Lent 1C: Knowing Where You Are

Lent 1C: Knowing Where You Are

Luke 4:1-13

By: The Rev. Kim Jenne

“Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?” No one says anything. The silence that fills the room is the actual sound of five people resisting the inducement to appear as if they are living lives of transparency and piety by resisting vulnerability and let’s face it, humanity.

Despite weekly meetings with this group, a group I trusted with many secrets, this final question taken from John Wesley’s historic Rules of the Bands never got any easier. And, that seems to be the point. Those parts we desire to keep hidden away are often (although not always) those that come closest to our greatest temptations. To share those things, it seems on the surface, would be to make us even more susceptible to them. Wesley thought differently. He thought that secrets gave more power to our sins. Likewise, Francis de Sales asked, “How can we fight against [our imperfections] unless we see them, or overcome them unless we face them?” Re-reading the lectionary text for Lent 1, Jesus must have had similar thoughts.

Within the pantheon of Jesus’ teachings, this passage holds a special place of sacredness because this episode could have only come to us through Jesus’ retelling of it. Unlike many of Jesus’ public healings and teachings, this is a singular, private experience. Here, we are privileged with special access to the deep wrestling of Jesus’ soul. He must have desired not to keep secret his spiritual inner workings with those closest to him. In turn, the teaching must have connected deeply with early followers for the episode to become such a part of the tradition (Mk. 1:12-13, Matt. 4:1-11, Lk. 4:1-13, Heb. 4:15).

dead-tree-in-utah-wildernessHaving just established Jesus’ authority through his birth and baptism (Lk. 3:16-21), Luke uses the testing experience to focus on how Jesus will exercise his authority on earth. His inaugural preaching (4:15) will be further demonstration of the nature and shape of his ministry and his style of messianic leadership.

Close readers of the Gospel will notice the echo of the three-fold temptation structure with the testing on the cross (23:35, 37, 39) while noting that Luke transposes the second and third temptations in order to accentuate Jerusalem as the pinnacle of the temptations. Jesus will ultimately arrive in the holy city for the last and final test of obedience. And it is there, at that other high place—the cross—that Jesus will cry out with words of complete ultimate obedience, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23:46).

As we stand on the edge of the season of Lent, the passage offers us a chance to explore the hard work of growing in obedience. While the Gospel presents that the tests happened in short, sequential order, today’s readers might appreciate being reminded that deep spiritual work rarely happens in abbreviated, linear bursts. If this was truly a wilderness experience in the spirit of Moses and Elijah’s spiritual walkabouts, one must imagine forty days of loneliness and inner turmoil on how best to respond in obedience to God. For Luke, Jesus’ forty day encounter being taunted by the devil allows the hearer insight into the alternative ways Jesus might have used his messianic authority in order to win the hearts of the people.

According to the devil, winning the hearts of the people could be attained through 1) bribing the people by offering them what they want or even need. Teresa of Calcutta seemed to understand this temptation well, asking others to pray for her “that I not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.” Even good distractions can sometimes obscure our view of God’s purposes. Or, 2) by compromising by rejecting the Father. Little shifts in our convictions for the sake of relevancy can sometimes find ourselves distanced from the Creator. The devil’s final temptation is 3) entertaining the people through sensationalism. Putting on a “spectacle” for the sake of winning hearts is something to which modern-day preachers and lay leaders can easily relate. Competing against the likes of TedTalks and SoulCycle, as shared in Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile’s How We Gather – A New Report On Non-Religious Community, preachers with the wherewithal to stand in front of the Sunday crowd do so in humility along with a good dose of fear and trembling.

If we return the primary lesson of obedience, a helpful framework for contemporary Christians may be to ask for those who chose to profess Lord Christ: to what are you claiming obedience? The path of obedience for the Christian is best sought in the company of community. Disciples striving to model the path of Christ may learn from this passage that part of obedience is in sharing the inner workings of your own soul.

Two of my seminary teachers offer a helpful perspective on situating oneself within the struggle to be obedient on the discipleship journey. The Rev. Ellen Echols Purdum was known to stress, “Know where you are at all times.” And Dr. Steven Kraftchick expanded upon that axiom: “If you know where you are, you will know how to act, and if you know how to act, eventually what you are will become what you wish to be.”[1] Jesus invites us to journey with him through the wilderness, not avoid it. It’s not about avoiding temptation, but rather it is about how you resolve temptation in your life. Professing faith does not help one sidestep sin, it helps people move through sin to grace.

As a practitioner of Wesleyan theology, I find the Rules for Band-Societies to be helpful questions in building the type of accountability required for obedience to Christ. It’s also helpful as a way of confirming where I am at all times as I strive to move toward sanctification in Christ.

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations have you met with?
  3. How were you delivered?
  4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
  5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?[2]

Deeply personal, highly accountable community provides safe space for, in the words of Wesley, speaking to “the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt.” Jesus found that kind of community within his close circle of disciples. Through the passing down of this story, we discover that yet once again, ever obedient to the kingdom, Jesus held nothing back from us.

[1] Kraftchick, Steven J. “What Bubba Knows that We Don’t.” Candler School of Theology. Cannon Chapel, Atlanta, GA. 19 April 2012. Honor’s Day Sermon.

[2] From John Wesley’s Rules of the Bands. The copy text here is the first edition (1744) from Albert Outler’s John Wesley, 180-181.

 

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The Rev. Kim Jenne

 

The Rev. Kim Jenne (@kimkjenne) is currently the Director of Connectional Ministries for the Missouri Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In this position, she is responsible for leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ.

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