A Sermon for 1st Sunday in Lent; Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Wednesday we started our Lenten count down, a forty-day journey that brings us to Good Friday. This morning the journey follows Jesus’ Baptism, where his identity as the God’s Beloved Son is revealed. Following a short history of his ancestry, we hear how Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is lead into the wilderness. The wilderness is unstructured space and time a chaotic primal state of waste and void, the very antithesis, exact opposite, of the divinely created cosmic order. On the ground, it is the haunt of wild predatory animals, a place of demons and angels. In our souls, it is a place of existential limits, a journey to knowing our deepest, innermost selves; a time of transformation (Sakenfeld).
In this wilderness, Jesus is tempted by the devil. This temptation is difficult for us, not because we are not capable of resisting temptation, we are; however, we live in a time when many people reject the notion of the devil (Tew). I have my concerns that belief in such a being, as the personification of evil, allows us to escape responsibility for our own decisions and actions, both as individuals and collectively, as businesses or governments or other organizations. I also have concerns, that the rejection of any notion of the devil or tempter, or some sort of divine tester leads us to reject the notion of evil. In the last 8 weeks or so we have seen that evil exists, what is it 7 killings, including one over a hamburger. That a human life is less valuable than a hamburger is a sign that evil is present, somewhere, somehow. Evil exists and is the source of Jesus’ temptation, and ours as well.
The word ‘devil’ here is a cognate word, or a similar word to ‘Satan’ in Hebrew; think of the Satan in Job, who is the accuser, the tester, and a member of God’s court. This can help us to slightly shift the emphasis of Jesus’ wilderness experience from a contest between Jesus and Satan, to a time of experiential learning, in which Jesus, fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to all the faults we are, as Job did, discerns something not only about God but about himself.
There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo and Sam are wondering if Strider is a friend or evil? Sam notices his dirty, scrubby looks, and abrupt behavior. Fordo replies something like If he were evil, I suspect he would look fairer and smell worse. In short evil, and or temptation present themselves cleverly. We are seldom tempted by evil things, much more often we are tempted by good things that divert us from our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Epperly). The devil doesn’t challenge Jesus’ identity as the Son of God; in fact, the devil uses his identity; the temptation challenges how Jesus lives into his identity (Jacobsen). Will Jesus choose to fully embrace his mission, and fulfill his divine mission (Harrelson), or will he use his divine gifts for his own self-interest (Gaventa and Petersen)? Yes, we witness Jesus resist this round of testing. Because we know the rest of the journey to come, we also know Jesus continually resists similar temptations throughout his ministry, even the final opportune time (Culpepper).
I mentioned that Jesus is fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to temptation as we are. This excludes any notion that Jesus’ equally full divinity, is some sort of failsafe that keeps Jesus from falling to the temptations he faces in the wilderness, and throughout his ministry (Hoezee). Given this truth, what is the source of Jesus power to resist? This morning’s story begins with Jesus full of the Holy Spirit. Throughout his ministry, we witness the power of the Spirit in Jesus’ life. He frequently prays, often retreating to a quiet place to pray, and most always before any big decision. The presence of the Spirit is revealed in the company Jesus keeps, a compassionate presence to outcasts, lepers, sinners, those who are sick, blind, dying, those who are marginalized: sinners, tax collectors, women and children (Culpepper). Allan Culpepper notes that Jesus’ life and ministry follows the Shema, Israel’s confession of faith:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Culpepper).
We are more familiar with it as the first and second law (Luke 10:27). In the temptations and his life and ministry, Jesus follows the Psalmist’s advice, keeps his focus on God, discovering and drawing on God/Spirit’s loving presence and power (Psalm 91) (Epperly).
For the next five weeks, we will follow Jesus’ journey to Good Friday. While we explore his journey, we have the opportunity to explore our own journey. Jesus has a vocation revealed in his baptism; we also have a baptismal vocation. Jesus time in the wilderness is not limited to these forty days, elements of the wilderness are present throughout his life and ministry. Life today, with all its distractions, social media gathering likeminded people, rejecting any thought that differs, the lure of beauty, wealth and prosperity as the singular signs of success, the rush to judge of people who are different than we are (Romans 10:8-13), the willful failure to till and tend the land, given us as a divine responsibility (Genesis 2:15) are all signs of the wilderness in which we live, move, and have our being; are all sources temptation. For the next five weeks, indeed for the rest of our lives we will face the decision to be who we are, beloved children of God, made in the image of God, to follow our calling to love God and to love each other, or to reject our baptismal vows and act in our self-interest. For the next five weeks and more we have the chance to trust the divine promise revealed in the Psalmist’s verse:
Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him,
because he knows my Name (Psalm 91:14).
For the next five weeks and more we have the opportunity, to begin our journey, to stop, pray and seek the presence of the Spirit, we have the opportunity to trust that the Spirit, present for Jesus, through his wilderness and ministry journey, is present for us right here, right now. Our journey will be long, it will be challenging, it will be dark, and through it, we can, as Jesus did, discern something of God’s love, and something about ourselves as God’s beloved.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The First Sunday in Lent. 10 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 4:1-13. 10 3 2019.
Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:1-13. 10 3 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Tew, Anna. “Jesus, Daniel, and Johnny, Lent 1 (C).” 10 3 2019. Sermons that Work.