I am delighted to be back here. Yes, I am crazy to think of coming here in late February to Maine, or as the rector has already mentioned, what is coming to be known as the Land of the Saturday Night Snowstorm.
I was chatting with the sexton this morning. You know you need to send him to Florida or somewhere as a thank you. It’s one thing to have all day to get the snow cleaned up. It’s another to have it done by eight o’clock in the morning.
Tim and James have been dear and longtime friends. It’s wonderful to be with them. And Joe and Audrey --we’ve known each other for, let’s just not tell, okay? But it’s just wonderful to be here especially in your 100th-year anniversary celebration. It’s a great honor.
This morning I want to give you a recipe--a recipe for a dramatic Lent. Now, like all recipes you have favorites and you have some you don’t care so much for. You have some that are just too complicated to follow and you don’t even try them. You may like this or you may not. But I want to try to give you a suggestion for a lens through which to go through this Lenten season.
It’s a recipe that comes out of an ongoing debate in theological circles that will be reminiscent of Watergate of all things. You remember the famous two questions out of Watergate: What did he know? And when did he know it? I think those are two very important and fruitful questions to ask about Jesus. What did he know? And when did he know it?
Now for people outside the church--for non-believers--people who would describe themselves, perhaps, as secular, they have no problem with seeing Jesus the man. What they have a problem with is seeing Jesus as God. But we in the church have just the opposite problem, and I think to our detriment in some ways. Which is that we believe that Jesus was God and we minimize Jesus’ life and ministry as a man.
We give lip service to it. Yes, he was a perfect God and a perfect man. All the orthodox theology … But the fact of the matter is because Christians live their faith in hindsight, it is difficult for us to imagine this Jesus event as it actually happened. And a very good case can be made that Jesus did not know who he was--that is to say, did not know that he was God. That God might have made this remarkable decision, when you think about it, to divest Godself of all of those omniscient powers that we like to think about and to just become one of us. I mean it would not be unlike you and me looking at a cockroach and deciding to give up all those things that make us human in order to experience what life would be like as a cockroach.
But what if he did? What if God decided actually to become one of us—to know what it’s like to be human from the inside? Now, lest you think that’s just an outrageousthing, we actually have some scripture that shows that God doesn’t know what it’s like to be a human. And it comes right at the beginning of the Bible. God has no sooner created Adam than God realizes that Adam is lonely and he doesn’t know how to fix it. He doesn’t know how to make Adam happy. And he tries sending all the animals and everything. And then he stumbles upon, “I know, Eve!” And it works.
So there is some scriptural basis for God not actually knowing from God’s vantage point all of what makes us tick. Which is what makes this Jesus event so extraordinary.Maybe it’s heresy, but I’ll say it anyway: Could the Jesus event be a learning event for God? About what it’s like to be one of us.
The scripture behind this notion, that maybe Jesus didn’t know exactly who he was, is a little bit hard to figure out. Let’s review for a minute. Remember that the earliest gospel, Mark, is the sort of stripped down version, “nothing but the facts ma’am,” written in the 60s let’s say--not the 1960s, but the real 60s. And we just get the kind of bare minimum facts. And then in probably the 70s Matthew and Luke write their gospels and we’re pretty clear that they had a copy of Mark sitting beside them as they were writing their own. But then they add their own flourishes and so forth. Of course Matthew was writing to convince Jews that Jesus was God. And Luke, being an outsider and a gentile is writing to all the outsiders of the world.
And then John is just in a complete class of his own. He’s writing in the 80s or 90s and it’s really not a story of Jesus’ life. It’s a theological reflection on Jesus’ life. Highly theological. He doesn’t care much about the sequence of events. And it’s a little like reading a murder mystery. Only you read the last page first and then you find out who done it…He starts out “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. And Jesus is dead.” Now you can fill in the details but that’s the point.
So all of those gospels are written in retrospect after they’ve had 30, 40, 50 years to reflect on Jesus. Their experience that when they walked with Jesus they were walking with God. The question is, did they know it while they were doing it?And I’m just suggesting that you, this Lent, listen to the scriptures and especially during Holy Week—[and ask] what if Jesus were going through this experience like you and I were?
And here’s why it’s important. If Jesus knew how this was all going to turn out.--if Jesus actually knew about Easter--then he does not know what you and I go through because we don’t know what’s going to happen an hour from now -- never mind by the end of our lives. And that creates a kind of human anxiety, doesn’t it, that even animals don’t have. We have this anxiety about how our lives are going to turn out. So if God really wanted to know what it was like to be one of us, then Jesus had to experience that kind of anxiety.
I’m just sayin’.
So let’s look at today’s story in light of that … We don’t know much about [Jesus’] early life. We have that one story about him being in the Temple tending to his father’s business. But a lot of us were nerdy and theological and churchy growing up and we might have been so arrogant as to say “Oh, I’m just about my father’s business. I kind of like religion. Youth group is great. You know, I kind of admire the minister.” But we know Jesus had some notion that there was this special relationship there.
We also know that the church rejected the stories in some other gospels that were written where they had Jesus with all these magical powers making clay birds come to life and fly away. Maybe he had a girlfriend? Maybe he was consumed by anxiety that he didn’t have a girlfriend? What were his hobbies? Did he like doing what his father was doing or did he hate it--like so many kids who hate what their parents are doing and don’t want to follow in their footsteps. Was he popular or was he an outsider? We don’t know. We just don’t know.
