March 17, 2019: "Were You There in the Desert?"

March 17, 2019                                                                     Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN 

Were You There in the Desert?

Luke 4:1-13

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. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The ancient Chinese developed an ingenious way to trap monkeys. They would take a coconut and hollow out the inside by cutting a small hole on the side of the coconut, just large enough for a monkey to squeeze his hand inside. Then they would place rice inside the hollowed-out coconut and set it on the monkey’s path. The unsuspecting monkey would happen upon the coconut, smell the rice and think, “This is my lucky day!” He would squeeze his hand inside the coconut and grab a handful of rice, but he would be unable to withdraw his fisted hand—the hole was simply too small. The smart monkey would let go of the rice, remove his hand from the coconut, and move along with his freedom intact. The hungry monkey who became too attached to the rice—who could not bring himself to let go of the rice—would soon find himself the main ingredient in a large vat of monkey stew.[1]

When we find Jesus after 40 days in the desert, he was hungry—“famished” the Bible tells us. He had nothing to eat during those 40 days. Like the unsuspecting monkey, Jesus came upon a “trap” (so to speak) set on his path. The Tempter recognized Jesus’ hunger and resulting vulnerability. “Turn this stone into a loaf of bread” is quite similar to “Place your hand inside the coconut . . . what could possibly go wrong?”

The three temptations Jesus faced in the desert have two things in common. First, each of the three temptations tries Jesus’ sense of “enough-ness.”

The captured monkey believed he didn’t have “enough.” He needed that rice. There would never be rice like the rice he held in his hand. How could he possibly let go of this amazing rice when this was the best, the only rice he would ever hold? It was the monkey’s need for more—that was the great lie of the coconut trap. That’s what ultimately did him in.

In like manner, Jesus’s sense of “enough-ness” was tested in three ways:

1.      If he could turn stones into bread, he would always have enough food—not only that, but he could feed all hungry people.

2.      If he could survive throwing himself off the temple, he would have enough celebrity to accomplish tremendous good for the world.

3.      If he simply paid homage to the tempter, he would have enough material wealth to recreate society.

Although his sense of scarcity and “enough-ness” was tempted, Jesus recognized these temptations for what they were—big, fat lies!

Our problem is that we don’t recognize the temptation to “more” as the evil lie it is. Unlike Jesus, we’re the monkey in the jungle—tenaciously holding on to the rice—convinced that this rice will solve all of our problems.

Here’s how I’ve noticed this “never enough-ness” in my own life recently. After the brutal, long and cold winter here in Pinellas County J, we finally had a warm, sunny day. Being no fool, I convinced my family to join me for a Sunday afternoon excursion to Honeymoon Island just to walk the beach and activate the latent vitamin D within. We got there and began to walk . . . and it was simply lovely. My husband and I held hands as our youngest ran ahead, splashing along the edge of the water, and making sand angels. We stopped to see if we could find some interesting shells, when I noticed a beautiful, colorful sailboat catching a nice breeze and whizzing along. I thought, “I really wish I could be on that sailboat—wouldn’t it feel nice to feel the breeze sailing into sunset—those people have the life.” About then I caught myself. I looked around at my beautiful surroundings—my amazing family having fun in the sun—and I remembered that I didn’t have it so bad myself.

Too often I fail to recognize that I have enough. OK, so I may not have a beautiful sailboat, but I’ve got access to a beautiful beach. I’ve got two legs on which two walk the shore. I’ve got a hand for holding, and one for picking up shells. I’ve got eyes to watch the sunset and lips to say, “Wow!” I have enough.

The consumerist culture doesn’t want me thinking this way, however. The culture tells us we can’t possibly be happy until we (fill in the blank.) Get a sailboat. Take this trip. Buy this book. Eat this meal. ENOUGH! LIES . . . ALL OF IT!

So the first thing the three temptations had in common was they tempted Jesus’ sense of “enough-ness.” The second thing the temptations had in common was they tempted Jesus’ sense of hopefulness.

For a hungry man to turn down food, he had to have a strong sense of hope that he would eat again, just not right now. On the other hand, the monkey in the jungle that wouldn’t release the rice must have believed there would never be a meal as good as the one in his hand. His hopelessness was his Achilles heel. There was a certain hopelessness that served as the subtext of the Tempter’s lies:

1.      “Turn the stone into bread.” Subtext: You may never eat a loaf of bread again.

