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First Sunday in Lent Lent 1C RCL February 21, 2010

First Sunday in Lent Lent 1C RCL February 21, 2010

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm 91:1-2,9-16

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

Our lesson from Deuteronomy reminds us that we are called to offer to God our worship and also the first fruits of our time, talent, and treasure, which, of course, come from God. God is as close to us as our own bodies–our lips and our hearts. The psalm assures us powerfully and poetically that God is present to protect and support us through everything.

But as we gather on this first Sunday in Lent, it is the gospel that helps us to realize how closely our lives are identified and linked with the life of Christ. He has walked the journey before us; he walks it with us; he knows how it is. He is fully divine, yes, and he is fully human.

The temptations begin right after his baptism. His identity as the Son of God has just been affirmed. Immediately, the temptations occur. This is an axiom of the spiritual life. The highs are followed by the lows. The moment the realm of God begins to advance, the forces of evil accelerate their efforts. This happens in our own lives and in the life of the Church. Times of almost inexpressible closeness to God are followed by periods of temptation, wrestling, and doubt. Periods of spiritual growth and community building are followed by periods of darkness and struggle.

Jesus is in the desert for forty days, an echo of the forty days the people Israel wandered in the wilderness, a mirror or the forty-day fasts of Moses and Elijah. The desert has sand, miles and miles of it, and on that sand are bread-shaped limestone rocks. The temptation begins. “If you are the Son of God….” The theme of these temptations is: prove your identity. Question your identity and feel the need to prove it in actions which fall short of your real ministry, actions which look like cheap public relations stunts. “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.”

By this time we can assume that Jesus was famished. He could have used some food. He also knew that it is important to feed the hungry. This was both a personal temptation to produce physical food to take care of his own hunger and a temptation to water down his ministry. We know that he fed people. We know that he cared deeply about people’s physical needs. He told us that if we give water to a thirsty person or food to a hungry person, we are giving it to him. It is good to feed people. We are called to care for the physical needs of our brothers and sisters. But in this temptation, Jesus is being given the opportunity to compromise his ministry by doing a good thing. That is a really tough one, and we face it all the time. Do this second best thing, which is a fine thing to do, and miss the point of what you are really being called to do. One definition of sin is missing the mark, and this situation is an example of that very thing.

Jesus could have become very popular and very famous for feeding the hungry. He could have run the biggest soup kitchen in the world. But he refused.. Because he did not come here only to feed people. He came to transform people.

Next Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Ultimate irony: Satan is offering to the eternal Word who called the creation into being, the power of this world. But Jesus’ ministry is not about power, not about politics. He is not the Messiah of military might here to overthrow the Roman Empire by force. In a very real way, Jesus died for this choice. People became very angry when he would not lead the revolution against Rome.

Now up to the pinnacle of the temple, some 450 feet high, and a valley falls way from that wall. Jump off. You know the angels will come to save you. Throughout history, false messiahs have actually jumped of that wall hoping that that verse would become true for them. Prove who you are. Create a media event. The press will gather in droves; the headlines will blare: Son of God saved by angels.

Part of the struggle to be who we really are, namely, sons and daughters of God, is that we do not really trust that is our identity. We do not trust God. And that is the crux of this temptation for Jesus. Maybe I’ve made a big mistake. Maybe I just imagined what happened at my baptism. But Jesus chooses to trust God rather than to test God. And we see this all through his ministry. He goes apart to pray. That is how the trust grows, when we spend time with God, letting God know what is going on with us and listening to God’s guidance. Sometimes we test God when we really need to trust God.

The Way of the Cross. Jesus stuck with it, and I think it is true that these temptations did not happen just once. They happen many times in our lives, and they happened many times in his. Jesus’ unerringly adhered to what he was called here to do. He did not settle for a lesser good which would have deflected him from his transformative ministry. He did not succumb to the world’s ideas of power. And he did not put God to the test, but chose to trust completely in God’s love.

And so Jesus chose the Way of the Cross. Everything he did and said was focused on helping us to realize and accept that God loves us and welcomes us into a new dimension of life. The Way of the Cross is not easy. It demands great courage. The Way of the Cross calls us to trust in God, to let go of the usual ideas of power, and to seek and follow God’s call to us.

We all face temptations. We all face choices which involve compromising our faith. In a profound sense, temptations give us an opportunity to trust in our authentic identity as children of God and to live as sons and daughters of God are called to live. May each of us, by the grace of God, choose wisely and well. May we turn to God in prayer and follow the spiritual disciplines which will nurture our true identity as followers of Christ.

Amen.

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