Our professor of theology at Lancaster Seminary, Dr. Bela Vassady, liked to report what happened when someone asked a centipede,
“Mr. Centipede, when you take your first step, which leg do you move first?”
And then Dr. Vassidy said,
“It was the question that immobilized the centipede.”
As we take up the Lenten walk with Jesus that will bring us to Good Friday and Easter,
His words are like questions posted all along the way that are
not mean to immobilize us,
but to walk to the beat and pace of the life of Jesus.
Today we join Him on that journey which begins in the Judean wilderness where we listen and are drawn into a drama played out between Jesus and the devil; the drama that had its origin in an earlier scene drawn in the words of today’s Old Testament lesson where a couple who serve as the prototype of every human being, Adam and Eve, decides to eat the fruit of wisdom intended only for God, that they might replace God.
As they ate: … the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden…, and the man and his wife hid themselves
from the presence of the Lord God... because they realized they were naked.
It’s that scene which posts the first question along the Lenten journey with Jesus:
“What Do You See When You Look INSIDE?”
Is it the question that, like the centipede, paralyzes us, and like Adam and Eve, has us seeing that “we are naked?” The nakedness that has us trying to cover it up in clothing that keeps designers and the garment industry profitably busy.
The nakedness that sends us to stores to buy creams and colors for our faces and our hair – and I’ll admit it can be very therapeutic.
The first trip I made after surgery some years ago wasn’t to the doctor’s office but to the beautician to get a haircut. Dr. James Wagner, retired Co-president of the United Church of Christ, would visit the Conference office while his wife was at the beauty salon, which he called “the God-knows-how- shop,” where someone is “re-created” to look better, and therefore, feel better.
Nothing wrong with that, and the profession of barber and beautician is a ministry, as they listen to people pour out their confessions of feelings of “nakedness.”
The nakedness of looking inside, beyond clothes and cosmetics, to the inner, hidden sight of ugly sins, unresolved guilt, seething anger, the humiliation of failure – at school, at work, in a
game, at home, the inability to get a job and hold a job, or be a friend and make and keep
friends, the nakedness of meaninglessness, which is said to be THE dominant plight today;
the nakedness we see when we look inside our own life!
The nakedness Jesus fought off as He dismissed the temptations that would have immobilized Him and ended His ministry before it began, so that no one would be able to look inside one’s self and see a Christ-like beauty that is more than skin deep.
Begin the Lenten journey at its starting point:
the wilderness, the wasteland of nothingness where there is a voice contesting with Jesus –
and drawing us into the scene – enticing us, to perpetuate the wrong choice of Adam and Eve.
Hear Jesus resisting and rejecting that temptation with His answers: “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“Again it is written,
‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Everyone of the three responses points to Jesus’ resistance to being made empty by a misplaced focus…all of which center in a life centered in one’s self,
eating without thinking of one’s health or another’s hunger;
running after thrills and Ponzi schemes – a quick buck in a doomed investment,
a fantasy of stardom or power;
things turned into self-made gods that elevate humans to the status of idols, only look inside and see nothing but emptiness!
Today we hear Jesus answering that voice that was determined to empty Him of being filled with all the fullness of God, and pour His fullness into to all who open themselves to receive Him, simply by asking as Tom M. Jones did:
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,
All His wonderful passion and purity.
May His Spirit divine all my being refine
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.
When your burden is heavy and hard to bear
When your neighbors refuse all your load to share
When you're feeling so blue, Don't know just what to do
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in you.
The inward look that sees only Jesus!
A tourist in a Judean-like wilderness of rocks and the daytime rays of the burning sun – a scene of hopeless emptiness, saw a small purple flower blooming in the crevice of a rock. A guide explained seeds blown by the wind settle and send down roots that can eventually break open a rock.
Notice that all three of Jesus’ answers to that voice determined to empty Him of all the fullness of God, are quotes from the Bible,
Biblical “seeds” that settle in our wilderness-like life
and blossom with the “beauty of Jesus.” –
when we take up the Lenten journey that introduces us to the intended answer to:
“What Do You See When You Look INSIDE?”
Let us sing of the One who fills our emptiness with His fullness. (Hymn: “Jesus I live to you”) Amen.