First Sunday in Lent
Blessed hunger, holy feast……God’s hand delivers us
- Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Offering the First Fruits of the land to God
- Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16 God is my refuge and fortress in whom I trust
- Romans 10:8b-13 The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart
- Luke 4:1-13 Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days & tempted by the devil
A New Journey for and with Jesus
During the past 6 weeks we left Luke’s story of Jesus and let our Confession of Faith guide our worship and study together. That was a most unusual season for me because I had no responsibilities for worship or adult study for these 6 weeks. As much as I love being involved in worship and study, it was a real gift to step back from that responsibility. I am deeply grateful to all of you and especially thank you who prepared and led worship and sermons and adult study for these past 6 Sundays. But now we have entered a new season with Jesus.
Monastic wisdom has a saying that, “Always we begin again.” It is something like “Meeting Jesus again for the first time” (Marcus Borg). Lent is the season that forces us to always begin again” with Jesus on a journey – a journey fraught with temptation – which is our gospel for today — and filled with a “blessed hunger, holy feast” – which is our Lent worship theme.
We begin again this journey with Jesus. In these next 6 Sundays, Jesus goes from being tested in the wilderness to the cross and beyond. And Jesus takes us with him — IF we dare to follow in obedience. It is not an easy road, for Jesus or for us.
If we look back to the beginning of this biblical journey in Advent where we also begin again, we begin with anticipation of God’s coming into the world in Jesus. In the Christmas event we find that God does not send Jesus as a ruler on a white horse or in an armored personnel carrier with legions of weapon laden followers to assume power and glory. Rather God came in Jesus as a poor homeless helpless baby. In infancy Jesus is blessed in the temple. In childhood Jesus is again in the temple this time debating religious experts. As an adult Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by John. There the Holy Spirit descends like a dove upon Jesus and confers God’s blessing on him. Being baptized, blessed and beloved identifies Jesus. Now Jesus is almost ready to begin ministry – to begin again. But there is one more step in Jesus’ preparation yet. The first step of the journey is to be baptized by water, blessed by the Spirit and called beloved by God. The second step is to be tested.
Hear again the Gospel.
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus tempted in the wilderness
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing at all during those days,
and when they were over, he was famished.
The devil [appeared and] said to Jesus,
“If you are the [Holy One] of God,
command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus answered the devil,
“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led Jesus up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority;
for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered the devil,
“It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.'” Then the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him,
“If you are the [Holy One] of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered the devil,
“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.
Tempted and Famished
Jesus may be baptized and blessed and beloved but it does not mean that all is comfortable and safe and glorious ever after. He is not yet ready for ministry UNTIL he is tested, that is formed in the desert of spiritual discipline and forged in the wilderness of temptation. These were defining temptations and this was a defining time for Jesus.
Let us go with Jesus into this wilderness temptation to face what Jesus faced.
First, Jesus was filled by the Spirit at baptism and is now led by the Spirit in to the wilderness.
Question: If the Holy Spirit is in charge should not life be easy and the answers clear? Or is our first temptation for comfort and certainty? We are quit wrong to think that as long as the Spirit leads us we will have smooth sailing. What Spirit is this that leads into the wilderness? Perhaps we can’t answer that question too hastily.
In Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ , it seems that whenever Jesus approaches some pleasure, “claws nailed themselves to his head and wings beat above him. He shrieked and fell down on his face.” Jesus’ mother pleaded with a rabbi to drive the demons away but the rabbi shakes his head and says, “Mary, your boy isn’t being tormented by the devil, it’s God – so what can I do?” Mary protests this torment and the rabbi responds that it is “because God loves him” (Howell, Pulpit Resource , 2/25/07, 34).
We may struggle over the question “Does God test us?” I don’t have a good answer to that question and have little confidence in the answers that seem most certain. What we can see here in this gospel of Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness is that life and faith are forged more in the nitty gritty of confrontation than in the ease of comfort. Jesus soon finds out that even passing the wilderness test does not put all confrontation and temptation behind him. The road ahead is difficult and challenging. It is for Jesus as it is for all who follow Jesus. “There is a kind of loving [tension or] torment to the life of faith” (Howell). Who could deny that?
