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Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

Mar 10, 2019

Passage: Luke 4:1-13

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Category: Lent

Detail:

Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent (2019)
March 10th, 2019
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11       Romans 10:8b-13       Luke 4:1-13

Here we are again at the beginning of Lent! Over the years, I’ve discovered that when it comes to the popular perception of Lent, there are two types of people. The first looks forward to the start of Lent with eager hope. The second looks to the start of Lent with begrudging acceptance. Usually, the first type are the ones who made new years’ resolutions, but they didn’t stick, so Lent comes as a sort of second chance to start afresh. And second type are those who made new years’ resolutions but decided not to start them until Lent. (I hope y’all didn’t give up laughter for Lent…) In any case, here we are at the beginning of Lent, and we’re presented with the story of Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. 

And there’s a detail in this story that I’m sure we’re all aware is there but don’t often reflect on. This detail comes at the very end of Luke’s account of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, and the specific passage says, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” And the question that this passage raises is, “when is this opportune time when the devil reappears?” Most people would say that the next instance of the devil playing an active role in Luke’s Gospel is when Jesus is betrayed - in chapter 22, it even says “Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot…he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.” So it makes sense that the betrayal is the “opportune time” that the author of the Gospel is referring to. But there’s another option that I want us to consider. 

The first thing to remember here is that according to Luke’s Gospel, the devil shows up as a tempter who tries to get Jesus to deviate from his mission. The devil’s temptation comes twice in the form of an “if…then” challenge. “If you are the Son of God…then…turn stones to bread,” “If you are the Son of God, then jump off the temple.” And in all three of the temptations, the devil is trying to get Jesus do things that will compromise his mission. {I think it’s also worth noting that not once does Luke refer to the devil specifically as “Satan” during this temptation account.} (h. o. t. t. t.)

Next - when Luke tells us that Satan enters Judas Iscariot, there’s no indication that Satan uses Judas to tempt Jesus to deviate from his mission. If anything, Judas is furthering things along. But we are told about an occasion after his betrayal where Jesus is tempted to abandon his mission. If you recall, when Jesus is on the cross, Luke tells us: “And the people stood by, watching; and the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’… One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ So right at the moment when Jesus is nearing the completion of his mission, right when he’s at his weakest, right at what could be considered an opportune time for the devil to make an appearance, Jesus is confronted with a litany of “if…then” challenges from all sides. It’s coming from the people and their leaders, from the soldiers, and even from a criminal hanging right next to him.. Luke doesn’t come right out and tell us that it’s Satan who’s doing the tempting using the familiar “if…then” challenge, but I’d guess that we’re supposed to make the connection. The devil in the story is not an easily identifiable villain; because practically everyone has become the devil: tempting Jesus to abandon his mission by coming down from the cross and proving that he is who he claims to be. And there’s a warning for us in this lesson: lest we think we can blame the devil for all the world’s problems, we have to be aware that through our own cynicism, malice, and callous disregard for others, we each can become the devil. And we can be the ones putting temptations in other people’s way.

I know this observation might sound gloomy, so I do want to offer a counter example of how we do have the power to overcome temptation and can be angels to one another.  Now, to be fair, we’re probably not ever going to be facing the temptations Jesus faced, like turning stones into bread. The temptations we face come in different forms, but most of the things that tempt us are unglamorous - routine, even boring. Usually, the temptations we face come to us as part of the stuff of our daily lives and our normal interactions with others. And I’d like to think that the story I’m about to share falls into the category of the familiarly mundane.  

Some of you know that last weekend, I was on Seabrook Island at Camp St. Christopher, attending a youth retreat known as Happening. Part of this retreat involved a special supper where the youth leaders waited on and served the youth participants. This supper was done by candlelight and mostly in silence. The aim was to create an atmosphere of attentiveness so that the candidates would know that this was more than just a time for food - it was supposed to be a time to reflect on community and the spiritual importance of serving and being served. 

A number of the youth leaders had signed up to play guitar or sing while people were eating, and there were four groups of youth who had volunteered to offer music during the supper. The third group consisted of two teenage boys and one teenage girl. When they began to play, it was clear that they were nervous, and within a few seconds, they really began to falter. A few giggles went up, and they must have heard the giggling because they began trading smirks with each other. I remember thinking, “Oh boy. If they start laughing and stop playing because they are embarrassed, the rest of the kids in here will start laughing, too, and the whole atmosphere of the dinner will be upended.” And you could tell that there was a growing sense among most everyone in the room that we should just start laughing or talking over them so that they wouldn’t go on embarrassing themselves in front of everyone. 

But then something amazing happened. One of the youth candidates held up her hand and made the sign for “I love you.” During the weekend, everyone was encouraged to use this sign as a way to show that you were really listening and supporting someone when they were talking. And when this one youth put up her hand and made the “I love you” sign, within moments, everyone else in the room followed suit. And the entire mood shifted. Instead of whispering and giggling, every youth in the room went silent and showed their love and support. And instead of continuing to falter, the young singers were buoyed up by this display of charity. They found a new confidence in their voices, and they finished strong.   

And I remember thinking that, at that particular moment, love won. You could argue that it was a small victory and that there was no cosmic significance to what happened. And that may be fair to say. If the singers had fallen apart, the weekend would not have been ruined. It would have just been a small blip that likely would not have been remembered by anyone, or remembered as just a bit of silliness. 

But I’m still absolutely in awe over what happened. Because a room full of otherwise giddy teenagers, who in most any other circumstance would have been carried away with the temptation not to take things seriously, decided that showing LOVE, deliberately and seriously, was the best thing to do. And it changed the whole situation. 

And I’m convinced that we each have the power to do the same kind of thing no matter what our situation in life is. We each have the power to overcome the temptation to regard our interactions with others as meaningless and instead to approach them with love. And if that’s the only Lenten discipline you take on this season, then I say eat all the chocolate and pizza you want! But in all seriousness, as we enter into this season of wrestling with temptation, I hope we all take it to heart that each of us has it in us to be the devil towards others. That’s why it is so important to know that we also have the power, through small acts of love in our everyday lives, to be angels.