Matthew 4:1-11 3-5-17 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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 a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Right after Jesus was baptized, he went to the wilderness to fast and pray, and, hungry and alone, Jesus was approached by Satan who tempted him three times, first with food, then with spiritual power, and third with political power. Although these temptations were specific to Jesus’ faith and calling, the temptations also connect to the very human needs of food, spiritual connection, and being loved by other people. When taken to the extreme, the human need for food, clothing and shelter becomes the temptation we call materialism or selfish individualism; the need for spiritual connection at its extreme becomes a faith solely focused on God and not community; and the need for being loved by other people becomes egotism or self-centeredness.
The faith of Jesus was at the center of his temptations; likewise, our own faith can also be central to our temptations. When our faith becomes perverted and moves toward its extremes, the temptation toward fulfilling individual needs becomes a selfish personal salvation, the temptation toward spiritual connections becomes being spiritual but not religious, and the temptation toward self-centeredness raises our desire for our religion to be at the center of the world’s power.
Faith itself– having faith, being faithful—is tempting, and for this we must pray.
This week is the first Sunday in Lent, a time of turning. We begin to turn away from Christmas and toward Easter. We begin to turn away from our old selves and turn to ponder toward what Jesus is calling us. Last week, we stepped into our little boat and shoved off, this week we turn from the shore behind us toward a far shore, a beacon of light beckoning us toward it. We turn toward a lighthouse, a symbol for us this Lent.
As you think about a light house, what does it mean to you?
[warning, security/immovability, shining light into the darkness, beacon, rotating, uniqueness, “A very present help in trouble”, staffed, lonely, magnification, point of reference.]
We interact with lighthouses differently from the land than we do from the water. The rotation of light gives a pulse, a rhythm of shadow and light. For sailors, the light itself offers assurance that land is not far, and it offers a warning to stay away from these rocks. Being a lighthouse keeper was a lonely, isolated job, and it was something that was relatively respected and required to mark harbors and ports.
Our faith is like a lighthouse. It can be lonely and necessary. It can be a beacon of assurance, and it can be a warning to stay away. It can be a light, and faith can be a shadow for many who have been hurt by faithful but inflexible people. Faith can be a salvation and faith can be a temptation.
It is right at this edge, this in-between zone between salvation and temptation, between shadow and light, between land and water, where we will reside during Lent; it is right in this in-between zone where our faith is formed and forged, where our faith is trusted and tested, where our faith is torn down and built up again. Each week we will approach this lighthouse, this symbol of in-between-ness in our prayer time, offering prayers to the God of the In-between as we navigate our human needs and desires.
Faith itself is a temptation. It is tempting to rest in the faith, to believe that faith alone will save you. But we all know that faith alone will not save us from a nuclear holocaust or when the oceans rise from global warming. Faith alone will not reduce hunger in the world; faith alone will not produce bread from stones. Believing that Jesus is your PLS—your Personal Lord and Savior—and this personal faith will save you is the temptation shadow side of our individual physical needs, and it moves us away from the communal and caring aspect of our faith.
Another temptation of faith is the idea that Faith is safe, and that it can be trusted, but never tested. This leads to a sense that life and faith are separate things. On the secular side this is the “spiritual but not religious” version of faith—a belief in God but distrust of a community of faith. In this belief, neither the community is trusted, nor is the faith tested. For people who belong to a community of faith, separating faith from life becomes a Sunday-only faith, where faith is practiced with a community, but only on Sunday. The faith and community are trusted, but the faith is left at the doorstep after coffee hour and it remains untested by the world and life out there.
Yet another temptation of our faith is this egotistic idea that our faith should be at the center of power in our world. This is the way we grew up, with church guiding our secular world. We had Christmas pageants at school, blue laws that kept grocery stores and gas stations closed on Sundays, and morality codes about alcohol purchase on Sundays. We grew up understanding that Christianity was intertwined with our civil society and our government. We could have all power, rule all countries of the world, but like Jesus tempted by the Satan, we could do that if we stepped into the temptation of losing the centrality of the faith. The church could be at the center of society, if the church does not push too hard for justice.
It is my belief that a church on the margins can more easily speak about the people on the margins. But moving toward the margins, which is what we are doing right now in this new Reformation moment, is hard. We have to give up the tempting idea that we grew up with, that the church is central to the world’s powers.
All of these temptations start with a genuine need for salvation—food, spiritual connection, being loved by others.
Today, on this first week of Lent, we stand at this in-between-zone by this lighthouse acknowledging the place where water and land meet, where light and shadow meet, where our faith is trusted and tested. We stand between salvation and temptation, calling ourselves back to a faith-centered life that serves others, is integrated into all we do, and accepts–or even welcomes—marginalization as a spiritual discipline.
We step away from the temptations of our faith and into the salvation of our faith during Lent.
Today, As we move toward our prayer time, I encourage you to begin thinking about a temptation you would like to lay down for Lent. It might be a physical desire that has turned into an addiction—food, sex, alcohol. It might be a spiritual distraction like anger or animosity. It might be something like work-aholism or over committing, which rise out of the desire to be liked by everyone. Begin to name this for yourself. What has turned from a salvation into a temptation for you? The offertory will give you some time to think about this, and then during our prayer time, I encourage you to come forward, and light a candle as a symbol of the burden you offer to this space.
If we can move our temptations of our faith toward the salvation of our faith, we might experience what Jesus did in his Temptation. As we heard in the reading, after Jesus turned away from the Temptation, The devil left him us and angels came to wait upon him. May this be true for us in this Lenten in-between time. Amen