My normal process in preparing for Sunday gathering reflections is to read through the Lectionary readings for my devotional times in the week before. This morning I read Matthew 4:1-11, where Jesus was led by the Spirit to spend 40 days in the wilderness. I've reflected on this passage, taught on it and preached from it many times over the years. Lots of insights to be gleaned here.
But today I paused again on Jesus' responses to the tempter. There's no discussion, debate, just simple responses from scriptures that he would have been raised with, taught and had memorized. Jesus understood clearly what the tempter was asking in each movement of this passage. He understood because he had a deep picture of God's purposes from the beginning, and he knew there were forces at work trying to dislodge those purposes. Jesus rooted his responses in what God had already said to his people through the writers of Israel's scriptures -- "it is written." When the tempter tried to get Jesus' mind onto human, self-centred possibilities, Jesus refocused on the God of human history.
I think we have to pay attention to the formation of Christian identity and worldview if we want to survive the wildernesses that will come. I engage with lots of Christians who have little or no intentional formation of Christian identity and worldview and see them swinging from one extreme to another in the current social media polarization over so many issues in the public square. We don't get to the place of responding as Jesus did, without deep formation and rootedness.
I've also been reading N T Wright's, Scripture and the Authority of God this past week or so.
Reading and studying scripture has been seen as central to how we are to grow in the love of God; how we come to understand God and his truth more fully; and how we can develop the moral muscle to live in accordance with the gospel of Jesus even when everything seems to be pulling the other way.
Wright goes on to say that many denominational groups have written "massive treatises or doctrinal compendia on every possible issue, as though to close things down and relieve ordinary Christians of the need to read, think, and pray with a fresh mind." He suggests that our churches need to insist that reading scripture remains the focal point of our public worship. If the majority of people in our worship communities don't read any scripture during the week, and only have a few sermon text verses read on Sunday, we are not engaging in intentional formation of Christian identity. And our people will be overwhelmed by the wilderness times we are living in.