First Sunday of Lent, 2017

Lead us not into temptation.
Lead us not into temptation.
Lead us not into temptation.

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He was famished. He was famished. Forty days and forty nights of fasting left him frail, and no pillar of fire or cloud accompanied him there. Perhaps worse than the hunger, was the loneliness of the wilderness itself. He had no one around him, no one to take his mind off the hunger, no one’s conversation to stop his whirling brain going in a thousand directions.

That’s when it came – at his weakest, at the moment of desperation. He was famished.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

If…If you are…

But he knows this is the case. He has just heard it. He has just heard the voice from heaven assuring him that he is the Beloved. It came just as he emerged from the waters of the Jordan – those ancient waters where Israel was birthed as God’s Child called out of Egypt. There – there in that sacred place he received the same name. This son of Israel is the Son of God. It proceeded from God’s own mouth.

But who can resist such an enticing offer? Who can resist the promise of unlimited resources, of having at your fingertips whatever you want whenever you want it, an endless supply of whatever resource might be needed at any given time? The question is not whether we can resist this temptation or not. That question has been answered with a resounding “No.” We cannot and we have not. Wars have been fought over our boundless desire for endless resources. People have been and still are exploited by our economic systems for the sake of available products and resources. This is not a temptation we have ever been able to overcome.

Yet, here in this post-baptism wilderness, in the moment of weakness, Jesus resists the temptation to reach beyond the limit of humanity. He refuses to grasp at unlimited resources. His multiplication of loaves will come as a gift of the Father for the good of the crowd. It is not done for the sake of the few or the one. The gifts of God are to be shared, not hoarded by a select few. So Jesus resists this first irresistible temptation by clinging to the Word of God spoken to him at his baptism. Jesus is faithful where we would certainly fall again to temptation.

Lead us not into temptation.

The second temptation is much more subtle, and the tempter has come better prepared. Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the temple, a public location where he would surely be seen by many of his own people, and the tempter wields the Word of God against the Word of God: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against the stone.’”

This is the promise of security, of invulnerability. And this is a public place, a place where Jesus could show everyone here and now that he has the security of legions of Angels. He would be seen as the invulnerable Messiah. Who could resist the temptation for invulnerability, for the highest level of security?

Surely we would succumb to this, and indeed we have. We who are obsessed with the seductive security of heavy firepower, of military might, and of towering walls are willing to go to great lengths, to compromise on so much, in order to feel safe and secure. This is no temptation we could or have resisted.

Yet, this vulnerable Jesus resists. He will not grasp at security. Rather, he will trust God’s faithfulness. He will not prove he is secure from death by attempting this fall. Rather, he will go through death, trampling it down to reverse our Great Fall. Jesus’ body is marked by vulnerability, and his life is one that is vulnerable to the death-dealing powers of this world. Yet, he resists the tempting game of intimidation and posturing, of proving the height of security through terrible displays of power. This is not a temptation we have ever been able to resist. But Jesus is faithful where we would certainly fall again to temptation.

Lead us not into temptation.

Finally the tempter cuts tot the chase and tells Jesus what he’s really looking for. Jesus is taken to a mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world. The “ruler of this world” offers Jesus all of its kingdoms in exchange for Jesus’ submission and worship. With such a position, Jesus could have boundless influence and an unrivaled platform to unfold his vision. He could legislate morality and demand the worship owed him anyway. Who could resist this limitless influence and boundless authority over all people?

Indeed, as with the previous temptations, we have and continue to succumb to this temptation in the most egregious ways. It would be impossible to name all of the ways we coerce and punish our way toward order, asserting ideals and controlling our fellow human creatures. Power over another is so seductive, and we are willing to exert that power in our political, religious, and personal lives in innumerable ways. It is why even this pulpit is at the same time one of the most precious and dangerous places in the church. We have most certainly fallen to this temptation time and again.

And yet this vulnerable, famished Jesus musters what authority he has left in his cracking voice and commands the ruler of this world to leave him, declaring the direction the rest of his ministry and life will take: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Jesus resists the temptation to gain the whole world and lose his soul. He will not reduce God’s call to a simple equation where the end justifies the means. He will not grab authority by any means. Rather, he will be given all authority in heaven and on earth at the greatest cost – his very life at the hands of the Roman authority. Jesus is faithful where we would certainly fall again to temptation.

Lead us not into temptation.

It should be clear by now that these temptations in the wilderness are not mere tests of his fidelity. Rather, Jesus carries us through the very things we cannot overcome on our own in his frail, famished body. We will face these and other temptations, and left to our own devices, we will surely fail. This is not a question. We do not have the strength to overcome these temptations. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”

But when we fall into temptation, when we find ourselves parched and famished in the desert of our own making, when we are overcome by the desires that overwhelm and so often control us, when we would be left alone to deal with that which we cannot deal with, we have no other recourse than to grab hold of the most precious Body of Jesus and hold on for dear life. Jesus alone has been tested in every way that we are, yet without sin. Jesus alone can bring us through the wilderness. We must clutch the hem of his garment, grab his hand above the drowning wave, hold onto the wound in his side, or cling to his nail-pierced feet.

So come to this Altar, here at the beginning of our wilderness journey of Lent, and cling – cling – to the Body of Jesus. Amen.

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