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Luke 4:1-13

“Full of the Spirit”

            In the gospel reading we are told Jesus is full of the Spirit returning from being baptized in the Jordan. This is a significant detail that Jesus undergoes a time of spiritual test after he has been baptized. It tells us that baptism is enough. Baptism is enough even to withstand forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. This helps us situate ourselves as we begin the Lenten season. Perhaps at times we too feel we are in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Surely there is enough going on in the world and we think especially about those who find themselves in the midst of war, those who are vulnerable, those who are sick or suffering in any way.

            Thinking about this story about Jesus in Luke, it is helpful for us to think about some of the Lenten imagery here. The number 40 is significant. It is an allusion to the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. This is where we get 40 days of Lent.

            Jesus’ wilderness retreat also served as an example for early Christians. It inspired early monastics to go off into the wilderness for a time of retreat as a spiritual practice. It’s from the monastics, the early desert fathers and mothers, that we get the practices of daily prayer, including evening prayer which we emphasize during the seasons of Advent and Lent. Time we set aside to be reminded we too are filled in the Spirit.

            Sometimes these practices can feel busy given many of us have a lot going on whether looking after young kids, busyness at work, those of you serving at the church in various ways, helping family whether in town or further away, and serving other boards and commitments. But the purpose of morning prayer or evening prayer isn’t to have just another thing to do, but rather to set aside time for God to build us up in the spirit. Time for prayer renews in the way that a walk or time outside can build us up. It requires time and energy, but renews us as a weekly practice as we mark time during the season of Lent. It is a time for renewal and time to recharge.

            It’s about developing habits that nourish and sustain amidst the busyness or amidst the quiet, recognizing some people lead quieter lives, especially those who live alone.

            We also need to make choices about what we have a capacity to take on. I realized this the other week when I had agreed both to help lead Lenten evening prayer on Thursdays here at Church of the Cross and support the Doctrine of Discovery series organized by Journey Towards Reconciliation, a synod committee on which I serve. Both are wonderful offerings during Lent and I realized that I could not really support both at the same time. Thankfully Craig has been willing to take on leading a small group each of the Thursdays with the Doctrine of Discovery while I put my energy on leading Lenten evening prayer here at the church, especially while Pr. Lyle is on sabbatical. I continue supporting the Doctrine of Discovery series behind the scenes helping organize. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize our limits, especially when it includes ministry around things we find valuable and interesting. Even then we need to consider boundaries and make choices that help us sustain ourselves over the long haul.

            I invite you to think about that for yourself this Lent. We absolutely would love for you and others to join either the Doctrine of Discovery series or Lenten evening prayer here at church. In fact it’s perfectly acceptable to join one or the other series just one time. You are not required to attend all the offerings and have been designed as stand alone gatherings for that very purpose. I also understand if neither works for you at this time. The purpose of Lenten discipline is not to take on work that feels like drudgery. The purpose is to embrace moments in which God is building us up in the spirit, just as Jesus is built up in the spirit in baptism and his time in the wilderness.

            Having offered this Lenten invitation let us turn to the gospel reading and think through the three moments in which Jesus relies on spiritual discipline. Jesus relies on being filled in the Spirit in order to resist testing by the devil. So too we may glean insights into our own lives. How spiritual disciplines help us better live in a world filled with tests and trials.  

“One does not live by bread alone”

            Jesus’ response to the devil’s first test, “One does not live by bread alone.” Jesus reminds the devil there is another kind of food. Spiritual food from God that nourishes. This does not diminish the real needs every human has for receiving daily bread, something we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. We recognize the severity of food scarcity and work together with the Shelbourne Community Kitchen located on the street level of the church building to alleviate food scarcity.

            We are reminded of the other kind of bread we receive every Sunday around the table. As Lutherans we talk about the sacrament of bread and wine both as an everyday physical thing and as something that is a gift from God. We say the Word of God is with, under, and through the bread and the wine. As Lutherans it is not magic and it’s not just symbolic. Jesus’ presence is real, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion is an opportunity to be built up, to receive spiritual renew, before we are sent back out into the world.

