing. Even though having enough food was a serious issue in his day, he knows that putting comfort before God’s word is not faithful.
Jesus is tempted to think he’s pretty important and indestructible, special enough that God will protect him from harm even if he deliberately tests God by flinging himself off the top of the temple. No. This isn’t about Jesus’ own importance; this is about serving others. And it’s certainly not about testing God. Jesus doesn’t claim any exemptions from the consequences of this dangerous ministry. And as we know, the consequences for his ministry are significant.
Jesus is tempted by power and authority over humans. He could be the boss, ruling the world, running an empire. Think of the good he could do for so many people if he were in such a position. But think of the deals with the devil he would have to make. Exactly. No deals with the devil. Jesus is not called to wield that kind of power, but rather to serve the poorest and neediest, the sick, the outcast, the forgotten.
These two readings about temptation come right on this first Sunday of Lent, as we enter our own 40 days in the wilderness leading up to Easter. This is a time of individual reflection, prayer, and discernment. What are you looking for?
As we begin this worship series about the mystery that is God, I feel as though I’m taking things out of sequence. In this series we will get to wrestle with how we understand the divine nature of God. So however you understand the Divine, it has been my experience that each of us is a beloved creation, a beloved child of God, like Eve and Adam, and like Jesus. Each of us is called, like Jesus, and we need to take that calling seriously, spend some time defining how to respond to it and how to live into it.
What are you looking for? Most people are looking to be seen, heard, valued, and loved. Most of us recognize times when we, like Eve and Adam, have taken forbidden fruit, when we have gone against God in some way that drives us out of the garden, away from that close relationship with the Divine. Most of us yearn to hear that message, “This is my Beloved Child, with whom I am well pleased.” What a message of redemption. What a powerful invitation to begin again.
Christian theologians down through the centuries have connected these two scriptures in this way: They say that Eve and Adam fell from grace, and Christ rose to restore us to grace. I think this a dangerous way to view these stories, because then there are good guys and bad guys, and also Hebrew scripture versus Christian scripture: Hebrew scripture setting up a problem or brokenness and Christian scripture “fixing” it. That’s a good way to start thinking in absolutes, to blame whole peoples, to claim that we have all the answers. We might find ourselves saying, “God hates you and you’re going to hell.” And that is its own dangerous temptation.
We don’t have all the answers. Our whole faith journey is about wrestling with the questions. As soon as we think we have all the answers, we have put God in a nice, neat box. God is bigger than any box we can devise.
So rather than pitting these texts against each other, I suggest that we see how they both portray how we can be humans in relationship with God. Eve and Adam were wanting to be like God in knowledge of good and evil. Can we relate? Who doesn’t want that level of understanding? Who doesn’t want to be that wise, to have the answers?
Jesus wants to figure out how to answer God’s call faithfully. That’s our wrestling, too. That’s our journey in the wilderness. What are we looking for there?
As I mentioned during announcements earlier, we have family-friendly Lenten devotional booklets that lift up the artist Henri Matisse. When Matisse was 19 and recovering from a serious illness, his mother bought him a paint set. He wrote, “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges toward the thing it loves.” This was Matisse’s moment of finding his calling and responding with his whole self. His paintings were unlike anything other artists were doing at that time. Creating his own style and path must have been a challenge. How like Jesus, to receive this calling and devote his whole life to it.
What are you looking for? Love, relationship, adventure, service, forgiveness, healing? I invite you to take seriously the opportunity to spend time in your own wilderness during the 40 days of Lent. Try a daily prayer practice. Get outside in your own yard, in a park, in the wilderness, and just pay attention. Like Matisse, who used bold colors, try something bold. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Sin boldly.” Here I’m suggesting the opposite: respond boldly to God’s call. Be like Matisse: color outside the lines. Spend some time discerning, and then throw your whole self into it.
The Lenten booklet suggests an activity for this week that takes those bold colors out to the community: Take sidewalk chalk and make colorful, joyful images on the sidewalk in front of your house.
Jesus was fasting from society while he was in the wilderness. As we figure out what we’re looking for, we too can be intentional about taking breaks from society. This could look like a daily meditation practice. It could look like fasting from media—phone, computer, Facebook, TV, etc.—in order to create some quiet in which to listen to our own thoughts and to listen as well for God’s voice. Imagine if Jesus had been wearing ear buds at his baptism and couldn’t hear God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”? Take time to listen for God saying, “You are my Beloved Child, with whom I am well pleased.” And out of that space of love, you may just find what you are looking for.