Lonesome Valleys

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


Good morning. I have a question for you. By a show of hands, how many of you decided to give something up for Lent? Next question: How many of you read the church newsletter every month. Okay, so, for those of you who didn’t read my article this month, I discussed some of the pros and cons of fasting during Lent, and whether or not God wants us to give up chocolate for Lent.

The short answer is: NO! I don’t believe God cares if we give up chocolate for Lent. While fasting can be a good spiritual discipline, there must be a deeper, more thoughtful rationale for the fast—something beyond, well, I’m supposed to give something up for Lent, right?

When I was in seminary, my dear friend Charissa decided to give up caffeine for Lent. She thought that fast would improve her physical health, and in the process, improve her spiritual health.

She experienced the physical symptoms of withdrawal right away; she had headaches and abdominal pain. When she felt these symptoms she thought, “this is awful! It must be working!” No pain, no gain, right?

Within three days, Charissa’s husband and kids begged her to have a cup of coffee. Her physical pain led to spiritual pain for Tim and the kids. So, Charissa did the only sensible thing—she brewed a pot of coffee! Her spiritual gain was, perhaps, a greater sense of self-awareness.

Why do we persist in these shallow practices? It may be rooted in a shallow interpretation of Scripture.

Our gospel reading this morning is Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. We’ve been skipping around the Gospel of Luke for the last few weeks, so it’s worth pausing and considering the context of this story, where it fits in the overall narrative.

In Chapter 3, we meet John the Baptist, who announces the coming of the Messiah, and then he baptizes Jesus. After the baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and then we hear God say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Then we get a long genealogy that stretches all the way back, through King David, to Jesse, and eventually back to Adam. It’s like a big, flashing sign that announces: “Jesus is the Messiah! The Son of God! Messiah! Son of God!” Just in case you were still wondering.

And then the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan. This is no ordinary test. These are no ordinary temptations. Jesus isn’t tempted by chocolate. He’s tempted by the ability to feed every person who’s hungry, simply by turning rocks into loaves of bread. He can protect himself from bodily harm. Satan even offers Jesus the glory and authority to rule every nation in the world. It seems that with these powers, Jesus could accomplish his earthly mission, and without enduring a painful and humiliating death on a cross.

Toward the end of our Ash Wednesday service, we sang the hymn, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley.” It’s an old spiritual and it’s a lovely tune, and it’s perfect for Lent. The lyrics are:

Jesus walked this lonesome valley,

He had to walk it by himself.

O, nobody else could walk it for Him,