Lent One Year C
By the Rev. Dr. Hillary Raining
Luke 4: 1-13
We can get lost in a wasteland of temptations and lies about who we are. We must turn back and embrace our true identity-- that we are God's beloved children.
Luke 4:1-13 (ESV)
1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness
2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”
5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,
6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.
7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Wandering far in the land that is waste
“I have wandered far in the land that is waste.”
I remember the first time I really read those lines–they brought me up short. They are taken from the words of confession found in the Rite of Reconciliation and can be used by anyone to express their sorrow at the distance their sin and grief has caused between oneself and God.
“I have wandered far in the land that is waste.”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, the land that is waste. That’s where I’ve been.” There was no need to have someone tell me what that phrase meant. The effect of reading those words out-loud was like locating myself on a map after being lost in the desert. The land of waste was where I was after following my own selfish desires time and time again. I was living there, but I wasn’t flourishing. My spirit had grown parched. My anxiety had made me feel starved for peace. My self-esteem was in shreds as was my relationship with God. It was…waste. And I had been traveling farther and farther in to it.
I didn’t need any help figuring out how I had gotten here–but exactly how to get out was not as evident.
This was the moment I needed to TURN back and see what had brought me here–to see what brings anyone to the land that is waste. How do we become so wasteful?
The First Lie - We are what we do/accomplish
I bet Jesus wondered the same thing when he found himself in his own personal wasteland–the desert where he was tempted by Satan. He had been out there for forty days fasting and praying when the devil came to tempt him with food, influence, and supernatural-power. 40 Days prior to this, Jesus was baptized by John and the sky opened up. The Holy Spirit descended upon him from heaven and he was proclaimed God’s beloved son.
But that was then. And this is now.
Now he was in a wasteland. And he was being tempted by a devil who knew just what he needed to feel good, if only for a moment. But to accept any of these temptations, would be to deny his identity–the one given to him at his baptism–his identity as God’s beloved child.
You see, this is how temptations work. Very rarely are we tempted by things that are very obviously bad. We know that stealing, murder, and corruption are outside of what it means to identify as Christian. Yet, as the great Henri Nouwen preached in a sermon he called “Being the Beloved,” “the three great lies of the tempter– the three lies that call us to turn away from God’s chosen identify for us as God’s children–those three lies are much more subtle. The lies are that our life is defined by what we do; we are what others say about us; and we are what we possess. We spend our whole lives being turned here and there by these lies, until we turn our face back to God’s love for us.”(Adapted from “Being the Beloved”, by Henri Nouwen, 1993)
During those 40 days, in his own personal wasteland, Jesus encounters all three of these lies. Here he is in a wasteland being tempted with things he could really, really use right about now. The tempter comes up to him and tells him to turn stone into bread. Now, this is not a temptation for Jesus because he is on some low-carb diet. This is temptation because the devil wants Jesus to think of himself NOT as relying on God–but relying on his own power. He’s trying to get Jesus to DO something–something that will force him to rely on his own agency rather than completely rely on his connection with God.
He tempts Jesus with the first lie. That is IS what he DOES.
But Jesus TURNS away- and rebukes the devil by saying “people cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.” He teaches Satan what he failed to learn elsewhere–that turning to God is more sustaining than anything else we can imagine.
This is a bold temptation to deny. Anyone of us who has ever answered the, “so tell me about yourself” question with an answer about your job, or your school, or your last vacation–things that you DO– knows this temptation. It tells us that we are only as good as the last thing we produced or earned. This lie turns us into people who can only feel good about ourselves when we are doing something. And we turn away from the love of God that tells us that we are loved no matter what. We never have to earn God’s love.
We must turn to God’s love to define who we are–NOT what we can do.
The Second Lie - We are what others say about us
Having turned away from the temptation of being self-sustaining, the second lie of the wasteland rears its head.
“Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
The devil is telling Jesus that if he worships the devil, everyone in the world love Jesus. They will hang on his every word. They will give him authority AND their glory. They will speak well of him.
Imagine that temptation for Jesus. He could have everyone on the same wavelength-all talking about him and the goodness that he wanted to spread. Surely, that couldn’t be bad! Isn’t that the point of evangelism–to have people talking about how great Jesus is?
And if we are honest–doesn’t that sounds pretty good? Wouldn’t it be great to live a life where everyone thought and said wonderful things about us? A life where no-one was gossiping about us, no one ever put us down. A life of pure positivity coming our way?
But Jesus wisely sees this for the trap that it is and turns away. He says, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Jesus reminds the devil that to be worshiped, and flattered, and glorified is to forget that God’s love needs to be proclaimed in this world. Sometimes, proclaiming God’s love will not bring us accolades. Look at Jesus’ own life. Once he leaves this wasteland, he seeks to spread God’s love even when it means speaking truth to power–even when it means his own death. One moment, people will sing “Hosanna” and say that he is the Messiah. And the next, the will shout “crucify him!” and say he is a criminal worthy of death. Jesus wisely saw that he could not be who he truly was called to be if he believed he was only what people said of him–good or bad. When we get caught up in the temptation of thinking we are who others say we are–good or bad–we forget that it only matters who God says we are– God’s beloved children.
We are not what others say we are. We must turn to who God says we are–God’s beloved children–otherwise we will find ourselves stuck in the wasteland.
The Third Lie - We are what we have
Jesus was far into the wasteland now. Having turned away from the lie of doing and the lie of other’s perceptions, he was faced by the third lie–the lie that says “we are what we have.”
“Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
The devil showed Jesus all there was to be had in the world making it a point to bring him to the holiest places in Jesus’ religion–the temple in Jerusalem. For Jewish people–their religious identity was the most important thing that they had. They based their very nation on the promises that God made with Abraham. They patterned their lives around the Laws that were the bedrock of their faith. Satan went so far as to quote scripture to Jesus to tempt him to thinking that following the Torah–the thing that his people clung to–could take the place of following God’s will for Jesus’ life. The devil showed Jesus what he had that was most precious and sacred–his religion, his family, his health–his very identity. The devil shows Jesus everything Jesus has and says, “this is who you are.”
We cling so hard to the lie that we are what we have–our positions, our education, our social status, our possessions. And even to those things that go even deeper- our health, our family, our religion. But when we believe the lie that we are what we have and turn to those things for comfort–we can feel dashed on the rocks.
Jesus had to look at his beloved religion and see where the people who practiced it had turned the rules into profit and gain for themselves. In fact, his harshest words were reserved for the rich who mistreated the poor and the religious leaders who cared more about the religion than the God it was supposed to worship. Jesus turned away from what he had to rely on God’s love alone.
Turning out of the wasteland and back to God's love
So what do we do when we have found ourselves far in the land that is waste?
We do what Jesus demonstrates for us–we turn away from the lies about who we are that tempt us away from putting our trust, value, and faith in the love that God has for us.
This means we have to turn away from the lie that our worth is bound up in what we do or accomplish and turn back to the knowledge that there is nothing we have to do to earn the love of God.
It means that we have to turn away from the lie that we are who others say we are–good or bad–and turn back to the knowledge that God has calls us God’s beloved children.
Yes, there are times when we wander far in the land that is waste. But we don’t have to stay there. We are God’s beloved children and the way out of the wastelands we lose ourselves in is to turn back to God’s love.