Inviting God’s Dream – The Rev. Michelle Meech
March 06, 2022
The image on today’s cover shows us a very plain landscape with a person, identified as Jesus, bent over, hair hanging over their face so that you cannot see them. A tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, around their shoulders and their hands gripping a huge boulder in front of them. Over their left shoulder is a cloaked figure, whose face we can clearly see because they are staring right at us. We know this figure. And they know us. They are the tempter.
The narrative that Jesus was tempted demonstrates his humanity. Whether it’s merely a literary device employed by the person who wrote Luke’s Gospel or it’s a depiction of real events, it doesn’t matter. Because every single human has experienced temptation. We can be sure, then, that Jesus experienced it too.
And so, here we are, at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, at the beginning of Lent, identifying with this person Jesus because we understand what he’s going through. We understand this fear that disguises itself as a friend, an ally. We have heard these same whispers, or something like them.
I remember watching the scene in the Two Towers movie from the Lord of the Rings series, where the deeply lost character Smeagol, who has only recently been shown love and respect and trust by the main character Frodo. Smeagol faces his temptation while Frodo sleeps. The scene is a sparse, rocky landscape, devoid of any life. And Smeagol, is arguing with his tempter. Desperately trying to believe in the care and respect that he’s only recently been shown, trying to have faith in this new friendship with Frodo and, therefore, trying to believe that he is worthy of the love and respect given to him.
And at every turn, the voice of temptation, the voice of terror, the voice of trauma… insists that Smeagol is losing his nerve. To get him to comply, it calls him names. It is brutal. “You don’t have any friends.” the tempter says. “Nobody likes you.” And when Smeagol does the hard work of believing and manages to fight this voice for once, the tempter it doesn’t back off. It doubles down by threatening Smeagol, saying, “I saved you. You have survived because of me.”
Now I love movies. But I don’t always remember my emotional reaction to a particular scene unless it’s a powerful one. And this one, I do. Because I remember thinking how accurate that scene is. How utterly and painfully real, and scary. Because, underlying any temptation, is the belief that love is not real. That love is not to be trusted. Because we are not lovable.
We don’t always pay close attention to these kinds of unwelcome thoughts because, why would we. It’s incredibly painful. But I guarantee that underneath any temptation we face, is a fear that love is not real.
So, we can understand this place that Jesus is in, if we are honest. This part of Jesus’ story is key in understanding him and his ministry. And, because in the previous chapter of Luke, Jesus has been anointed as the Christ – the one in whom God is well pleased, this scene also helps us to understand God. God’s love for us. God’s dream for us.
In these three temptations – sustenance, power, ego – we see the pain and the violence that is possible in the human condition.
The first one: the appeal to our basic need for survival through the temptation to turn stone into bread.
And the second one: the alluring offer of power and authority over the kingdoms of the world.
And, finally, the most subtle, most cunning and devious enticement: the challenge to our ego to prove itself. If God loves you so much, let God prove it. That’s essentially what the tempter is saying here.
Jesus, in denying these temptations, teaches us that God’s dream for us is for our basic needs to be met. He teaches us that God’s dream for us is to be free from the overreaches of power that enslave and corrupt human beings. And, finally, Jesus teaches us that God’s dream for us is to know in the depth of our very being, that God’s love for us is unbounded and extravagant and wild. That it is real. And that nothing we do, nothing that has ever been done to us, can ever change that truth.
When it comes to temptation, there are lots of behavior modification strategies available to us. Things we can do, disciplines we can take on that will help us with the temptations in our lives. And many of them work. And, always… there is the deeper spiritual work of believing in our own worth. To cultivate this belief, is what Lent is really about. This is the connection, has always been the reason that we talk about temptations during Lent.
So, Lent is a time of renewal, not of punishment. Afterall, who needs more punishment when we punish ourselves all the time. Lent is a time of healing, not a time to demonstrate religious zeal. It is a time set aside in our calendar when we purposefully deepen our walk with God through prayer and discernment to learn how to take better care of our own brokenheartedness so that we have the strength to withstand this cloaked figure that looms over our shoulder, that evil whisperer of unwelcome thoughts, that just wants to keep us suspended, pinned down, and languishing in apathy.
Lent is the time to invite God’s healing in… so the peace of Christ may rest fully in our being. And in that, my beloveds, is freedom. Liberation. Release. And this state of being where we experience this freedom, this deliverance, and this renewal… this has always been God’s dream for us.
God’s Dream. Let’s talk more about that. Let’s leave behind the image of the tempter, and step into imagining God’s dream.
God’s dream for us is to be provided for. In this, we know that God desires for no one to be in need. Indeed, God has given us this home we call earth with enough resources to support all life. And our Savior, then, is one that reminds us of God’s abundance when we lose our way and live from a place of scarcity.
God’s dream for us is to live lives of dignity. Because of this, we know that every creature is beloved and precious and each one of us has the right to be free from abuses of power, free from corruption, exploitation, and manipulation by the powerful. Our Savior is the one who is always on the side of the oppressed, always seeking to overturn the tables of oppression, and always reminding us that whenever we draw a line in the sand, Jesus will be on the other side.
And God’s dream for us is to know, to deeply know, God’s extravagant, lavish love for us so much so that we never have reason to question it or seek proof of our own worthiness. And in order to be able to offer of ourselves, to truly love and care for others, we are called to cultivate a trust in that love, a belief in it as the absolute truth, even when, in our own human pain, we want to believe the worst of ourselves and of others. Our Savior, then, is the one who knows God’s love as one of a loving parent – personal, unyielding, and intimate – and because of that, has the strength to give of himself in love.
Our Savior, Jesus the Christ, that is, Jesus the anointed one… Christ is the peace in our hearts that is the birthright of humanity – to know God’s love so deeply and so completely that we no longer have need to seek it out for ourselves, we only know that we are called to offer it to others. To spend this love. To give of ourselves because we can do no other.
It is in this spending that we gain our lives. It is in this love that we are renewed.
So, let us begin this journey of Lenten renewal today. For ourselves and for one another as the community of St. John’s, and for the world we are called to serve.
Let us open to our own brokenheartedness and hold it with the kindness of a loving friend. For, in this vulnerable place, lies our true strength: where we lay down our burdens and know that God’s mercy, God’s love will carry us every time we do.