Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sermon, Lent 1C, Luke 4:1-13

Let’s talk about temptation.  Temptation is all around us.  We are tempted by advertisers to buy things we don’t need.  We are tempted by our daily schedules to put off calls to daily prayer and worship.  We are tempted by our wealth to elevate ourselves and diminish God and neighbor.  We are tempted by our position and status to ignore cries for equality and justice.  We are tempted into sinful actions and non-actions more times than we probably realize and more often than we know.

One of the reasons we claim Jesus as Savior is that, in him, we have someone just like us who stands in the gap between God and man.  In him we have an Advocate with the Father.  In him we have one who was tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin.  Temptation, then, even reaches out to touch Jesus.  And today we hear about that with the three temptations of Christ that come in the form of bread, power and protection.

In the first temptation, Jesus is asked to turn stones into bread.  Think of how many hungry people you could feed by doing that.  Satan says, “You’ve been in the wilderness for forty days, you must be hungry.  People in the world are starving to death, you could end that.”  Jesus replies, “We don’t live by bread alone.”

We don’t live by bread alone is a simple truth.  We need protein, water, vitamins, minerals, leafy greens and a variety of other things for a healthy, well-balanced diet.  Jesus isn’t interested in a quick fix of instantaneous bread.  Jesus is interested in our long-term health.

The other temptations, power and protection, also hinge on quick fixes.  These are designed for instant gratification.  Ruling over the world in an instant and swooping into downtown Jerusalem on the wings of angels would certainly make things easier for Jesus.  They would also give him some much-needed, positive PR.  But life isn’t always easy, and building disciples takes more than impressive PR stunts.

But something caught my attention while going over this passage.  When was Jesus tempted?  I’m willing to bet that most of us think he was tempted at the end of his 40 days in the wilderness.  And if we were in Matthew, that would be true.  Luke, however, says that Jesus was tempted for all 40 days.

The entire time Jesus was in the wilderness he is being tempted by the devil.  For 40 days he listens to the devil whisper, “You must be hungry . . . You’re the Son of God, prove it . . . Let me give you a kingdom worthy of your status . . . Don’t you trust God?”  On and on and on, every day for 40 days Jesus had to listen to this.  And here’s the kicker: the Holy Spirit led him out there.  The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness and into temptation.

I’m wondering now if the Lord’s Prayer was a remembrance of this and, having lived through that experience, reflects Jesus’ desire that no one else be led into temptation as he was.

So Jesus was tempted in the desert for the entire 40 days.  This is important for us to consider on two points.  The first is fairly obvious in that he was tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin.  The second is maybe not so obvious, but if Jesus was continually tempted in the wilderness, what makes us think that we won’t, or can’t, be tempted daily?  If we understand that temptation is a daily occurrence, we might be better able to avoid falling prey to its siren song.

Temptation, I think, is a necessary part of our lives and I see it serving two purposes.  One purpose is to give us spiritual strength.  Like exercise gives our bodies physical strength through resistance that ultimately leads to a stronger and healthier body, temptation is a spiritual resistance that leads us to a stronger and healthier spiritual life.  We know temptation is there.  At some point we need to stop saying, “The devil made me do it,” and start taking responsibility for our own actions.  In other words, our sins are our own and we need to own up to that.

Abba Anthony, the great desert monastic, said, “This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins and expect temptation to his last breath.”

Temptation doesn’t leave us.  But we can become spiritually stronger and, hopefully, sin less when we confess those sins to God honestly while keeping on the lookout for those “opportune times” where the devil finds us weakened.

The second thing temptation does is to lead us to salvation.  Evagrius, another great desert monk, said, “Take away temptation and no one will be saved.”

Think about a body of water.  If you’re swimming in it, doing laps or playing, everything is fine.  But if you weaken, run out of strength, begin to struggle and sink, you need to be saved.  It’s the same with temptation.

If there were no struggle, if there were nothing to challenge us, if we never got weak or exhausted, we wouldn’t need to be saved.  If there were no temptation, we wouldn’t need a Savior.  If there were no temptation, life would be perfect.  It might also be boring.  But we do need a Savior for precisely the exact reason I just said – because we fall into sin through temptation on a regular basis.

As we spend these next 40-some days in our own wilderness of Lent, let us not succumb to the quick-fix solutions of the devil.  Let us take responsibility for our own sins before God.  And let us work to gain spiritual strength from facing down our temptations on a daily basis.

In the midst of a world full of temptation, may you have a holy, blessed and life-giving Lent.



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