Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’

Luke 4:1-4

Times of confusion, times of disruption, times of monumental change, can also be times of deep despair or times of enlightenment and revelation.  This is a core message of the Lenten season.  It reminds us that the events that occur are part of a larger journey and process.  Jesus is tempted in the wilderness time, and these temptations often become the whole focus of the story.  However, there is a subtle but significant context in which all of the temptations occur.  For forty days, Jesus was empty of food, but full of the Holy Spirit.  I want to reflect on this reality for our Lenten journey.

Physical hunger is a powerful thing.  When we are hungry, our entire body chemistry changes.  It can affect our moods and emotions, the way we interact with other people, our concentration, our attention, our reasoning, and our attitude.  People tend to be less than their best when they are hungry.  This can also be true when we are psychologically, spiritually, or mentally hungry.  Hungers of all kind can be distracting, obsessive, and all-consuming (no pun intended).

Many would say that our United Methodist Church is in a “hungry-time”.  People across the theological spectrum hunger for different things, but many are ravenous – some for justice, others for judgment; some for inclusion, others for restrictions; some for acceptance, others for standards of behavior; some for discipleship, others for membership.  Some are longing for radical change, while others crave a return to former, more comfortable ways.  At one end of the spectrum is a starvation for absolute transformation and at the other end a famishment for tradition and established practices.  We are a hungry people – we hold this truth in common – and deep hunger is making sound decisions difficult.

Luke is very careful and clear to tell us that at the end of the forty days, Jesus was physically famished.  Yet, at the same time, Luke makes sure we know that in every instance of temptation, Jesus made extremely intelligent, reasonable, and rational decisions.  He existed in the certainty and knowledge that we “cannot live by bread alone,” that our physical (and psychological/emotional/mental) hungers must never displace the fullness and wholeness that can be provided by God’s Holy Spirit.

There are some Christians who believe that God stopped talking to us when the canon of scripture was established.  Others hold that the teachings of John Wesley should guide and govern our beliefs today, ignoring that Wesley himself taught that God wasn’t finished leading and teaching and transforming us.  Both Jesus and Paul teach us that God is present in us through the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to teach and guide us.  It is by God’s grace, Christ’s presence, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that we no longer tolerate slavery, child abuse, oppression of women, and other practices and perspectives endorsed by scripture.  It is by the teaching of the Holy Spirit that we understand unconditional love, unmerited grace, justification and sanctification.  What we believe and how we live our beliefs today are radically different than beliefs and practices in Biblical times, locations, cultures, and contexts. Scripture has much to teach us today, interpreted and evolved through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Lent is not just a season, not just a static period, or a phase of the Christian year.  Lent is a threshold to a journey of transformation.  It is a time where we become invulnerable to our human hungers through a transformation in the Holy Spirit to a fullness and satiation only God can give.  We are all hungry – we are simply hungry for different things.  My prayer for our Wisconsin Conference in this Lenten season is that we may journey through Lent in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that as we emerge to celebrate Easter, it may be as a transformed people knowing in our hearts and soul that we cannot live “by bread alone.”  Thanks be to God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit!

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung