Stubbornness, Self-Sufficiency, & Running with the Devil

Luke 4:1-13
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.

In college, I worked at a Bible camp up in Minnesota. We had a challenge course there — a high ropes course, where you would climb a wall and complete a course about fifty feet in the air. That wasn’t really my speed. My favorite was the low ropes course where, at most, we were 18 inches off the ground. For one of the team-building challenges, we were blind-folded and lead to a grove of trees that had ropes connecting the trees at about waist level in something of a maze. We had to follow the ropes until we found the way out. So we walked and walked. Marie, our facilitator stood near us and let us know that if we needed help, she would be there to help us. I didn’t need help. I was pretty good at solving these puzzles all by myself, thank you very much. (And also, you know, I can be a little stubborn.)

The difference between most exercises and this exercise, is that the only way to solve this puzzle was to ask for help. Once you asked for help, you were let out of the maze. Not my proudest moment, then, when I became bound and determined to figure this out on my own. Finally, after everyone else had asked for help and were let out, it finally dawned on me.

There’s something in our human DNA that compels us to go it alone, to be self-sufficient. I can even see it in Lily, our 18-month-old. There are just some things she wants to do herself. And yet that’s not how God created us. God didn’t create us to go it alone, but to be in relationship, to be in community. In the Garden of Eden at the dawn of creation, God said it’s not good for us to be alone. We need helpers. We need community.

When the devil is tempting Jesus in our story today, so many of the temptations are rooted in the devil trying to get Jesus to use his power to prove his worth — to use his power to isolate himself as the Son of God. And yet each time, Jesus moves to emphasize connection and relationship. Part of our call as disciples is to follow a path that leads to connection and relationship — to actively make the choice to not go it alone.

When I was in seminary in California, I went to see the redwoods in Muir Woods one weekend. These trees are absolutely incredible. They grow to be hundreds of feet tall. They were so sturdy in the ground that I began to wonder how deep their roots grow. As it turns out, redwood roots are some of the shallowest roots of any tree. Redwoods are able to grow so tall because the roots of each tree grow horizontally and overlap with one another. They connect and intertwine with one another as a way of supporting their growth as they get taller and taller. It’s why you never see an isolated redwood tree. They always exist in forests and groves.

They always exist in community because they cannot thrive any other way.

In this way, God created us similarly to the redwoods. We thrive when we are connected to God and to one another in community. A temptation we often hear whispered in our ear is that voice telling us to go it alone, to be self-sufficient, to find our own way out of the maze. But God’s desire for us is to stay connected, to foster life-giving relationships of mutual support and care so that we can grow, progress, and evolve toward a stronger future rooted in the love of Christ.

So as we continue our journey of Lent, may you be blessed to remember that you were made for connection. You were created for relationship. God, who created you and formed you, did not desire isolation or loneliness for you. So when the voice of temptation to go it alone comes knocking at your door, may you remember that you belong to this community gathered here today, and that the God of mercy knit you together into the family of God so that you may have life and have it abundantly. Amen.

Cheers,
Eric

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