March 5, 2017 1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:15–17; 3:1–7 Romans 5:12–19 Matthew 4:1–11
There is an interesting show on the Weather Channel called Fat Guys in the Woods. On the show the host, survival expert Creek Stewart (Yes, that’s his real name) takes three overweight guys, who basically lead couch-potato existences in their free time, out into the woods for a week, and trains them to survive with nothing but a knife. During that time they learn how to build a shelter, start a fire, and hunt and forage for food and water. On the final day they have to spend twenty-four hours alone in the woods doing all the things they have learned. Of course, Creek checks up on them to make sure that they are doing all right. Then they debrief about how the experience has changed them.
I started watching this show because I like camping. I grew up in a family that camped regularly; I was a first class girl scout (the equivalent of Eagle Scout); and I’ve read a couple of manuals on surviving in the wilderness. Plus I’ve listened to my father’s stories of his survival training in the military. I’d LIKE to think that if I was dropped down into the woods that I would be able to figure out how to make it through a week.
But as I watched the show a couple of times I realized that there was another common thread among the three guys who were trying to survive. All of them had lives that were somehow broken. Some of them had lost jobs and had given up trying to find work. Some of them had lost family members that were dear to them. Some of them had gotten caught up in the rat race to the point were all they did was work, eat, watch some TV, and then sleep. But all of them were unhappy with the way their lives had turned out and they were looking for a way to reconnect into a healthier state of being.
All of us have parts of our own lives that are broken. Now this doesn’t mean that we can’t live and work and have productive lives. But if we participate in life we are going to make mistakes. We are going to end up hurting people or we are going to end up being hurt. We all of us have free will without total knowledge – and that leads to us making choices that might not be the best one, no matter how well intentioned we might be. And that’s just on a personal level.
Sometimes I do not want to watch the news because I don’t want to see a broken world around me. On the news I see people whose world has been broken by natural disasters. I see people in the middle of war whose world has been broken by people who want power and control. I see people who are struggling economically who are broken by a lack of hope. I see people stricken suddenly by disease whose world is broken by future uncertainty.
Although I don’t personally participate in alcohol or substance abuse there is a part of me that understands why people get caught up in it – sometimes life is just so overwhelming, and broken, and hurtful that you feel you need to do something to feel better about it. It makes some sort of sense to give yourself a good feeling buzz with a drink, or a video game, or food (like chocolate cake) or just closing yourself up in your house and watching TV all day.
Or maybe you’re like the fat guys in the woods, who just participate in life enough to live, but not enough to keep healthy and end up being couch potatoes. If you stay on your couch nothing will happen to you, right? Well, they found themselves to be miserable anyway and ended up in a survival course on a TV show looking for a way out of that existence.
If you think about it, those fat guys put themselves through a modern day journey in the wilderness in search of a connection to themselves and something bigger than they were. Even though they probably wouldn’t call it that – they were living a Lenten journey.
Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights and fasted during that time. This reflected the journey that the Israelites took when they fled from Egypt and traveled in the wilderness for 40 years. So it became a tradition for Jewish people who were following a religious path to go into the wilderness and fast for 40 days and nights.
Like the guys who go into the woods, the purpose of those who traveled 40 days in the wilderness was to simplify your life to your basic components. You got rid of the distractions of work, family, society and it’s expectations. The only thing you can’t get away from is yourself and your mistakes because the only person there is yourself and your mistakes. Out there in the wilderness you have no one to talk to but yourself and God. And the idea is to examine your life and ask God where you are going with it.
But Jesus, of all people, must have already had a spiritual discipline before he was baptized by John. I suspect that some of the reason why he went into the wilderness was to satisfy the social expectation that people had of a holy man. But that wasn’t Jesus’ reason for going into the wilderness. The Spirit drove him, not social expectations.
Jesus, unlike the fat guys in the woods, wasn’t broken. But he lived in a broken world.
He lived in an occupied country. He lived along side a population that was 80% in poverty with no way of changing their circumstances. There was intense discrimination of class, and race. Life expectancy was low and there were diseases that could come out of nowhere and kill you. The religious politics of the time had intense fractions that were in conflict with each other. Life was very uncertain, in many ways more uncertain than our lives now.
And Jesus was sent to the middle of it all to save the world. How on earth do you save all that? How do you heal the brokenness? You do it by healing one soul at a time. But first Jesus had to go and find the breaking points in himself before he could save us.
Jesus couldn’t have gone out and helped all those people with his teaching and his miracles unless he had truly understood what we needed. He needed to take himself to the edge in order to understand what it was to be human and to struggle with temptation on the most basic level.
His first temptation is starvation. In our community we do have hunger, but perhaps not starvation – but when people are facing starvation, or what they perceive as starvation, they can do hurtful things to feed themselves. Jesus had to remind himself that there was more to life than the physical – If he lived or died it was always in the spirit of God.
His second temptation was invincibility – something I’m sure it would be great for us to be. (I call this the superhero temptation) If we can throw ourselves off a building without being hurt then we never have to worry about the world hurting us. I’ve known a lot of people who have structured their lives so that they won’t be hurt – if tried it a few times myself – but the world doesn’t work like that. We’re not invincible, and we shouldn’t expect that somehow we are so special and that God is going to keep us from being hurt.
The final temptation was unlimited power. But power doesn’t insure against brokenness. In fact I think that giving someone too much power insures that we are going to end up creating some brokenness. Also there is a serious implication in this scripture that the only way to get unlimited power and control is by abandoning God. A person who is worshipping God doesn’t want unlimited power – they want to teach people how to connect with their own personal power and soul so that they can be strong in the world no matter what sort of brokenness happens to them.
Jesus came to show us how living with God in our lives can repair our brokenness. But first he had to understand how we get broken in the first place: Through hunger, our fear of being hurt, and our desire for power and control. Once he understood how we get broken he could go out and heal our brokenness. If you think about it – most of Jesus’ teaching is how we can give our brokenness over to God, because we trust that God understands our brokenness, and accept God’s healing of our brokenness in our lives, through our salvation in Christ.
We don’t have to spend a week in the woods or 40 days in the wilderness to do that. But Lent is the perfect time to look at the brokenness of our lives and give it over to God and invite God’s healing into our lives. What is the brokenness that you want to repair? Give it to God and he will mend it with you and show you how to get to a better state of being.