Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11
The temptations of Christ in today’s gospel may be presented as magical – but they are temptations that many of us face today: food, conditional love, and power. I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but how many of you have given up some form of food for Lent?
Many of us describe certain foods to be our weakness –we tend overindulge on certain foods when given the chance. Jesus is fasting, he is hungry, so the tempter uses food to tempt him. Jesus replies, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
It is not uncommon for even the most faithful people to experience times when we wonder if God loves us. In the desert, the devil tries to get Jesus to test God’s love for him. We sometimes do this by making our faithfulness conditional, “God, if you will restore the health of (my parent, my sibling, my spouse, my child or grandchild), I will attend church every Sunday and ten percent of all that I earn.” This is not only a form of testing God; it is an attempt to manipulate God into doing what we want. Jesus says simply, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Finally, the devil offers Jesus power. He offers to make Jesus the ruler of all the kingdoms of the world. We may not be tempted with that amount of power, but we are tempted to use what power we do have over others many times in our lives. There is always someone who is more vulnerable than we are, such as children and people who earn their living by serving us – wait staff, cashiers, mechanics, housekeepers, child care staff, teachers, health care workers – the list goes on and on. We can attempt to order these people around as if we are better than them because we are paying them for their service, or we can treat them with patience, love and respect. Jesus says to the devil, “Worship the Lord you God, and serve only him.”
We serve God by serving others. Those is positions in power are called by Christ to view themselves as servants to others. Skipping ahead several weeks in our lectionary, we read gospel of John.
After Jesus had washed [the feet of his disciples], had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
When we are positions of power or authority, it is easy to considered ourselves as somehow deserving the attention it brings. It is easy to forget the responsibility that comes with such authority is one of service.
In the wilderness Jesus is tempted by food, he is tempted to test God’s love for him, and he is tempted by power. He is tempted as we may be tempted – and resisting these temptations makes him stronger; resisting these temptations prepares him to do what he has come to do for us.
A Lenten discipline helps us identify with Jesus who was tempted in the wilderness. Whether it by giving up something that gets in the way of our relationship with God, or by taking on a new practice that helps restore our spiritual and physical health, these disciplines can help remove obstacles to our experience of God’s love.
If you haven’t taken on such a discipline, I have a suggestion. For several years now I have been receiving a daily email from the Society for St. John the Evangelist – an Anglican Monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The daily email is titled, “Brother give me a word,” and it provides a very short meditation focusing on a word. And by short, I mean a few sentences long. I suggest you subscribe to it and it read it.
During Lent, rather than focusing on a word, the brothers have begun a series titled, “Signs of Life: why church matters.” Yesterday, Br. Vryhof wrote:
Life is lived right now, in this moment. That’s an important reminder for all of us, because we tend to think, “If just this would happen, then I would be happy.” When we put a condition on our lives, we miss out on the present moment because we’re waiting for something else to happen.
He then offered this “Way of Love: Daily Practice: Praise God for your life – through words or by doing something that brings you joy.”
Too often we think that being faithful requires more time than we have, but it doesn’t have to be a major time commitment. If you are interested in the mediations offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist, I posted a link to it on my Facebook page yesterday. You can also google, Society of St. John the Evangelist and find it that way.
Some people use this season of Lent to reflect on their lives and the sins they have committed that they want forgiven and not to repeat. Here, Br. Vryhof reminds us the importance of living in the present – not wondering what could have been or what life may be life if only . . ..
There are lessons to be learned from remembering our past and there is plenty that we can accomplish if we plan for the future – but joy is experienced in the present. Lent may be a solemn time, but it is not to be lived without joy. Lenten disciplines are to break down barriers to our relationship with Christ – not punish us for what we have done or left undone.
I encourage you, therefore, to practice what Br. Vyrhof suggests, and “Praise God for your life – through words or by doing something that brings you joy.”
Let us pray.
Loving God, we give you thanks for the joys of this life: the beauty of creation, the love and support of family and friends, and our church family here at St. Paul’s. Grant us, we pray, an open heart that we might experience your presence in our lives today. Help us to live in the present, being mindful of our past and future, that we might be your servant. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.