+ Lent 1 A
TEXT: Matthew 4:1-11
DATE: March 9, 2014
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Dallas
None of us escapes temptation.
And by temptation,
I don’t mean the big, blatant things,
like Faust selling his soul to the devil
for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.
No, if temptation were all about the big and obvious things
it would be easier to resist.
Temptation is temptation
because it looks good.
It’s often harmless looking –
maybe even something good
but for the wrong reason.
The most tempting temptations
are the little things that probably don’t even look like a temptation.
When it’s much easier to say, “OK, just this once,”
or “Why not?”
or, “What will it hurt?”
Because to resist those temptations means we’d have to
examine our hidden motivations,
or analyze our true appetites,
or admit the power this little thing has over us.
They’re called temptations for a reason:
because they are so appealing.
They provide just what we’d like
to have, or to do, or to be.
And that’s why this story
that comes to us every First Sunday in Lent
is called the temptation of Jesus.
The tempter, the devil,
tempts Jesus with the very heart and core
of what might be appealing to him
because he is the one who has come
to bring the ways of the kingdom.
Because these temptations are precisely about
Satan hits Jesus full force
with precisely what Jesus would want
if he were the least bit confused
about which kingdom he had come to bring.
Satan personifies the powers of the world
and offers Jesus all the worlds ways of power.
Self-fulfillment through self-service.
A commanding posture that makes others react – even God.
And power and dominance
by worshiping that power and dominance itself.
And that is one reason I’m not so sure
that this is really only about
Satan tempting Jesus, so much,
as it is about Jesus
defeating the ways and power of the world.
Jesus takes control of the world, here,
by defeating the powers of the world
with the ways of the Kingdom of heaven.
Because that’s why he came.
When John the Baptist showed up in the wilderness
and announced that the kingdom of heaven was near, (Mt 3:2)
it was Jesus he pointed us to.
When Jesus leaves this wilderness in the next verse
to begin his own ministry,
his first proclamation will be the same,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 4:17)
This is the story of Jesus
defeating the powers of the world
with the powers of the kingdom of heaven,
where God’s word, worship of God,
and obedience to God and trust in God
are the ways of life.
And thinking about it that way
helps me to understand three things that happen in the story
that have long left me scratching my head.
The first is that the Holy Spirit
leads Jesus into the wilderness
for this temptation.
I usually don’t think of the Holy Spirit
as one working so impishly or subversively
to test us or force us to failure,
but instead to comfort, guide, and empower us.
But see, if Jesus goes up against the devil
to defeat the powers of the world
with the ways of the Kingdom,
then it is the work of the Holy Spirit
to lead and guide Jesus in that task.
And fasting for forty days.
The longest most of us have had to do that
is twelve hours before a blood test or surgery.
Multiply that by 80!
Forty days of fasting is a Herculean accomplishment.
But Jesus didn’t do it
to make himself vulnerable to hunger
as Satan imagines.
The purpose of fasting as a spiritual practice
is to clear your mind and body
of poisons and distractions
and temptations to appetites that control us
so that we can be spiritually strong,
focused, and in touch with ourselves,
and our purpose and our vocation in the world.
Jesus’ fasting empowered and prepared him
to face the powers of the world
with all his wits about him,
in tune with his own life and purpose –
as keenly aware of the ways of the kingdom of heaven
as he could be.
And then, when it was done,
the angels came and waited on him.
Because he had defeated the world’s powers
and the ways of the kingdom had won.
The messengers of God – the angels – provided Jesus
with the sorts of ministrations of care
that God’s mercy and love give,
according to the ways of that kingdom.
As I thought about all that,
I came to see that thinking of this story,
besides the temptation of Jesus,
as Jesus’ victory over the powers of the world
with the ways of the kingdom,
is a perfect way for us to begin Lent.
Because repentance is possible –
changing our focus to God’s ways,
aligning our lives with the ways of the kingdom,
resisting temptation –
are all possible.
Not because we have to in order to gain God’s favor,
because we don’t have it in us to do that.
The story from Genesis – our first reading –
of the woman and man disobeying God
and eating the fruit of the one tree God commanded not to eat
is the clear proof of that.
And neither is repentance possible
because we have the strength of Jesus.
We don’t; we are not God incarnate.
No, Lent’s repentance is possible for us
because we are baptized.
We are citizens of that kingdom of heaven
that Jesus came to bring.
We are children of God –
the ruler of the kingdom of heaven –
and heirs of his life, love, mercy, and salvation.
Repentance is possible because we are baptized
and joined to Christ in his death –
the delight of Satan,
until God raised Jesus from death,
and once and for all
defeated the world’s powers
with God’s own will and way.
By our baptism,
we are united to that resurrection, too.
Repentance is possible
because we are baptized,
and joined with Jesus our brother and savior,
who defeats the powers of the world
and brings the ways of the kingdom of heaven,
and sets us free to repent and believe
and live the way God wants us to.
We are free to strive and contend with what tempts us
because when we fail,
we do not fail finally and forever.
Because we are baptized,
and we live in the promises of baptism
and the forgiveness of the kingdom of heaven.
We begin again.
For we, too, are led by the Spirit
and we, too, are armed with the disciplines of faith –
like fasting, and prayer, and giving to others –
to live in the wilderness of the world and its powers
but to live according to the ways of the Kingdom of heaven in it.
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