First Sunday in Lent

Donna Duensing—February 25, 2010

Luke 4:1–13

Grace and Peace to you from the God who created us, and from the Christ, who journeys with us, through our wildernesses. Amen.

This story of temptation certainly has a 21st century plot—the lure of power and privilege. One might fantasize that we who have gathered here haven’t succumbed to that lure. One wouldn’t choose the path of seminary—either as a student, or staff, or faculty member, if one wanted real power and privilege in this society.

But I do think this story has much with which we can identify. These temptations come in the form of “scripts” and “scriptures.” I don’t know about you but I know that scripts and scriptures get generous air time in my brain…more scripts than scriptures. And they often begin with those words “If you are”… or “who do you think you are,” “ why don’t you,” “why can’t you,” “why didn’t you,” “why aren’t you able to…”

What are the scripts that bedevil you? Perhaps: “If you are called, why is this so difficult?” “If you are called, why do you feel like you don’t fit in like others do?” “If you are tenured, why don’t you feel more secure?” “If you are following the path of your calling, why are there so many obstacles?”

What about all the world’s pain and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Scriptures can be troublesome too, even those meant to be the most comforting.

My developmentally challenged and addictive adult son has spent time in an out of prison, a couple of times in the privatized state jails in Texas—a pretty dismal place to be. In much of the south, and perhaps other places as well, the Aryan Nation and other gangs control much of the internal power structures. And if developmental disabilities prevent you from reading all the dynamics you are even more vulnerable. A couple of times he was beaten to the point where he thought he was going to die.

Two years ago, after his release, he had moved back to California, and we were reading a psalm in our evening devotions. It was a psalm (like the one for this week—that the devil also quoted), with promises like “no evil shall befall you…God will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.” Knowing what he had gone through, I stopped reading and asked, “I’m wondering how these words sound to you, when you were beaten by the five guys? Do you wonder why God didn’t keep that from happening?” He replied, “Yeah, I was thinking about that too. But then I thought, maybe sometimes so much evil gets together in one place that even God can’t stop bad things from happening.”

“So much evil in one place,” a description of much of the suffering in the world, could also be a description of the crucifixion. All that evil in one place, with humanity choosing to kill God’s own, rather than follow the path of God’s plan of love for the whole world.

And God answers all that evil in one place, not always with a miraculous escape from suffering, but with resurrection and new life time after time after time, during the most horrific of human conditions…a witness to God’s faithfulness through the suffering.

My son reflected: “Maybe God was there telling me not to fight back, but rather to lie there and take it. That made them stop before they killed me. Maybe that is how it works.”

During this Lenten journey we come together to not only listen to the Scripture, to overcome our scripts, but we listen for the Word incarnate—the face of Christ, the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. We come together as the body of Christ, reminding one another how the story ends.

We do not walk this journey alone. We walk this journey in community.

I was reminded of something my husband, Robert Smith, wrote about Luke’s Jesus. He wrote this during one of many long hospital stays.

Everyone complains about hospital food. And I include myself. In fact I feel like a hypocrite when I sit before a tray of hospital vittles and solemnly intone, “We thank you, Lord, for these gifts of food and drink.” But on December 30 as I was spooning up wild rice soup at UCSF Medical Center, I found myself saying, “Hey, this isn’t so bad. It’s hot, nutritious, and fairly tasty. What more do you want?”

What’s so wrong about this food?

Right before lunch I had been reading some lines about “meals in Luke-Acts” and thinking about the figure of Jesus in Luke-Acts. Luke doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a theology of the cross. At least he doesn’t say (as John and Paul regularly do) something like, “Jesus died that we might have life.” One of the most illuminating things I ever read was the lapidary statement of Fred Danker, (in his Jesus and the New Age), “In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus saves people by fellowshipping with them.”

Surely one of the things wrong about hospital food is that a solitary patient sits before a single tray, in silent isolation and eats a lonely meal. Eating has been downgraded from a saving social event to a mere act of nutrition.

Maybe my attitude toward hospital food will improve if instead of “giving thanks” I would pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” That would put two of us at the table, and that might just save the day!

—Robert H. Smith, UCSF Medical Center, December 30, 2005

This morning Jesus comes again to save the day by fellowshipping with us in this meal. Jesus comes again to save the day by fellowshipping with us in this community.

Whatever scripts would be-devil us are silenced by the WORD made flesh. Even in those places in our lives and world where too much evil is in one place, Jesus has the final WORD—Jesus IS the final word.

And so we pray: Come Lord Jesus. Amen.