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Sermon; Lent 1C; Luke 4:1-13

On the first Sunday in Lent we always get the story of Jesus alone in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Each gospel has its own particular take on this story and Luke tells us that Jesus was tempted by the devil all forty days he was in the wilderness, including the big three temptations at the end of his wilderness experience. We don't know how he was tempted during the forty days, but we do know that, at the end, he was tempted with individual power, international power, and godly power.

At the Monday clergy gathering I attend we discuss the upcoming gospel passage. Dcn. Sue was with us and she asked, “What kind of “IF” is being used?” As in, “If you are the Son of God, do this.” It turns out that that IF can also be translated as “SINCE.” This changes the sound of the temptation from one of possible doubt – if you are who you say you are, prove it to me – to one of acknowledgment – Since you are the Son of God, go ahead and do this thing. Or maybe it's one of expectation.

Temptation is an interesting thing. We may have an image of finding ourselves in a period of weakness being tempted to give up or give in. Or maybe, for those of us old enough to remember, an image of Flip Wilson as Geraldine saying, “The Devil made me do it.” But one of my commentaries said something about temptation that has stuck with me: Temptation is an indication of strength, not of weakness. In other words, we are not tempted to do what we cannot do, but we are tempted to do more with what we already have.

When Eve was tempted by Satan, he didn't tell her, “If you eat the fruit you will become a god.” Even she would know that's impossible. Instead, knowing that she and Adam were masters of the garden who lacked one thing, the temptation was more like, “God made you masters of the garden, but you lack one thing. If you eat of this fruit you will become LIKE God.”

A priest or counselor uses their power dynamic to abuse a parishioner or client. A CPA uses his/her knowledge to steal from unsuspecting clients. A 20-year AA member thinks one drink after being sober and in control for so long won't hurt. And the list goes on.

Since you are the judge, just do this one thing to speed up the process. Since you are the priest, just say the word and it will be okay. Since you are the mayor, don't worry about due process.

These temptations of Jesus focused on his power. They focused on his ability to feed starving people with bread, on his royal power as king to remove Israel out from under Rome, and on his holy power to make God a spectacle. But while they catered to using his power in grand ways, they also provided a shortcut. They provided a way of escaping from how things are to how we want them to be.

Wouldn't it be nice to snap our fingers and have everything finished. From homework to dinner to a clean house to solving the housing crisis to feeding every person to you name it. We would prefer to take a shortcut if we could. But that's an escapist fantasy – especially when it comes to relationships or faith. The stories of creation involve a long creative process. Abram is called by God to enter a faith journey. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before moving into the Promised Land. Jesus spent three years preaching and teaching. We ourselves are on our own faith journeys. We are now in the Season Lent as we move toward Ester. There are no shortcuts we can take and, as we move into Holy Week later, we will be reminded that you can't get to Easter without going through Good Friday.

Like Jesus we are tempted every day – or maybe I should say that like us, Jesus was tempted every day. It may not be grand temptations that we face. We probably won't ever be asked to turn stones into bread, and I doubt that when Mark or Rob are up in the tower working on the bells they would be tempted to jump. As we think about our temptations maybe think about how they are based in our strengths and not our weaknesses. It might be that where we think we are least likely to be tempted is where we will face the greatest temptations.

Or maybe think about temptation as a response to wanting a shortcut or a quick fix. Jesus was tempted to take shortcuts to feed people, to get them to see a new power dynamic, or to find God in unexpected places.

Lent is a time for us to consider our sinful nature and where we have fallen short. It is also a time for us to make new and right beginnings through self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. Through these 40 days of Lent we hopefully are able to change our habits from things that draw us away from God to things that bring us closer to God. But to make that change there are no shortcuts. We can't snap our fingers and be done with it. We can't get to Easter without going through Good Friday.

Finally, if temptations really do come from a place of strength or power, could that be an indication of excess? And maybe I'm not phrasing that right. But what if temptation is centered around what we have? If that's the case, can we avoid temptation by having less? There might be something to the concept of simplicity.

Pursuing simplicity will not allow us to escape temptation – remember, Jesus was tempted 40 days out in the wilderness and I'm guessing he didn't have much with him. But pursuing simplicity might allow us to better deal with temptation. Simplicity could allow us to focus more on God and less on ourselves. Simplicity could allow us to live more into the first two commandments: Love God, Love your neighbor.

This Lent, maybe we don't give something up or take something on for the season. Instead, what if we looked to simplify our lives in the long run, to pare down, as a recognition that a place of power and/or plenty is fertile ground for temptation to arise. And it just might be that in that paring down, in that return to simplicity, is where we find we are drawn back to God.

As the old Shaker song says, “When true simplicity is gained to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed, to turn, turn, will be our delight till by turning, turning we come round right.”

May you have a blessed and life-giving Lent.


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