First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent

Luke 4:1-13

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

A Protestant moves into a Catholic neighborhood. It’s a pretty open-minded and welcoming community, and everyone gets along great. The first time an issue presents itself is when Lent rolls around. During Lent, the Catholics in the neighborhood all swear off red meat. Every day at lunch, however, as his neighbors were eating cold tuna sandwiches, the Protestant would grill himself a big, juicy steak that could be smelled throughout the neighborhood.

Several weeks into Lent, the Catholics meet after Mass to discuss the issue. They didn’t want to be unneighborly, but the smell was really driving them crazy. Then, one of them comes up with a suggestion: since the Protestant moved to a Catholic community, maybe he’d be open to converting. While it wouldn’t fix the problem that year, it would make next year’s Lent go much more smoothly. After much debate, they agree to bring the offer to the Protestant.

To their surprise and delight, he is completely open to converting. He goes through the process and gets re-baptized as a Catholic. The entire neighborhood shows up for his confirmation, where the priest splashes him with holy water while saying, “You were born a Protestant… you were raised a Protestant… and now you’re a Catholic.”

The next year goes smoothly, and the whole neighborhood gets along great. Then, Lent rolls around again. As everyone is at home with their cold tuna sandwiches, a smell permeates the air: charcoal, wood chips, STEAK. Confused, everyone rushes over to the convert’s house. They find him standing over his grill, a juicy steak cooking away. He’s splashing the slab of meat with beer, and the neighbors hear him speaking in a solemn voice. “You were born a cow… you were raised a cow… and now you’re a fish.”

I know some of you may had heard that one before, but for those who haven’t…it’s a gem and I couldn’t help myself 🙂 Besides being a good joke, it also gets to a core issue of Lent…identity!

Our lessons for this First weekend in Lent offer some thoughts on our call to identity and our call to action. We think, or maybe assume, we know who we are based on our established faith and good behavior. But, in a world of shifting sand and mainline upheaval, we should not make assumptions or rely on comfortable, worn methods and programs.

The reading from Deuteronomy (26:1-11) reminds us that a good place to begin is counting one’s blessings and giving thanks. It is entirely too easy to see our little bowl of life as pitifully empty instead of full and overflowing. Of course we’re not alone; God’s chosen people have a seriously short memory when it came to appreciating all that the LORD has done. They see wilderness rather than redemption. They want for the “good ol’ days” in Egypt instead of anticipating life in the Promised Land. You just can’t please some folks–then or now. Still, we are reminded as the people of God of the rich blessings we share, and we encourage one another to share all that God has entrusted to us and to give of our best, not the rest. 

Paul’s message to the Christians in Rome (Romans 10:8b-13) reminds us of the simple yet profound power of our identity that comes in the confession “Jesus is Lord.” All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is not some empty promise or nice-sounding words. This is the confession of faith that identifies us as people of God. Lent calls us to examine this identity and to reflect on whether we are living into it.

Finally, in the Gospel story of Jesus being led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, we are challenged to turn familiar stones in search of new insight. 

Jesus, Son of God, stands firm in the face of three challenges to his identity and authority–human comfort, power and authority, and proof of divine identity. We encounter no temptation that our Lord has not faced and defeated. Notice what happens next: Jesus “filled with the power of the Spirit,” begins his ministry. Identity confirmed, the Son of God takes action. So our hope is in our Lenten examination of identity we can be led to renewed focus and action. These 40 days are about much more than denial or temporary disciplines. 

Each day invites us to live life in the Spirit, to grow in faith, and to be the presence of Christ in the wilderness of this world.

Have you ever noticed that when someone behaves in an outrageous or horribly rude manner, the first thing people say is: “Well, just who do you think you are?” That is the right question. Who we think we are shapes how we think we are entitled or obliged to behave. And the Bible shows us the devil knew this. This is why he challenged Jesus on the point of identity in this Gospel lesson. The key to understanding the story of the temptations lies in the three little words – “If you are…”

In Luke 3—following Jesus’ baptism, a voice comes from heaven and says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” In this text, just a few days later, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God.” The devil presents Jesus with the opportunity to define what it means to be the Son of God. 

  • He is given the opportunity to win popularity by turning stones into bread, feeding the masses and feeding his ego at the same time. 
  • He is given the opportunity to achieve great power by worshipping the devil and turning his back on trusting God to provide.
  • He is given the opportunity to achieve great fame by throwing himself off the temple and showing himself to be God’s Chosen One by letting the angels catch him. 

These temptations invite Jesus to imitate the emperors in Rome who secured their power through vast armies and by giving the people free food and free entertainment, winning their favor with bread and gladiators.

The temptations with which Jesus was faced are the very ones that we, you and I, fall victim to on a regular basis. 

In little subtle ways we seek popularity or power or possessions as a way of hedging our bets against the uncertainty of the world. After all, we live in a time of wars, a seemingly unceasing pandemic, harsh political discourse, great economic uncertainty, and climate changes that are bringing about weird and dangerous weather patterns. A little control over our own lives and a bit of money securely invested, what’s wrong with that?

The problem is this: the things the Devil wanted Jesus to do as the Son of God are selfish, and self-serving and ultimately self-glorifying. And Jesus rejected them because being centered on self is inconsistent with being the Christ, the Son of God, the one sent to save others.

It was during the forty days in the wilderness that Jesus struggled with what it meant to be the Son of God. When he became clear about that identity, he walked out of the wilderness, and began to preach the Kingdom of God, and to perform mighty acts of healing and exorcism. In the forty days in the wilderness, Jesus became certain of who he was and came forth ready to behave in accord with his identity. When Jesus knew who he was, the question of what he was to do was already answered. To be the Christ, the Son of God, laid out for him a path to follow, a way of being in the world that led to certain things to do. 

Preaching. Healing. Confronting Evil.

Throughout these forty days of Lent we are called to contemplate the life of Jesus, his path of service and obedience to God, his living out his identity as the Son of God. As we do that, we must ask ourselves some identity questions, personally and as a congregation.

  • Who am I as a beloved child of God? And what is that God calling me to do? 
  • Who are we as the beloved children of God and the Body of Christ in the world? Who are we as a congregation of the Lutheran Church and what is God calling us to do?

These are important questions and the answers will shape our lives, individually and as a community of faith. Who are we, really? Are we a gathering of like-minded people, who share a preference for a certain form of theology and worship? If so, then the things we do should be designed to provide for our survival, to take care of ourselves.

Or are we a people whom God has called together to be the Body of Christ, as Luther says in the Small Catechism: “Called, gathered, empowered, and sent?” Called to be Christians, Gathered around Word and Sacrament, Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Sent into the world to spread the Love of God. If that is who we are (and I believe it is) then the things we do will be designed to care for the world and all who live in it.

Jesus spent forty days in the Wilderness struggling with the question of identity, struggling to discover what it meant to be the Son of God. Throughout the forty days of Lent, we are called to do the same. We must ask continually ourselves, “If we are the beloved children of God, what is God calling us to do?” Sisters and brothers, echoing the question we get asked when we’re misbehaving, we can ask ourselves any time: “Just who do you think you are?”