Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
First Sunday in Lent/Year C/March 10, 2109
Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, March 10, 2019
Who am I, and why am I here? Of the many questions for which human beings seek answers, these two are the biggies. One question is about identity and the other about purpose.
Our gospel passage begins with the newly-baptized Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, being led by the Spirit into the wilderness, a place of Jesus’ testing for 40 days by the devil. During that time, he ate nothing at all. The testing of Jesus, the location of the wilderness, the specific amount of time and his fasting are all significant because these details underscore Jesus’ connection to the larger story of God’s unfolding plan of salvation—God’s divine purpose for humankind.
Recall a lone Moses on Mt. Sinai who fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, in the presence of God. The prophet Elijah fled to the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights on his way to Horeb the mount of God. The testing of God’s chosen people, Israel, was 40 years wandering in the wilderness being tested by God. Indeed, there is a pattern of testing and the recurring location of the wilderness as the place of testing which emerge throughout Scripture.
The author of Luke positions the account of the temptation of Jesus, in between Jesus’ baptism—his identity—and the initiation of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—his purpose. In chapter three, Jesus hears the voice of God which says to him, “You are my son, the Beloved” (Lk 3:22)—identity. Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by 15 verses on the ancestry of Jesus in which the genealogy of Jesus is traced from Mary’s husband Joseph down to the first man, Adam, also identified as “son of God” (Lk 3:28).
From the birth narrative through John the Baptist’s proclamation about the coming of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, Luke wastes no time in establishing who Jesus is and why he was sent by God. There is clarity about Jesus’ identity and purpose.
In this text, Jesus is engaged in spiritual combat with the devil in three different settings–from the wilderness to a high place to the highest place—the pinnacle of the temple. Just as the sites of the temptations escalate in risk, so do the devil’s temptations posed to Jesus. The devil tempted a famished Jesus to satisfy his human suffering of hunger by changing stones into bread. But, Jesus understood that his purpose was to glorify God in all things. Performing such a miracle would have been self-serving and would not have served to glorify God.
Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, so the temptation for Jesus to have all of the worldly kingdoms and authority in exchange for worshiping the devil fell flat with the One who was himself the kingdom of God that had come near to humankind. And, when the devil tempted Jesus to put himself in mortal danger by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple, the devil used a quote from Psalm 91:11, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.” Jesus rebuffed him with his consistent weapon of holy scripture quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, saying, “…Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 12). Undergirding Jesus’ shield of scripture was his love of God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might (Deut. 6:5).
Temptation is woven into the human experience, just as suffering is a part of the human condition. Jesus was not immune from temptation, as he was like us in every way yet without sin. While the devil made his appeals to Jesus’ human nature, he could not penetrate Jesus’ soul. Jesus’ fully-divine natured could never be separated from him, and ensured that he could not be led to stray from his true identity as Son of God.
The undivided dual nature of Jesus—fully-human, fully-divine—is impenetrable, and leads me to view Jesus, himself, as the powerful weapon against the devil’s testing.
On Ash Wednesday I said that Lent is a time to tend to the challenging work of spiritual triage—to mend the brokenness of the heart and spirit within the wilderness of one’s own soul. We do ourselves a great disservice if we exclusively seek perpetrators of temptation exclusively outside of ourselves. Temptation is unique to each human soul; that which may tempt one person may not tempt another. Because the testing of the human will happens on the soil of the human soul, we do well to be alert and truthful with ourselves when we are complicit in being led away from God as the focus of our lives. The life-long struggle is real, and it doesn’t happen somewhere “out there.”
Parker Palmer in his book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, wrote, “The powers and principalities would hold less sway over our lives if we refused to collaborate with them. But refusal is risky, so we deny our own truth … and betray our identities. And yet the soul persistently calls us back to our birthright form, back to lives that are grounded, connected and whole” (Palmer, p. 34).
Jesus refused to collaborate with the devil in his schemes to tempt him into betraying his identity as the Son of God and he refused to allow himself to be broken by the testing so that he could live God’s purpose for his life—to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world.
The temptations that plague human nature—survival, power/authority, outwitting death had no power over the undivided nature of Christ—fully human and fully Divine—fully whole. And, as those who are baptized into his Jesus’ death and resurrection, we must be fixed on being nurtured to the full stature of Christ in our daily lives—becoming more fully whole and at one with God.
There is power in wholeness, and the restoration of the soul can only be found in unity with God through Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, the temptations of this world will come at us hard and fast. In order to overcome them, God’s faithful people must have clarity about our identity as children of God, and have clarity of purpose as evangelists and kingdom builders.
Throughout this season of Lent, risk inviting the Holy Spirit to lead you, as the Spirit led Jesus in the wilderness, through the wilderness of your soul. May you emerge from this Lenten season more assured of God’s love for you; more reflective of Christ’s Light for others; and more empowered by the Holy Spirit to claim and proclaim the good news of God in Christ.