The Space Between

Rev. Sarah Buteux
February 25, 2007
First Sunday in Lent Year C
Deut 26:1-11; Luke 4:1-13




Being bored.


Finding yourself stuck somewhere with nothing but time on your hands; nothing to do, no one to talk to, just you alone with your thoughts.




Do any of you remember that?


I can vaguely remember as a kid complaining to my parents about being bored, but since I had children myself there’s been no time, and since this little baby was born – this demonic little love child of Steve Jobs and the internet- my i-phone, man… there hasn’t been a moment, a silence, an experience I couldn’t fill with music, news, conversation, texting, facebook, photography, on-line shopping, angry-birds, or e-mail.


Thanks to my i-phone and all it can do: no traffic light is too long, no waiting room too full, no check out line too slow. Thanks to this little puppy, I never need be bored again. I can work from anywhere, stay connected to friends and family, navigate, note take, calculate, and calibrate…and yet as lovely as that sounded when I bought the thing, I’m beginning to suspect that this little boredom buster is driving me crazy.


How many of you have smart phones? How many of you have wondered the same thing?

How many of you have held off on buying a smart phone? How many of you have held off because you look at the rest of us and think we’re crazy?


Yeah, you’re probably right. I bet you think the whole world has gone mad.


I mean, you look around, at people walking down the street, driving their cars, kids rushing between classes, people stepping outside to take a break, and every last one of them seems to have a phone glued to their ear or cradled in their hands. Am I right? Everyone is always so busy checking their mail, their messages, the weather, or the news, because who knows what might have happened, who might have called, what might have gone down, while they were busy doing something else?


And it’s not just our phones providing us with a constant stream of info-tainment, it’s everywhere. We live in a world where you can watch TV while you’re pumping gas, a world where there are not just 4 but 8 films now nominated for Best Picture, a world where you can’t just watch the news, you also have to read it while it scrolls along the bottom of your screen. Friends, when what is happening right now has to compete for attention with what happened 15 minutes ago, you know you’re in trouble.


There is so much information at our disposal these days, so much to do and see and know, that to be bored almost feels like a sin, if not against God than at least against our culture.


Boredom, as I said at the beginning, takes time, and who has that anymore? If you’re bored it means you have nothing better to do with your time than just sit there, and given all the options at your fingertips that’s becoming harder and harder to imagine. There always seems to be something more important to do, someone or something worthy of our attention: some new level to reach, new video to watch, or project we could at least get ahead on. Right?



at least I think that’s right.

But then I look at Jesus and, thanks be to God, I start to wonder.

I start to wonder if any of this is right at all.


I look at Jesus, Jesus who is baptized in the river Jordan, rises up out of the waters full of the Holy Spirit, and begins his ministry by doing what? Following the Spirit where? …into the Wilderness.

Here he is, come to save the world, and he begins by withdrawing from it.

What’s up with that?


I mean had I been there and say been called to be his personal assistant or something, I’d already have the Franklin Planner out, pen poised. I’d be booking him up as fast as my little fingers could scrawl. There’d be people to see, places to go, a whole ministry to roll out complete with themes, goals, and hashtags. There’d be no time to waste, and yet that seems to be, at least on the surface, precisely what Jesus does. He doesn’t head towards the people but walks away. He doesn’t buckle down and get right to work, but heads out to the wilderness and does… nothing. Nothing! Seriously nothing and less than nothing.


He doesn’t eat.

He doesn’t drink.

He doesn’t call.

He doesn’t write. (I bet his mother was furious).


Things get kind of exciting for Jesus toward the end of his time out there, what with Satan showing up and all, but for the first 39 days, what was he doing out there? The Bible says he went out and that for “forty days he was tempted by the devil.” We hear about the last three temptations, but that verse makes me wonder: was he tempted the whole time? Tempted to high tail it out of there and get right to work? Tempted to make things happen? Tempted to rush or force things that needed to unfold at their own pace, in their own good time?


I don’t know… It’s hard to imagine doing that little for that long…but I think I’d like to try.


I’m wondering if maybe, because he was out there with no agenda, how different that time would have seemed to him then it would to someone like you or me.  I would imagine he saw, and felt, and came to know things you and I maybe don’t really see, or feel, or know anymore because we’re so full of other things.


Out there, with no one to talk to, no place to be, no season three of Downton Abbey to catch up on, did Jesus take the time to look at the sky, I mean really look at the sky, at the layers of blue on blue on blue? (When’s the last time you looked at the sky?)


