Lent 1 March 1, 2020 – Sermon

Lent 1 March 1, 2020 Psalm 32, Genesis 2;15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11
Tempted… Tested… Loved.
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The devil tests Jesus, saying first – “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” – then “If you are the Son of God”… jump from the top of the temple, let God’s angels catch you. (The devil quotes Psalm 91 here, and probably the devil knows scripture at least as well as most Christians…) And for his third temptation the devil skips over the “If you are” part – (as if conceding the point) – and offers all the kingdoms of the world in return for worship.

Jesus counters each of the devil’s suggestions with quotations from Deuteronomy – replying “It is written ‘we don’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” – and – “Again it’s written, ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” – and finally “Away with you Satan! For it is written ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Now the devil departs…and angels wait on Jesus.

We expect of course, the Son of God to withstand all the devil’s temptations. Just before where we’ve rejoined Matthew’s gospel-in-progress, the heavens have opened and God’s Spirit has descended on Jesus as he comes up from the waters of baptism, and God’s voice has said,“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (The same words we heard God say again last Sunday, on the mount of transfiguration.) Jesus knows – we know – even the devil knows – Jesus is the Son of God. What the devil says here “If you are the Son of God” can also be translated as “Since you are the Son of God.” The title isn’t really disputed. Just the job description. And…

In his rejection of these temptations Jesus reveals what it means to be Son of God according to Jesus as opposed to the devil’s suggested job description. And throughout all the rest of the gospels, we’ll see Jesus faithfully living out his rejection of worldly power, fame, popularity, and short-term-short-cut solutions… And as we read the gospels carefully we see the total consistency of Jesus… in refusing all the devil’s temptations.

Yet even with all we see of Jesus, teaching by word and example in the gospels – we, the church, have seldom rejected temptation with anything like the clarity and consistency of Jesus. Speaking not only now of flagrant sins of abuse, betrayal of trust, and lies perpetrated by some church leaders and members. We’re talking also about everyday yielding to everyday temptations that can also derail our lives if not noticed and addressed…

The devil’s temptation to command stones to become bread can sound almost as innocent as eating chocolate in lent. After all Jesus is hungry… But it’s actually a metaphor that cuts to the heart of our immediate-gratification culture. A culture that wants everything delivered quickly and conveniently. Technical fixes, we’re told, are possible for just about everything. Including discipleship. We’ve got an app for that. Tap the app for Jesus on your phone. Next to the apps for pizza delivery and weather…

But Jesus chooses hunger and solitude over quick-fix-fast-food… To make clear his connection with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and Prophets, each of whom fasted forty days on a wilderness mountain – and his connection with all the story of Israel, whose leaders are always tested by God.
The same biblical word translates as both temptation and testing. And because its God’s Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness… Rather than choose one word over the other, it’s best to view this as a split-screen-episode, with the devil Tempting – and God testing – at the same time.

As now for forty days Jesus takes time to reflect on Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, fed by God with free manna-bread on the ground every morning. Jesus takes time to remember God’s abundant faithfulness to Israel (as recorded in Psalm 105) and Israel’s infidelity to God (as recorded in Psalm 106). Both sides of this both/and wilderness heritage held together by God’s steadfast love and forgiveness and God’s continuous calling of us into deep repentance (as recorded in Psalm 107). Jesus recapitulates in theological language the exodus – withstanding all the temptations Israel succumbed to, and embodying all the faithfulness of God the Father…

Jesus knows full well that he and God the Father together can work greater miracles. He also knows God’s miracles are meant to be used sparsely as teaching moments. So he chooses suffering in solidarity with those who hunger over special treatment for himself. As he reflects on Who he is and Whose he is as God’s Son. And who his disciples are called to be… as children of God.

So Jesus says no again to miracles-on- demand when the devil invites him to jump from on high. The implied message being – do something spectacular. Think Stadium-Rock Ministry. You can have a spectacular warm up band with attractive backup singers, a big parking lot full of nice cars driven by nice parishioners, a great coffee bar, all kinds of ministries. And people will flock to your church in big numbers and be entertained and feel good and you will prosper abundantly. Just take a leap of faith like the psalm says. Jump and trust God…
As we read on we’ll see Jesus hanging out mostly with sinners and tax collectors, with the sick and those in recovery, with strangers and people of other tribes… basically all the wrong kinds of non-spectacular people…
And Jesus isn’t like the tv and radio preachers who bible scholar-pastor Craig Keener describes as telling us (quote) “how to get God to work for you.” As if God was our servant, not the other way around… So we’re not surprised when
Jesus tells the Tempter ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Finally the devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship. And Jesus, notice, doesn’t challenge the devil’s claim to be able to hand over power over the nations. What’s up with this?
Well, in John’s gospel Jesus does call Satan the prince of this world. But the psalms tell us God is king over all the earth. So, what is the deal? Does the devil get to pick winners in elections for a few thousand years, then it’s God’s turn? Or do God and the devil flip a coin before the kick-off of every election contest then fight it out?
I really don’t know exactly how the forces of evil and God interact in the choosing of elected officials. (Unlike some Christian leaders, I cannot claim to see God’s hand at work in American elections with any clarity or certainty…) But I do notice…

Jesus once again puts it all in a very different perspective, saying – “Away with you Satan! For it is written – ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.’” And elsewhere Jesus says ‘You can’t serve two masters, God and Money…’
We do have to choose who we will serve… And the older I get the more I’m aware… I have not always chosen well. So now I know all the more how much I need… and I suspect we all need… the forty days of Lent to ponder…
Where are we now in God’s story? Where should we be? And – how do we get there from here?
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And a big clue I notice in today’s readings is – In Paul’s letter to the Romans Adam is described as a type of the one to come, and Jesus is described as the second Adam. The bad news, scripture tells us, is – the sin of the first Adam who yielded to temptation, has infected all of us with the 100% fatal virus of sin and death. We’ve all got that bug. We’re all sinners. We’re all going to die…

But the good news – (and the word gospel means good news) – is the free grace gift of new life in Christ has abounded to all – with far more power and far more lasting effect – than all the sin of the first Adam.
So sin doesn’t have the last word. And death need not be fatal.

Though it’s also true, as our Thought for the Week from Martin Luther tells us, “There is no… forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow…” Meaning we do have to seek and strive to live the new life Christ gives us through his grace… by following him…
Yet as we seek to live with Jesus, Romans goes on to tell us, there is nothing in heaven and earth or anywhere else that can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ… if we but call on him and do our best to follow him…

So as Lent begins anew… I am believing…
We all need time with God, away from distractions…
Time to talk with Jesus and listen to him…
Taking time with Jesus… to better recognize the voices of temptation… that try to seduce us away from God…Taking time to get to know God’s voice… from all other voices.

We do need to know God’s story… well enough to know… hunger, thirst, poverty and struggle are not signs of God’s judgement on those who suffer… And know that desire for wealth, power over others, and easy answers… are signs… we’re on the wrong path…

Above all we need to know…
God’s story well enough to know for sure…
God loves us immensely always… and perfectly forever…

Thanks be to God. Amen.