It’s Fat Tuesday today, Ash Wednesday Eve. Do you have your Mardi Gras inflatable in your yard? Pancake batter ready? Fasnachts on your table? King Cake ready to cut?
We’re heading into the wilderness once again. Just this past Saturday we remembered Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, and already he’s off into the wilderness. Kids grow up so fast these days….
As the years have gone by, there are some things I have realized about these temptations. I
Wilderness. I want Jesus to be tempted. Sometmes I wonder what it might have been like if he had done some of the things satan had suggested- he could of if he had wanted, without a deal.
These things sound good to me.
Jesus could have done any and all of these things. It was within his ability. It was within his right. He chose not to do so for the same reason God chose not to use plague or flood this time to make His will known. God had tried those things, and they had not worked. They had not brought everlasting peace or justice. And so God did the only thing left. The greatest thing. God became fully human, submitting to the limitations of humanity and the limitations of the human heart. God sought to conquer us not with power but with mercy, generosity, honesty, and complete vulnerability. The human heart reciprocated this gift with crucifixion, and even that God defeated- not through removing Jesus from the cross but through the power of resurrection. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This week, the wilderness journey begins.
Or maybe, this is a week to talk about satan. I don’t think of satan as a being. I think of satan as a way people, faithful people, have tried to answer the question that sooner or later, and usually more than once, comes to call in all of our lives.
Why do bad things happen? How can a world with a loving God allow concentration camps. Tsunamis. Starvation. Cancer. How can this happen?
Satan, tempting people, pulling people away from God helps many people provide an explanation for horror. For injustice. For many people, satan is the answer to that question, it explains the wrongs without indicting God. The problem with this solution can be summed up in a quote someone shared with me. “To personify Satan is to exonerate ourselves.” The theological problem with a being satan who incites evil is that it means that we are not culpable or responsible. And we are. Not for tsunamis, but for hunger. For injustice. Even for institutional evils like systematic racism. Individually, collectively.If we personify satan, we eliminate any responsibility we have to confess our sin and doing the work of repentance that only God can make possible.
So. That’s what I’m thinking. What’s in your wilderness? What’s the Holy Spirit doing with your sermon?
Is different from a desert
More cut off
Closer at hand.
Nothing else is there
Except our doubts
And our wants
And our desire to leave.
There’s only one way out,
To admit that we are there
To be prepared to stay
To lose all fear of being alone.
After we laugh at the liars,
Reject earthly power
We are allowed to leave.
~~Elizabeth H. Theofan