“Beginning with the End in Mind”

February 14, 2016


Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Luke 4:1-13


Recall those words of Moses from Deuteronomy that we heard this morning: “Celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given you.”

That seems like a strange text for the beginning of Lent. It speaks of the end of the journey, of coming out of the wilderness in to a land of milk and honey, of feasting and celebrating and sharing.

Isn’t Lent supposed to be a time of solemnity, of introspection, of following Jesus into the wilderness?

Actually Lent is not about you or me or the difficult or comfortable “inner journeys” that we might want to take in these days. Lent is about how we will live in the world. Once again we have to ask ourselves:

Will the teaching and healing, the suffering and dying of Jesus make any difference in what we do?

Will the resurrection of Jesus inform our daily living in any way?

Or will we live as “functional atheists”—as if God has no meaning for our world, no significance for what we claim to be God’s world?

We ask questions like this, not because it is Lent—for we ask them throughout the year. And throughout the year, over the years, we keep finding new answers. Lent offers us the time to ask the questions once more.

As I said, we heard a strange story for the beginning of Lent—but it comes as a gift this year. It is a story from a time when everything has worked out.

The speech of Moses invites us to stand with the Hebrew people on the bank of the Jordan River. They had been slaves in Egypt. They were led out by “a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders.” They were chased by the Egyptians and as the early Hebrew song went, “the horse and the rider fell into the sea.” They were hungry and God provided food. They were thirsty and water came from a rock. They were disobedient and plagued by serpents. They repented and God restored them.

And now they stand waiting to enter the Promised Land.

We stand with them in memory and hope.

All too often we find ourselves stumbling in the desert places of life and facing our own trials and temptations. As one person put it, “No Christian escapes a taste of the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.” (Evelyn Underhill)

The wilderness, of course, can be found just about anywhere—at home, at work, in this city.

It is in the wilderness that we learn about faithfulness.

For forty years the Hebrew people wandered through the desert of Sinai. There was no food, and the people complained. There was no water, and the people complained. It’s easy enough in the desert to feel surrounded only by beasts and trials.

So in the desert the people made idols—gods better suited to their purposes than the Holy One who made heaven and earth. When God seems absent, there’s no telling what someone will turn to instead—which is why the opportunities for temptation are infinite. The trials of the desert led to an understanding of what it means to lose faith—a lesson still learned over and over today.

And yet, God was faithful. God fed the people. God gave them water. And when they turned to false gods, the living God remained true to the covenant made earlier: “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.”

The wilderness teaches us about faithfulness—the faithfulness of God through times of struggle, doubt, and temptation.

The wilderness teaches us who we are.

Even Jesus needed to learn the lesson of his identity. His baptism was a beginning. As with our baptism, however, it was only a beginning. What baptism meant about God’s covenant with him, what baptism meant about God’s claim upon Jesus would only become apparent as he lived his life. The actions he took, the choices he made would reveal who he was. The same is true for us today.

We strive never to compromise on our fundamental values, no matter what the situation is. We make that choice.
Our choices will show who we are. The wilderness reveals our identity.

In the wilderness we learn that we are not alone.

The crisis of the wilderness is brought on by a sense of the absence of God. The wilderness is the dwelling place of forces hostile to the God whose desire is life.

God’s people wind up in the wastelands all the time. No one, however, is alone in the wilderness. In our own wanderings we encounter the Hebrew people in search of the Promised Land. We run into Jesus, led by the Spirit

No one is ever alone in the desert. Others travel there too. And in spite of appearances and feelings, God is present in the wilderness.

In the wilderness, we might learn that no one—not you, not me—no one is alone.

We can learn the lessons of faithfulness, of identity, and of the constant presence of the God who makes new life possible.

These days are less about sorrow for sin and more about thanksgiving for God’s forgiving grace. They are less about giving something up in our lives than they are about taking up the cause of peace and justice in our world.

Even in times of wilderness wandering and learning, even in times of testing and trial, we know how this story ends. We know how our story ends.

We begin this season of Lent at the edge of the wilderness—and let us do that with the end in mind. The end of Lent is Easter. The season that begins with last Wednesday’s reminder of our mortality ends with a celebration of the resurrection, with the joyful affirmation of the love of God that is stronger than death—even our own.