Wilderness: Dwelling in the Word March 2020

photo of Painted Desert National Wilderness Area by Breen Sipes

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)

1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written,
 ‘One does not live by bread alone,
  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
  5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
  and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
  8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? 

This is the text which comes directly after Jesus’ baptism.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus comes up out of the waters, the heavens are ripped open, and the spirit alights on him like a dove.  Then, a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”  This is an auspicious beginning to Jesus’ earthly ministry.  However, the very next line is this:  “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Not a very auspicious beginning.  Straight from baptism to temptation by the devil?  I find this very challenging.  Why is this how it works?  Why not a trail period, or a chance for Jesus to do some good things, some easy things?

          Perhaps I am challenged by this because I also fear that it is the shape of our baptismal life.  When one of my mentors would baptize, she would always say that baptism doesn’t promise us a life without rain or storms, but rather that God goes with us, through them.  Maybe it is a mark of Jesus’ true humanity that he was tempted, just as we are.  Maybe it is a mark of Jesus’ humanity that he spends time in the wilderness, just as we do when we have lost our way.  And maybe this episode reminds that Jesus is also the Son of God, able to resist the pull of the devil in ways that we would find unimaginable.  He is God, and we are not.

2.  What delights me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?

I love how dramatic this story is.  I can imagine this face off between the devil and Jesus, with the devil as slick as a snake and the soundtrack rising to an uncertain climax as we await each of Jesus’ answers.  It is a battle of epic proportions, and fought only with words.  It is even a tale with a happy ending, and the arrival of angels to top off the victory!

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story connect to my life? 

This story reminds me of the time that my husband Patrick and I spent in the Painted Desert during our honeymoon.  We had visited lots of National Parks during our trip (The Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, etc.), and it seemed that National Parks were a place for a lot of rules:  Don’t stray off the path!  Don’t touch anything!  Don’t feed the animals!   Park only in designated areas!  By contrast, our trip to the Painted Desert seemed freeing.  It is designated, not as a National Park, but as a Wilderness Area, and as such, there were no paths to follow or places to park.  But with that lack of rules came dire warnings:  Tell a Park Ranger where you are planning to go, so if you don’t come back we know where to begin searching.  The sun goes down quickly in the desert; keep track of the time so you don’t get stuck somewhere remote overnight.  And my favorite:  Bubonic Plague is a reality; don’t get friendly with the wildlife.  This experience in the wilderness gave us a sense of freedom with just a hint of danger.  Do what you want, but beware that your consequences have actions.  I still can’t wait to go back!

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?

          God is with Jesus just as God is with us.  God gives Jesus the strength to endure, just as God gives Jesus the strength to endure.  God sends to us to the wilderness to learn and to grow, and has angels waiting for us on the other side. 

          I am looking forward to learning alongside you through this familiar text this month.  May God bless our Lenten journeys into the wilderness, as well.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen Marie Sipes

Check out our other Lenten Devotional Resources here:

Easter Vigil Wednesday Night Devotions: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/easter-vigil-devotion-book-2020-website.pdf

Lent Prayer Journal: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/lent-prayer-journal-2020.pdf

Sunday Gospel Devotions: https://familygodtime.wordpress.com/tag/lent-2020/