Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Love One Another: Reflections on Race, Power, and Privilege”
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
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. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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 answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
The scriptures for the first Sunday in Lent can be viewed as a roadmap for one’s Lenten journey. The lessons embody the theme of journeying: travel, protection, and longing for a destination. First, in Deuteronomy we are reminded that our spiritual heritage comes from a “wandering Armenian.” Our spiritual ancestors were wanderers, strangers, and migrants who found God in the midst of the wilderness. To me, this raises the question of immigration and how the church is called to respond to immigrants and refugees
As we enter an election year, we often hear hateful rhetoric about how Americans should respond to those crossing our borders: building a wall, deportation, not providing basic human services, detention, etc. However, in the scriptural passage, as the Israelite community has been called together for celebration and remembrance, God says: “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.” The immigrants, the poor and the oppressed are included fully in this celebration, and we are called not only to meet their needs, but also to celebrate God’s loving and faithful provision with them. There is no room for exclusion in the church; we are all called to give from what we have been given to neighbors and strangers regardless of where they come from.
The Gospel lesson this week also speaks to journeying, in particular to Jesus’ physical and spiritual journey in the wilderness. According to Luke, Jesus has not eaten anything for 40 days in the desert. He is in a very vulnerable state and in the midst of his suffering the devil appears, offering Jesus food, power and wealth. In moderation these things can be blessings, but in excess they are a curse. The cross is not about excesses of fame, money or power. The message is clear: in order to follow the way of the cross, we must forgo those things that the cross is not – fame, fortune and power—for all of the things Jesus embodied, such as justice, mercy and compassion.
As we begin our Lenten journey, may it be one that expands our horizons and connects us with others, including those who are different from ourselves. May it be a time of reflection on the temptations that we face in the world today, including coveting power, wealth and fame.
Prayer: Gracious God, you are our way in the wilderness. In our own times of testing be our spiritual nourishment, protect us with your angels, and show your authority in our lives, so that we may hunger for righteousness and live in peace and safety, worshiping and serving you alone; through Christ Jesus our Lord. –From the Presbyterian Church USA Prayers for Lent