February 14th, 2016
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
By the time we get to Deuteronomy, the Israelites have been slaves in Egypt for centuries. Generations have come and gone since Jacob and his sons moved there to escape the famine in Canaan, and the people are left with just a tiny memory of their God and their ancestors. Then God liberates them from bondage and brings them through the wilderness to the Jordan, where Moses gives his last address to the people he has led. And he tells these wanderers to remember their wandering when they are settled in Israel, to remember that they were once a rootless, vagabond people, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number…” And Moses instructs the people to celebrate all the gifts of God with the Levites and the aliens that live among them, that is, the other wanderers and strangers, to celebrate the God has protected his people, has freed them, has led them with signs and wonders.
I chose the name of our catechumenate, Wayfarers, in part because I think it explains who we are. St. Augustine once wrote, “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” The poem that I took the name from, the Wayfarer, is as many of you know, an ancient metaphor, comparing the life of faith to a sailor on the cold seas. St. Luke says the early church called their faith the Way—Christians were people who were on the Way, or following the Way. All of this is consistent with a God who first revealed himself to a wandering, rootless man called Abraham, who roamed the earth for a long time until he found a home.
Abraham, Jacob, and Moses all wandered. All were Wayfarers of the terrestrial rather than the nautical type, but they were also doubters and strugglers, questioners, and finally, listeners. And God protected all of them, even through their struggles, and brought them to faith in himself. And sometimes, only at the end of a story, are able to look back and see that at the end of all your wandering, you’ve come back to this place where you’ve belonged all the while.
Jesus, too, was a wanderer and wayfarer. Elsewhere in Luke he will say, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And in his journeys, he will often seek out the most desolate places, where he can be alone to pray and to think in silence. And here, at a moment of weakness, Satan comes to him to tempt him, when he appears most alone and bewildered.
It’s worth nothing that the devil is also is a wanderer on earth, looking and looking for a home. He comes to test Jesus, to put him to trial. And his trial is a trial by Scripture—the devil quotes some Scripture and Jesus quotes some back. But like most Scriptural battles, the key in the debate isn’t Scripture itself, but the sort of God Scripture discloses. The temptation the devil gives Jesus is what the devil thinks lures a wayfarer: plenty, power, and the love of a Father. Notice that the devil doesn't really tempt Jesus with anything bad--the first temptation just makes sense. Jesus hasn't eaten in days, so why doesn't he just make himself some bread? And for that matter, what about the rest of the hungry, who don't have the power to turn stones into bread? The second temptation is also a good one, what I call the Gandalf temptation, the temptation of a good man to seize power so that he can wield the power for good. Of course the devil sneaks in the proviso that Jesus can have everything, so long as he serves the Devil. But a guy who is concerned with giving the hungry bread can't be that bad, right? And finally, there's the temptation for Jesus, who is suffering, hungry, thirsty and alone, to prove his Father's love--to show that, like a loving Father, God will not allow any harm to come to his Son, so long as it is within his reach to save him. This is the temptation of family, of trust. All of these are temptations for a wanderer, for they appear to satisfy his greatest desire--food, security, love.
But Jesus knows that these things are not enough. One does not live by bread alone; worship the Lord your God and serve only him; do not put the Lord your God to the test. This is the way that Jesus wins the scripture battle--he knows that God is first, and that we cannot judge God by the comforts of this world, but rather by how much more God is than anything in this world. God, the psalmist says, is more to praise than gold, even much fine gold. God is beyond value, beyond price, and to serve God is to serve the Creator rather than the Creation, and to be with God is to be home.
Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in God. Not in bread, not in a just society, not in human love. All of these are good a fulfilling things in themselves, but they are not God. God is more than this. And so all of us who are wanderers and wayfarers, all of us who are looking and searching and have hungry hearts, Jesus has a word for us: your home is in God, who is with you now, and how is with you beyond the grave.
Baptism is the promise that no matter where you go, no matter where you serve God, no matter what God calls you to do, and no matter how far you stray from God's service, you always have a home with God, who has brought you near to him through the cross of Christ. There is nothing in this world to separate you from that promise. There is no need for a demonstration of bread, because in the church the holy supper of Jesus is always here; there is no need for a demonstration of power, because God has formed a people who are accustomed to signs and wonders in their midst. There is no need for God to demonstrate his love for you, because he gave his only Son and raised him from the dead so you can have newness of life.
A wandering Aramean was our ancestor--a wayfaring nomad. And we move through this life, reaching and grasping and searching, and we do not find home till we find it in God, who meets us in Jesus Christ. All of you who search and seek, come now: the door is flung open, you have arrived home.
The Reverend John Flack