The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Repent! -- A Sermon in the Wilderness

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Romans 10: 8b-15
Luke 4:1-13

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.


Y’all know I don’t do wilderness. Those of y’all who have been on a LEVN retreat with me know that I find cabins to be almost too close to camping. I don’t really like dirt, and I don’t really like too much heat or too much cold, and I don’t really like being in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t really like silence. So, the wilderness is just not for me. In the Bible, we spend a lot of time in the wilderness. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. One of many reasons I am glad I was not among them.

In the wilderness, in tonight’s Gospel, Satan tempts Jesus with instant gratification, glory, power, riches, security. We, too, want these things. We see people who have taken all that they can from the world--rising to the top as the bottom falls further and further. We see celebrity, riches, and the apparent perfection of a life of luxury.

We know, though, that this is a façade. This is an empty richness and a dangerous social location. Once you have more than you could ever need, what’s to stop you from amassing more? And when that doesn’t bring fulfillment, more?

This is not to say that material satisfaction is inherently wrong. Fulfilled needs--shelter, nutrition, dignity, meaningful work, sabbath rest--these are human rights. We are instructed, time and again, in our scriptures to ensure that all of our sisters and brothers have these things.

The texts for tonight talk a lot about the promises that God has made to God’s people throughout history, and how we, continue those narratives. In Deuteronomy, we are reminded that the blessings we have in the promised land were once far away, and that we must respond to the grace of God by giving ourselves and our prosperity back to God and to each other. Abraham wandered in the wilderness, and eventually became the father of all nations. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness, were enslaved, and were liberated.

Because we come from people who lacked the riches we now possess, we must reflect on our privilege and power. We must give our time, our talents, and our possessions to our churches and to those who work to bring about the kingdom of God. Sounds very clear, right? Enter thousands of years of humanity, and it gets murky. Our recollection of the details of the promises fade, as we grow further away from that original wilderness.

In this country, in this economy, in this election year, we are no stranger to the promises of of political candidates, from all corners of the wilderness. “Make America great again!” GOP frontrunner Donald Trump proclaims. Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders shouts for an end to income inequality, with free college and healthcare for all, paid for by redistribution of wealth.

As a nation, we are polarized by these men, as we grapple with what each of their presidencies might mean for our own social location.

We who live in relative material wealth, in comparison to the rest of the world and most of our fellow Americans, stand on a precipice. Can we, as Joan Brown Campbell wonders, “protest the ‘way it [is] and still maintain our privileged status?” As we advocate for massive social change--on either side of the aisle--“do we think we can be liberators and maintain rather than share our power?”

The reason Jesus’ story of temptation convicts us is not because we are at risk of accepting Satan’s empty promises. We already have!

This season of Lent, consider the ways in which the safety and security of our status quo is the oppression of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The active verb of these 40 days? Repent. 


Turn around, it means. Turn away from sin and selfishness, and turn toward God. Turn toward the God of liberation and compassion, by whose example we have seen true glory. Do not remain turned inward, glorifying the greatness of American success. Turn toward God, opening your ears to the cries of the oppressed.

The Beloved Community of the Kingdom of God is not the American dream. The worldly fulfillment of our wants is not the holy fulfillment of our needs.

Do not grow weary or lose hearts, dear ones. Temptation does not have the last word. Lent is a time dedicated to this work. God, through the Church, has handed you 40 days to breathe, pray, fast, wrestle, give, serve, love, struggle, sing, doubt, and repent.

By naming aloud our proclivity for brokenness, we are already weakening the stranglehold that sin has placed on us. By intending to be the fullness of who God has created us to be, we are on the way. By starting to walk through the wilderness, we are one step closer to the promised land.

While earthly glory is a solitary pursuit, faithfulness is a communal practice. Tonight, as we confess our sin, sing God’s praises, remember God’s covenants, and eat and drink together, we are made new.

Even in our own wildernesses, we are not alone. We have one another, and we always have God.

There’s a Martin Luther quotation I’ve loved since I first read it, and was delighted to find it hanging on the wall in the Belfry living room. I try to remember it every day, but especially during Lent. Good old Marty writes:
“This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.

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