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Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Amidst all of the anguish and grief and fear of being alone in the desert with the devil, Jesus is offered three hiding places, three places where he can go and get away from it all.

First, the devil says, “turn these stones into loaves of bread”. The hiding place of self-reliance—if Jesus can turn even rocks into food, why would he need to depend on anyone? 

Second, the devil takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple and says, “Throw yourself down. If you are truly the Son of God, angels will come and save you.” The hiding place of perceived immortality—of thinking “death will surely never come for me!”. 

Third, the devil shows to Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world and says, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The hiding place of power. If only Jesus will tuck himself away in mansions of political and social might—then he will truly be safe. 

Self-reliance; perceived immortality (“what do you mean this life won’t last forever?”); and power. Three hiding places I suspect many of us are well acquainted with. One of the best pieces of pre-marital advice I ever got was to go on an extended vacation with my partner before we got married. I thought that was some pretty good advice! What could possibly go wrong? Well, after being together 24/7 for a month with multiple cases of the “hangries” (the hungry angry), and missing the solitude I had become accustomed to as a 20-something single adult, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to rely on another person, let alone have someone else relying on me! 

Self-reliance was this bunker that had kept me safe—no one had to know I got grumpy and hot-tempered; no one had to see me at my worst and then witness my coping mechanisms. Marriage, as it turned out, was starting to look a lot like giving up a lifetime of self-reliance in exchange for being known  as I truly am. Is that what I had signed up for? 

Self reliance can be an enticing hiding place. But it's nothing compared to the allure of thinking you're invincible. 

In an article, published last week, Philip Yancey, a popular Christian author, writes about his recent Parkinson’s diagnosis. He begins by talking about his brother, who has an “off-the-charts IQ . . . absolute pitch and an auditory memory that enabled him to play any music he’d ever heard.” In 2009, Yancey’s brother had a stroke. It took him a year to learn to walk again and even “more years to speak sentences longer than a few words.” He now has a speech condition called aphasia and “proudly wears a T-shirt that says ‘Aphasia: I know what to say but I can’t say it.’”

Fast forward a decade or so, Yancey begins to notice some changes in his own body: his gait and posture have changed. His handwriting, “already small,” has grown “even tinier.” “Tasks like buttoning a shirt” are taking “twice as long.” He says he “felt as if some slow-moving, uncoordinated alien had invaded [his] body.”

Yancey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s shortly thereafter. For months he resented that friends and family now referred to him as “Phil with Parkinson’s.” He insisted on being known as the same Phil he’d always been, he was “dislabeled” not “disabled.” Then came the realisation that after a lifetime of writing about other people and their respective disabilities, it was time for Yancey to accept that ability is something of a myth. 

“With some exceptions, those who live with pain and failure tend to be better stewards of their life circumstances than those who live with success and pleasure” he writes. “Pain redeemed impresses me much more than pain removed.”

That power can protect us from harm. This is the third hiding place Jesus is tempted with and one that I have been chewing on in recent weeks as I’ve made my way through the television series “American Crime Story: Impeachment.” 

The series tells the story of the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton affair, predominantly from the perspective of 23 year-old Monica. In one particularly telling episode, Monica is pleading with President Clinton to bring her back to the White House after she’s been “reassigned” to another department. In a moment of exasperation, she says to him, “You’re the President of the United States! Don’t you have the power to do whatever you want?”

That power can protect us from harm. 

After Jesus has been tempted three times he says to the devil, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

The devil is defeated in his efforts and he leaves. And, suddenly angels come and wait on Jesus. 

Jesus is offered the sturdiest of fortresses: the need to rely on no one, not even God, and he chooses instead dependence, vulnerability, and a willingness to be cared for by others. How then do we learn to be more like Jesus in this regard?

Delayne Sartison, a member here at St Clement’s who oversees our children’s ministry, every year she begins her annual report to the parish with this Bible verse: “But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”

I believe our greatest teachers when it comes to dependence, vulnerability, and allowing ourselves to be cared for by others, are children. This is one of the reasons why Jesus held up children in this way. It’s one of the reasons, among many, why on this Vestry Sunday, I am delighted to report that the Parish Council has affirmed children and youth ministry as a renewed area of focus for 2023.

I believe that what saved Jesus in the desert when he was tempted by the devil, wasn’t his ability to build a castle or even to pull up his bootstraps and act like a grown-up, it was his willingness to become like a child before God. 

We find sanctuary, we find a true hiding place, when we welcome children in our midst and in doing so, engage our own inner child. Like those early childhood forts, our sanctuary, though built by pillows and couch cushions, and leaned tentatively against table legs and lamps, our sanctuary becomes a fortress when we rely totally on God, when, with courage, we find a way to accept care from others. Because then, and only then, do we have awe and wonder on our side. Amen. 

Works referenced:

Philip Yancey, “Parkinson’s—The Gift I Didn’t Want” in Christianity Today, accessed online 25 February 2023 at