In nomine Jesu!
For Martin Luther and those who follow his theological line of thinking, the existential human problem is death. Everything else that happens, from global catastrophe to a hang-nail are merely by-products of death. In fact, that's what Luther called such things â€” called sickness, pain, loss, intimate breakups, fiscal ruin â€” the list is endless â€” Luther called these "little deaths." In my own theological shorthand which you all know well, Death and all these little deaths are signs of God's No. And as all of you are well aware, none of us likes to take "no" for answer. Not from anyone and especially not from God. The vast majority of us regularly pray that God would save us from the time of no. The vast majority of us would do almost anything and make almost any deal with anyone to avoid the time of no or at least to postpone it.
Do almost anything to avoid or postpone the time of no? That "impulse" is what the New Testament and the Medieval Church called "temptation."
Make a deal with almost anyone? That "anyone" is what the New Testament and the Medieval Church personified as "the devil."
Whenever we're willing to do anything to avoid or postpone even those "little deaths," or transfer the effects of even those "little deaths" to another, we are, in biblical language, in the grips of the devil, in the same situation Jesus found himself in when he "was led by the Spirit in the wilderness."
Now you don't have to accept the concept of a personified devil to experience this. What the ancients called "the devil," we call "self-interest;" "enlightened self-interest" if we really want to justify ourselves. The effect is the same though the name is different. We don't want to experience the time of no.
And this, my friends, this time, these days is a time of no. You can see it everywhere and in everything; you can feel it in your bones. I probably should cite a blog or an article here but frankly, I'm not sure which of the myriad of articles to choose. This is a time of no, a time of countless little deaths. And so a majority of us are willing to do almost anything and make almost any deal with almost anyone in order to get out of it. Or blame someone for it. Or do both. Just think about what's fueling our election cycle.
For 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was immersed in a time of no. "He was famished," Luke tells us. Everywhere he looked, everything he heard, everything he experienced was an incessant no. No bread to eat. No companion with whom to share. And so the devil, or if you prefer, Jesus' impulse toward self-interest, began its incessant communication.
Now the impulse here is to say that Jesus simply quoted the Bible; and the running myth in too much of our so-called Christian society is that Jesus mentally rifled his way through his cerebral
Bible until his finger landed on the appropriate passage and if only we could do that everything would be hunky-dory. But Jesus is a bit more precise than that. In his time of no Jesus clung to God's word of yes; the Word "very near [us], on [our] lips and in [our] heart;" the Word that "confessed with our lips and believe with our hearts saves us;" God's promising Word that "everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved!"
We are living in a time of no and we know it. Tempted as we are to do anything or make a deal with almost anyone or find someone to blame in order to get out of it, Jesus shows us a better, more effective way. In this time of no, we need to believe and trust and live as if we are in God's yes time, which is precisely where Jesus leads us in the Gospel for today.
After his somewhat extended conversation with the one Luke calls "the devil," Luke tells us that the devil "departed from him until an opportune time" or more precisely "the kairotic moment," the time when God decisively acts.
We know what that opportune time was for Jesus. We're on our way toward celebrating that time right now: Jesus' time on the cross. Jesus' time in the tomb. Jesus' time which in Christ is now our time when Christ's tomb is empty, when Christ raised for death lives and reigns for us forever.
We are experiencing a time of no; but baptized in Christ, our time is also and already God's yes time. And those who believe that, those who confess that, those who are willing to bet their life on that "will never be put to shame."
We are experiencing a time of no and the temptation is to do almost anything, make a deal with almost anyone or find someone to blame in order to get out of this time. But today Jesus shows us and today Jesus leads us on a yet more glorious way through which he has traveled before. The way of the cross. The way we experience as God's yes time. The way we walk together in Christ which sets us free.
It is the way we will soon trace from the font to the Columbarium. The way Howard walked through every time of no in his life. The way that God deals with the problem of death. The way of the cross. The way to new and everlasting life.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York
Psalm 91:1â€“2, 9â€“16
Saint Luke 4:1â€“13