            We are gather around the table just as we gather around the font. Trusting that God shows up in the water, filling us with the Spirit, including when dip our hand in the water of the font, tracing a cross on our foreheads, saying “I am a baptized Christian.”    

“Worship the Lord your God.”

            Jesus’ response to the devil’s second test, “Worship the Lord your God, and worship only God.” The devil tempts Jesus with the offer of dominion over kingdoms. Jesus rejects this by quoting the First Commandment of the Ten Commandments to worship only God.

            For us as Christians, the Hebrew text we share with Jewish neighbours, the commandments ground is a world run amok. How many of our troubles seem to refer back to this temptation of wanting dominion over the world? Whether it’s leaders hungry for land and power or corporations and billionaires set on driving workers into poverty, we witness the fruits of worshiping worldly gods. We seek to support people caught in war, workers who cannot afford housing, food, and medicine. We know the world can be structured differently but it isn’t in order to suit the whims of only a few power hungry people. In this way one Lenten disciple is reflecting upon the ways in which God desires us to dismantle structures of oppression. Tearing down walls that imprison people for no good reason. That too is holy work and a reason why God fills us with the Spirit. God knows we can’t accomplish such feats on our own, but together we are mighty as the body of Christ.

            In these ways worshipping together on Sundays, midweek, at home, these prepare us for the other struggles in our lives, including much bigger ones we could never comprehend on our own.  

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

            Jesus’ response to the devil’s third test, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

            I am reminded about the story of a woman on the prairies who was convinced she would prove to her atheist neighbour that God is real. He also set her up for failure. He said, “You pray to God to take this huge rock in my field and move it to the other side of the road.” And she accepted the challenge, promising that God would heed her request and move this massive rock from one side of the road to the other. She prayed fervently at night that her will be done. And she went out the next day to check on the rock. And sure enough…the rock was right where it had always been. Her neighbour laughed at her and the woman’s faith was beginning to feel shaky. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” God isn’t a magic genie. Prayer isn’t just about playing parlour tricks to show up your neighbour. She was tricked into adopting a bad theology from the outset. She never should have agreed to this prayer challenge. Prayer is about bring forward genuine concerns for prayer, that as the body of Christ together we lift one another up in prayer, especially people and creatures who are suffering in any way. Faith is about building relationship through prayer, worship, conversation, and something that is nurtured and grows over time. And we are continually surprised just how effective prayer can be to mobilize the faithful to be God’s hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, and wisdom. While we get distracted by the few people who disrupt life saving work, we know that we would not have gotten this far through a pandemic without faith and trusting in the gifts of wisdom, including medicine and public health initiatives.

            So too in times of war we do not simply throw our hands in the air, but work collectively towards peace and better outcomes. Even when it feels we are powerless, we continue to worship and pray.  

God’s grace in hard times

            Having talked about Jesus’ responses to the devil’s three tests, we cannot forget another thing. There will be times in which we do not have the energy to rise to a challenge. None of us is Jesus and we aren’t meant to be a Messiah. It’s perfectly human and okay not to have the energy, not to have the spoons, not to summon courage. But instead to acknowledge that we are the ones who are broken. We are the ones who are frail. We are the ones who don’t have our lives together. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to not have the answers. It’s okay to wait this one out. That too is a sign of God’s grace, filling us with the Spirit to heal.

              God knows we are tired. God knows we are weary. God knows we are yearn for reconciliation with Indigenous neighbours. God knows we yearn for an end to war in Ukraine. God knows we yearn for liveable wages and housing for generations of people today, tomorrow, and into the future. God knows we yearn for a solution to the climate crisis today, so human creation and all God’s creatures may flourish. God knows.

            Sometimes our Lenten disciplines is simply trusting Jesus. Our Lenten discipline is trusting God. Our Lenten discipline is trusting we are filled with the Spirit. And that together we will limp along together, remembering we are baptized. Remembering we are filled with the Spirit. Remembering each one of us is loved by God. Amen.