The First Sunday of Lent
March 5, 2017
In the Name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
About two years ago I came to pick up Zoe from her class here at St Clement. The teacher saw me, motioned me over, and said that she wanted to let me know about something Zoe had said in class earlier that day.
You can imagine my reaction: pure panic. Oh No! What family secret came out of our three-year-old’s mouth this time?
The teacher went on to relay that at lunchtime one of Zoe’s classmates had looked over at another student’s lunch and told the teacher that he really wanted the other kid’s turkey sandwich instead of his own. Zoe looked up from her own sandwich, looked at the student, looked back to the teacher and told her in - no uncertain terms - and seemingly out of the blue - that what the boy was feeling was “temptation.”
As the mother of a preacher’s kid I groaned just a little. Was my child going to preach to all the other children on the playground? For the next 12 years? And is this what teachers were going to think we talked about around the dinner table?
It was tempting to make the story about me, and about my reputation, about what other people thought of me. Instead, of course, of receiving it as a cute story about the accurate way my child is using her ever growing vocabulary.
Temptation. It’s kind of hard to talk, walk, and/or breath without falling into temptation about every 3 to 4 seconds.
At least for us mere mortals.
Jesus, however, as we heard this morning, had to be led into the desert by the Spirit to experience temptation.
And, experience temptation he did. After forty days of fasting alone in the wilderness, he experienced real temptation – via three opportunities to follow the invitation of the evil one, and to turn away from the identity that had just been bestowed upon him at his baptism: beloved Son of God.
As we begin our Lenten journey this morning, in the midst of our forty days in a metaphoric wilderness, as we journey to and through the cross, we have to remember that the dark and painful journey to and through the cross is both important and necessary – but always leads out of the wilderness and to an empty tomb, to the promise of Easter.
As we begin our Lenten journey this morning, we set out to become aware of our sinfulness and mortality – not because doing so brings us down low or ought to – but rather because doing so brings us closer to understanding the gift of unity with the one who conquered both sin and death.
As one writer says, “Lent is time for adopting and practicing the disciplines that would prepare us to receive the mystery of Easter (Patrick Willson in FOTW p 45).”
What would it look like if we were to prepare ourselves to receive - or enter into – not the pain of the cross - but the pain of the cross as well as the joy of Easter?
What if we sought to overcome temptation not for the sake of becoming stronger but for the sake of knowing more fully our own weaknesses and thus taking away the power of the evil one’s influence over us?
The temptations faced by Christ immediately after his own baptism relate to the temptations we face as well. Not temptations to indulge in chocolate or wine or your friend’s turnkey sandwich, but the temptation to turn away from one important reality.
As theologian N.T. Wright says, “The temptations we all face, day by day and at critical moments of decision and vocation in our lives may be very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point.
They are not simply trying to entice us into committing this or that sin. They are trying to distract us, to turn us aside, from the path of servanthood to which our baptism has commissioned us.
God has a costly but wonderfully glorious vocation for each one of us. The enemy will do everything possible to distract us and thwart God’s purpose.
If we have heard God’s voice welcoming us as his children, we will also hear the whispered suggestions of the enemy (Matthew for Everyone 26).
In our baptism we are marked as Christ’s own forever, we are welcomed into the church, the Body of Christ, and called beloved children of God. Yet, how many of us hear the damned whispered suggestion of the enemy – you are not good enough, you are not worthy, your identity is not truly and intimately “beloved” and you can’t trust the voice of God that says you are.
This whisper of the enemy has been the whisper of the evil one from the beginning of time. This was the whisper of the serpent in the garden and this was the whisper of the one Jesus encountered in the wilderness.
The temptations Jesus faced were not new. In fact Matthew was very careful in illustrating how each of the temptations Jesus faced had been faced by earlier generations.
As one writer points out, Jesus “is undergoing precisely the same tests, and in precisely the same sequence, as Israel did in the wilderness… Jesus is tempted first regarding hunger, second regarding putting God to the test, and third regarding false worship (Thomas Long in Matthew 36)
The temptations and tests Jesus faced were not new and they did not die in that wilderness long ago.
“The testing of Jesus, the testings of Israel before him, and the testing of the church today are not primarily temptations to do what we would really like to do, but know we should not; they are temptations to be someone other than who God calls us to be, to deny that we are God’s children (Thomas Long 37).”
Think of the temptations we face today. These are not primarily temptations to eat, drink or be more merry than we ought, these are temptations to be someone other than who God calls us to be. These are temptations meant to draw us away from our identity as beloved children of God, servants of God, disciples of Christ.
The evil one doesn’t want us to act out of our sense of worthiness and belovedness - bestowed on us at our baptism - because that would mean fear, prejudice, vanity, greed and apathy would have no currency.
And, for sure, these are the very things which make up the currency of hell.
Yet we are reminded today that this currency loses all value Easter morning - and loses all value in the waters of baptism in which we are buried with Christ and by which we share in his resurrection.
So as we begin our Lenten journey this morning may it truly be a time for adopting and practicing the disciplines that would remind us of the promises of our baptism and prepare us to receive the mystery, joy and gift of Easter.
And from this gift - the courage, will and desire to give it away - freely - love to the world so desperate for it. Amen.