2.      “Throw yourself off the temple.” Subtext: You may never gain a big enough platform to have an influence otherwise.

3.      “Worship me and gain the world.” Subtext: You may never have the wealth to affect any significant change.

Jesus didn’t buy the hopelessness underneath the tempter’s lies. He held out hope that he could affect change, that he would have influence, and yes, that he would eat again.

In a little book called Sleeping With Bread, there’s a story set during the bombing raids of World War Two. During the war, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. Some were rescued and placed in refugee camps. Sadly, even though the children now had food and care, many of them couldn’t sleep at night. The children were traumatized, and terrified of waking up once again to find themselves homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure these children. Finally, someone came up with the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Amazingly, holding their bread, these children could finally rest. The bread reminded them, “Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow.”[2]

It’s all about hope. With bread in their hands, the children held hope that they would eat tomorrow. It’s hope that gets us through the darkest night. It’s hope that keeps us from falling victim to the Tempter’s lies of hopelessness.

Now, lest you think this talk of hope is holy mumbo-jumbo, let me suggest that hope is in our DNA. In his book Sapiens, Yuval Harari describes our origins:

“One of the most common uses of early stone tools was to crack open bones in order to get to the marrow. Some researchers believe this was our original niche. Just as woodpeckers specialise in extracting insects from the trunks of trees, the first humans specialised in extracting marrow from bones. Why marrow? Well, suppose you observe a pride of lions take down and devour a giraffe. You wait patiently until they’re done. But it’s still not your turn because first the hyenas and jackals— and you don’t dare interfere with them – scavenge the leftovers. Only then would you and your band dare approach the carcass, look cautiously left and right—and dig into the edible tissue that remained.”[3]

Jamie Lee Finch unpacks this in beautiful prose:

“There is a reason you’re wired for hope. There is a reason you rebuild after unimaginable loss. There is a reason you wake up every single morning and try again, and again, and again.

It’s ancient—it’s biological. It’s an inescapable inheritance. You are a human being. And we human beings have always, apparently, been hungry for the life that might still be living after everything else appears to be gone. It’s the oldest thing we’ve ever done you know—breaking open bones—digging for what’s left after death to find the meaning, the meat, the marrow still hidden within. I don’t know what it was about us, what has always been, something told us that surviving would come at the cost of cracking open the end and saying ‘not yet.’ Even after every outer layer of life was stripped away, flesh from bone, we were sustained by still believing something was left for us. Right where we stopped thinking anything else could be. We are one in a long lineage of absurd tenacity, and this holy work of how we became human is how we remain adamant on enduring. Hunters. Gatherers. Foragers. Scavengers. You won’t tell us it’s finished. You won’t tell us we’re done. We know better. We’ve tasted. We’ve seen—and we’ve survived on what’s left on the other side of ‘over’ so many times before. Because it’s the oldest thing we’ve ever done, and we are breaking open the bones, digging around for what’s left after death even still.”[4]

Were you there . . . in the desert . . . with Jesus? Yes, you were there. Maybe you’re there now. Maybe you’re tempted to think that you’re not enough . . . “if only I could have more this, better that.” Lies. All of it. Or maybe you’re there with Jesus in the desert—the Tempter is whispering words of hopelessness to you—and like Jesus you’re tempted to believe those lies. But that’s all they are . . . lies straight from the pit of hell. Remember, you were wired for hope! Remember that after the lions and the jackals have had their fill, you break open the bones, and root for life. “It’s the oldest thing [you’ve] ever done, and [you] are breaking open the bones, digging around for what’s left after death even still.”[5] My prayer is that you might hold these words from scripture like children holding bread at night. You ate today. You will eat tomorrow. May that be enough.

[1] Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, p. 80.

[2]Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life.

[3] Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

[4] Jamie Lee Finch, The Liturgists Podcast, March 7. 2019.

[5] Ibid—and like Jesus you’re tempted to believe those lies. But that’s all they are . . . lies straight from the pit of hell. Remember, you were wired for hope! Remember that after the lions and the jackals have had their fill, you break open the bones, and root for life. “It’s the oldest thing [you’ve] ever done, and [you] are breaking open the bones, digging around for what’s left after death even still.”[5] My prayer is that you might hold these words from scripture like children holding bread at night. You ate today. You will eat tomorrow. May that be enough.

 

 

 

 


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Debbie Wilson