But we know something’s drawn him to the River Jordan to be baptized. And the details of that experience are a little bit contradictory in the various gospels. They all seem to say that God made a pronouncement, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” Some of the gospels say Jesus heard it. Some of them say everybody heard it. But it was clearly a powerful experience of knowing that God loved him.
Now you would think with that kind of an affirmation—if you heard a voice from heaven saying “You are my son, my daughter in you I am well pleased,” would you not go home and throw a party? Well what happens to Jesus? Today’s gospel says “the spirit drove him into the wilderness.” In some other gospels it says “the spirit led him” ... But isn’t it remarkable that affirmation, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased,” isn’t it amazing that confused him! It drove him into the wilderness for 40 days--and nights. And you know 40 does not mean 40, it means a lot. When the Bible says 40 of anything it means a lot. If it rained for 40 days and 40 nights it meant there was a lot of rain. So he’s in the wilderness fasting for a long time.
You know also, I think, correct me if I’m wrong Father Tim, I think this is the only event in Jesus’ life that was not observed by someone else. Which means that Jesus had to have told his disciples about this.Which gives it a kind of importance.If he thoughtit wasn’t important to mention this particular struggle to his disciples he could have just kept it a private thing, but he didn’t.
And if he was just a man could it be that Satan wasn’t there at all? Could it be these temptations were going on inside of him? Makes sense to me. When I’m struggling with temptation it sure feels like I’m up against an enemy. And someone who’s even craftier than I. It seems to me that Jesus has this remarkable experience at the River Jordan in which he knows beyond any shadow of a doubt he is loved by God and the question that he now has is, “so what difference is it going to make? What am I going to do with this?” And so he spends time thinking about it. Well, let’s see…
And by the way, the reasons these are temptations is that they’re not just bad things. We think of them as things we can easily say no to. But actually they’re quite good things. For instance, if you turn stones into bread you can feed the world. And maybe Jesus had some experience of having some remarkable powers. You can feed the world. But what he says is, he says “no” to that, because the world needs something more than bread. It needs to know God.
And then there’s the temptation which I like to call the Cirque de Soleil Temptation. Where the devil sought to entice him to put himself on the parapet of the Temple and fling himself down and let the angels swoop in…It’s sort of like if you do some real derring-do kinds of things you’re going to be noticed. People are going to like you on Facebook. And word will travel that you are something else. And Jesus decides, “no,” that’s not what his ministry is going to be about.
And then maybe the most tempting of all: He’s shown the nations of the world. And think what he could do if he was king of the world. I mean, think of all the good he could do. He could be that benevolent, kind dictator that is the most efficient government of all. And of course it would not corrupt him. And he says “no” to that.
It’s interesting, one of the gospels—I believe it’s Luke--says “And the devil went away and waited for a more opportune time.” Not that the devil went away, just that he waited for another time. In other words, these temptations tempted Jesus right to the cross. I mean, remember the guy at the foot of the cross who said, “If you are the son of God come down from the cross.” You know, Cirque de Soleil. They haunted him right to the very end.
Can I just say, just like they do you and me.
He didn’t settle this once and for all. And you’ve got to read just a little bit further to find out what his ministry was going to be about. He comes out of the wilderness after the temptations and the next thing, according to Luke’s gospel, is that he appears in his own hometown synagogue and reads from the scriptures of Isaiah,“The spirit of the Lord is upon me and called me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to all kinds of prisoners and captives, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” It’s his inauguration speech. This is the answer he comes to in the wilderness--the thing that he is going to be about. Not those three temptations.
And then we see it played out, don’t we? For the rest of his life he is binding up the broken-hearted. He is proclaiming release to captives of disease, captives of epilepsy, captives of death. His whole life is about that capacity.
And I get so much inspiration from believing that he did all that as a man. And the reason it’s important, and it’s important in Lent, is that we can listen to this story of temptations and it’s just like a, I don’t know, a super-hero tale--about Satan in bodily form and Jesus and this cosmic comic book. But then we lose why it matters to you and me. Because if he was a man and he knows what it’s like to be us,then we literally have a savior who’s been here and done this.
These temptations are ones that we experience, too. And I would suggest that the period of Lent is not about giving up chocolate, although I would be well to give up chocolate. It’s about doing what Jesus did in this passage we just heard. Which is to try to absorb the notion that we are the sons and daughters of God, and God is pleased with us. And then, courageously, to ask the question “So what are we going to do about it?” … What are the gifts you and I have been given for ministry, and what are we going to do with them?
There are so many temptations to fritter away those gifts with a hurting world out there who needs us and needs God. And the question is, what are we going to say to those temptations? And then, how are we going to live our lives? What will our inauguration speech be?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if, by the end of Lent, you could write your own inauguration speech about what your life is going to be about-- using your particular gifts, whether you’re eight years old or 80? That would mean a Lent worth spending. And then, when you follow this man, Jesus, through those last of his days, believing that when he is sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he dies, he is torn up. He does want this cup to pass from him. He doesn’t look forward to that kind of pain any more than you or I would. And he just keeps putting one foot in front of the other as best he knows how. And heeven feels left all alone on the cross. And still moves forward. And his last words in the midst of all of that isolation are “Into your hands, Oh God, I commit my spirit.”
I would like to think that Jesus was the most surprised about his resurrection. Maybe it was only at that moment that he knew who he was. To me it just makes it that much bigger. And it says we can look at his life for a way to model ours. Because he has been here, and he has done this.