Sermon for 1st Lent -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Temptation. In today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke, Jesus is tempted by the devil. Three temptations - bread, power, and safety. The devil tries to seduce Jesus with the promise of bread when he’s hungry, the glory and power of all the world’s leaders, and the promise of rescue paired with the suggestion that God is not sufficient to keep Jesus safe. And all Jesus has to do in return is worship Satan.
So in this scene, it’s bread, power, and safety. But it could be something else. As Scholar David Lose notes so well, the point isn’t the specific temptations, but rather the underlying nature of temptation itself.
Lose argues that temptation is not so often temptation toward something – usually portrayed as doing something you shouldn’t – but rather is usually the temptation away from something – namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship.
Too often Christians have focused on all the things we shouldn’t do, instead of pointing us to the gift and grace of our identity as children of God. But the devil knows better. Notice how each of the temptations seeks to erode and undercut Jesus’ confidence in this relationship with God and therefore undermine Jesus’ identity.
Of course, Jesus has just had his identity affirmed strongly by God himself – our lesson last weekend – God speaking on the mountaintop from a cloud, “This is my Son, my chosen - listen to him.”
Fortunately in the midst of these temptations, Jesus remembers God’s affirmation. Which is why when the devil offers him bread, he responds with an affirmation of trust in God. The next temptation is more transparent, offering Jesus the power of the world’s leaders in return for Jesus’ allegiance and worship. But again Jesus knows that his allegiance can only be given to the one from whom he has received his identity. Finally, the devil proposes that God is not trustworthy, and goads Jesus into testing that relationship. But Jesus refuses.
In each case, the devil seeks to undermine Jesus’ confidence in both God and himself. The devil seeks, that is, to erode Jesus’ confidence that he is enough, that he is secure, that he is worthy of God’s love. And in the face of these temptations, Jesus quotes the sacred story of Israel in order to assert that he is a part of that story and therefore reaffirm his identity as a child of God. Rooted in the Scriptures, that is, Jesus is reminded not only that he has enough and is enough but that he is of infinite worth in the eyes of God.
Bread, power, and safety. But it just as well might have been youth, beauty, and wealth. Or confidence, fame, and security. On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another level, temptations are all the same, as they seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more secure identity.
Which is why Dr. Lose says he believes this passage is really about identity theft. And not simply the devil’s failed attempt to steal Jesus’ identity but all the attempts to rob us of ours.
Consider the media barrage of advertising to which most of us are so regularly subjected. Nine times out of ten the goal of such ads is to create in us a sense of lack and inadequacy, followed by the implicit promise that purchasing the advertised product will relieve our insecurity. Or consider how many of the messages from the candidates running for president seek to create in us insecurity and fear: Terrorism, immigrants, corporations, joblessness, low wages, high taxes, the wealthy, the poor – depending on which candidate you listen to the target shifts. But, the message is the same: you should be afraid because you do not and are not enough - elect me and I will keep you safe.
We, you and I, we are under assault every single day by tempting messages that seek to draw our allegiance from the God who created and redeemed us toward some meager substitute. However, God loves us more than anything, loves us – all of us – enough to send God’s only Son into the world to take on our lot and life, to suffer the same temptations and wants, to be rejected as we often feel rejected and to die as we will die, all so that we may know God is with us and for us forever. Moreover, 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 that the life God offers is more powerful even than death.
Which I believe may be at the heart of why we all gather here each week: Tempted in manifold ways to lose our faith in God and confidence in ourselves, we come to church to be reminded of, and given again, our identity as beloved children of God. In the face of so many assaults on our identity, in other words, we come to church to have that identity renewed and restored that we might live in the confidence of God’s abundant life and share with those around us God’s unending love.
As Vicar Julie stated so well on Ash Wednesday, Lent is often focused on self-denial, sacrifice, and resisting temptation. And that is all well and good. But, what if we make Lent the ideal time to remind each other of the love and grace of God poured out for us in the cross? Might we, that is, enter Lent with our eyes focused on the cross because in that difficult image we perceive most clearly God’s empowering love for us and all the world made real?
God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what, and, for this reason, we are enough. God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what, and, for this reason, we are enough.
You have heard me say this previously and quite often, but I know that I need to hear this declared again and again, because in the face of all the messages to the contrary the promise that God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what can seem so difficult to believe.
And I suspect you need to hear that word again and often as well.
So, here it is again for you and for me: You are a beloved child of God. You are holy and precious in God’s sight. God does and will love you no matter what.
And that’s enough for today and all days.
(With thanks again to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for much of this sermon).
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for 1st Lent
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
February 13/14. 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California