March 10, 2019

Lent 1 Year C 2019

It is a humble journey, the one we began on Ash Wednesday and continue today, the first Sunday in Lent. It begins with an undignified smudge of ash on our foreheads in the shape of a cross, with the words, "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Foreheads that were splashed with baptismal waters years earlier and a another mark of a cross, this time with holy oil saying, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever."

It is an amazing, remarkable, life-changing journey for us because we peek out of an empty tomb to watch it begin, and we know that this journey is filled with God's voice ringing in Jesus’ ears, the devil's temptations and wild beasts lurking in the shadows of his forty days in the wilderness, angels when he needs them, and his unashamed commitment to his heavenly Father in the face of temptation.

Temptation almost always calls us to be someone we are not and denies our identity as beloved of God. It comes in forms that are as unique as our fingerprints, but as universal as the story we just heard of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Notice the preface in each of the three temptations, “If you are the Son of God, If you will worship me,” and again, “If you are the Son of God.” The devil offers to give Jesus that which is already his; it is a slight of hand with which the devil tries to trick Jesus, but the offer is conditional on Jesus’ denying his true identity by doing something that betrays his relationship with God. It harkens back to the garden where Adam and Eve were tempted to become like God, when they had already been fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

Jesus’ first temptation, turning stones into bread, doesn’t seem bad or evil on the surface, after all, didn’t Jesus multiply fishes and loaves later in his ministry to feed hungry people? What could it hurt to turn a stone into bread when he is so hungry? It seems to be a perfectly innocuous act.

It is not simply the act of turning the stone into bread that is the temptation for Jesus, but the need to prove his identity as the Son of God by doing so. You see it is often in the intention, that temptation catches us in its snare. Why we do what we do is often at least as important in our lives as what we do.

In college, I had a campus minister who would make the following statement, “God doesn’t care what you do or say as long as you have given your heart and mind to God.” The presumption of that statement is of course, if my words and actions proceed from a heart and mind that loves God, then God will help me to have good intentions in what I say and do.

The next temptation has to do with where Jesus’ allegiance or devotion lies. Jesus, if you will give your heart to me rather than God, then the devil will give Jesus the kingdoms of this world with all their glory and authority.

But Jesus’ knows that he already has a kingdom that is not like the kingdoms of this world. In fact, it is a kingdom that transcends all of the kingdoms of the world. That is why Jesus is here, to inaugurate a new kind of kingdom, one of love and compassion, not coercive power and corrupt authority.

So for him to accept this offer from the devil would deny his whole reason for being. And again, it denies his relationship with God because the fulfillment of the temptation’s promise requires Jesus’ to worship and serve someone other than God, namely the devil.

Finally, Jesus is tempted to make a false show of sacrifice by pretending to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple, only to be rescued by angels at the last possible second, most probably in front of a huge crowd who would be worshipping there in order to prove his identity as God’s Son.

But this would be in direct conflict with Jesus’ being lifted up on a cross as a usurper of Roman rule and Jewish religious authority, to die a criminal’s death, though innocent as a lamb, in order to show the world that God is love.

This journey, following Jesus, repenting and believing the good news about the nearness of God's reign, we make together, empowered by the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus before his journey into the wilderness. And as we encounter the wild beasts in our own wilderness, we have the promise that Jesus has been there before us and is with us now.