10 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Deuteronomy 26, 4-10 + Psalm 91 + 2 Romans 10, 8-13 + Luke 4, 1-13
It is Luke’s turn to open Lent for us this year, and he takes us into the desert as do Matthew and Mark in previous years. With Matthew, it is all about the identity of Jesus. In the simple two verses Mark devotes to this, it’s about the Spirit that leads Jesus. Now with Luke it is something else. These verses from Luke are not about Jesus. Luke’s focus is temptation. So, there is no point in sitting back and examining or admiring how skillful Jesus is in the face of temptation. We have to step into this Gospel and look carefully at these temptations Luke thinks are the most significant and perhaps the most dangerous for disciples of Jesus Christ.
What Jesus confronts in that desert is what we confront in the wilderness of this life. The response of Jesus to these temptations reveals how we must respond, because we are there with him. The temptation of isolating self-sufficiency seduces us again and again to believe that our needs and our wants can all be satisfied by our own ambitions and schemes. It sets us in competition with others for what we imagine to be a limited number of resources. “Take care of number one” is a mantra that isolates us from others, builds walls, and cultivates the fear that there is never enough to go around. That fear itself morphs into the second temptation with a desire to be free from danger, safe, and secure. In the face of such temptation comes a reminder that God is the only one who can protect. Then the third and perhaps most dangerous of temptation we must face, the allure of power, the power to rule the world, the desire to stand on the world stage in splendor being admired and accepted, respected and honored willing to sacrifice everything to be accepted and liked.
We have forty days in this desert season. Forty days to carefully examine our lives to remember the Providence of God who feeds and leads those in the wilderness of this life. We have forty days to look again at the fears lurking everywhere suggesting that God will not protect and save those who live in covenant. We have forty days to forget about being liked, accepted, noticed, and admired. We have begun a time of purification, a season of renewal, a time for pruning away whatever does not bear fruit. It is perhaps a time to take ourselves less seriously and take God more seriously, a time to look around and admit that we are not the center of the universe, and that alone we can do nothing. In this desert, like the people of Israel, we are drawn closer together, bound up in faith and in hope, humbly remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Our best hope is that we shall emerge from this desert as a faithful people, a church more clearly and courageously bearing the light of Christ, living with confidence that God’s providence lifts all the fears of our lives freeing us to live with compassion, with joy, and peace.