First Sunday in Lent 1 March 2020
(Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11)
“Walking This Broken, Messy Journey Together!”
This past Thursday, my day off, I put a new screen in the bottom half of my back door, and then I put on a screen saver. The old one needed to be replaced because the small children we have around our home most often prefer to push right into the screen rather than reach for the handle, when trying to open the door. As I worked with the mesh wires of the screen, I realized just how fragile a screen really is! But it does its job! The screen saver is there to help protect it because with small children close by, it doesn’t take long before there is a big hole where the screen used to be secured tightly, especially around the edges.
When I finished with this work on Thursday, I stood back, smiling, knowing that the next time the grandkids would come and want to open that door, they probably will still push against the very fragile screen, and it won’t be long before Thursday’s work will be repeated.
It was that fragile screen, and me hoping I could protect it with a screen saver that got me thinking about today’s Gospel, where even Jesus could not be protected from the temptations of the devil.
It is our human fragileness and vulnerability that we bring into these 40 days between now and Easter. Lent offers us a time to do the deep work of the soul. This is an opportunity we are given to take an honest look at the parts of us that are broken, those parts that are not rooted in God’s steadfast love.
On Ash Wednesday, Pastor Andrew spoke with great passion as to how Lent is a time to confront those parts of us that have become hypocritical; to look honestly at the ways we have become judgmental and self-righteous in our relationships with each other.
This is the brokenness that confuses our identity as beloved children of God, claimed for us at Baptism. At the heart of our Lenten journey is for us to reclaim through God’s grace, by the way we live, this baptismal identity.
We begin this first weekend of Lent with this very familiar Gospel. And I think of Walter Brueggemann, pastor and past professor of Old Testament Studies at Columbia Theological Seminary, who suggests that this Gospel text is really about how to be church together.1 Brueggemann goes on to ask the question: what if this text is not so much about the “temptations of Jesus” as we most often say, but rather, it is about the temptation of the church, how the devil is really at work in today’s world to seduce us out of being the church we are called to be.2
Brueggemann forces us to confront our diminishment as a Church today, the voices tempting us away from living out the bold discipleship to which we are called!
We live in a culture today where it is so easy to “give in.” Just give in, go along with the masses, don’t make anything too difficult, and if there is a choice to be made, it’s easy for the church to be the thing eliminated.
These three wilderness temptations are often identified as: instant gratification, power and control.
If we use Brueggemann’s framework for this Gospel story, then we hear Jesus saying that the church offers more than magical bread; that the church is more than money, profit, and exchange value.
Again using Brueggemann’s framework, we hear Jesus saying that the role of the church is not to make God into a performer. And when the temptation whispers to us, “cheat a little, split your loyalty just a little, worship me only when you have extra time,” Jesus is clear that there will be no compromise, no half-way faith, and no divided loyalty. Our part is that of obeying the Word of God!
This story is really about faithful living, most especially when so much around us wants to seduce us into a mediocre life of faith. Everybody knows that we are in a time when the temptation to cheapen our integrity and belittle our values is over-powering.
Lent is the season when through God’s grace, we bring our broken and sinful selves back to God, and decide to be different, to live differently. In the wilderness times of our lives, it is God’s Word that sustains us.
The wisdom of Lent is that we cannot rush too quickly without taking a measure of how powerful sin is, because it is when we rush through Lent that Resurrection is reduced to a cosmic carnival trick for those who complete the sprint through these 40 days.
At the beginning of our Lenten journey we are reminded that God’s abundant grace has been made known to us through Jesus. We do not find a stone on the communion table–but bread, bread enough to feed all who come to the table. In the waters of Baptism, we realize we are more than we ever thought possible!
And, as far as the screen saver preventing the little ones from pushing a hole in the fragile screen—the temptation to do so is always there. But who knows, maybe preserving that fragile screen is not what is most important!
What is most important is what I do know. . . . . Jesus has already defeated Satan and sent him away. As the angels came to wait on Jesus, likewise, the Church—sinner and saved— today is blessed to walk with Jesus in obedience on this journey of Lent.
Let’s travel together. Let’s travel this journey together, broken and messy and sometimes even hurting each other. But let’s travel together by the grace of God!
Thanks be to God! Amen!
1. Walter Brueggemann, The Collected Sermons. Westminster John Knox Press. 2011. p. 156.
2. Ibid. p. 157.