According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest living thing on this planet is a bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California, over 11,000 feet high, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is named Methuselah, after the Biblical oldest man and it is thought to be about 4,771 years old.
How old is that? Well, just consider that by the best dating scholars can estimate, when God called Abraham, the Methuselah tree was alive. That’s a long time.
Trees are threatened by any number of things. Drought, fire, floods, erosion, pollution and acid rain in some parts of the country all threaten trees. But among the greatest dangers are beetles. Not every beetle threatens trees, but it seems as though every tree has some sort of beetle that threatens it.
Pine beetles, spruce beetles, bark beetles – locally we have the Apopka beetle which threatens the citrus industry, along with the blue beetle. I would not be surprised if there is a beetle eager to bore into literally every type of tree on this planet. That’s the way biodiversity works – everything is some bug’s habitat.
And it is not generally the adult beetle that presents the greatest danger. It is when they burrow into and even through the bark into the tender wood of the tree. There they lay eggs. The larvae emerge hungry. Thousands can easily kill a tree. Millions can devastate a forest. Some threaten to wipe out entire species and an entire region.
Now if we have any appreciation for the beauty of the trees, for their critical place in our ecosystem and for the vital role they play in our lives on every level from recreation to furniture to paper then surely the prospect of their demise sounds an alarm deep within us. We must save the trees!
And, you know, those beetles are God’s creatures too. There are and should be beetles doing their job in the grand scheme of things. But we have made it worse because through our travels and trade we carry them where they should not be. Even some of our conservation methods have unfortunately thrown off nature’s balance and set up conditions for beetles to swarm like locusts.
And the beetle, which began as a pest becomes a danger. What was threat from the outside becomes a deadly threat from within – on a catastrophic scale.
And in that regard beetles are in many ways much like human sin.
The worst sins are not those that tempt us from the outside. We may feel as though we at least have a fighting chance if there is some way to minimize our exposure to them, or develop our defenses. But there are so many, and they come in an infinite number of species able to attack any sort of person.
The worst sins are those that arise from within, or bore their way deeply into us, the sins that haunt us when we are alone, or that assault our idle minds wherever we may be. They are the most portable, the most present, and the hardest to avoid or manage.
And they fester like larvae, devouring and destroying us from within. That’s kind of gross, I know. But it’s accurate. The way sin ruins us is gross as well as tragic. We can identify some easy examples: addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, pornography, money – all of these are continually present around us and every one of them can bore into our bodies, minds and spirits to enslave us to sin, to kill us, to destroy our lives, our families, our church, our communities.
How do we hide from that? How do we avoid it entirely? Maybe we’d do better to live in the shade of Methuselah, above 11,000 feet and isolated. But remember, the worst sins come from within. We cannot run or hide from those.
Taken on the whole I suspect most of us identify with Paul’s cry, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
Luke tells us that after his baptism Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit “led” Jesus into the wilderness of sin. The word translated here as “led” actually means to be raised up, in the way we might say someone was stirred to do something.
Note that this temptation isn’t just these three items – these come after he was tempted continuously for forty days; while fasting, while alone. The final three come, all provoking Jesus in very natural ways.
A famished man needs food after all. If Jesus turned stones into bread he could end hunger. Think of all the good Jesus could have done if he assumed political authority from the Roman Empire. Satan even temps him with scripture – a beetle straight from the word of God. But Jesus answers all of these by simply relying on his Father’s will.
He was tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Where we see sin taking root in our lives we must follow Our Lord’s example and answer it according to Our Father’s will and Word – word written as it may apply and Word alive in the action of the Holy Spirit. Pray on these things, listen to him and follow his counsel – to identify sin and to end it. The temptation is always there. This is where the analogy breaks down. We aren’t trees. Trees don’t pray the Great Litany. We aren’t passive victims of circumstances. (There are of course exceptions.) We make decisions. We need Jesus’ continuous help, and we’ve got a role in turning away from sin.
Where sin overwhelms, where it takes such root that it defies our very best efforts, we need help – from our friends and ultimately from Our Lord. The breaking of habits, breaking of patterns of thinking in our minds involves complex biological processes. Will and establishing new habits is often incremental, but if we change one piece and the effects ripple across our entire state of being. It starts with a decision and it may mean a lifetime of struggle, but that’s life isn’t it?
Jesus was raised up to this challenge in the wilderness. And if that word “raised” sounds familiar, it is the very same word Luke will use later to describe the Resurrection. He was raised up, literally, to meet our challenges as well, at a fitting time.so our faith is not a generalized spirituality, or a refined code of ethics, or a generic, lowest common denominator view of God.
We have a sharp focus on Jesus as the unique reality of God’s presence and the author of our salvation. God demonstrated this by raising him from the dead.
He requires that we come before him with penitent hearts, repenting of our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone. And his promise is that his grace is sufficient to heal and restore us before God. And we shall be raised up.
Watch out for those beetles. Kill them. Watch out for the ways sin seeks to bore into your heart, your strength, your soul. Protect it. And remember God’s love poured out for us in Christ is our answer.