Below is a transcript of the sermon that I gave on Sunday, March 6, 2022 at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in San Rafael, CA. It is based off of Luke 4: 1-13, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
So a fun fact about me I’d that I love to plan. I have numerous spreadsheets on my laptop of planning my school, a life plan, and backup plans for those plans. I like to know what is coming down the line for me and account for what could be around every possible unknown twist or turn. So when moving to California, I had a three-year plan; this was long enough to finish my degree to begin thinking about what was next. I was also so excited about moving to California. You know, I had this dream about how perfect my life would be – my anxiety/depression cured, I’d lose a few pounds, I’d fall in love, I’d have significant moments of clarity about my future, and I’d get a cat. But here’s the funny thing about plans – they often go astray. That’s what happened with mine, except for the cat part. I did complete that part of the plan! His name is Landon and he’s just about to turn one.
This is something I think Jesus may have related to – to have a plan or an idea of what your life will look like and things go astray. We know what is coming on this first Sunday of Lent – Jesus’ arrest, death, and resurrection. After his baptism at the end of Luke Chapter 3, Jesus entered the wilderness and was “full of the Holy Spirit.” Riding this spiritual “high,” Jesus decides to leave the crowds, the busy city and chose to take time to care for himself and his spiritual health, knowing that the cross was in his future. In the wilderness, Jesus was clearing his head and trying to decide what was next in his ministry. In these moments, when hard and scary and unknown things are ahead, it’s incredibly challenging and essential to discern the next steps. So, it must have been a shock to show up in the wilderness, to expect the emptiness and the stillness, and instead finding the Devil waiting for you.
In Luke 4, Jesus is confronted by the Devil and gets hit with temptation after temptation. We know that the first temptation in verse 3 is an attempt to satisfy Jesus’ hunger – the Devil asks him to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. A simple task for the Son of God. Yet, Jesus relies on the Deuteronomy teaching that humans cannot survive on bread alone. The second temptation asks Jesus to worship the Devil in exchange for power over all earthly kingdoms. Again, Jesus revisits the Hebrew Bible and says that he should only worship the Lord your God. For his final temptation, the Devil entices Jesus to jump from the top of the temple in Jerusalem and test God to see if the angels would catch him. I don’t know about you, but if I were Jesus at this point, I’d be a little annoyed by these questions. But, Jesus gracefully responds that absolutely the angels would save him, but no one should test God. I guess these are three things we know Jesus wouldn’t do for a klondike bar.
It might be beneficial to have a sidebar bar here because maybe this language about a literal Devil figure may make you uncomfortable; I know it makes me uncomfortable. It might be helpful to think of the Devil as a literary conversation partner helping Jesus discern the next phase of his ministry. It might also be beneficial to think of the Devil as a personification of the world’s systems of evil. In him, we hear the whispers of capitalism, the temptation of power, the seduction of conspiring with evil, even for “good” reasons. He is the mastermind behind all the gains of corruption, behind the profits of going along with everyday values of domination, and behind all that confuses us when we try to discern in faithfulness. Jesus returns, consistently, to the lineage of his faith. He remembers the scriptures and plants himself in their wisdom, even though they do not necessarily lead to the good or the easy. They help him discern, at a deeper level, how to respond to the temptations before him.
This story especially resonates with me as I reflect on my time here in California, and I’ve come to realize that my time here has been my wilderness period. Having no support system and being way outside my comfort zone left me feeling alone, afraid, wandering, and weary. My depression and anxiety got worse. And I realized, eventually, I had to make changes. So, I started to pray. In that discernment process, I heard God telling me to cultivate the community around me. So, I invested in new relationships with people from school; I got a job and made friends there. I also heard my body telling me to take care of it, so I got a psychiatrist and a therapist. I also began to discern moving back home to be with family. I know now, on the other side of my wilderness, that my journey in California may be ending soon, but I will be leaving on a higher note than when I arrived.
I hear that the last few years may have been Aldersgate’s wilderness; The church has been through a decline, grieving the loss of loved ones, and discerning the church’s vitality. Many of you may feel worn down, tired, and even a little lost. Yet, you are situated at a crossroads with many potential ways forward. My prayer for all of you is that you may exercise resolve and restraint, that you may not jump too quickly on easy solutions to complex problems, and that you may continue to faithfully serve God and your community as a congregatio . I genuinely believe that the correct path will reveal itself in time. And once this path reveals itself, I know that there will be better days ahead. Because after Jesus’ temptation with the Devil later on in chapter 4, he leaves and goes to Galilee full of the Holy Spirit again. He was refilled and ready to continue doing the work. I believe that you will too on the other side of this wilderness.
At its best, our faith can help prepare us for our own times in the wilderness when we’re not sure what or who to turn to in our decision-making. When we seek God out, God does not let us down. God gives us everything we need to make decisions that are hard and messy and complex and good.
I want to leave you with a Robert Frost today that I once had to memorize in the seventh grade.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.