Sermon for Sunday, March 6, 2022  First Sunday in Lent  “Valued and Vulnerable”

Rev. Amy Zalk Larson Good  Shepherd Lutheran Church    Decorah, Iowa


Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

No Cure for Being Human, And Other Truths I Need to Hear. That’s the title of a new book by Dr. Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School. Kate is living with stage 4 cancer, and has such important wisdom about what it means to be human. She notes that we’re bombarded with messages about how to live our best life now, how to escape all our limits and frailties:

This diet will change your life!

Here’s the new science of eliminating distraction. 

Check out: 

this bucket list with glossy photos, 

this calendar to increase efficiency, 

this writing journal with visionary wisdom from gurus.

Follow these spiritual practices and you’ll know perfect peace.

There are all sorts of guides for a meaningful life – how to live one, how to end one. Yet no matter how prayerful or purposeful we are, our lives don’t unfold the way we imagine. We get sick. War erupts. People die before we’re ready to live without them. Relationships are hard. Systemic evil persists. Plans fall apart. This doesn’t mean we’re doing life wrong. It means we’re human – frail and complicated, finite, vulnerable. There’s no cure for that, no way around it.

In the wilderness, Jesus is tempted to escape all this, tempted to use power to break free of human limits. He’s told: You don’t ever have to be hungry; you can control everything; you can be immune to all suffering. If you love God enough, then God will always protect you. Jesus is tempted to believe that things should always work out for him. He should be satisfied, powerful, protected.

These are the lies Jesus hears in the wilderness. They are the lies we hear again and again as well.

If you live right, you won’t be hungry and you’ll also be fit. If things go wrong in your life with the issues that matter to you, you must not be using your power well or giving it your all, you must not be trusting God enough. None of that is true. Sometimes things are hard. Sometimes we’re in the wilderness. That doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.

Jesus has to lean hard into those truths in the desert. Right before his time of temptation, Jesus is baptized. The heavens open and God declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.“ Yet when that word Beloved is still ringing in his ears, Jesus finds himself in the desert with nothing to eat for forty days. He is tempted and tested. He is famished. Is he still God’s beloved son? Yes. He can be beloved and famished, valued and vulnerable at the same time. 

In the wilderness, Jesus has to claim that he, God’s son, can be fully human. As one commentator points out, “In some ways, Jesus’s struggle brings the ancient story of human temptation full cir- cle. Adam and Eve were asked, ‘Can you be like God?’ ‘Will you dare to know what God knows?’”  

In the wilderness, Jesus hears a clever inversion of those questions: “Can you be fully human? 

Can you exercise restraint, abdicate power, accept danger? Can you bear what it means to be mortal?” Yes.

At every instance when Jesus can reach for the magical, the glorious, and the safe, he remains grounded in his humanity. Jesus, beloved Son of God, chooses to endure everything that comes with being human. Jesus doesn’t try to escape it or avoid it, but faces it all in the wilderness, on the cross. By entering it all, as fully human and fully God, Jesus helps us to know that nothing can separate us from the presence of God. 

There is nowhere that God will not go, nothing that God will not do to be with us and for us. God is always present for us, always working new life even in the most barren places. Jesus now ac- companies us in all things: all the wilderness, all the hunger, all boredom, disappointment, fatigue, fear, pain.

Jesus’ presence helps us to bear it all, helps us to trust that we too are beloved even when we are famished, valued even as we are always vulnerable.

Jesus’ presence helps us to endure the wilderness and to stay in the wilderness with others, not trying to escape or avoid the pain of life.

There is no cure for being human. Yet because God became human, we can live with hope and courage in all that life brings.

You are beloved of God.

You are not alone.