First Sunday of Lent 9 March 2014
(Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11)
Temptation, seduction, betrayal…….sounds like taglines for a new Hollywood blockbuster film! No, sorry, we are just at the First Sunday of Lent.
In the wilderness, the devil and Jesus are at it again. In the garden of Eden, the devil and Adam & Eve are at it again.
Back in January, when we celebrated the baptism of Jesus, I began my sermon by talking about “selfies,” those picture one takes of oneself with iPhones and cell phones. Thank you very much to all those who then sent me “selfies” of yourself!
On that day, as we heard the story of Jesus being baptized, I spoke of the identity God bestowed upon Jesus when he came up out of the water, “Beloved Son of God.” Today we move to the very next story in Matthew’s Gospel, where we hear that after Jesus is baptized, he is “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” [v. 4:] Jesus received his identity at his Baptism, and now Satan will put Jesus’ identity to the test.
Every day we hear stories about identity theft—of people whose social security numbers are copied, credit card numbers are lifted; pin numbers are stolen.
I will suggest that in the wilderness, identity theft is at the seductive center of each temptation. Satan challenges Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved son. Satan is like a laser, zeroing in on the core issue of calling into question Jesus’ relationship with God.
“If you are the Son of God,” Satan begins. In other words, “How do you know for certain you are God’s Son? Turn stone to bread, jump from the temple, worship me…..and you will know that you are the one who holds the real power. You can do the work of the messiah, God’s work, on your own.”
Jesus responds to all three temptations by refusing to establish his own worth and identity on his own terms but instead remains dependent on God. Jesus knows who he is, that is, by remembering to whom he belongs.
So, how about us here at St. James? There’s an awful lot of talk and discussion these days as to who we are as a congregation. I witnessed a real nostalgia this past Wednesday evening, as we ended the Ash Wednesday service with a thanksgiving for the items in our worship space upstairs. There were several posts on facebook as to how people were feeling and pictures from Friday morning as the furniture was moved out. To acknowledge these feelings is important and necessary!
Now, as work begins, as we are sitting down here on these pretty uncomfortable chairs, sitting a lot closer to each other than we are used to, without our beautiful organ to hear and our beautiful window to look at. So we ask the question: who are we? Can we worship prayerfully in this space?
When Council met on retreat three weeks ago, the entire day was really about identity. As we tried to describe and define ourselves as a congregation, one of the results was that list of all the work we are known for throughout the community and beyond. As we move through the process of calling another pastoral leader, the question most asked in this process is who are we? Describe your identity!
So what might the devil’s temptations sound like if Satan showed up here today? What might Satan ask concerning our identity? He might say something like this:
If you truly are a baptized community signed and sealed with the cross of Christ, fall down and worship those 79 areas of ministry listed on this bulletin insert.
If you truly are a baptized community signed and sealed with the cross of Christ, fall down and worship how good we feel that we made 14,472 fasnachts.
If you truly are a baptized community signed sealed with the cross of Christ, bow down and worship and raised more than $7,000 and that we had more than 100 volunteers.
If you truly are a baptized community signed and sealed with the cross of Christ, bow down and worship the fact that we have taken a teal lead in the community with the C.A.R.E.S. programs, especially as they use our property for their Resource Center.
The devil says, bow down and worship all your good feelings we have because of all the good things you do! Bow down and worship your warm-fuzzy feelings about how much good you are doing, how terrific we are……..that’s how subtle and seductive the devil is, because then we might begin to believe we do this one our own, and that begins to sound so much like the temptation in the Garden when Satan wants Adam & Eve to begin to think they can be like God; or Satan in the wilderness who wants to plant the thought in Jesus’ mind that he could be self-sufficient of God.
Please don’t hear me wrong. It is important to acknowledge the good, the money, the outreach, the worship, the youth program—it is so very important to understand and acknowledge our ministries and our work.
The baptism font and the pulpit and the organ and the fasnachts and the fellowship and the benches and the worship space are important parts of our identity.
But our identity is rooted much deeper. It is rooted in what happens at the font when the water is poured and the words are said—I baptized you in the name of God, Father, Son and Spirit—and when the oil touches our forehead and the sign of the cross is made and the words are heard—you, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
So here’s the thing about Satan and the way we are tempted; it is all a lie! It is all a seductive attempt at a kind of identity theft far worse that being afraid someone will steal your Pin number.
And Jesus offers us a way out, a way to safeguard our identity by lodging it in God’s good gift and promise. Jesus does more than that. Jesus also demonstrates just how deeply God loves us by going to the cross. That’s right—Jesus did not die on the cross in order that we might be acceptable or to make God loving. Rather, Jesus died to show us that God already loves us and has declared that we are not just acceptable but also treasured, priceless beyond measure.
It is said that when Martin Luther felt oppressed by his conscience or plagued by doubt, fear, or insecurity, he would sometime shout out in defiance, echoing Jesus’ words today: “Away with you Satan! I am baptized!” To do the same is perhaps our task this Lenten season.
In all that we are doing here in this congregation during these months, as we seek to know more deeply who we are, may we always begin that we are people of God’s promise inscribed on our forehead at Holy Baptism; that God has declared us worthy of love, dignity, and respect and everything we do, we do because God has pledged to be both with us and for us throughout all our lives. Amen.