Wilderness Experiences

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Picture 006

The Pas Lent 1
Year B
10 March 2019

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

God of the wilderness,
your Spirit leads us to face the truth,
unprotected and exposed:
in our times of trial
help us to resist the worship of empty power,
so that we may find our true food
in Jesus Christ, the broken bread. Amen.
__________________________________

I have to admit that I was stumped, today, on how to bring God’s message to you, on these texts. After all, we see this gospel every year on the 1st Sunday in Lent.

We see when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, not remembering, “13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Lk 4:13)

And then it occurred to me, that the ways in which we, our lives, today, are tempted by the devil are different than what we see in the pages of the gospel, the text of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.

The gospel shows us the devil, coming to Jesus after forty days of fasting. Food is high on the list of things that dominate our desires, especially after forty days, so this example, in our gospel, is where the devil really starts to push what he feels is his advantage in tempting Jesus.

“4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” (Lk 4:1-2)

So, we see that in the gospel, the devil makes offers, at the same time he taunts Jesus into using his divine power for his own needs, and each time, we see Jesus decline.

He begins with food. We all like food, especially if we’ve not had any for a long time. So that’s where the devil begins. And Jesus replies “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (Lk 4:4b)

And Jesus is right. Even Paul, today, tells how the Word of God is influential in our lives, as much as food is to our bodies. “10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”” (Rom 10:10-11)

So he tries again. Power! Everyone wants power, right? And that becomes the second temptation, yet again the devil looses.

“5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”” (Lk 4:5-8)

So the devil goes for the grand slam temptation.

By now, he’s figured out that Jesus has to be someone who’s pretty special, a prophet or someone like that, because even the devil could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit on Jesus, and the fact that Jesus hasn’t given in to him, so far.

So the third temptation is to test God. And again, Jesus declines to play the game.

“12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”” (LK 4:12)

But today, it seems that the rules have changed. After all, how many of us, once we feel the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives goes into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting?

Today, each one of us is tempted in the same ways that Jesus was, but the tactics are different.

Our temptations come to us like a deal made in a dark corner, in hushed tones. Or it comes to us in similar ways to what we saw in the gangster movies, where steps are taken to ensure our participation in their actions by threatening someone or something that we care about.

It’s always the same. We’re going about our business, or lives, and along comes the person with the offer that we’re not going to refuse.

They’ll even set up factors on all sides of us so that we’re unable to change our minds or refuse without a penalty to our own struggling lives. Although giving into them increases the struggle within our own lives.

I’m reminded of the movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” where the magazine editor does absolutely everything in her power from lying, to blackmail, to manipulation, to even pitting one employee against another. All in a unilateral bid to maintain her own control of the magazine that she feels will decline in quality in readership if she’s not at the helm, manipulating not only the magazine but the contributors, the photographers, and even the people who bankroll the publication.

And like the devil it begins in little ways.

It begins with putting her down; a look here, an offhand negative comment about her appearance there. Then it moves into the complimentary makeover that the main character is shamed into because she just doesn’t fit the fashion magazine mold, yet.

Then there’s the access to clothing and shoes that are only dreamed about on a secretary’s salary, in New York City.

It moves on to the undermining of one secretary in favour of another that sets up conflict in the work environment, and ultimately encouraging the new ‘rising star’ to leapfrog over their competition in order to gain supremacy on the work field.

Or, if we like the classics, we can look at the Godfather movies, where challenges and threats are not so subtle, yet the gangster and his interests are still forwarded in all arenas of life, from politics, to religious, to societal.

It only seems that the personal life suffers because of the effort exerted on our main characters drives away those whom we truly love, those who can see the changes that such ‘temptations’ make in each one of us, and our lives.

And these are the kind of temptations that we all face. The extremely subtle, let’s get a head, it won’t hurt anyone but myself, kind of temptations.

Like when the devil offers Jesus bread from stones, power from submission, and tempting God at every turn. In each instance it’s the devil suggesting, but Jesus is the one who would have to display power to make it real.

And like Jesus in the wilderness, we need to continue to resist the temptations that continue to surround us, like a kid in a candy store.

At the same time, like our underdog heroine, in “the Devil Wears Prada,” we can learn from our mistakes, we can maintain our ultimate sense of right and wrong. And when we realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into, we can walk away, when the degree of temptation that has invaded our lives, has led us away from what we know to be right.

After all, what Jesus shows us, in today’s gospel isn’t just a determination not to accept the devil’s challenges, but to rely upon who we truly are, as the children of God, to combat such attacks.

As he was tempted, Jesus relied upon the written word of God. He didn’t rely upon is heritage as the Son of God, he didn’t rely upon the baptism that John bestowed upon him, or even the fact that with the Holy Spirit as a part of his blessing, he has the power to fulfill the temptations that the devil puts before him.

Instead, he relies upon the words given to guide, to give strength, to encourage us in the right paths of who we are as followers of God. Again and again, “4 Jesus answered, “It is written.”(Lk 4 4a, 8a)

So, what can we do when we’re faced with the same kinds of temptations, or even a few new ones that the devil throws in our paths?

We’re able to take a page out of Jesus book and just choose not to play.

After all, the temptations we see, in today’s gospel are after a previous 40 day so of temptation that Jesus has already endured, in the wilderness.

And in “The Devil Wears Prada,” the leap to the glitz and glamour, the attempt to protect the magazine editor from being replaced, was the end step, not the beginning.

Each step doesn’t even feel like a step, rather it feels like an attempt to fit into the environment in which she finds herself working, all the whle seeing it as a stepping stone to becoming a recognized journalist, and still able to pay her bills.

But when push comes to shove, we’re able to turn to the writings of Paul, who also deals with the idea of temptation, but trying to make people fit the mold that others have attempted to establish.

Paul tells us: “8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:8-9)

At each temptation, Jesus quotes scripture, and the devil has no defence.

Paul tells us that facing temptation is “The word … in your mouth and in your heart, that is the message concerning faith that we proclaim.” (Rom 10:8)

“11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”” (Rom 10:11, 13)
Where temptations are concerned, in life, we are all subjected to them; even Jesus was subjected to the devils temptations.

It’s how we cling to the word of God, in our minds, in our hearts, not just when we’re expecting it, but every day.

It’s how we allow the Word of God to lead us, to guide us, and encourage us to respond to the temptations that will come at us, often when we least expect it.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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