Walking Toward Solidarity. . .

Water

Jesus came up out of the water and
was greeted by very the voice of God.

After Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in the waters of the Jordan River, he was immediately immersed in words of favor from God. The story of Jesus’ baptism depicts the heavens opening, and the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove. Then, with great love, the voice from the heavens declares,

“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”

This voice was
a declaration, a proclamation, and an affirmation
of  Who Jesus Is.

The divine voice was a recognition of Jesus’ deepest identity and calling.
The moment must have felt tremendous.

But then, the story takes a sudden, dramatic turn.

Luke, the great storyteller of his Gospel says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

wilderness

There is very little time to revel in the glory of that holy affirmation.
Instead, Jesus enters the wilderness and a time of testing.
Instead, Jesus encounters another voice.
And he has been led to the wilderness by the Spirit,
the very Spirit that descended upon him like a dove.

It is a reminder that the life of faith is full and freeing, but it’s not always easy. In fact, the life of faith often involves a process of claiming truths found in God’s loving voice and allowing them to forge our identity. Sometimes, this takes place even the midst of challenge, crisis, and pain.

Jesus had this kind of experience in the wilderness.

The Epistle to the Hebrews says,
“For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who in every respect
has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
He knows challenge, crisis, and pain.

Jesus had this kind of experience in the wilderness.

The wilderness. . .
Jesus meets a different voice in that place.
For forty days, he was tested in the wilderness by the devil.
The devil. . .? Who is this one? And what kind of voice?

When we ponder this voice called the devil, we might imagine an embodied person or creature red with a pitchfork and cloven hooves. But this is the devil of art, movies, and cartoons.

The scriptures occasionally portray this devil as a spiritual being, but above all, ‘the devil’ seems to be a destructive voice. At times, this voice is personified, but it’s helpful to remember that ‘the devil’ is not capitalized in this story. In other words, ‘Devil ‘is not the name of a being. ‘Satan’ is not a name either. The Hebrew scriptures refer to ‘the satan’ — the Hebrew is ha-satan — and it means ‘the accuser’ or ‘the adversary.’

The accuser and adversary in the wilderness with Jesus is not the caricatured Satan of art, movies, and cartoons. But that does not diminish the destructiveness of this voice. It is a devastating voice. For Jesus, this voice — ha-satan, the accuser, the adversary — seems to call into question what it means to be God’s Son. This voice seems to call into question what kind of Son Jesus should be.

This voice questions Jesus’ deepest identity and calling.

But Jesus will endure this challenge and is withstand it.
The Spirit led him into the wilderness,
but the story also begins with the fullness of the Spirit:

Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan,
and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. . .
The Spirit is with Jesus, and
The Spirit is within Jesus. [1]
For forty days and nights, he was tempted by the accuser.
For forty days and nights, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit
to claim the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allow them to forge his identity.

This voice called the devil questions Jesus’ identity as he places security and power before him. . .

Security.
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Power.
“To you, I will give all the kingdoms of the world
with their glory and all their authority.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Security.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that
you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus replies, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. . .
If you are the Son of God. . .?
Since he is the Son of God,
Jesus relies on the Holy Spirit,
as it is both with him
and within him.
The experience in the wilderness is challenging and painful,
but Jesus claims the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allows them to form his identity.

Jesus withstands this alternative voice, this destructive voice of the accuser. The story finishes with the devil departing: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Trouble is not over for Jesus, but he has a greater understanding of Who He Is and how he is called to serve.

“For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who in every respect
has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
He knows challenge, crisis, and pain.

Jesus knows challenge, crisis, and pain.
Jesus claims the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allows them to form his identity.
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus allows this experience in the wilderness to form his identity too,
for he knows even more what kind of Son he is called to be.
He is called to walk with us in kinship,
He is called to walk with us toward solidarity.

And that is exactly what he does. Jesus turns away from security, and he turns away from power. Instead, he turns toward us, and most especially, Jesus turns toward human beings who are marginalized, downtrodden, and outcast.

The story continues. Luke, the great storyteller of his Gospel, says, “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today, we see one who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Today, we see one who knows challenge, crisis, and pain.
Today, we see one who knows what kind of Son he will be.
Today, we see one who chooses to walk with us in solidarity.

So where are we today?
Today, are we in challenge, crisis, or pain?
Today, have we forgotten God’s love for the poor, the captives, and the oppressed?
Today, from our doubts, do we add to the voice of the accuser,
“If you are the Son of God. . .”?
Today, do we need to learn once more that Jesus walks in solidarity with us?

If so, may we all hear this good news. . .

For us, Jesus rose from the water and heard,
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
With you I am well pleased.”
With us, Jesus claimed the truths of God’s loving voice,
and allowed them to forge his identity.

For us, Jesus entered the wilderness
and was tempted for forty days.
With us, Jesus turned away from security and power
and walked toward us in solidarity.

For us, Jesus traveled to the synagogues
and spoke words of power.
With us, Jesus dedicated his life
to the marginalized, downtrodden, and oppressed.

Today, through his life, we hear his voice toward us,
“You are God’s child, the Beloved;
With you, God is well pleased.”

Today, will we claim the truths found in God’s loving voice,
and allow them to forge our identity?
Today, will we follow the one who goes before us,
and live our lives in solidarity with others?

Renee Roederer

This post is adapted from my recent sermon at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Dearborn Heights, MI.

[1] I appreciated this insight that was shared by the Rev. Eric Fistler  on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast this week.

 

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