Lent I: The Temptation of Jesus

First Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2017
The Temptation of Jesus
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
The Temptation of Jesus
A sermon preached by The Rev. Canon Jenny Vervynck
        I want to begin with ‘thank you’….thank you to Dianne, the Vestry and you, the congregation of St. Paul’s, for the warm welcome and for the privilege of serving here as your deacon. I am very excited about the ministry of St. Paul’s!
        I come to you after serving in 5 parishes in the Diocese of San Diego and 15 years in the Office of the Bishop. I also come to you as a former elementary and high school teacher and public school board member in Vista, California, married to Brian, the person who I jokingly say drug me kicking and screaming into the Episcopal Church, where we were married 48 years ago. We have three grown children, 2 girls and a boy, a perfect dog, and 7 of the most beautiful, intelligent, and talented grandchildren ever born, ranging from 1 to 24 years old. Photos are available any time!
        Dean John Leffler, who was the dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral, in Seattle, from 1952 to 1971, once began a sermon this way:
“A popular book of some years ago was called The Comfortable Pew. It was a witty but scathing attack on the church and church people by an able Canadian of Anglican background. While aimed at lay people, it did not spare the clergy because obviously, if the layperson is too comfortable in his (or her) pew, the person in the pulpit is not doing his (or her) job. There is more than a little truth in the old adage, “like priest, like people”. The gift for speaking and the opportunity to use that gift to influence others is about as terrifying and dangerous a gift as every given to a man (or a woman).”
        Dean Leffler went on to say, “the box perched high above the congregation is an exceedingly uncomfortable place indeed. I never climb into it”, he said, “without deep misgivings. The prayer I offer before I begin to speak is the most sincere I ever utter…….
        And I never climb down again without wondering whether what has been said was really worth saying, or has been heard to any good purpose.”
       So it is in the spirit of that humility, with a sincere prayer, I offer what I say this morning to the glory of God, our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer.
        And so the journey has begun, through Lent into Holy Week and to the great celebration of Easter.
        Tradition has taught us to give up something during the season of Lent. In a recent Twitter survey done by the website, Open Bible, about what people gave up this year for Lent, they found that out of 50,899 tweets during the week of February 15, 2015, there were 2,343 chocolate-related tweets, 2020 twitter-related tweets, followed by 1,789 abdications of social networking in general. Many of my Facebook friends have announced that they are leaving Facebook during the Lenten season. School came in fourth, and alcohol rounded out the top 5.
        While giving up some guilty pleasure, or giving up something you dislike doing, is a noble and faithful endeavor….I invite and encourage us all to give up something else……to give up ourselves in this season of Lent.  By that I mean, to think about ways we can give up ourselves by giving of ourselves to something or someone in service, in perhaps a new way.
        Today’s gospel story really is about giving up something. This story is read the first Sunday of Lent each year….we may hear it from Matthew, Mark or Luke, with slight variations, but the story is still there.
        Let me set the stage….the gospels don’t tell us very much about Jesus in the first 30 years of His life. We have one story of His young manhood, about 12 years old, teaching in the temple after He had scared His parents to death because He took off and they couldn’t find Him.
        The next time we see Him in the story is in the River Jordan, about 30 years old, being baptized by John the Baptist. After the baptism, a voice came from Heaven, saying, “You are my beloved.” The same voice that spoke in last week’s gospel in the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
        And after his baptism, off he went into the wilderness, filled with the Holy Spirit, where, the gospel today tells us, He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights….and he was famished!

        Each of the temptations Jesus faced in that wilderness experience says something about us and about the way in which evil, the sin within us……or what has been called the dark side in movies and psychology, the ways in which fraud or deception can be made to seem so right, so true, so real. Whether the devil is the individual evil, or a darkness within each of us, or a completely separate entity and force outside ourselves acting to distract us and gain our allegiance…..for this story of Jesus, and for us, this devil confronting and tempting Jesus represents what is false and destructive…. disguised to look reasonable and true.

