Pastor Lyndon Sayers Lutheran Church of the Cross
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 / Psalm 9:1-2, 9-16 / Romans 10:8b-13 / Luke 4:1-13
“What does it mean to settle into an unsettling inheritance?”
Reading the land acknowledgements every time we gather for worship is new for me having moved to Victoria from Lexington, Virginia, three months ago. It is both unsettling and at the same has the danger of becoming this rote thing we do, like rattling off the Lord’s Prayer, without thinking about it. Our scripture readings on this First Sunday of Lent give us pause for these words to unsettle us.
Let us start with our first reading from Deuteronomy 26, especially the first verse:
“When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it…” (Deuteronomy 26:1)
It would be a mistake for us to take promises made to the people of Israel as equivalent to the Doctrine of Discovery. Many of us are settler-Canadians who benefit from these kinds of mis-readings of the text. The church has played a role lending legitimacy to the theft of land and genocide of Indigenous peoples. As we read the land acknowledgments each time we gather, we are reminded we are taking up space on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen peoples, including the Songees, Esquimalt and W’sanec nations, it should have an unsettling effect. We should feel uncomfortable with the discord of inheriting a land with an extremely troubled history that isn’t going away. There are no number of land acknowledgements we can offer to make this better.
I asked Florentien Verhage her thoughts on this verse from Deuteronomy as a scholar who works on the philosophy of disruption. She posed the question: “What does it mean to settle into an unsettling inheritance?” In other words, unsettling becomes a space in which we dwell, which we spend our time working through related questions.
This too is our Lenten discipline, journeying through and with questions that unsettle us, trusting that God is with us, knowing we will be changed through the encounter.
Linger in the Wilderness
As we turn to our gospel reading, I want us to continue thinking about this question: “What does it mean to settle into an unsettling inheritance?” Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is a story we know well. Sometimes we gloss over the unsettling parts of it. We know that the story ends well. Jesus doesn’t give in to the devil’s temptations, so we don’t always take time to linger in the story, to linger in the wilderness.
David Schnasa Jocobsen challenges us to hear the story of Jesus’ temptation as a story about Jesus’ unique identity as the Messiah. It’s easy to draw parallels between Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness and our giving up chocolate for Lent and other low hanging fruit. As though Lent is just a time to check in with our New Years resolutions about exercise and healthy eating.
Instead we hear a story about Jesus as Messiah that is strange and disruptive. Why the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil in the first place? If we take a step back, we become aware of an arc of the story that sets Jesus apart as the incarnation of the divine in the midst of conflict. Hi birth narrative introduces us to a king who is first visited by shepherds, who were outcasts. At this baptism in the Jordan there is the dramatic unsettling of the Holy Spirit upon his head. This is the same Spirit driving him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and later his preaching to an unappreciative hometown crowd in which his kinfolk try to push him off a cliff. The Gospel of Luke is telling us that Jesus has not come to settle things, not to rule as a regular monarch, but to embrace a disruptive identity in which the world is turned upside down through his ministry and presence.
Often in Lent we talk about time for quiet meditation. And in the midst of our busy lives we need time for quiet meditation and prayer. What if Lent is also a time for loud, Spirit-infused, disruption? What if the divine in our midst is goading us like a mosquito to wake up, to pay attention, to listen to the ways in which God’s word is speaking to us in this time and place?
On top of Mount Tolmie
The other day I ran up to the top of Mount Tolmie, which you can see through our church windows in the narthex. It’s a beautiful view from which you can see much of Victoria and surrounding coastline. One of the three temptations involves the devil taking Jesus to a high point and promising Jesus all the land as far as he can see if he but fall down and worship him. Imagine the devil whisking Jesus to the top of Mount Tolmie promising everything he can see. That’s a lot of real estate. Imagine the voices saying, “Well hold on a minute. There is a lot of good we could be doing with all those resources. Think of all the ministries we could fund. Think of all the good works we could accomplish. Better not dismiss the devil’s offer out of hand.”
This is not unlike the calculus offered our ancestors. Here is this beautiful land. Take it. It’s yours if you but seize it. And the church was also seduced by the opportunity. We like to think we would not be seduced by such an offer. And we pretend that most of us do not continue benefiting from the spoils of colonialism, but we do. And so this too is part of our Lenten discipline, asking the question “What does it mean to settle into an unsettling inheritance?”
If we are honest we are unable to resist such temptation and Jesus has the will to do so. The good new for us is that we are not alone. Jesus defeated his own temptation, giving us hope that we can be better following his example. We trust that the Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us to embody Jesus’ love in the world. And we do this not through endless striving, but through God’s grace.
Wrapping up let us be unsettled as we read our land acknowledgements, recognizing the complicated history of the land we have inherited.
Let us take time to linger in the wilderness, to listen to the ways in which Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness reveals how Jesus’ identity disrupts our world.
Let us know that our salvation will not come through succumbing to temptation, but by trusting that the Spirit is with us through our Lenten journey, trusting in God’s grace and love in our lives. Amen.