Rev. Stephen Baldwin
OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7
NEW TESTAMENT: Matthew 4.1-11
When Jesus went into the unknown wilderness, he seemed so prepared. Like fasting that long was water off his back. No problem. And when the accuser tried to throw him for a loop, he seemed so underwhelmed. Like he already knew the temptations he would face. No problem. That strikes me as something we can learn from Jesus, because in the unknown wilderness of our lives, we seem so unprepared and so overwhelmed.
Unprepared when the Holy Spirit asks us to do it a favor. After all, it was the Spirit, and not the accuser, who led Jesus into the wilderness. If the Holy Spirit asked you to do something difficult, would you even consider it? Would you follow where it leads? Or would you fumble over your words and mumble an excuse—a list full of reasons as to why you should be excused from your duties?
Unprepared to be here. Our minds are still elsewhere, because so is our treasure. Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?
We are unprepared and overwhelmed in so many ways. By a world that is changing faster than we are. By a medicine schedule that’s as long as a novel.
Unprepared and overwhelmed. Do you feel that way sometimes? Like Adam and Eve—unprepared for a single decision that could change everything, overwhelmed when it does?
Overwhelmed by work. Twenty years ago, 33% of American workers said they felt overwhelmed. Today, 57% do. It’s even higher for working moms. You used to go to work, come home, and keep the two separate. Not anymore. The pressure of being on call 24/7 in an age of instant communication is more than we can sometimes bear.
Overwhelmed by nature. Floods and polar vortexes, followed by 70 degrees in the winter. The temperature goes up and down like an elevator. The earth does not belong to us, and when it reminds us, we are overcome.
Overwhelmed by grief. Loved ones die, and parts of us do too. We don’t feel the same or look the same, because truths we were confident of before have been taken from us. Just because these things happen everyday doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. They do. The pain they cause us is overwhelming.
Unprepared and overwhelmed people often become frantic…transitioning from high to low in a tsunami of emotions that wash away our control…FRANTIC. The speed of our lives rises, and we get frantic and frenzied! Do you feel like your life is sometimes out of control? Frantic?
That’s precisely what the accuser wanted out of Jesus in the wilderness. He tried to bait him into an unprepared and overwhelmed state where he became so frantic that Jesus would do anything he dared him to do. That’s the thing about temptation. Its pull is strongest when we are focused elsewhere.
The accuser had no power over Jesus to make him do anything; the only power he had was suggestion, accusation, instigation.
How many people have you given that power to over your life? Can someone make you frantic just by giving you a certain look? Then perhaps it’s time to focus, this Lent, on the things that really matter.
Oftentimes, coaches and consultants are asked to go into a work environment where people are frantic and overwhelmed. People look to them for answers about how to fix it. What advice do they give? Set priorities.
When you feel unprepared and overwhelmed, what happens? Nothing. You don’t know what to do. If you can focus on what to do first, then the rest takes care of itself. The same is true of our spiritual lives. We simply have to figure out our priorities.
Once a female priest from a small church was invited to speak at a big steeple church in the city. Her mind raced as her palms began to sweat. She asked her host pastor, “What do you want me to talk about?”
“Tell us,” he said, “what is saving your life now.”
It’s no coincidence that Lent lasts 40 days. Lent is a long process, because we are so unprepared for the meaning of Easter and overwhelmed by the weight of life. It takes time to save a life, and that’s exactly what I want you to do this Lent—let God save your life. Not anyone else’s this year—you are unprepared and overwhelmed, and your life is at stake.
What is saving your life now? What is saving your life now?
The beauty of the question is that the answer changes. What saved your life five years ago probably isn’t what’s saving your life now. Five years ago, it may have been learning to cook or a certain small group to which you belonged or a new project at work that gave you purpose. But what is saving your unprepared and overwhelmed life now?
That Jesus was prepared for and underwhelmed by the accuser saved his life. He couldn’t throw anything at Jesus that was going to catch him off guard. Because if you think about it, what the accuser suggests isn’t that far off from what Jesus eventually does.
He suggests that Jesus turn stone into rocks. Jesus doesn’t, but he does later turn water into wine and a few loaves and fish into food for five thousand people. The accuser suggests Jesus throw himself off the temple. Jesus doesn’t, but he does later sacrifice his own life on the cross.
What is the difference between what the accuser suggests in the wilderness and what Jesus does? Jesus acts on his own terms for the good of others, not just for his own good.
This story immediately follows Jesus’ baptism. I think the lesson for us is that once God baptizes us into a life of faith, we must act in the interest of the greater good, not just what’s good for us. And the more unprepared and overwhelmed we are, the more often we default into behavior and decisions that are short-sighted and only benefit us here and now.
Lent is the perfect time of year to take stock of your life, prepare for the future, and therefore be underwhelmed when life throws wrenches in your plans. Amen.