The journey ahead to Jerusalem and to the cross certainly confirms that for Jesus and for followers of Jesus. This step prepares the way when the temptation is to take the easy way out. So Jesus’ ministry — and Lent — begin on this difficult note, not unlike the apocalyptic scriptures that begin Advent.
Second , in the wilderness Jesus ate nothing at all for 40 days and when it was over he was famished.
The famished part we can all understand. Forty days is a long fast. Who of us has tried it?
I would say that fasting is the most neglected spiritual discipline . It is surely the most “unpracticed” discipline in my life. We have always had witnesses to faithful fasting, but we haven’t let them inspire us to fast ourselves. I’ve known several people who have gone on serious and extended fasts as a spiritual discipline, especially as a witness to the peace of Christ. Yet it seems lost in the church. What would happen if each one of us fasted in some way during these 40 days of Lent? What would happen to our relationships and vision and faithfulness? What would happen if we fasted until we all agreed on everything? What would happen if we fasted until our nation ended the occupation of Iraq or until everyone had homes………..? God only knows what would happen. But I dare say that God would cause something dramatically new to take place.
Third, Jesus was tempted by the devil during those forty days in the wilderness.
Let me ask: Do you believe that there is a devil? Dare we even say the word devil? Especially in church! Isn’t “devil” a swear word? Or are we embarrassed by the concept of the devil? Or how about leaving off the “d” – do you believe in evil?
A teacher of my seminary days, Paul Miller, wrote a book he called, The Devil Didn’t Make Me Do It . We are tempted to blame the devil for what we do and absolve ourselves of responsibility. Paul Miller teaches us to take responsibility for actions.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a devil or evil, a tempter with power who lures us by a different spirit than the Holy Spirit that was with Jesus.
Two biblical names for “the evil one” are the Devil and Satan . Satan, from “Satanas,” means the accuser. Devil, from “Diabolus,” means the one who divides or tears apart. The powers of the world work by strategies of accusation and division. Perhaps all temptation, all sin if you will, falls under the spell of either “accusation” or “division.”
The Path of Jesus’ Temptation
Let’s turn to the 3 temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. Temptation takes many shapes and forms. We are tempted as often by “good” as by “evil.”
Jesus too was tempted and confronted with a choice about which path leads to God. Is it a path of violent enmity or a path of nonviolent love? Is it a path of glory or is it a path of humility? Is it a path of power or a path of peace?
We may identify Jesus’ three temptations as temptations for gratification, for power and for the spectacular; that is to have control over self, the world and others.
- To be tempted to turn a stone into bread is the temptation for instant self-gratification or to take matters into one’s own hands. Yet by turning stones into bread, we could not only eat ourselves we could feed the world. Surely this temptation is worth doing for the good of the world.
- To be tempted to use power over the kingdoms of the world is the temptation to seize control and make history come out right even in the name of God. We know the wise word that says “All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.” Surely this temptation is worth doing for the good of the world.
- To be tempted to jump off the temple so angels can save you is a temptation for the spectacular. How does one get anything done in this world without spectacular and have a strong ego? Surely this temptation is worth doing for the good of the world.
With 40 days worth of hunger and testing, Jesus remained focused on obedience to God alone.
We are Famished and Tempted with Jesus
We too, are hungry people. We have not fasted with Jesus but surely we are tempted like Jesus. We long to let the Spirit lead us with Jesus wherever it takes us. Yet, no doubt, we find some sense of reluctance to follow Jesus wholly and some reason to resist the Spirit’s leading in our life. This Lenten journey, and particularly this first Sunday in Lent, we are lead into the wilderness with Jesus to have to face the temptations of our reluctance and resistance.
Let us pause prayerfully and silently over a few questions as a prelude to our confession:
What is your deepest hunger?
How are you being tempted by the devil as was Jesus in the wilderness?
How are we tempted by “good” as well as “evil?”
In our beginning again today with Jesus, may the Spirit lead us into the wilderness and call us to a fast so that we become more deeply aware of God, in tune with Jesus, and in touch with our deepest hunger. In this Lenten wilderness may our senses be honed so that we know our hunger and can say, “I am famished” and yet resist temptation in humble obedience to God with Jesus.
This journey, this season is truly a “Blessed hunger, holy feast.” Thanks be to God!