Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
I love the survivor shows on Discovery Channel! Man, Woman, Wild is a show about a married couple of which, one is a Special Forces operative, the other a journalist, and together they team up to face the wildernesses of jungle, tundra, and desert. Dual Survival is a similar show that pairs up a naturalist skilled in Aboriginal living skills with a veteran U.S. Special Forces operative and together, they are dropped into some very difficult, wild places and forced to survive, usually for a week. I really like these two television shows. I like how the team of two work together to survive.
My very favorite survival show though, is “Survivorman,” starring naturalist Les Stroud, who is no Special Forces operative, aboriginal expert, or specially trained survivalist. Stroud is a regular guy who on this show, is not only the star, but also cameraman and producer. Each week Stroud goes up against some of the most difficult survival wildernesses known to humans. The most interesting part of this show is that Stroud is always alone: no camera crew, no backup plan, just him, a few cameras, and the elements. I dig this show more than the others, because Stroud is a self-assured, independent, “git er done,” kind of guy.
I think about today’s gospel reading, and I picture Jesus’ 40 days in the desert sort of like “Survivorman,” with Jesus all alone, in the wilderness, no disciples around, no camera crew catching his every word, no knapsack filled with energy bars and no magnesium flint fire starter. It was just Jesus, the elements, and the temptations that come with hunger, fear, and being left to the nature of our own character. Scripture tells us, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” From baptism in the Jordon, from the voice from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, with you I am well pleased,” Jesus is driven into the wilderness, a place deserted by others, a place where he was deprived of the aid and protection of others. Jesus was alone facing all that the “oppressor” had to offer. Jesus came face-to-face with the challenges of our human freedom, choice, self worth, desires/physical needs, and the ultimate fear; death. Jesus’ character, faith, and virtue were challenged in the wilderness. The Spirit led him there, and it was there he came to know what it was like for us to face the temptations of the human condition, and come to realize we are dependent on God alone.
Some folks believe the Christian journey is a survival showdown in which, we are tested and tried by God, to see if we are faithful enough or worthy enough. Even in the Lord’s Prayer it says, “And lead us not into temptation.” But I wonder, are we asking God, “please don’t tempt us?” I don’t think so. I believe, as Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr asserts, “… that this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, is best translated as ‘Lead us away from any illusions about ourselves.” 2
The temptation into which, we seem to be led always, is the illusion that we can in this life, rely on our own spiritual survival skills—that somehow, we are capable alone of wrestling with the temptations of our own freedom. The reality is that we traverse a wilderness in this Christian Journey—a wilderness of temptations driven by our own freedom to choose our own way and that is what distracts us from God. We are constantly deceived into a belief that we can survive without God. Surviving those caverns of self-assurance, those thick jungles of rugged independence, or those frozen tundra of a “git-er-done” attitude, means we must embrace a reliance not on ourselves and what we bring to the journey, but a complete and utter reliance on God. Lent is a season that reminds us that we cannot really go it alone, that we need to spend time focusing on our walk with God.
Lent, is a forty-day wilderness journey, in which we like Jesus, come face-to-face with our own human weakness. It reminds us, “what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves.”1 Lent can be a time of focusing on spiritual disciplines by which we “give up something” or “take on a special spiritual practice.” “Giving up” and “taking on” are quite virtuous, and I commend them to you during this Lenten season however, they alone do not a wilderness journey of self-denial make. This difficult journey begins with a heart change, a transformation of mind and spirit, in which we go deeper into the valleys of our need for God’s grace. In the next few weeks, I encourage you to enter deeply into those unexplored caverns, thick jungles, and frozen tundra of your very soul. Explore the depths of those never seen crevices, those illusions of your character, those places where the fear of vulnerability lies.
There are many ways to step into the wilderness: pray and listen, and then share that journey with others, in community. Commit to a practice of daily scripture reading: poke around in the psalms or Old Testament, take a hike in one of the gospels, or wander around in one of Paul’s letters. Take a leisurely stroll with God in prayer by committing to a few minutes a day to quiet your spirit with God. Invite God’s Spirit into your present moment, and listen for God’s work in your life. Then, bring that experience back to others, and share it with your sisters and brothers right here, when you gather for fellowship.
When we are intentional about entering the wilderness with God as our not merely our guide, but as our strength, sustenance, and very breath, when we walk that journey together with others, it is there that we find out who truly we are, and the illusions of self-reliance, fall away. Here is a little warning though as you embark on this sojourn in the wilderness of the soul, it will be tempting as the days of Lent wonder on, to cast it all aside for an easier path, but please, stay in the wilderness awhile. It may not be easy, it may become uncomfortable, it may even be treacherous, but if you truly rely on God to lead you, and if you let go of the illusion you can do it all alone, then I promise you this, you will not only survive Lent, but you will be forever transformed.
1 Taylor, Barbara Brown. “Settling For Less.” Christian Century 115.5 (1998): 169-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.