Yr C ~ Lent 1 ~ Luke 4:1-13
So here we are once again in the season of Lent. Lent is our season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Historically it’s had a flavour of sombreness, and contrition, and weightiness. But it also has at its core the theme of introspection and deep prayer.
This is why people give things up for Lent – but typically they do it wrong. Far too many people treat Lent as a do-over for the New Year’s resolutions they’ve failed at and they give something up that they likely shouldn’t be doing so much of anyway. If you’d like to give something up for Lent by all means go ahead – but don’t forget the “so that.”
The purpose of giving something up is “so that” you have more time for prayer.
Fasting from chocolate chip cookies may help your waistline but it doesn’t do anything for you spiritually unless you commit the time you would’ve spent eating them to prayer. You fast from one thing in order to feast on prayer. You turn off the TV or cell phone or social media for a while so that you can have more time to pray. The number one reason people don’t pray is not because they don’t know how, it’s because they say they don’t have time. Lent gives you an excuse to make time.
But I’d like to offer you something I think is even better than giving something up to make prayer time. I’d like to show you how to pray all the time even in the midst of doing your other busy stuff – how to make all your time God-time. This was the genius of my hero, Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence was a simple, lay, Carmelite monk in 17th century France who spent most of his time working in the abbey’s kitchen washing dishes. He became known because he was so tuned-in to the Presence of God that even while he was in the midst of his mundane chores he knew he was coram Deo – which is Latin for before God, being in the Presence of God.
We are always coram Deo – we just don’t always realize it.
Brother Lawrence did.
Lawrence will be our focus for Lent this year – teaching us how to practice presence. Each week we’ll look at a different aspect of his practice and see how we can use it today to make all our time prayerful time.
Of course, Brother Lawrence didn’t invent this stuff. He got it from reading scripture and practicing. Let’s have a look at what he might have taken from today’s reading.
Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.
There is enough wonderful spiritual food right here in this verse to fill this entire sermon. And until we have a really strong grasp on this verse there’s no sense going on to the rest of the passage. In fact, without grasping this verse a person could completely misread and misunderstand the whole temptation bit. The temptations get all the attention, but it’s these three words that matter the most: fullness, led, and wilderness.
This scene takes place right after Jesus was baptized. He’s just experienced a transcendent moment and has had a life-changing encounter with the Presence of God. Jesus is absolutely full of the Holy Spirit. I’m certain if you could’ve talked to him at that moment you’d be able to see it in his eyes, and his face would be glowing with shalom and love.
The reason I’m emphasizing this is because before Jesus was tempted in the wilderness he was full of the Holy Spirit.
What I’m saying is: don’t face temptation on an empty tank.
If Jesus was left to his own willpower who knows how those temptations might have gone. If you find yourself tempted, or struggling, wondering if your strength will be enough – it might be, but even Jesus relied on something far greater than his own willpower.
I know what you’re thinking – my temptations tend to come when I’m out of gas and that’s why I so often stumble and fail. Yup. It does seem like that.
So I’m saying if you want a different result start with a full tank. Don’t wait until you’re on empty before you think about refueling. Constantly stay filled with the Holy Spirit and you’ll always be ready.
How does one do that? Stick around through Lent and hopefully we’ll learn how together.
The fullness of God, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that’s not what happened after Jesus earned something by doing the right thing – it’s his starting point. Start with fullness and everything else looks different. And not that this is the only place to get filled, but coming here regularly and growing and cultivating your capacity to love God, love people, and love one another is a fabulous recipe for fullness!
The place where Jesus was tempted was the wilderness. We’ve talked about this before. In the bible when you hear of a person going to the wilderness it’s a metaphor for a place of transformation. It isn’t that the desert, or wilderness, or deserted place is magic, it’s that it’s quiet. There are no distractions in the wilderness when you’re alone – except for your own thoughts, of course.
Wilderness equals transformation.
Jesus had just been baptized and he was about to figure out how to live the rest of his life. What shape would his ministry take? Was he really ready to begin a public ministry that might have significant consequences? His time in the wilderness helped him discern that.
The other giveaway is the number 40. Whenever 40 is used in the bible it’s about a transformation.
40 years in the wilderness the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land.
40 days and nights it rained on Noah and the world was transformed.
40 days Moses was up the mountain to get the commandments.
40 days Jesus was in the wilderness.
