First Congregational Church
March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent
“Trust and Certainty”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
When the doctor asked Ole about what he did yesterday, Ole told him. "Well, yesterday afternoon, I waded across the edge of a lake, escaped from a mountain lion in the heavy brush, marched up and down a mountain, stood in a patch of poison ivy, crawled out of quicksand, and jumped away from an aggressive rattlesnake.” Inspired by the story, the doctor said, "You must be an awesome outdoorsman!” “No," Ole said. "I'm just a bad golfer.”
Two new deer hunters decided to separate to increases their chances. “What if we get lost?” says one of them. “Fire three shots up in the air, every hour on the hour” says the other. “I saw it on TV.” Sure enough, one of the hunters gets lost, so he fires three shots up into the air every hour on the hour. The next day the other hunter finds his friend with the help of the Forest Ranger. “Why didn’t you do what I said?” asked the hunter. “I did! I fired three shots up into the air every hour on the hour, until I ran out of arrows.”
Over the last weeks, based on the lectionary passages, Jesus has been preaching on a plain, a mountain, and today we find him with some alone time in the wilderness. This place is often interpreted to be a desert, but our passage today uses the word “wilderness.”
Either word works, even though they relate to different aspects of life. Desert tends to denote a barren, lifeless place while a wilderness is perhaps more chaotic with lifeforms of different sorts. Deserts are generally thought of more in terms of heat while wildernesses can definitely be cold and hot. Potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, Jesus was, for once, not surrounded by the curious and followers.
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Thank you, Jennie. There is a guy named David Schnasa Jacobsen, who is Professor of the Practice of Homiletics and Director of the Homiletical Theology Project at Boston University School of Theology. That’s a really big title, but it would seem to fit, because this guy had a really interesting insight to this passage. He commented that having this passage on this Sunday - the first Sunday in Lent - can be tempting to imply that it is a passage about us - fasting for forty days and all that. Professor Jacobsen’s point is that it is really about God and Jesus.
It’s not about abstaining from eating, coffee or chocolate for Lent, and heaven knows what Good News that is! Professor Jacobsen pointed out that although three of the four gospels include this desert wilderness retreat, Luke is the gospel that paints it as a passage about Jesus’ unique vocation as Spirit-anointed Son of God.
That insight makes sense. The passage begins with the Holy Spirit filling Jesus and leading him. In all of the temptations, Jesus deflected not to himself, but to God. All of Jesus’ responses to temptation were quotes from the book of Deuteronomy, the Old Testament book that documents the forty year wandering in another desert. The big temptations there were for people to become bored with manna hotdish, manna pot pie, manna on a shingle, manna primavera and manna crumble. In other words, the temptations were about the humans, not about God, Christ or the Holy Spirit.
Going back to Professor Jacobsen’s point, what does Jesus’ unique vocation as the Spirit-anointed Son of God mean to us? What does Jesus’ job as a member of the Trinity mean for us everyday people?
Earlier in Luke, Jesus pointed out two things: that 1. he is the Son of God and 2. that he came to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Symbolically, as a son, Christ is the bodily representative of the One who gave him life. In the Old Testament, kings were sometimes called God’s son, to mean that they were God’s earthly representative to the people. So Christ’s job was to serve as God’s representative, releasing from bondage those bound with burdens, insight into truth and justice and to help us understand what our next life will be like. But most of us already get that - to one degree or another.
A few moments ago, I alluded to temptations fitting the individual. Twice Jesus was tempted with the words, “If you are the Son of God….” If you think about it a minute, that Son of God reference to Jesus hearkens back to Jesus’ baptism, when God said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This whole temptation scenario is to find out if the voice from heaven was telling the truth about Jesus’ identity or not.
Most of us, being smart enough not to liken ourselves to God, won’t be tempted in the way Jesus was tempted. But we will be tempted. None of us are going to be tempted to provide food in abundance, to rule over kingdoms or give undeniable proof of identity through spectacular spiritual feats. I don’t know about all of you, but that’s a small load off one’s mind.
In like manner, none of us will give the world something better than those things. None of us will be able to do what Jesus could, can and has done: giving himself in all of his truth, God with us, not as we might like God to be, but as God really is.
From time to time we all have doubts, uncertainties about the reality and truth of the Christian faith. Jesus’ temptations are all related to certainty. Proof. Facts. Undeniable, irrefutable evidence. If Christ had not been tempted, then you and I, in our testing, could never have said, “Well, I’m being tested, and that’s okay because Jesus was tested, too.”
And here’s a golden oldie: note that to every test, every tempting offer, Jesus said, “No.” He refused to perform these spectacular spiritual tricks, these undeniable miracles to prove who he was. Instead, Jesus gives us something better. He gives us himself, physically present among us, a human being who is divinely able to resist the wiles of evil and temptation. He gives us something better than certainty. He offers us his love.
C.S. Lewis once said “only the person who never yielded to temptation knows the full strength of temptation.” If a hurricane roars ashore somewhere, which person will be in the best position to talk about the strength of the wind: the one who was blown over immediately, the one who managed to stay on his feet until the wind hit 75 MPH, or the one who never was blown over, not even when the wind topped out at 130 MPH. Obviously the one who was able to resist the storm’s fullest fury is the one who knows better than anyone what all it took to stay on his feet. So also with temptation: Jesus never wavered. When temptation threw everything it had at Jesus, took all its best shots, Jesus never fell.
We aren’t going to be tempted with transforming stone into bread, jumping off buildings for power or tempting fate. But we will be tempted with the little things in our lives, all the little compromises that take us farther from the goal of finishing our races well.
I can hear some brains wondering, “So what, Ms. Miraculous Elocutor of Truth and Knowledge?” To which she replies: When we are sitting in the doctor’s office, wondering about all the various outcomes of the upcoming appointment, we can also realize that Christ sits in one of the empty chairs with us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, will go with us through whatever to the very end - and beyond.
When we wonder how and if we are going to get through the situation with the family member or friend, we can rest on the understanding that even should we fully display our humanity and fail to meet our targets of loyalty and compassion, Christ doesn’t. Christ will remain faithful, courageous, obedient and steadfast, no matter what.
When that person has had one thing after another fall into their laps like cement blocks, we can also remember that Jesus’ temptation didn’t simply go away that day. Luke reminds us that Satan slinked away until a more opportune time. Some forty days later, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, the crowd tempted Jesus, “If you are God’s Son,” the crowd said, “then act like it. Throw yourself down from the cross.” But Jesus doesn’t submit to human demand for certainty. He just hangs there in agony. He looks down from the cross and says, “Sisters and brothers, I love you still.”
A question of implication: Are you able to bet your life as a matter of trust rather than a matter of certainty? For such an answer we most certainly make our best calculations with prayer.
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we confess that the power to make things as we wish them is overwhelming. Turning stones into bread could lead to so many good things. But we renounce our hunger for power and that your love alone is our power. We confess that we sometimes want, more than anything, to manage what others think of us, wanting authority, the kingdoms of the world. We renounce our hunger for status and that you alone are our belonging. We confess that we want the security of freedom from pain, risk and sacrifice, as if we could leap from a height and be unhurt. But we renounce our fear of suffering, because you alone are our security. God, we sometimes wonder if faith’s claims about Jesus can be trusted. But we ask that your Spirit of love be our power, our security and our belonging, that the fears of our egos and desires may be re-directed to trust you more, belong to you more surely, and bear your love more surely. Thank you for your truths, that give us much appreciated certainty, as we breathe in that love, through your Son and the power of your Holy Spirit. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.