        Jesus has gone away into the wilderness, alone, fasting and praying, opening himself to God’s grace and guidance for the ministry that is before Him. What a strange hour for His temptation.
       But isn’t that just how temptation comes to us….just at the time when we least expect it, we are faced with opportunities for some kind of short term pleasure at the expense of long term peace.
        The Evil One begins this time with Jesus with temptation at the most basic level – hunger.
        “You must be very hungry, Jesus. After all 40 days without food is a long time!! If you are the Son of God, do something with these rocks so that you can feed yourself – turn them into bread! You surely deserve better than this! Look how you have prayed and meditated – what did that get you? Look at you…dirty and half starved. Who is going to know, anyway…it’s just us here. You can do it….take care of yourself….look out for you….rocks to bread will make it all better, no more hunger!”
        But Jesus, knowing that food alone will not supply what people need to satisfy their hunger for a meaningful life he, says, “One does not live by bread alone, but by ever word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
        We all know people who have all the food they need and more, and yet struggle to find peace, meaning and to satisfy their hunger for happiness in their lives.
And then Evil One offers Jesus a strategy for power ….and a test of God’s
love and protection.
        ”Give the crowd something spectacular to hang their religion on. Throw yourself, Jesus, off the highest place on the temple, down 400 feet or so, and when you land unscathed, the people will be dazzled, and you’ll be famous! Something like that always gets peoples’ attention! Show them how to get God to prove that God loves and protects them. The people will never doubt you or God again! They’ll see it with their own eyes!”
        And Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
        So what’s the fraud here…what is the deception from the Tempter, the Devil, in the story?
        The fraud is that God must be tested into loving us….that we must do something which gives God the opportunity to make a choice to love us….or not to love us.
        God’s love cannot be earned by testing God, because God loves us freely and unconditionally.
        God’s love and grace are free gifts…..not dependent on what we do, or how we do it, or who we are.
        Next the Tempter promises Jesus power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world, in exchange for worship and dedication to the Evil One. “Look, Jesus,” he says, “this can all be yours, there’s just a little form you need to sign first, just a few conditions and expectations of worshiping me in the contract, and it will all be yours!! Be practical, this God stuff can be taken care of by the rabbis and the temple priests…you and I, Jesus …..we can rule the world!!”
        “It is written,” says Jesus, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.”
        No equivocating, no other gods, no changing the rules. In serving others, we are serving the God who loves us and leads us into love.

        Three temptations, three frauds.

        First, take care of yourself, number one. Do it your way. Rocks into bread….after all you can live by bread alone…..or can we?
        Second, Put God to the test. Tempt and test God’s love and protection, because God will only love us if we do things just right. And Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
        Third, be successful, be powerful what ever the cost, what every the expectation, what ever the compromise….. what ever the motivation. Worship and serve the gods of power, authority and success. And Jesus says, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
        Christ overcame the Evil One, frustrated the way of the Tempter, and shows us the way to overcome.
        Jesus has shown us how to give up the fraud, the deception, the temptations which distract us from following Him. To instead, recognize what Pope Frances calls the temptation to be indifferent.
        He said in his Lenten Message this year, that “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
        That “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”
       He continues, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
        “But when we fast from this indifference, we can began to feast on love. In fact, Lent is the perfect time,” he says, “to learn how to love again. Jesus — the great protagonist of this holy season — certainly showed us the way. In Him, God descends all the way down to bring everyone up. In his life and His ministry, no one is excluded.”
        “What are you giving up for Lent?”, Pope Frances asks. “It’s a question a lot of people will get these next few days. If you want to change your body, perhaps alcohol and candy is the way to go. But if you want to change your heart, a harder fast is needed.
This narrow road is gritty, but it isn’t sterile. It will make room in ourselves to experience a love, unlike food or power or worshipping false idols, that can make us whole and set us free.”
        For us at St. Paul’s, in the end, we come to know that we are all called to follow this Christ…..and that our vocation is to be Christ to the world….in what ever way….. and in what ever place…..and among whomever we find ourselves called by God. That is the vocation to which we were called in our birth and in our baptism.
        From the Ash Wednesday service, where this journey began…….I invite you to a Holy Lent.
        Let us pray.
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to You, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as You will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ. AMEN