The Church of the Saviour The Reverend George C. Wong The Gospel text: Luke 4:1-13 Lent One March 10, 2019 “Slow and steady can be the quickest route”
Our gospel reading today takes us ringside to an encounter between Jesus and the devil. Yes, it is still early on in Lent and we are still shifting gears from the season of Epiphany, but let’s you and I go there along with Jesus. The devil is master of disguises and of guises. At times, he takes the sinister form. You know, the nightmarish, Beezelbub brand of Satan who makes his point by tossing people across rooms and the one who unnerves by blurting out our darkest secrets and desires. Sometimes, he comes with horns dressed in fiery red stoking the fires of hell (okay, maybe this happens only in cartoons and at Halloween). At other times, he comes in the form of an everyday person as in Al Pacino’s portrayal of the devil in suit and in corporate suite in the circa 1980’s movie the Devil’s Advocate. Actually, in today’s gospel, we don’t read much about the devil’s appearance—still, we can gather much about his demeanor: this is the crafty, clever devil who attempts to play on the hopes and twisting aspects of the identity of Jesus. The devil tells Jesus that if he truly is the Son of God he could turn the stones into bread. That wouldn’t have been bad in and of itself. Jesus was famished and some bread would have filled his belly satisfying his raging hunger. Also, if Jesus was able to take the initiative, he could have solved a problem caused by famines and frequent food shortages. The devil was urging Jesus to take matters into his own hands and meet the basic needs of the people. Knowing that bread is not the deepest hunger of mankind, Jesus turns to Deuteronomy: “Man does not live by bread alone.” Jesus 1, devil 0. The devil then offers to give Jesus the keys to all the kingdoms of the world. This wouldn’t have been bad in and of itself. Jesus would not have to suffer at the hands of men. He could have controlled the world right then and brought about many good things. He might have been tempted to have power of the kingdoms of earth to do good things like effecting justice and peace, immediately. Once again Jesus is more clever than the tempter: “Worship the Lord your God only.” Jesus 2, devil 0. Then the devil offers to have angels tend to Jesus if he threw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. The righteous were said to have complete faith in God, so throwing oneself down in this way would have been a powerful demonstration of faith. But would it have been faithful? Remember, how we started off Lent—with a reminder to not let our piety be a public spectacle. Not giving any ground to the tempter, Jesus responds by saying: “You shall not test the Lord your God.” Jesus 3, devil 0. That my friends, was a shutdown of the devil by Jesus in the desert. The intent of the devil had been to convince Jesus to take the quicker and easier path. But Jesus chose to continue on the path that would take more time, and be more difficult. It was not the quickest or the easiest course, but it conformed to the plan that would change the world. Of course, we probably won’t face the devil alone after a fast in the desert wilderness for a series of tests. But despite all the handwringing in some circles about the existence of the devil, the devil isout there in many guises and places, and the devil is clever as ever. I don’t believe many among us are outright broken, untethered people who will sign on to do obviously evil things. But we can be tricked and sold a bill of goods. Recognizing this, the devil takes advantage of our strongest desires especially those rooted in good intentions and turns those against us. In our day and age, one our strongest temptations is to seek out instant or near instant gratification. This is especially true in many places, but the Northeastern U.S. may be ground zero. We want all kinds of things now and we don’t want to be too inconvenienced, and what I think that means is people will do much to avoid interacting in unwanted ways with other humans—social psychologists call this involuntary socialization. No dodging shopping carts, no person at the register presenting a stack of coupons, and no chit chat with the acquaintance whose name just eludes us. Amazon shopping is fast and solitary. I recently read a NYT interview with Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. He said he built Amazon into the fourth most highly valued company in the world based upon his recognition that people want everything quicker and easier. Amazon is a company which brilliantly meets the demands of millions and millions each day. While I have some reservations about their dominance and about the related fate of small retail shops, I use Amazon all the time. Why? Because Amazon is fast and convenient (read: no people involved, or at least that I am come into contact with directly.) As a consumer, Amazon literally delivers the goods. Great for Jeff Bezos and for buying stuff and getting entertainment, but a serious problem arises when that consumerist mindset bleeds over into our spiritual lives. We might be tempted to dismiss any spiritual pursuit or endeavor which is time intensive and which involves other people in a meaningful way, like say in community for instance. The slippage is unintentional and subtle, but real. This approach doesn’t work at all for our spiritual lives, because our spiritual development requires patience and trust in God over the long term and it also requires, rather it only thrives in the context of community. Our spiritual journey doesn’t unfold instantaneously or in isolation. Jesus knew that, and that is why Jesus refused the temptation to deviate from God’s plan which meant much more perspiration, time and in the end, working with others—ultimately, giving his life for others in order accomplish what the priest, theologian, scientist and poet, Teilhard de Chardin, termed the slow work of God. Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability-- and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete In all things, especially when it comes to major life decisions, be wary of the quick, the easy and the solitary. When it comes to the spiritual life, like Jesus, trust in the slow work of God, which almost invariably unfolds in the context of community, the Body of Christ. It may not be what you or I want to hear, but our trust and faith in God will not always lead us to the quickest and easiest path. But, the authentic sometimes uncertain path will lead each of us through the wilderness and into the fullness of being as God intends for each of us. In matters spiritual, the victory and the lasting joy goes to the deliberate and the steady in faith.