First Sunday in Lent: March 10, 2019
Year C, Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-3
No recording available for this sermon.
Today’s Gospel passage begins with what seems to be paradox or contradiction. Luke tells us that Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, but he is led into the emptiness or nothingness of the wilderness. Simultaneous fullness and emptiness. This seems to be irreconcilable – how can there be fullness and emptiness at the same time? Yet, stories of faith are full of paradox and contradiction.
The wilderness is a place where people are tested, and tested some more, and ultimately given an opportunity to look deeply within themselves to see who they really are.
When Moses led his people into the wilderness where they spent forty years, it was an in-between place, a place between slavery in Egypt and freedom in the Promised Land. It was a place to encounter themselves and God, and it wasn’t an easy place. The people were thirsty and hungry, and they let God know they weren’t too happy being in the wilderness and they complained a lot.
When they thought Moses had left them for too long, they made their own god, a golden calf which they worshiped. Their weaknesses and failings were very clearly on display in the wilderness, but it was also a place where they ultimately learned who and whose they really were. It was a place where they came to know their true identity as God’s chosen people.
Jesus goes out to the wilderness after he is baptized, and is tested there. The word in our translation is tempted, but I think that can be misleading. This wasn’t a temptation to sin. This was a test of what kind of person Jesus really was, of who he would be when he went out among the people, teaching and preaching. So, in the wilderness, Jesus fasts forty days, and at the end of that time, he’s hungry. And the devil says, “If you are the son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
If you are the son of God…we know he’s the Son of God in the previous chapter when he is baptized and God says, “this is my Son, the Chosen One.” While the genealogy at the end of Chapter Three seems a bit out of place, what it does is underscore Jesus’ ancestry to God.
The devil taunts him. If you are the son of God, why be hungry a minute longer, when you could easily turn this hard stone into a lovely loaf of bread or find some cosmic fast food restaurant. But Jesus never performs a miracle for himself. In fact, he never puts his own welfare first in any circumstance. Even when he’s tired and hungry, even when he’d love to have just a little time to himself, he never turns away the people who need him. Jesus says no. “One does not live by bread alone.”
“Worship me”, the devil says next, and I will give you authority over all the kingdoms of the world. You’ll have power, and glory, right now!
But Jesus is resolute and says, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him!”
We learn of Jesus’ strength, Jesus’ integrity. Jesus will not abandon his principles and will not put God to the test. He returns from the wilderness tested and proven faithful to his true identity. He was tempted to choose a life of security, power, and status – the life of ease and comfort the devil showed him. He was tempted to choose that life over the life that led to death on a cross.
But Jesus says no to safety and status. He says “yes” to the cross. He knows who he is. He knows who he will be.
And in this story, his triumph is staying true to that identity.
Lent is a time for remembering our identity. It’s a time in our liturgical year specially set aside to give us the space to remember who we are, to remember how we came to be here, and what we have been called to do. To remember that God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes may not perish but have eternal life. So that you and I can be children of God, and heirs of God’s eternal kingdom.
Lent is a time for us to be tested as Jesus was tested. Jesus went into the wilderness voluntarily. Often, we find ourselves in the wilderness and have no clue how we got there. Sometimes, circumstances we cannot control put us in the wilderness. No matter how we end up there, the wilderness is usually a lonely, frightening place.
Yet in that lonely place is often the most opportune time for us to pay attention to what’s most important in our life in God and to experience growth.
We might adopt some spiritual practice to help with that focus. Be more intentional about prayer, or find some helpful spiritual reading.
Like Jesus, we might fast. Some people will actually adopt a physical fast, eating less, or not eating meat on Friday, for example. For others, giving something up they enjoy is a form of fasting.
We might take the time to rediscover who we are. The forty days of Lent provide us with an opportunity to remember and discover who we are. It gives us a place to settle into emptiness, and to prepare to meet God.
I don’t know about you, but I have often encountered God in the Lents of my life – when I have been most lonely and most tempted. I have met God when it turns out that the devil is in that wilderness waiting for me. In this past week, the devil has been tempting many around me, including me. The truth about our lives is often close to the quote: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”
It takes time in the wilderness to recognize those temptations and to turn those temptations to Christ. Time in the wilderness can help clarify the kind of integrity one has or doesn’t have.
So, while we’re in this wilderness we call Lent, let’s think about who we really are. Think about what really matters, what values we hold, what kind of life would really make God proud.
Do we really follow Jesus, or just say we do?
Do we live for ourselves, or others?
How much do we really care about the welfare of all of God’s children?
Do we even take the time to learn what other lives are actually like?
Do we take the money, status, and fame or do we walk the path with Jesus?
What kind of people do we most want to be in this life?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions, but real questions to ponder as you leave here today.
No matter how you’re tempted to call for angels to bring you bread or receive what you haven’t earned, I implore you to resist that temptation. Face the things you’re afraid of, and decide if those are the things that really deserve to be worried about.
Remember, too, that Lent is not a magic bullet. To experience a Holy Lent, which is our invitation on Ash Wednesday, we must be willing to set aside time to remember who God is, and what God was willing to do to secure our salvation in the world. God was willing to become incarnate, to become fully human, to be tempted and to journey to Jerusalem.
Lent is a time to remember those sacrifices. I again invite you to a Holy Lent.
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