Sunday, February 21, 2010

Temptations and Identity

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and on this Sunday we always read about the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The three accounts – in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all include the story, with variations. In Mark, the three temptations are not described, but Jesus is DRIVEN into the wilderness. In Matthew and Luke, the temptations are in different orders, but the rest of the accounts are quite similar. John does not include the story at all.
We often wonder why Jesus had to submit to this wilderness experience. In the text, Jesus has just been baptized by John in the Jordan and heard the words, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” I assume that after hearing those words, Jesus needed to go away, alone, to figure out what that meant to him and for him. “What would it mean for him to be the Son of God? How would he live that out? How would people receive him?”
In our minds, we also wrestle with those questions about Jesus, since we aren’t sure just when and how Jesus knew he was God’s Son. The reason we have the Nicene Creed is because people have always wrestled with the question of Jesus’ humanity vs his divinity. If Jesus was mostly divine, it should have been easy for him to resist the temptations. If he was mostly human, it was probably a real challenge for him. Since we don’t know for sure, it needs to remain mystery – and not something we need to know.
The nature of the temptations had to do with how God would provide for him. In the end, Jesus didn’t need to turn stones to bread, rule the kingdoms of the world, or jump from the highest point in Jerusalem, because he trusted that God will provide whatever he needs and deserves.
This past week, we have had an excellent example of human frailty and how easy it is to fall into temptation. It was hard to miss TV coverage of Tiger Woods’ public apology. In it he stated how he became convinced that the normal rules didn’t apply to him. He could have whatever he wanted; he gave in to the temptation to be unfaithful to his wife.
Whether you believe in the sincerity of his apology or not, he made it clear he is still working on healing his heart and learning to resist the temptation that has become for him an addiction. Tiger also included a reference to his Buddhist faith – a key factor in recovery programs is dependence on a higher power to help in overcoming addictions.
Which takes us to the other two texts for today. The reading from Deuteronomy refers to the Feast of Weeks, a harvest festival. The writer describes how one should worship, how one should bring the offering forward and present it to the priest. In the ritual, there are several references to the land that the Lord has given, all intended to help the worshiper recognize that the land they are living on was a gift from God. In response to the gift, the people are to bring a tithe of the first ingathering of the harvest. – This means they are not to wait until the end of the harvest, to see if they are able to bring it all in and have enough. No, they are to bring in their tithe at the beginning, and demonstrate their trust in God to provide for them.
The reading from Romans is a reminder that the promises of God are trustworthy. You may also note that Paul puts the promise in the future passive tense. “We will be saved.” Future, because it will happen in the future. Passive because it is not human effort which will make it happen, but God. “We will be saved.” This is the Lord’s doing, and not our own.
It can also be the Lord’s doing that we are able to resist temptations. It may be we need God’s help to avoid the cake, or the chocolate, or the drink, or whatever we have chosen to fast from during Lent.
But it’s more likely that we need God’s help in resisting some other, more serious temptations. We are tempted to put our trust in human values, like money, prestige, power, knowledge. We put limits on the people we think God loves. We want what we want, when and how we want it.
Without realizing it, such desires are often an expression of our identity. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to wrestle with his identity as the Son of God. He conquered the temptations by trusting that God the Father would provide whatever he needed.
So, as we wrestle with our own temptations, perhaps the place to begin is with our identity as children of God. As parents, you know you give your children what they need, and not always what they want. So God, as our Heavenly Parent, gives us what God knows that we need, and not always what we want. If we trust that God will give us what is best for us, God’s beloved children, then we need not work so hard to get and keep more than we need or should have.
I’m struck by an interview with the women snowboarders competing in the Olympics. I don’t remember which young woman it was, perhaps Hanna Teeter, who said that she loved competing with her friends. She wouldn’t want to compete with people she didn’t know. And they all worked to improve on their skills by supporting and challenging one another. If they didn’t give the sport their all, they shouldn’t be competing. The motto for snowboarding competition is, “Go big or go home.” In other words, give your best effort on every run. If you play it safe in order to win, you don’t belong in the sport.
I think we can learn something about trusting God from this attitude. Trust big, or don’t bother. And yet, we are human, so perfectly trusting God is impossible for us. We will fail to trust; we will keep more money in savings than we should; we will try to understand God with our head, instead of our heart; we will try to control what happens around us so we don’t get pushed around; and so forth.
So, we can only try to remember at all times that we are God’s beloved children, and that God does take good care of us.
Your challenge for this week is related to an object, and it is actually a challenge for the season of Lent. I hope it becomes a helpful reminder of your identity as a child of God, and that that identity is a gift to you through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Diane and I bought these crosses as gifts to you, for everyone in the congregation. Take one of the little crosses and decide how you will use it. I hope you find a way to put it on a chain to wear as a necklace or in your pocket so that every time you see it or feel it, you remember that you are God’s child, and you can trust God to give you whatever you need.

Please pray with me. Faithful God, you want us to trust you for everything. Forgive us when we fail to trust you, lead us to new ways of living, and help us remember we are your beloved children, always, even when we don’t feel like it. Amen