In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.
Bread, power and safety. When you boil it down, the three temptations that the devil uses to try to seduce Jesus have to do with bread, power and safety. But it could have been something, anything else. It could have been riches, health or fame. It could have been special abilities to do things no one else can, or even the instant knowledge of all things humanly possible. But the devil used bread, power and safety because those were the things closest at hand. After all, Jesus was famished after the 40 day fast, he had just been told in his baptism that he is the son of God, and if any of us could have the ability to call upon angels to catch us if we threw ourselves down off a very high place, I am not sure anyone would turn that down! Imagine the sensation of falling safely from such a height! So these three things are what the devils uses – bread, power and safety.
But it could have been anything because the devil was not so much trying to tempt Jesus toward something; he was trying to tempt Jesus away from something, namely his relationship with God and the identity that he has as God's Son on account of that relationship. So often we Christians focus on the things that we do, the temptations that we fall into, instead of focusing on our identity as children of God. The devil knows better than that, so you notice that these three temptations from Luke 4 all seek to erode and undercut Jesus' confidence in his relationship with God and his identity as the Son of God. The devil is trying to tempt Jesus away from a confident, healthy, loving relationship with God into a relationship of distrust, insecurity, and doubt.
Bread, power and safety. Are these some of the things that the devil uses to tempt you away from a trusting, loving relationship with God? Maybe it is youth, beauty or wealth? I must admit, when the Powerball lottery prize was over a billion dollars recently, I bought some tickets. I justified my actions by calculating out how many millions I would give away to this congregation, the other congregations I have been connected to in my life, my college, seminary, family and so many other things. I gave in to the temptation that our church could do so many more things if only I had millions to put into it – forget affording an elevator, we would tear the whole place down and start all over! And to be sure, IF I would have won that huge prize I would have followed through on that promise … but the chances of that happening were so slight that to put my trust into the lottery to fund our congregation and its ministries was truly foolish. I was tempted by the possibility of wealth, to be sure, but I was tempted away from a trusting relationship with God, one which depends not upon my own riches to drive the church, but on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and our belief that Jesus is present here with us and will provide all we need to continue to love God, each other, and our neighbors as we are called to. Jesus' temptations were bread, power and safety. Mine centered on wealth, but all really had to do with shifting allegiance and trust away from God toward some substitute promising a more secure identity.
As a Christian community, we are once again beginning this Lenten season by hearing the story of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness. We who are under constant assault every single day by tempting messages that seek to draw our allegiance away from the God who created and redeemed us toward some meager substitute. We begin this Lenten journey together by being reminded that God loves us all more than anything else can love us … God loved us enough to send his only Son into the world to take on our lot and life, to suffer the same temptations and wants that we suffer, to be rejected as we often feel rejected, and to die as we all will die … so that we may know that God is with us forever. And as we begin this Lenten journey with this reminder, we do so knowing that at the conclusion of this season, just like at the conclusion of our own lives, there is resurrection. God raised Jesus from the dead in order to demonstrate that God's love is more powerful than all the hate in the world, and the life God offers is more powerful even than death.
This story of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness comes immediately after the story of his baptism. In our baptisms, God proclaimed us his own beloved children as well. Remember your baptism, beloved children of God. Today and every day when you get up out of bed, remember your baptism and the fact that you are a beloved child of God. That is your identity, the place where you are rooted, where your trust lies – not in the places that may promise bread, security, power, wealth, beauty or any of those things which seek to draw us away from our relationship with God. Every day, not just Sundays in Lent, are days to get up out of bed, make the sign of the cross, and say, “I greet this new day as a beloved child of God!”
Lent is often a time when we focus on self-denial, sacrifice and resisting temptation. The traditional disciplines of Lent involve fasting from certain foods on certain days, increased devotional and prayer life, and giving of our time and treasure, especially to those who are less fortunate than we are. All that is very valuable as we seek to deepen our relationship with God. But I think that we cheapen Lent when we focus on what WE are doing and forget about what God has done and is doing still by pouring out his love and grace for us on the cross. The cross is the place where God's love for the world is experienced in its most real, vivid expression. The cross is the place where God is most fully present, even though modern ideologies would teach that God is totally absent there. Trusting in God above all else, Jesus endured these three temptations of bread, power and safety; he also endured all other temptations that the devil threw at him at opportune times, all of which were designed to lead him away from the relationship that he had with God as a beloved child. And he trusted in God all the way to the cross.
God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what. This is the promise that we need to remember as we embark upon this Lenten Journey and once more hear the story of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness. I don't know about you, but I need to hear this declared over and over again because there are so many messages to the contrary that are repeated to me every day. Welcome to the wilderness of Lent, brothers and sisters. May we travel these next 40 days together, facing the tests that come, and knowing that nothing can damage the relationship that we have with our loving, gracious God. Thanks be to God, Amen.