Vulnerability in the Wilderness

       One of my favorite hymns in our tradition is “I sing a song of the saints of God;” in it the author of the hymn text writes about the saints of God and that God is helping us to be one too. My love for this hymn was shaped by the Episcopal Church at which I was confirmed because they sang it at every baptism and every funeral; it was the bookend on the Christian life. One of the saints of God was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a solider, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast, it goes. And you can meet them in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, as the song tells us. My love for this hymn is equally shaped by nostalgia as it is for the powerful way it invites us to hold no is one above our own capacity to be saints of God. We are empowered by the fullness of our baptism to live a life on par with martyrs, and queens, and even the shepherdesses on the green.

       Like most folks, I tend to hold a certain set of people far beyond my own capacity; there are certain people whose stories I hear, and instead of it inspiring me to make steps toward that sort of faith, I find myself regulating myself to be a cheerleader for them. Rather than being motivated to be changed by their life, work, and witness, I exult their actions far beyond what I might be able to achieve. And while our Messiah is certainly not just a saint of God, I think that our gospel lesson poses a similar challenge for many of today.

       When we hear the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, it is hard to not just hear it as a broadcast of your favorite team, and I’m not great with the sports metaphors here, but it’s like listening to a team in overtime blocking three goals from your rival team. The devil finds Jesus after he has fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and Luke recounts three specific temptations that the devil offers Jesus. And one by one: hunger, mountain, temple – Jesus defends against the devil’s temptation. And maybe it’s the way this passage has been read and portrayed in my life, but it’s hard to not hear it and cheer with each deflected temptation.

       But I think that this take really misses what God is showing us in this passage. Because Christ, though fully divine, was also fully human. What he has done here we can do as well, and resisting the temptation to put this sort of strength of faith outside the bounds of the capacity of our own faith seems to miss the mark.

       After his baptism, Jesus is full of the Spirit and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There is a sense of openness and courage in Jesus’ actions here that do not lie outside the bounds of our own actions. And in a similar way, in the weakness, the hunger, the weariness God is present with Jesus, and God can be known to us in our weakest moments as well. And this is where I hear God’s invitation on this first Sunday in Lent.

       I have almost always found one of the bravest prayers to pray to be one of the lines from the Psalter: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”[1] There is something so powerful about asking God, who already knows our weaknesses, to search us and to know us; there is something so powerful about inviting the vulnerability of being known. Something so powerful in trusting God to know us in our weakest moments and believing that we all have access to a strength beyond our mortal bodies, and this is what I hear in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

       Not only is Jesus full of the Spirit, but he has great faith with openness and courage to let God’s strength speak through his weakest moments. Standing on the cusp of this Lenten season, it’s important to remember that this is not the season where we, as one of my favorite writers, Debie Thomas describes, “do penance for being human.  It’s a time to embrace all that it means to be human.  Human and hungry.  Human and vulnerable.  Human and beloved.”[2] The invitation of God being known to us in our humanness is for us to engage this Lenten season with a spirit of openness and courage. I pray that we may have vulnerability and compassion; that in our weakness we can have strength and patience, and that throughout it all we remember that the saints of God are just folk like you, and I mean to be one too.

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky on Luke 4:1-13 for Lent1C on March 6, 2022.



[1] Psalm 139:23-24

[2] Debie Thomas, https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2661

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