Matthew 4:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The season of Lent is here. I call it a season because it is a time of each year that rolls around and usually leads us from winter into spring. The time of new things and new growth. Yet, it is the getting there that is important in Lent. The season, which began on Ash Wednesday of this past week reminds us of our own mortality. That truly our days are numbered and even though we don’t like to think about it, we are all going to die someday. There is also great hope that when that day comes, we will be re-united with all who have gone before us in heaven.
Many people have seen that life on earth is difficult at best and can be down right like hell at its worst. We all experience days, weeks and even seasons of hard times. How do we make it through these miserable times when we experience grief or sickness, anger or depression, strife or estrangement? Can we find help along the way for the hardest journeys of our lives? The answer is yes. We have the example of the one who faced Satan and won.
This season of Lent we are also going to be looking at the African-American music known as spirituals. This music came from a time when the people were slaves to white people. Our book study for the season is called “Were You There: Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals” written by Luke A. Powery. (When we meet) In the preface Powery writes, “There is no lack of pain and suffering in the world. Look around. Read the newspaper. Click on the internet. Scroll Facebook or read a tweet. Suffering is always present like the paparazzi. It seems to stalk its human prey. Suffering is part of the broken, sin-sick world. And if there is a theo-musical genre that reminds us of this, it is the spirituals. They are musical memorabilia created on the anvil of misery by enslaved Blacks. They are sorrow songs. They are suffering songs. However, to sing can be a sting to the reality of suffering. It can be a sign of hope and the presence of God in the midst of agony. This is why they are called the Spirituals because they are the Spirits song and the Spirit will not be stopped and will blow through every season of life, even liturgical seasons like Lent.”
From the moment that Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, sin was in the world. Satan had gained power. Death was a reality. I was confused when I was younger about that little story. I could not understand why after they ate the fruit of the tree they did not die on the spot. God said they would, right? No that would have made the story a fairy tale. By dying we are all mortal. We all have to deal with the evil of this world whether inflicted by someone else, ourselves, or the decay of the human body—we deal with Satan. Jesus was the victor in the wilderness. Jesus is our example of being able to withstand the temptations to sin.
When Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, he had to wonder what was going on as well. God had just affirmed who he was in his baptism by speaking from the heavens. Jesus begins his ministry not by a celebration but by suffering in the wilderness. Tempted by food, money and power by Satan, Jesus is able to fend off the evil one. And what mighty weapon does Jesus use to fight Satan? Scripture. Doesn’t seem like that would be much of a weapon does it? How can words push Satan away? And in the case of spirituals, words set to music.
In the wilderness Satan tries to give Jesus short-cuts to get where he is going. Taking away the pain of hunger Satan gives him a drive-thru. Taking away the pain of the cross, Satan tries to give him power. Taking away the death in the tomb, Satan tries to give Jesus the throne of this world the power of politics. Yet, Jesus refuses and waits for the power of the resurrection. In all of this story Jesus was perfect, and we are not. We make mistakes and we desire some of the same things that Satan gives away freely. We accept and we become sinners. So how do we deal with our own sins. That is really what Lent is all about. We know that by the grace of God we are forgiven. Yet, the pain of this world remains within us; physically, emotionally and spiritually. What can lift us out of the pain?
Music is an avenue. The song for this week is “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel.” It is a song about the people that God delivered from the evil circumstances that they were in. Daniel from the Lion’s den, Jonah from the belly of the whale, and the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego). So, if God will save those people, why not every man? Just as Jesus used the scriptures to fight off Satan, the spirituals used scripture, set to music, to try and bring hope to those who were enslaved.
Powery writes, “The spiritual basically raises the question, ‘So why not me?’ I’m in need of deliverance, maybe not from a lion’s den or the belly of the whale or the fiery furnace, but I’m trapped. Wherever you might be or whatever it might be, God’s mighty acts throughout history reveal the liberating power of God. What God did for Daniel, Jonah and the Hebrew children, and so many others, God will do for you this Lent. God will deliver you. Can’t you see it coming?” May our journey of self-reflection and penitence be filled with the power of the Spirit in song and scripture. Amen.