GOSPEL: Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”…
Here we are, on the doorstep of the mysterious season of Lent. Mysterious because unlike Christmas and Easter, Lent is mostly a non-event outside the walls of the church. Beginning with Ash Wednesday – a Wednesday hardly noticed by the world – we enter into this strange springtime season when we know that we are supposed to be more solemn, more serious than usual.
When I first started as a pastor, the congregation I served only vaguely knew about Lent. The colours changed at the front of the church according to some kind of calendar, but for what reason wasn’t known.
And at times in my time in ministry, people have pushed back against observing Lent.
“Can’t we just have one song with an Alleluia Pastor?”
“Do we have to give something up?”
“Can’t be a little less serious and more happy?”
Of course we *can* do those things, it isn’t about what we can and cannot do. Rather the question is what ought we to do as ones who belong to the Body of Christ, as a world -wide community of practitioners of this common faith in Jesus and how we walk together through the different seasons of our life and witness.
And so, as we step into this season of Lent, we so do following paths trodden by the faithful over centuries. Paths towards a deeper understanding of faith, towards a growing awareness of God’s mercy to be poured out for us in Christ.
Each year on the first Sunday in Lent we journey into the wilderness with Jesus. We hear how Jesus is tempted by the Devil. This is the place where our Lenten journeys begins. In the wilderness, on the road to Jerusalem and Good Friday. We are being made ready for a transformed life in Christ. But this is only the beginning.
We stand by while Jesus and the devil interact. We watch as Jesus is offered things that the devil hopes will divert Jesus from his mission.
As we watch Jesus, the model resistor, this familiar story is often upheld as a formula for Christian living. Jesus’ responses are said to be sure-proof ways to avoid temptation, as if two people slapping each other with bible verses prevented anything.
Of course there is no manual and this is not a video guide demonstrating the right techniques of temptation avoidance.
In fact, as we hear this familiar story today there is a strange tension about these temptations. They are things that have caused all the prophets who have come before to fall:
Moses committed murder,
Elijah stuck his neck out and then last all hope,
And Abaraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
And King David and Solomon…
even God’s chosen prophets, especially God’s chosen prophets and kings fell for one reason or another.
And yet, Jesus is different. It isn’t that Jesus has some kind of super human will power, it is that these temptations for Jesus, the son of God, the prophet of the most high God, are not really temptations at all.
The Devil has forgotten or doesn’t really understand just who he is speaking with.
Jesus has been declared God’s chosen, God’s son. The Devil thinks he is dealing with another prophet, he does not understand that this Prophet is not only one who speaks with God’s voice, but is the very Word of God made flesh.
The devil is trying to sell power that the devil does not have to give and Jesus knows it. The devil is really doing something that we do on a regular basis. The devil is trying to act as God, trying to be God in God’s place. To control and handle God. To make his will, God’s will.
The devil asks God to bend to creaturely concerns, to the whims and desires of the finite and created. The devil’s temptations are not offers of power, but demands that God act according to the devil’s desires.
And if we are honest… the temptations that the devil offers aren’t really temptations to us either, because we all too often seek them our shamelessly.
If we could command the angels, we would! It would be a virtue, we would feel like superheroes. We would wish this pandemic way, we would send them into the hospitals and grocery stores, to provide childcare and senior-care we would find a million places to put them to work.
If we had the power over kingdoms… we know well the pursuit of power in this world. Power on any scale from families, neighbourhoods, workplaces all the way up to cities and nations requires controlling others, taking away their power. We are watching the worst of it unfold before our very eyes Ukraine. The Power over Kingdoms and armies sought by one unstable dictator means violence, destruction, war and death. It means sending our young to sit behind tanks and guns to destroy cousins and neighbours.
If we could turn stones into bread… it is the most seductive temptation of them all. The temptation to survive at all costs, to seek our own satisfaction, to put ourself first above all others. A temptation that looked like convoys rolling down Portage Avenue in protest of masks and vaccine passports, while at the Jets game the Hoosli choir sang for freedom in front of Winnipeg and the whole world.
These temptations that are presented to Jesus are things our world simply strives for, often at all costs, often proclaiming the virtuousness of power, control, of being satiated and comfortable, of putting ourselves first.
At their core, these temptations are about getting Jesus to set aside his mission. To set it aside in favour of just being, just striving, just existing. But at the cost of giving up something of himself, to be less than the full Son of God, less than the full Messiah sent to save.
The same thing that these temptations do to us…by asking us to set aside our callings and purposes, in order to just be, to just exist, to just take up space without moving forward.
And yet, there in the hot, dry, sandy landscape of the wilderness, there tired, hungry, thirsty, chapped lip, windblown, and dusty Jesus sticks to the mission.
As the Devil says to the same God who spoke all of creation into being from nothing… If you are God, turn this rock into bread and Jesus says, “One does not live by bread alone”. God in Christ reminds the devil that the Word is standing there in the flesh.
And then on top of world, the devil offers Jesus power over all nations if he would only bow down to chaos and confusion personified. The devil offers earthly power to the same God who has just been born in a manger as powerless baby, who has come to live in the created world, to play in the mud and sleep over at the neighbour’s house, to stub his toes and hug his parents, to go to weddings and learn the torah in the temple as a teenager.
Then the Devil says worship me, and Jesus says “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” God in Christ reminds the devil that being God is not about power, but rather about giving up power in order to love and to love deeply. That being worshiped is not about being on top, but how God comes down to us.
And then from the top of the world to the temple of Jerusalem. The devil asks Jesus to prove who is. The devil asks Yahweh Elohim, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph. The God of Moses and Elijah. The devil asks this God to prove who he is on top of his own house, on top of the place that God’s chosen people come to worship the one true God.
The Devil says throw yourself from this temple, and Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. God in Christ reminds the devil that there is no need to prove who he is… that this whole mission, that incarnation, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection are about God showing us who we are – God’s beloved children.
Jesus sticks to the mission. Because Jesus has come to fulfill God’s love and mercy given for us, to bring us back from being less than and to reclaim in us our calling and purpose. Jesus has come to pull us back from the brink of temptation and set us again on the way. The way to God.
And so we begin each Lent in this same way. This mysterious, mostly unobserved season meets us in the messy world. In the world where we are seeking the satisfaction of bread, reaching for all power, looking to worship and follow the wrong things… and this year especially in all the worst ways.
And Jesus reminds us that he has come into our world for a purpose. For a purpose revealed last week on the mountain of transfiguration, but soon to be revealed again on the mountain of Golgotha. Jesus has come not to prove who God is to us, but remind us again and again and again who God says we are.
So as we set out on our Lenten journey today, God in Christ sets out with us knowing that we will forget who Jesus really is, but God never forgets who we are.