Temptation - Sermon on Luke 4:1-13

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The Wilderness is a lonely place. And we bear the things we've given up or given ourselves to do for season of Lent because Jesus bore so much more for 40 days, and bore the transgressions of the world on the cross. And he suffered. Because God became human. Isn't that good news? 

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

February 14, 2016 - First Sunday in Lent

"Privilege".  Text is from Luke 4:1-13


With Ash Wednesday we entered the season of Lent in the church.  Lent is a time when Christians have an opportunity to focus on some of the things that make us who we are, and it is a time where we engage in particular almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Lenten practices can be as wide and varied as the people who do them, but ultimately we find them as doing something different from the ordinary time that we spend throughout the rest of the year. 

And we celebrate 40 days of it, starting on Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, and the days aren't exact, coming out to a total of 46 days because the Lord's Day, or Sunday, are special times and excluded from the calculation.  But Jesus did not get a break on the Sabbath during his time in the wilderness.  His time began as soon as he was baptized, and we are told that the spirit, having filled him, leads him into the wilderness where he will encounter tests from the devil. 

It is not clear whether there were, according to Luke, more than the three tests we read about, because here we read for forty days he was tempted and at the end Jesus was famished, and the devil begins the big three tests that have become very familiar to us: the making of stones into bread, the promise of power and glory if Jesus but bow down, and the freedom to hurl himself from the temple in Jerusalem, whereupon the angels will save him from a certain death. But we do know about those three tests. The devil recites verses from scripture as a sort of prosperity gospel and Jesus, despite being famished, exposed and deprived, handily retorts the devil's promises, presenting the truths as God sees it.  There is no narrow escape from the tempter's questions here, Jesus finds his answers in the selfsame scripture that the devil abuses.  

But Luke is careful in his depiction of Christ, because as we read the account of Jesus's time in the wilderness, we are also reminded that Jesus is not simply God walking around in human appearance, but that Jesus has actively become fully human and is subject to the same limitations that humans are subject to. When we read that "Jesus is famished" we see a man, not a God who is all and needs no nourishment, not a deity who cannot be tempted and tested by the likes of the accuser. 

Jesus was born being us and knowing us and experiencing us in a way that he hears and feels and understands. He knows hunger and pain and loneliness. And the temptations of the devil are not mere annoyances but serious answers to the severe depravation he is experiencing out in the wilderness.

Krispy Kreme glazed donut

Now I cannot imagine resisting such temptations. I have taken up my annual Lenten practices with a cue from our Islamic brothers and sisters for Ramadan by fasting during the daylight hours and I tell you the grumbling I feel in my stomach by the time it gets to early afternoon is almost more than I can bear. Would I call myself famished? You bet, but it is nothing like the famishment that our Lord Jesus Christ experienced at forty days of nothing.  And so saying I am resisting the temptation to snack is nothing.  

And my decision to not eat comes from a place of privilege, because I can afford to not eat for a few hours. I have a few pounds of fat stored up on my body to see me through even if my stomach has emptied out and I'm not at the least bit of risk from malnutrition. I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from because every moment of every day I have a choice to pick up a bite to eat and choosing to not do so is a freedom I have that there are millions of people around the world, don't have. 

So the Lenten practice of fasting and almsgiving in particular are not made for those who already live in the Wilderness, but for those of us who have the ability and luxury of doing them. But everyone is subject to temptation. One of the problems we face is that we don't want to be tempted. We want instant gratification so we don't have to face the temptations that having given in to, lead us into places we don't want to go. 

What are the temptations that we face? We have our daily temptations, for instance, do I decide to say something to the person standing in front of me express line with (and I counted them) 17 items in her cart?  Do I pick up a second delicious glazed donut at the meeting, after all, there are so many of them. Do I order that nice pair of tennis shoes I saw online that I just have to have, knowing that they'll be delivered to my home free shipping by next Wednesday?  We give in to these little temptations constantly, without even a second thought. We are put to the test on a regular basis and human beings that we are, give in, and are forgiven for it, all the time. 

But the greater ones, such as the power that the devil offers Jesus, power over nations. It can easily be translated into today's world, as having power over other people, and while we expect that this kind of temptation is all about world domination, we might find ourselves in our own lives wishing to control everything and everyone around us, and when things aren't going our exact way, we are tempted to manipulate others, maybe using emotional blackmail, or even outright lying because in our heads the ends justify the means. 

And the turning stones into bread? What about when you are feeling deprived of material wealth, isn't buying a lottery ticket a kind of making something out of nothing. Because even the potential for the kind of winnings people earn on these things is enough to put so many people in line at convenience stores when the winnings climb high enough. 

Or what about Jesus leaping off of the temple and having the angels save him?  How many of us, when caught in the throes of addiction, take one more, knowing intellectually that continuing to put one more drink, one more puff, one more shot, one more pill...one more fresh glazed donut will eventually kill us, but given our past successes, we may be tempted by our faith in God to make God's healing power into a magical salve, rescuing us for our own self-destruction. 

But you know, my sisters and brothers, just how can we hope to resist the temptations of emotional manipulation, instant gratification and foolish self-harm. Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection has unleashed the Holy Spirit on the world, ebulliently moving disciples to wondrous things on the day of Pentecost and providing the means to do good for us today. That Holy Spirit that gave Jesus the strength and life to manage forty days of what must have been pure, tortuous depravation is available to us in our daily lives, giving us the strength and conviction that we need to combat those things that would separate us from having good health, faithful stewardship and right relationships, things that keep us closer to our relationship with God. 

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus imposes himself on temptation. Jesus turns the temptation around on the devil and resists it soundly, by means of Spirit and Word. The Holy Spirit comes to us, made available by Jesus Christ's selfless act, and we are able to resist our own daily temptations and gain the strength we need to endure the hardships that come along with life, as well as meet the demands of this time ahead of us, whether we've chosen fasting, praying or alms-giving or some combination thereof. 

Even though Jesus resists turning stone to bread, he later makes five loaves and two fish feed five thousand. Even though he does not gain power by worshiping Satan, in giving his own life he becomes the king of kings. Even though he does not test God by leaping from the highest point, he ascends to the Cross and rules from heaven above. 

The good news, my sisters and brothers is that no matter how we reach out toward God and a newer understanding of what God brings to the table, that through the unconditional love granted to us on the day of our creation, the grace earned for us through the incredible sacrifice and resurrection of God's son, Jesus Christ, and the sanctification provided by the Holy Spirit that fills us and guides us and gives us the strength to resist all temptation, God has saved us and given us home in the great kingdom.

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on February 14, 2016 4:31 PM.

Ash Wednesday - Homily on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 was the previous entry in this blog.

Second Wednesday in Lent - Homily on Luke 22:33--23:6 is the next entry in this blog.

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