Did he breathe - really breathe - breathe deeply and intentionally; breathe in a way that you and I rarely do?


Rather than manage his anxieties, about hunger or cold, the present or the future, did Jesus simply let those anxieties come and go; let them rise, crest, and dissipate until they had no power over him?


I don’t know, but the more I think about Jesus’ time in the wilderness the more I respect the Spirit that led him there. As counterintuitive as it might be to start a project as big as saving the whole world by withdrawing from it, I think there is deep wisdom there, a wisdom from which you and I can draw.


You see, I think most of us feel that our lives are overfull, that we have far too many things to do, places to go, and people to satisfy. But think for a moment about the life Jesus was about to begin as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World. We may feel overwhelmed by the choices before us, but think for a moment about the choices, the impossible choices, that would have awaited him.


Given the nature of his mission, it is pretty clear to me that from the moment Jesus began, he would never be done. There would always be more to do: more truth to express, more people to help, more good to accomplish.


Jesus healed a lot of people, but he didn’t heal all people.  He spoke a lot of truth, but not to the point where he convinced or corrected every last person. He raised two people from the dead in a world where thousands were dying every day, fed multitudes knowing full well that countless more would still go hungry, earned the respect of a few onlyto rack up the scorn of so, so many. 


No matter how much he did, what he chose, where he went, or what he said, Jesus could always have done more, and no matter how much he did, what he chose, where he went, or what he said, he never made everyone happy.


So perhaps Jesus’ time in the wilderness was a chance to grapple with the temptation to believe that any of us can be or do or know it all. Perhaps he used that time, not just to get clear on his mission but to come to terms with his limitations, to figure out who he truly was before he was inundated by the pressure to be who everyone else wanted him to be.


Perhaps the Spirit led him out there, not to test him, but to give him the gift of space, the gift of silence, the gift of perspective, a gift – not for nothing – that the Spirit longs to give to you and me too. It’s all wrapped and ready to open in the form of Lent, and believe it or not, it’s already here.


Like Jesus’ time in the wilderness, Lent is meant to be a space between for us, a time for us to step back, slow down, and take a good hard look at ourselves. Lent is a gift… just not a comfortable one.


In fact the more I think about it, the more I think the temptation to distraction in modern life is not just a function of opportunity and invention, but a symptom of our fear of this kind of time and space. I think we are afraid: afraid to be quiet, afraid to be still… afraid to be with ourselves… before God. I think we’re afraid to look at how we are living our lives because then we’ll have to take responsibility for who we are and who we are becoming.


Instead of pausing and taking stock and beginning with an honest assessment of ourselves, all too often we choose instead to let life run rough shod over us: allow people’s expectations to shape us, work to drive us, information to bury us, advertising to consume us, and then blame it all for how tired and ill fed and over-loaded and in debt we are.


Well, Lent calls us away from all that. Lent gives us an opportunity to break all these cycles of blame and dependence. Our lives may be overfull with choices… but Lent gives us a time and a reason not just to choose more carefully but to realize that so many of the choices before us are really not even choices we need to engage in at all.


Which is to say that the world will keep turning if you never see Argo.


Your friends will survive whether or not you Like their most recent status updates.


If you let your coupons expire or, God forbid, take a pass on all the clearance sales that pop up at this time of year, you will not go hungry, you will not be left naked.


Just because a video has gone viral or a favorite desert is now available with a third less calories, doesn’t mean you need to expose yourself or indulge yourself in the dis-ease of constant consumption that pervades modern life.


Dear ones, Lent gives us permission to let go of all that, permission to tune out, and put down: the TV, the i- phone, the Haggen daz, the credit card, that we might take up with the Spirit instead and follow her to a place beyond all that; a space free from all the chatter and the stuff… a place where it’s just you and God... and somehow that’s enough.


Jesus used the wilderness time, I would imagine, to empty himself, free himself, start fresh, start clean;


and you and me,


we can too.


We can too.


Let us pray.


O Lord, meet us here and now, right where we are, and grant us the courage to be honest with ourselves. Help us to come into your presence with all our preoccupations and fears, our needs and our desires, and lay them now at your feet.  Help us to see ourselves as you see us, apart from all the trappings of life we think make us successful or worthy or lovable. Help us to recognize that an honest assessment of our limitations and a heartfelt confession of our sins will not limit your love for us, but instead make a way for that love to flow in and fill the emptiness at the core of our souls, an emptiness only you can fill, for it was made by you for you. Even so, come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.