Again, there’s nothing magic about this – it’s just a placeholder for a significant enough period of time for something to really change. They say if you want to break a habit or build a new one it takes around 6 weeks for it to stick. That’s around 40 days. So it’s a period of transformation in a place of transformation. Wilderness.
And now the third word – and for us the most important word today. The word is led. Jesus was led into the transformative wilderness by the Spirit.
That means Jesus did not choose to go.
Jesus did not necessarily want to go.
Jesus was not in charge.
Jesus was not following a carefully laid out 7-point plan that he read about in a self-help book.
Jesus was doing the one thing that we find so very hard to do.
He allowed himself to be led.
He felt a nudge and went with it.
It’s very popular for church people to call themselves followers of Jesus. But that doesn’t just mean to do as he did – it also means to be led as he was led. Not all of us want to be in the lead, or be a leader, but precious few of us have the strength to allow ourselves to be led.
Did you catch that?
Being led is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of great strength. To be led, by definition, means less self-importance and more humility.
Brother Lawrence calls this self-abandonment. Be careful not to hear that as a negative abandoning of someone causing them harm. What he means is that sense of abandon that comes when you let go, let down your guard, become uninhibited, and release your vice-grip on trying to control everything that happens.
Lawrence says the key is “to abandon oneself completely to God” and to practice “a complete acceptance of God’s will with equanimity and resignation.” He says that “total surrender to God is the sure way, along which there is always light to guide us.”
To surrender or abandon oneself doesn’t mean you turn off your brain or your will, or that you go crazy and do stupid or reckless things.
It’s about your ego.
It’s about your consciousness.
It’s about your sense of self.
None of those psychological terms had been invented yet so Lawrence used the spiritual words he knew. He’s talking about radical openness and a willingness to say yes to God’s nudge, or call, or leading.
Self-abandonment and surrender mean that your agenda for what you want out of life (your relationships, your career) doesn’t disappear but is set to the side while your soul goes deep with God and your very being is shaped and formed in Christlikeness.
How much better will your agenda be once it’s shaped by the love of God and shaped by your renewed, clearer, deeper, more harmonious, more loving vision!
This is Jesus in the wilderness, full of the Holy Spirit – being led – showing us surrender and self-abandonment – having his being shaped by God’s love and discerning what his life is going to be about.
Will he be self-serving or serve others?
Will his ego get the better of him or will he answer God’s call?
Will he use his gifts and skills and power for his own gain or “so that” others can know God’s love too?
Just like us, Jesus was tempted with ego and power – and he replied with the love of God.
Jesus was tempted, not by some ridiculous red-skinned, devil with horns and a pitchfork trying to talk him into doing something naughty, but by his own consciousness, his own ego, his own darker self, trying to talk him into turning away from God’s Presence and relying on himself. And he, filled with the Holy Spirit, practicing self-abandonment and surrender, drew on that spiritual power and claimed the light and love of God.
Fullness, wilderness, led. Once you are leaning into those your temptations won’t be nearly so powerful!
Brother Lawrence said “in order to arrive at self-abandonment to God to the extent that God willed, we must watch over all the movements of the soul, since it can become entangled in spiritual things as well as in the most base.”
What is entangling your soul today?
What is capturing your energy and attention?
When temptation appears what will it look like for you?
Do you have the strength to face it alone?
Did you know you don’t have to?
Lent is a season in the wilderness – a season of potential transformation. It’s up to us how we journey through this season – toward Holy Week, toward the cross, toward Easter. If we try to do it on an empty tank we’re in for a long, hard trip – but if we can do it feeling more and more of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, enfolding us and empowering us maybe we can experience what Jesus did.
And if we try to manage it, control it, dictate what the experience will be like, stopping ourselves from getting too emotional or too carried away with this whole spiritual thing then we’re not going to go very deep at all and we’ll spend Lent wondering what the fuss is.
But if we can let go a bit, then a bit more, then a bit more – maybe words like surrender and self-abandonment and trust won’t seem so challenging. And perhaps we will find ourselves led by the Spirit into a deeper place.
Our Lenten journey begins with an open hand – a deep breath – and a ‘yes’ to God’s invitation.
Feeling the fullness of God let us surrender to the lure of the Holy Spirit and immerse ourselves in the transformational wilderness of Lent.
And as we practice letting go we will live more and more coram Deo, in the Presence of God.