a Sermon for Lent 1C
Text: Luke 4:1-13
In the ancient Middle East, there was a traditional custom of a Sabbath Quarantine. One would go out into the desert for an extended time. Imagine. The sand swirling about you, sneaks into your clothes, your hair, your teeth. You would soon feel dirty and uncomfortable.
The sand would also exfoliate your skin, scrub the dead cells off your body, and the wind would blow it away. The desert provides a natural buffer to your skin.
The time alone would provide a similar challenge of boredom and self-discovery. You would learn much about yourself, both the stuff you like and loathe.
This story comes as a surprising first move after baptism. Jesus exiles himself for 40 days as a Sabbath quarantine. And it is in the midst of this personal journey that the Devil comes to test Jesus. These tests deal with three desires:
- to satisfy hunger for physical needs
- to satisfy hunger for power over others
- to satisfy hunger for intellectual proof of GOD’s power
And Jesus overcomes them. Phew! Thank GOD that’s over! What’s next?
The Problem of Evil
Of course, that isn’t the point. It isn’t merely Jesus versus the Devil—or a swap of Jesus in for Job. These trials Jesus faces are essentially human aren’t they? Essentially ours. We hunger for food, power, certainty. We accept the way of the world and ask GOD to prove divine power. But in each of Jesus’s responses, we see the relationship of GOD and humanity.
- We don’t see human independence, but mutual dependence with GOD.
- We don’t see human power over others but service to GOD.
- We don’t see physical proof of GOD’s divinity but assurance of GOD’s presence in times of true need.
The vision of GOD Jesus reveals in this trial is actually a GOD that doesn’t believe in tests or trials. GOD doesn’t seek proof of our devotion or give us stuff to handle.
Is it the Devil then? This adversary so easily defeated, this tormentor is the sole instigator of, not only Jesus’s trials, but our own? Is evil in this world so much the influence of another source?
That question is answered in the next few verses, when Jesus goes home and preaches in the synagogue. Remember the story two weeks ago? Jesus goes home, preaches and the people love it…up until Jesus calls them out for not really listening. Then they move to kill him. That wasn’t the Devil. That was people. Otherwise good people. Scared people.
Will you be my Valentine?
Jesus heads out into the desert to be tried. The very nature of what He was doing was a sort of self-imposed test. A test that would challenge Him physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It wasn’t supposed to be easy.
What it reveals, then, is the source of evil is not the Devil, people, or even GOD. It is our many desires, born out of our lack of intimacy with GOD. Our craving for comfort and power and will. Our desire to be right, to be good, to be God. To be independent from GOD and not mutually dependent with GOD.
Jesus survives the trial, not because He knows the right answers or believes the right things or puts in the right effort. He survives because He gets that it is all about relationship. It is all about intimacy with GOD. He is not being the right way, but becoming the right co-creator.
Jesus goes out into the wilderness prepared for survival because He isn’t responsible for His hunger or His power or His being from death. Nor is he foolishly expecting GOD to show off with a mighty hand to save for His intellectual validation. He went out knowing He loved God and lives in service to GOD’s mission.
We come into Lent with an understanding of our place in humble service to GOD. But as Pastor Rol charged us on Wednesday night, we are called also to a certain boldness. A boldness in proclaiming a different way from a culture which isn’t itself imbued with holiness. A culture of injustice and anxiety, of pain and rage, of feeding our hunger for meeting our physical, emotional, and intellectual needs for satisfaction, superiority, and certainty.
If everyone could grab a Prayer Book and please turn to page 264. This is what we heard was the purpose of Lent:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
- Preparing to reject our world and embrace GOD’s creation.
- Bringing back in those that have broken community.
- Turning our hearts to mercy and forgiveness.
For us, this 40 days isn’t just navel-gazing. It isn’t just about getting healthy. It is about rejecting evil and standing for the battered and broken and becoming a people of mercy and forgiveness. Each Wednesday night from now until Holy Week we will explore our mission in this beautiful creation with these three things in mind. Please join me this season in this self-discovery. Let us make this a true season of preparation; preparing for much better things to come.