February 14, 2016 – First Sunday in Lent

Lent 1 Feb 14, 2016   Psalm 91, Deuteronomy 6:10-13, 16-17; 8:1-5, Luke 4:1-13

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As Jesus completes his 40 days in the wilderness, he is very hungry… And here comes the devil, offering up a three-course banquet of temptations, saying:

‘If you are the Son of God command this stone to be a loaf of bread…’ (You don’t need to be hungry…) ‘Worship me and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world’… (You can have servants bring you breakfast in bed…) And ‘Since you are the Son of God, take a leap from the top of the temple…For it is written – God’s angels will protect you and bear you up… so you will not dash your foot against a stone…’

The devil rolls out his top three temptations – economic power – political power – religious power… Make the material world, the political world, and the spiritual world – the church – all exist to serve your personal needs and desires… (Thank goodness – we’re not tempted by anything like that…anymore…But just in case we ever may be…) Welcome back to Lent.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, our annual journey through the wilderness into closer relationship with God. By ancient tradition, exploring again the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, abstaining, giving… and forgiving…

In Lent we remember Jesus, tempted by the devil…And this year I’m a little nervous… that the devil is sounding (actually almost) pretty reasonable, here, to me, at least at first. Saying, “If you are the son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Which sounds alright to me… at first hearing.

Jesus is famished from fasting forty days. What harm can there be in making himself a little something to eat? We know he can do this. There’s no law against it I can think of… But Jesus isn’t biting… Even though, we notice –

The devil here is not coming to Jesus heavily armed, or making threats… Nor proposing Jesus steal someone else’s bread… No, the devil (perhaps wanting just to get a foot in the door) comes on scene for the first time with a rather reasonable sounding proposal…. And… If we if we don’t know the rest of the story… we might be persuaded…But remembering that I have been fooled by the devil before…

I’ve been re-reading CS Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters – an imaginative series of letters from Screwtape, a senior devil, to Wormwood, his junior devil nephew. Lewis writes: “The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps… In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”

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The devil starts off with a rather mild-sounding economic temptation.‘You are the Son of God. You’re in charge. So make this rock a pizza with all the trimmings….’ The back story is well known. ‘Your Father fed Israel with manna, which was called the bread of heaven, forty years in the wilderness. Show your power. Do likewise…’

Later Jesus will multiply a few loaves of bread and two little fishes into enough food for a vast multitude… Soon Jesus will be criticized by religious authorities for not fasting more often, and for eating and drinking with sinners…

But Jesus is fasting today…And Jesus won’t let the devil set the agenda. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy (ch 8) saying: “One does not live by bread alone … (and the word of God continues) but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Next, the devil offers political temptation – showing Jesus in an instant all the kingdoms of the world, offering them all to him… ‘Just a little bow in my direction; these can all be yours. Let’s make a deal.’… I only require a little honor, a little respect… A little worship…’

Now I think we’re into a temptation most of us can resist… Unless of course we’re running for higher office… (In which case… all bets are off.)

But it is kind of troubling for me to think about – does the devil really get to pick who rules – everywhere – anywhere on earth?

In John’s gospel the devil is called ‘the ruler of this world.’ But Psalm 24 says, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” and the bible names God as the one and only King of creation… So ‘ruler of this world’ must mean the humanly-constructed worlds of economics, politics, religion and culture… Not the created world made by God…Yet even this fallen world is so loved by God that God sends his only Son that the world may be saved through him… And all the bible is the story of God and Jesus reclaiming all the kingdoms of this world…

And again Jesus quotes Deuteronomy (ch 6, now, saying): “It is written,‘worship the Lord your God and serve only Him…’”

And finally the devil offers religious temptation. ‘Stand here on the temple pinnacle…Since you are Son of God, show your stuff – make the leap…’

I don’t think this offer would actually tempt most people I know – Jump from the top of the temple, trusting God’s angels will make like a bungee cord? This does not sound at all tempting to me…

But some people do find it hard to resist high-risk behaviors. And perhaps the devil wonders if Jesus, whose mission is by definition high risk, just might go for it, even if just to get rid of the devil’s pestering – and –

Having noticed Jesus answering him with scripture, now the devil quotes scripture too… in one last desperate try…

I used to thinking how weird this is. The devil quoting scripture. Till I started noticing… How radically out-of-context and selectively the devil quotes – ignoring all the rest of the psalm that talks about depending on God alone for everything we need… all our safety, all our blessings…

Remembering also – how virtually all of Jesus’ human opposition comes from people who also quote scripture. Convinced they have it right – even if that means Jesus has to have it wrong…

The devil says, “Do a miracle. God will take care of you…” And Jesus will do many miracles… But only to advance the agenda of God. And God will take care of Jesus… But not by sparing him from human suffering and all that comes with being human… And Jesus answers, quoting Deuteronomy (ch 6 again): “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Jesus responds to each of the devil’s tests and temptations by quoting scripture. Now even the devil responds in kind. The devil isn’t necessarily always against the bible. Only against reading and applying it…as Jesus does…

And the devil’s probably also not challenging Jesus’ title as Son of God. The devil twice says “If you are the Son of God…” But the same phrase can be equally well translated as “Since you are the Son of God…” The devil isn’t challenging the title. Just trying to persuade Jesus – and us – to accept the devil’s definition of the job…

And all of these temptations in the wilderness are all about – what it really means for Jesus to be The Son of God… Consider…

In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel the angel Gabriel tells Mary the child to be born to her will be called “Son of the Most High”and “Son of God.” Mary is perplexed, and ponders what this might mean… Even after she gives birth to Jesus, and holds him in her arms and is closer to him than any other human gets to be, still she puzzles over what it means to be mother of the Son of God.

Thirty-some years later, just after baptism in the River Jordan, we overhear the voice of God say to Jesus, “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased…”

Then, immediately following, we hear a long genealogy in Luke’s gospel of the family tree of Jesus…Going back, back in time…all the way back to “son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.” Reminding us – Adam also was a ‘son of God.’

Though when he and Eve faced temptation they fell for it like a stone sinking in deep water. Now Jesus, called the second Adam (in the New Testament letters) also faces temptation, but without sin.

Israel was tested and tried in the wilderness forty years. And most of Israel never met a temptation they couldn’t learn to like… And Israel is a prototype for all the nations, and now we too are Israel… And so often we don’t even say ‘lead us not into temptation’… We know how to get there all by ourselves…

But Jesus, who fulfills all the law and prophets of Israel, meets every testing without sin. Then goes from defense to offense… Bringing good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind… Casting out evil spirits, healing the sick, raising the dead to new life. Jesus our Savior, Redeemer, Teacher, Coach. Which is sure a very good thing because…

The devil is still in the neighborhood… Keeping life challenging for all of us…

So we still need to keep worshiping, praying, and studying the word of God together… Listening, hearing, knowing, recognizing… the voice of Jesus who we are following…

Because only Jesus knows how to defeat every temptation…Only Jesus knows the way through this wilderness below… Only Jesus, Son of God can teach us… How to be true children of God…

Which is who we truly are. As we follow him.

Thanks be to God. Amen.