February 15, 2016

by Jan Rippentrop
Instructor and Axel Jacob and Gerda Maria (Swanson) Carlson Chair of Homiletics; Director, Master of Arts Programs

This goes out to all of you,       who when you hear
“you are dust and to dust you shall return”
are not at all surprised.
To you who have had              all too poignant reminders         of the finitude of life,
to you who know           the depths of suffering,   despair, and          brevity

 

We’ve caught up with Jesus out in the wilderness
         Where an antagonist bedevils him with the techniques of an opportunist:
                  Jesus is famished—40 days with no food will do that
                           And the devil encourages him to make some bread
                  Jesus, in the previous scene, just heard God declare
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
         Which ordains him as one with authority
                           And the devil offers him a platform    complete with authority and control
                  Jesus, has been isolated and worn down for these 40 days
                           And the devil encourages him to let go and be taken care of by the angels

Jesus is under pressure, but not only Jesus.
The Israelites are also at a pressure point in the Deuteronomy text:
         The premise of the text is that they have escaped slavery in Egypt
                  Where they experienced, in the words of the Deuteronomist,
                           Imposed hard labor,
                           Affliction,
                           Toil, and
                           Oppression
         And now they’ve just endured the toil of moving cross-countries
                  Without the assistance of a U-Haul, Pod, or moving allowance
                  And they’re almost settled
                           I’ve moved enough to know
                           Maybe you’ve moved enough to know
                                    How exhausting, “almost” settled can be

But wait, there’s more, because the time at which Deuteronomy is revised
         Is a different time altogether
The Israelite people         were under pressure
to maintain   faithfulness and     political autonomy
in the face of growing Babylonian and Assyrian threats.
One way or another, the people of Deuteronomy
experienced the pressure of living under competing ruling parties.

 

Jesus and the Israelites are under pressure, but not only them
         I’ve gathered that we’re experiencing our own bit of pressure
Advanced Studies Students are writing applications
Students are interviewing for MIC sites
Seniors are receiving regional assignments

And beyond this place
         Larycia Hawkins experiences job-threatening pressure
after voicing solidarity with Muslim people
         Muslim people in the United States endure unjust pressures of anti-Islamic sentiment

Evidently, there’s enough pressure to go around
         So we are marked with the cross of Christ
         And we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return
                  And we’re not all that surprised
                  Because we’re hyper-aware that
                           Pressure, and        finitude, and          death
                                    Encircle us like an opportunistic thief
Here, have some sustenance,
How about some recognition
Why don’t you take it easy
        
But Jesus’ responses echo in our ears too:
         Bread alone won’t serve this hunger I’ve got
         Just let me worship God
who needs no test

and in the wilderness
and at the Babylonian rivers
and marked with the ashen cross

we turn to the other instigator whose been with us all through this wilderness
to the other antagonist, if you will, who breathed us into this spot in the first place

 

we refocus away from the pressures
of that day and this day
of that place and this place
we focus, instead, on another force
         an unparalleled force
                  that confronts the withering pressures all around us
                  and exerts its own alleviating pressure
                           that allows us breath.

This            is the force           of God’s              coming.

It is the pressure of the Spirit             who got us caught up in this in the first place
         Out there breezing by at Jesus’ baptism
         In here announcing a call in your ear
         Out there forcing Jesus into the wilderness
         In here calling you to the city
                  Or maybe to the Rio Grande Valley
                  Or next year, it looks like
one of us will be in Seattle,
another in Manhattan, and
many others of us called to be in between

But for all the times we’re in between
                                    Heads or tails
                                    Right or left
                                    Up or down
                           For all the times we don’t quite know                   which way comes next
We’re assured of one thing
That Spirit will be breathing on us

That Spirit breathed Jesus right into the wilderness
         But when the antagonist departed “until an opportune time”
                  (Now, I’d like to say, “Why’d Luke have to put that in here?” but we all know, Luke had to put that in here, because the antagonist’s gonna come ‘round again)
         But when the antagonist departed
That Spirit was still right there           breathing Jesus     right into his ministry
         Got him in a couple other binds too:
                  That little brush with a cliff outside of Nazareth (4:16-30)
Stuck between a demoniac and a herd of swine in Gerasene (8:26-39)
                  Staying overnight at a tax collector’s home (19:1-10)
                  And this hill called “The Skull,” just outside Jerusalem (23:26-49)

That Spirit is breathing on you
         Before your wilderness
         And when it subsides
And it wouldn’t be the Spirit
if she doesn’t get you in some sticky situations

But it also wouldn’t be the Spirit
if she doesn’t exert a force      
far greater
than any pressure this world has        to dish out

So breathe deeply in that breath of life        that’s breathin’ on you
And   rest    in this in-opportune time
         Where you are called      by the force of God’s coming
                  Into a ministry that participates in God’s liberating acts.

For these 40 days we breathe in the Spirit even as the Spirit breathes in us
         So that even though        we are painfully aware    of the finitude of our dust
         We are even more aware,
that it is just the type of stuff
to which the Spirit                   brings new life.

Text

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13

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