So today we catch up with the people who are NOT in a wilderness, they are not really in a bad place. They’re pretty settled. Because God has already done the rescuing. Life’s Ok, and now they’re being asked to remember all the bad stuff they’ve lived through. In Deuteronomy we hear people being told to remember a past they really would rather not. Who wants to remember wandering in a strange land, isolated, confused, unsure? Can’t we just put that behind us? They’re called to come together and remember. Then respond. Told to bring an offering that confirms that God fulfilled a promise. Remember- remember that real moment of vulnerability. When you were really doubting and the Lord heard and responded. Remember your history not so you can be stuck there, but so you can focus upon how God responded. Remember that God has the power to provide, and to deliver and to give a future. Because you will need that. Because doubt will show up again. Remember your past and celebrate your present, you remind yourselves you also have a future with God. Because you’ll need to trust God’s history even more than your own. Your capacity to see that future will depend upon your connection to God. Remember. Strengthening that connection is as important in non-crisis moments as in critical ones.
Because lots of other voices out there will convince you otherwise. And in Scripture, those voices are called lots of names, the devil, the tempter, Satan. In the Hebrew language, the word for devil is Satan. But interestingly there are lots of satans. But there is one Ha Satan. The word satan means “adversary”. Ha Satan is THE adversary. Picture if you will being surrounded by adversaries. Maybe life feels like that sometimes. Like a contest.
Other times thought it might feel more like how the religion of Islam describes the devil. Shaytan, is the whisperer- the voice that when we listen to it, takes us from hearing God. The whisperer.
Maybe that is more like it for many of us. Being surrounded by whispering voices. Times when like the psalms we hope God will keep us free from the trap. Or we hear enemies whisper and suspect the worst before knowing if it is truth. Or fear others will turn against us. Or in Proverbs, a whisper separates friends. All ways of getting at our capacity to trust God and each other. Or not. The whisperer shows up in our doubts.
Who are you gonna listen to?
The people beyond the crisis are told to practice how to respond even when all seems well. Give thanks to God , remember and give the first of the harvest. Not something brought because the harvesting is done and you can see that it’s OK to give God a little. Come before you know the outcome. Because when you do you confront your doubts and meet God. Because if something happened to the rest of the harvest you have now given up your future for God’s in faith that God has you covered. This is where the whisperer starts.
What if a storm comes? You don’t know everything, you don’t have enough, you’re not in charge, you might go hungry. Can you hear the whispers? Who are you going to listen to?
Even if we’re not terribly stressed our world suggests that any threat to our sense of individualism or desires is a potential threat. We cannot be vulnerable. We don’t like the word loss. It makes life sound like a contest. And even God is our adversary. So when God says Come and give thanks like that and then live with everyone. Even those who are not you. Together. It just doesn’t compute. What if they need more? What if I have to sacrifice? They might mess with my tradition, my rights, my money. Or whatever else it is that I hold dear. I need my promises first. I need to fill my hunger first.
Can you hear the whispers? So many challenges where we feel alone trying to decide. Now imagine Jesus, seemingly alone when the whisperer shows up. Tempted. Since you are the Son of God… go ahead. Do it! What difference does it make? Confronting and whispering to Jesus- you have the power, aren’t you hungry for it?
Jesus faces all our emotions and challenges. I need to take care of me, I need to have control, I need a thrill. All things we do when we listen to the voices that say our doubts should fuel our decisions rather than our trust in God. Because sin in the end is listening to those whispers, and falling for the trap.
Jesus came and walked our wilderness and conquered to free us from this. For us to live in that belief takes practice. It takes being surrounded by others who support us, and it takes that connection to God in prayer. Jesus not only shows that God gets what it’s like to be us, Jesus shows us how to respond.
What gave Jesus the strength in the wilderness was the power of the Holy Spirit, and the word of Scripture, and the strength of prayer. I imagine him praying those same psalms for support. And it took the care of others, for him, the angels. For us it is each other here. To help each other remember who God has been, who God is and to trust God is our hope and future. Responding to God and trusting takes community and practice. Lent is a time for us to strengthen our walk with Jesus. Together. By remembering what is really powerful and sustaining. That God’s history and power are stronger than our own.
So take a moment and think of something in which you feel life is pretty settled and blessed. A part of life where you feel God’s support- something that matters like love, job, relationship. Whatever you have thought of, this is a place of trust. Now think of a part of your life where it is a struggle. Something in your life that matters but that feels like not within reach. This is your place of doubt. Now ask yourself why you find it easy to trust God is in the one and not the other? And then I invite you this week to take home these lessons and to read them and ask God in Prayer to help you listen and trust that God is present and active. Practice. May you sense Jesus walking with you in all things and filling your deepest hunger.
( Thanks to David Lose for the exercise at the end, though slightly modified)