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February 13, 2016, 10:08 AM

Wilderness Testing

by Sandy Bach

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished." (Luke 4:1-2 NRSV)

According to Luke, Jesus was tempted for 40 days and he didn't eat. As one who has rarely missed a meal, that's a tough act to follow! 40 days. No food. Plenty of temptation and testing.

What tempts you? How are you tested? What wilderness have you traveled?

Judy is a widow of only a few months. She hurts with the loss of her husband of 40 years. She wants him back with a yearning that can't be assuaged. So, she decides that if he can't come to her, she'll go to him. She plans her suicide down to the last detail.

Scott has a serious weight issue and has been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Try as he might, he can't lose the weight. He loves food and food loves him. Just one more cookie won't hurt him. As his blood glucose readings rise and fall with dangerous regularity, he feels stuck and hopeless. He feels like giving up.

Judy and Scott are both stuck in the wilderness. That barren place where it feels God-forsaken. The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness, wandering under Moses' leadership. No food. No water. No sense of God's presence. God was clearly present, but they couldn't see it. God provided food and water as they needed it. It took them a long time to trust and to rely on God's daily provision of manna and water.

Judy and Scott are probably feeling God's silence in their lives. We all get to that place. In the pain of the moment that feels like an eternity, God should be speaking. Instead, God remains silent. Is God even near?

So, we figure we're on our own and we'll have to come up with solutions on our own. Rather than traveling through the pain, we want to shortcut it. Rather than embracing God and trusting in God's provision, we decide to take matters into our own hands.

And that's the test and the temptation.

Jesus was hungry; starving. He would have liked to have assuaged that hunger and what's wrong with turning stone into bread? What would it hurt for him to turn stones into millions of loaves of bread? His ministry would thrive, but, more than yet, everyone would eat.

Isn't that what God wants?

The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Kingdoms of hungry power. Power demands more power and will go after it any way it can. Money is diverted from care of the people to war on other empires. People are crushed and enslaved. So with Jesus in charge, this world would be a much better place. Right?

Finally, the Devil transports Jesus to Jerusalem and the temple: the center of Jewish faith. Priests who labored under the fear and control of the Roman Empire tried desperately to hold onto their temple with legalism and control. Jesus could fix all this. After all, if he falls, he'll be saved. God won't allow him to suffer, right?

Isn't that what God wants: to have the least, the last and the lost cared for justly and rightly? to have the kingdoms of the world doing justice and loving righteousness? to have the religious elite care for everyone, even those on the fringes?

Not if it means that God is not worshiped. Not if means that humanity remains in control, fooling itself into believing that their own power and wealth will safe them.

Jesus refused to use magic tricks to solve problems. Jesus refused to rule the world and turn his back on God. Jesus had no need to test God by jumping off the temple.

What Jesus did, was acknowledge over and over and over again that God is in charge. He spoke about a kingdom of God that loves mercy, does justice and everyone walks with God. He looked beyond the moment to see the results of his actions.

And that's what I would pray for Judy and Scott. I can't imagine losing the love of my life. But I hope and pray for courage to do the hard work of grieving rather than taking control of when I die. I hope and pray that I would see the awful pain I would inflict on those I chose to leave behind. I pray that I would see the long range results of my actions.

I do have a weight problem, though. While I don't have diabetes, I understand that need for one more cookie; the need to stuff down my fear and pain with food. And every day I pray for courage.

We are all tested, my friends. Every last one of us. We are tempted in our weakest moments to not look beyond our immediate needs. We're tested to listen to distortions and lies; to see our wants as needs; to not trust our bit of faith as enough for God to work with.

Ultimately, God really is in charge. And I know this because of Jesus' examples of how he worked his way through testing and temptation. Evil is powerful. Don't kid yourself that it's not out there.

It comes down to a few questions:

Is this testing my urge for self-indulgence?

Will this resolve a problem in the long term or am I looking for power?

Am I looking for solutions or trying assuage my grief and pain?

It's a matter of calling on God as your source of strength and the One you worship.  Whether the calling is in silence and love or crying out at your worst moment, those cries and calls are your way of saying, "Jesus I believe.  Help my unbelief."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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