May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of all our hearts
be always acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
No matter how much power we have, each of us knows the feeling of powerlessness.

We have felt powerless at the possibility of war…
Powerless to make someone else stop drinking or smoking or to make them love us…
Powerless in the face of poverty and natural disasters…

As the anxieties of our powerlessness rise up in us, we want either to control the situation or to have someone else take care of it for us.

Today’s gospel addresses those human desires. Jesus in the wilderness, tempted in every way as we are tempted. Perhaps we are most quickly hooked by the ways Jesus’ temptations reflect our desire to be in charge.

That first temptation: to turn stones into bread. On the most basic level, can any of us imagine resisting food if we had not eaten for forty days? Many of us have trouble passing up chocolate cake even when we are full from a big meal.

And wouldn’t it be nice to extend this power and be able to solve world hunger by giving everyone as much as they need?
Don’t we like to control our physical circumstances?

And the second temptation: to have dominion over all the lands. Maybe we don’t all want to be a political leader, but aren’t there systems that we sometimes long to control: our family, our workplace, our church?

And don’t we occasionally give worth to the wrong things in order to get more power in those systems?

And the last temptation: to do miraculous deeds. When are we not trying to be superhuman? To push our bodies with too much stress, too little sleep and too much caffeine? To be or to seem to be heroic?

We viscerally understand Jesus’ temptations because they are our temptations and they constantly trip us up.

But just as frequently as we long to be in charge, we also long for someone else to be in control, to take care of all of this so that we do not have to be responsible, to make it all better. And so it makes sense that Jesus’ temptations reflect human our desire for that as well.

As the Israelites hoped and prayed for the Messiah, some of them believed that the Messiah would solve their economic problems. Others hoped that their Savior would be a victorious warrior. And still others expected a wonder worker—in those days, some would-be messiahs even jumped from the top of the temple.

In 1998 we still seek leaders who offer quick fixes and easy answers.

So the scene was set for Jesus to prove his true Messiah-ship. John had just baptized him in the river Jordan. And now, according to Luke, the Spirit, which had been so evident at that baptism, led Jesus into the wilderness.

Following in Moses’ footsteps (Exod. 34:28), Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days in the wilderness. And Satan said, if you are the Son of God, prove it! But Jesus refused the roles of magician, political conqueror and economic Messiah, choosing instead the part of the servant Messiah. Doing God’s will instead of his own.

At each temptation Jesus chose God. Listen again to his responses to the devil:

“One does not live by bread alone.”
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
“’Do not put God to the test.’ ”

Two thousand years later, we know Jesus’ faithfulness took him on a journey from the wilderness to the cross. In life, death and resurrection, God worked through him in miraculous ways.

So what about us? We are not powerless. But we are very conflicted about power.

Rather than acknowledge all that we have and all that we are as gifts from God, we pretend to have achieved and acquired through our own cleverness and hard work…though our own power. Until we become fearful of our influence…or too responsible…and then we try to deny our power or, worse yet, to position ourselves as victims of someone else’s power.

We replace belief in a Creator and a God who works through creation with the notion of “self-made” people and “man-made” goods. And we shuttle among vanity, false modesty and insecurity as we focus on ourselves instead of on God.

It is as if we are viewing the world behind us by looking into a mirror in front of us. The central image is always ourselves. Everything else happens around that image.

We need to turn around. We need to face God. The New Testament word for this turning translates into the English word repent.

That is the kind of Messiah that we got. A Messiah interested in us turning around. One who said, “I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:36). A Messiah who was baptized by a wilderness prophet preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins and then spent forty days in the wilderness dealing with temptation in order to prepare for his ministry.

We need wilderness time, too, to prepare for our ministries. As we just heard, the Spirit works in the wilderness. So our liturgical year offers us the forty day period of Lent to reflect upon our need to change and to prepare for Easter. In Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Beuchner notes that this is approximately one tenth of a year—a biblical tithe of our time.

So what shall do in our wilderness time?

At our own Baptism we renounced “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God.” But we just acknowledged that our lives are filled with rebellious thoughts and deeds of all sizes.

When Lent ends, we will renew our baptismal covenant at the Easter vigil. And one of the questions will be, “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?” We want to be able to answer yes. So in this Lenten wilderness we reflect upon the things that lead us in the other direction.

The church recommends self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting and self-denial; and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word as activities for this period, strange suggestions for a world used to hearing, “You deserve a break today,” “no money down, no payments for 6 months” and “no cost.”

But these are activities intended to get us back on track—to remind us that there is a cost—to reunite us with the story of God and God’s people.

Think for a minute how today’s lesson from Deuteronomy instructed the Israelites to remember that the land and the harvest are from God. It commanded them to offer the first fruits of every harvest to God and meanwhile to tell the story of God’s faithfulness to them.

While returning God’s gifts in the temple, they recalled God’s presence with them in the Exodus. In a few moments, we will recall God’s faithfulness to us in the words of the Nicene Creed and in the Great Thanksgiving.

Through reflection and remembrance, we stop viewing the story through a reflected mirror and we become actors in the scene.

In the context of this great story, it becomes clear that none of us will ever be powerless, nor will we ever be all-powerful. But whether we acknowledge it or not, we will always be God’s beloved creations, valuable enough to God to receive the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection.

All of us are invited to follow Jesus’ model of faithful servant ministry.
All of us are invited to share in the work and the abundance of God’s Kingdom.

Wilderness time prepares us for Easter. And it prepares us for our own ministry as agents of God’s Kingdom on earth.

“Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

Amen. </P