Exercising our Faith

            On our first Sunday of Lent, we see vine branches on the cross.  The green vines, leaves, and grape clusters are a lesson in themselves.  Even if these particular plants are plastic.  Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

            Cut the branch from the vine, and the branch dies.  There is no ability to grow fruit without the vine.  So too are we without Jesus Christ.  We are the branches that require the vine to be alive and fruitful.  Without Christ, we are like the branches cut from the vine.  We are dead.  This is the promise and the hope that we have through Jesus.  We are dead to ourselves as individual branches, but alive by the vine of Christ.

            After his baptism where God’s voice proclaimed His Son, Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and to be tested.  Sometimes we forget that in the story of the temptations, Jesus had already been in the wilderness for 40 days before the devil showed up.  According to verse 2 from our Gospel lesson, He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and afterwards he was famished. 

Think about that.  Jesus had nothing to eat for nearly 6 weeks.  He had been praying, discerning, and reflecting on God.  How long have you gone without food?  I tried a week-long fast 5 years ago…the most extreme version; no food but all the water I wanted.  After 5 days, I stopped.  But it was a month before seminary started and I wasn’t working.  So I spent most of my day reading Scripture, praying, discerning, and sleeping.  Surprisingly, I wasn’t uncomfortable and my stomach wasn’t growling for food.  And though it’s a good idea to ask a doctor about such extreme measures, I felt very fulfilled. 

Fasting is a valuable practice, even if we keep eating but limit the measure of meals to need.  It grounds us, recognizing how much of our life ‘assumes’ more than our needs.  And it renews our minds and spirits through the Holy Spirit.

So here is Jesus in the wilderness after 40 days, hungry, physically weak, and vulnerable.  And that is when Satan arrives.  The devil’s strength does not attack when we are strong, but when we are weak.  And his temptations do not seem evil in those moments.  They seem rational. 

“Jesus, you are famished!  Your stomach must be growling.  If you are the Son of God, you must have the power to turn rocks into bread.  Why don’t you make something to eat?”  I wonder how long Jesus thought about it?  Hmmmm, that sure does sound tempting.  Have you heard that phrase before?  But Jesus responds, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Notice, he didn’t say every word of God from Scripture.

Would turning a stone into a loaf of bread have been such a bad thing?  I mean, he was HUNGRY!  What would be so bad about turning a stone into a loaf of bread?  The answer is in the devil’s preface to the question.  “If you are the Son of God…”  What is the devil doing?  He’s playing to the ego.  Show your power, Jesus!  Use it for your own good.  But he didn’t.  He kept himself humble to the Father.  It wasn’t about proving to the devil or himself who he was.  All that mattered was that he was God’s Son and he trusted that alone.  Even Jesus, without the vine, would rely on himself and be dead.

“Throw yourself down, Jesus, for it is written that your angels will not allow you to fall!”  Use your power to prove your role and position.  But again Jesus would not take the bait.  If he must prove himself, then his purpose was to manipulate others in order to get their approval or trust.  He was determined to gain people’s trust through love, and not through controlling means.  But oh how innocent the controlling option sounds in our weakness.

And then Satan shows his hand and tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms in the world if he will just bow down to the devil.  What good is all the kingdom of the world if we don’t have God?  And Jesus responds with Scripture, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”  Sound familiar?  Maybe the first commandment?

Where is the devil tempting us in our weaknesses?  In what situations do we kneel down to our ego, without even realizing it?  When we are tempted, how are we responding?  Do you ever feel like your branch was cut from the vine?

Through all of the temptations, not once did Jesus attempt to justify his presence and his role.  He simply leaned on a promise.  A promise that God loves us, shows mercy to us, and will meet our needs.  Sometimes the promise is all we have to hold onto in our wilderness journeys.  It can be scary and uncomfortable.  But unlike humans, God always fulfills promises.  In this Lenten journey, let’s continue to nurture our faith in relationship with God, trusting his promises.  Amen.