Mar. 10, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Mar 10, 2019 in Lent, Sermons

The First Sunday in Lent (Year C)

March 10, 2019

For Jesus the temptations were bread for his hunger, power and glory the world over, and security in God enough to rescue him. All this in exchange for worshiping the devil. What’s your greatest temptation? Small or large – everyone has known both. The devil’s temptations are always bespoke, custom-crafted to fit our identities. That’s the nature of it, and so temptation is towards something other than who we are in relationship with God. The identity we each have in that relationship is unique to us and also reliably universal as God’s children.

Lent so often seems to make us think of all those things we should give up or what we should do but don’t want to do, when instead it should help point us to deepening our identity as beloved children of God, each in our own way. Hence those custom temptations from the devil—they’re about weakening and disfiguring that identity. With Jesus he says again and again, “If you are the Son of God…” If. He is challenging Jesus’ identity and trying to undermine his faith in his relationship with God. All three temptations are along those lines and Jesus responds in just that vein; tempted with bread for his intense hunger he speaks of his trust in God to provide far more than mere bread, tempted with power and glory for his loyalty Jesus tells him that his allegiance can only belong to God—from whom his very identity comes. When the devil tries to impugn God’s loyalty to him by taunting Jesus into testing God, Jesus simply refuses —having no need to prove to anyone what he already knows. In all of these the devil tries to undermine Jesus’ certainty and confidence in God, and in himself. His implication is that Jesus is not getting all he could out of the relationship or is somehow himself not worthy. Jesus’ answers recall the story of Israel by the quotes he uses, placing himself squarely in that shared identity as part of God’s saving love—and as fully worthy of it.

I asked a moment ago about your temptations; more finely put, what are you tempted to move towards instead of moving into closer communion with God? Maybe not bread or glory or security as tempted Jesus, it could be about gaining fame, amassing wealth, or looking a certain way, living a certain way, safety by possessions, lazy comfort, ease. We each have our own, and every one of them gets to us be attempting to erode our confidence in who God created us to be, grind down that confidence that we are enough, that we are worthy. Every temptation is about turning our hearts from God to some readily available attractive alternative, suggesting it is those things which will give us confidence and security, or the identity we really aspire to. Think of how carefully we protect our financial means or online identities – fearing someone will usurp them; we call it identity theft. That’s what the devil tries to do to Jesus, and what our temptations try to make us vulnerable to, surrendering our God-given identities.

Online ads surreptitiously track our desires through what we search for, seducing us with purchases or sites related to something we’ve already looked at with desire. Other ads focus on our insecurities or try to make us feel we’re inadequate if we don’t have whatever the model has in hand, aren’t as beautiful, or don’t drive as nice a car as the immaculately attired or ruggedly handsome driver. It builds a picture of our shopping identity. One of my colleagues pointed out that it’s how some disingenuous politicians play us too—either leveraging our fears for our safety and our preferred way or life, or building our hope that we’ll get all the good stuff by voting for them. They may be quite honest in wanting to fight terrorism, unemployment, taxes, crime by immigrants, fraud, collusion, or the power wielded by those with greater wealth or power. Yet all too often the message is less about solving and answering and more about provoking our fears that these things will rob us of our own. Vote me into office and you’ll have more, be safer, grow more powerful. We are being tempted into letting them and these fears define us and divide us. You can’t look at a computer or television or magazine or smartphone without being pummeled by these messages. (Enjoy taking heart; there are none in your bulletins or on our walls!)

We come here to remember who we really are; beloved children of God. We come into community with each other to support each other in walking ever closer with our Lord. A Lenten discipline all on our own feels daunting and draining, and then we come together for Ash Wednesday and for this first Sunday in Lent and recognize that we do not travel this path to God alone. When we hear scripture, we remember he suffered the same temptations, losses, and rejections we feel. We break bread together at this altar and remember that Christ came for us, died for us, and rose for us. In community we are strengthened by our shared identity as children of God, even though we face repeated temptations and challenges to that identity, to our confidence in God and in ourselves. Jesus faced the devil alone that day but gives us the gift of a community of sisters and brothers in faith to stand with.

Our way of praying and being in community as Anglicans draws heavily on the Benedictine traditions, and in Benedict’s Rule of Life for the monks he wrote that the “cloister of the monastery and the stability in the community are the workshop wherein we may diligently effect all these works.” (Rule of Benedict, Ch 4) We too are like those in the workshop, a place with specific tools and tasks, which former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, describes as being “lent to us by Christ, to be returned on the Last Day, when we receive our wages.” He envisions kindred shop-mates using well-worn tools, passing them to each other, hanging them up at each day’s end as we entrust our rest to God’s care. This is where we learn to use these tools, where we grow skillful with them over the seasons, with practice. He says that a faithful life is “one in which these habits are fitted to our hands.” (Holy Living; the Christian Tradition for Today, Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2017).

Our familiar Anglican tools are scripture, tradition and reason, and today we reach for the tools of the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need. We who are growing into our full stature as Christians are greatly helped by being regular in worship and mindfully aware of each other’s lives as part of sharing life in this Body of Christ. Williams makes a marvelous point about this, using a term unfamiliar to me; in communicating this wisdom and undertaking this care we are to emphasize being “deeply conventual.” Convent-ual, meaning intentionally relating to the ‘convent’ or religious community in which we live. Benedict’s rule of life for his brothers, and instructive for us today too, calls for one to be “‘deeply conventual’: that holiness envisaged by the Rule is entirely inseparable from the common life. The tools of the work are bound up with the proximity of other people – and the same other people…the workshop is itself the very fact of the community’s stability…[it is] the unavoidable nearness of these others that becomes an extension of ourselves.”

Benedict lists 64 tools, or “instruments of good works” they are to live out their lives by following, so our short list of intentions around prayer, fasting and almsgiving sound like we’re getting off fairly easy. We undertake a Lenten discipline striving to hold fast to it for these 40 days, and then perhaps we hope to continue if we learn that practice draws us closer to God. Practice — it’s the only way a workshop craftsperson can produce fine pieces; with practice, apprenticeship, patience, wisdom, forbearance, hard work, intention. Here we pick up the tools and learn to use them so that when we are faced with temptation, we can feel these tools in our hands guiding us towards the Master Craftsman’s way, tools that are so lovingly familiar they are part of our identity.

This is Lent, pick up the tools, handle them and get to know them, try a different one and learn at someone else’s side, teach someone how to use the tools you are good with. Wednesday night is our next ‘workshop night’ as we gather for dinner, children bake the Communion bread, and we come upstairs together for meditative worship, anointing for healing, and Holy Eucharist. Pick up your Lenten daily reflection booklets, sign up to help cook or serve at the Issaquah Meals for the hungry, donate to those meals, make it a practice to come to all the Adult Forums during Lent, make a plan to come every Sunday, to come to all of Holy Week’s rich offerings. I know there are a thousand things to get in the way of our picking up these tools that Christ lends us — and some of them are the tools of the tempter.

We get to choose: his tools of destruction and ‘identity theft,’ or the tools leading us closer to Christ? They are there for us as children of the all-loving God.
Let no one, let no temptation, no judgement, take that identity from you!

That is my Lenten prayer.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.


View lectionary readings: