Putting God to the Test

Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. Deuteronomy 26

Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" - Luke 4

Dear friends,

I hope this isn't too weird a thing to invite you to think about, much less too weird to cause you to contemplate joining in worship. If it is so, please accept my apology.

That said, here's the thing. The headline jumped off the page at me; the  New Hampshire legislature is in the process of passing a law banning the sale or possession of artificial urine.

The practical, everyday side of my brain (if there even is such a thing) has no position on the merits ofthis proposed law. Until the other day, I had no idea that such a product even exists. Apparently there is a market for this substance, serving those who have various and urgent needs to pass drug screening tests.

The only thing that occurred to me as I read this jaw-dropping story was a picture that popped into my mind of God, looking down on this scene, putting head into hands and muttering, "These people are REALLY putting me to the test... How and where do I even begin to wrestle this absurdity to the ground?"

Bear with me for just a moment longer in this thought experiment, as God continues to muse on this. "I have given my people all they need: fertile soil, abundant clean water, countless opportunities to enjoy Creation and the joys of relationship with each other; music to lift their souls; art and sense of humor; the wisdom of poetry and self-reflection; yes, even glorious sunsets and adorable cat videos. And what are they doing? They are casting about for a sense of meaning, as if it were invisible or unreachable - or didn't even exist. They throw themselves off pinnacles, daring me to catch them, testing to see if I deserve their faith. They wallow in unutterable pain; they medicate themselves to numbness. They fail the very tests that they set up themselves; tests that they think are to measure MY merit. Then they give their remaining treasure to someone who has devised a way to help them cheat on the test. It's no wonder they are weeping. Can they ever learn the true nature of my love and hope for them?"

I won't belabor this bizarre story any more, except to apologize again for crudeness; and to hope that this is not read as demeaning to people with substance abuse issues - only one of many broken ways of being that God witnesses.

Allow me to move on by saying, "Thank God that Lent has arrived." We are invited during this sober time to look closely at where we have gone wrong, and what we might do about it. Not just where we ourselves have gone wrong, but where we have gone wrong as a human community.

The Israelites, finally freed from their bondage in Egypt by their faithful, listening God, spent forty years wandering in the wilderness; plenty of time to figure out what their new freedom made possible in their lives, and what kind of demons remained in their personal and collective souls that would prevent the holy exercise of this blessed gift of freedom. They were headed to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Would their self-obsession and fear cause them to squander that gift, or would they be able to remember the source of that gift and the abiding love that gift represented?

In a like way, Jesus, fresh from his baptism, demonstrably blessed by God as a beloved, set forth into the wilderness for forty days of testing, sometimes referred to as temptation. How would he choose to deploy his blessedness? Would he use his magic touch to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger? He appears to have had the power to do so. Would he assume reign over all the nations of the Earth in exchange for worshipping the power that reign gave him? Would he test God's love and care for him by leaping off tall buildings?

Or would he trust God's grace and gifts in all things? Would he wear the mantle of power that is made known only by rejecting power as we know it, by being weak and vulnerable, as he had been when he was laid in that cold and musty manger?

We get to ask these same questions during Lent. The questions - and answers - can be life-changing; they shape how we live and love. The answers will also decide whether or not we are helpers in making Creation thrive as God wishes it to thrive. And God will notice both our questions and answers.

Like us, God REALLY wants to stop weeping about brokenness, anguish, numbness, and dispossession. God, like us, has much more beautiful things to imagine and toward which to labor.

We really, really need each other's help on this journey. Gather with us, as one of us, for this troubling, beautiful sojourn. We touch base in worship, Sunday mornings at 10 AM.

Lenten Sabbath blessings-