Turn this Stone into Bread - Reflections 3-8-19

Texts for the First Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019

Texts for the 
First Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

It is tempting to take this week’s Gospel story as a recipe for how to buttress oneself against temptations. After all we are in Lent, right? Time to resist temptation, like a delicious chocolate bar. In this case, it looks like hurling a scripture verse or two will do the trick. Or reaching deep inside ourselves for the fortitude to say no. Or maybe summoning sufficient faith to trust God enough. 

We just need to be strong enough…resist, oppose, defy, withstand, endure.

And, heck, we’ve got almost as many days in Lent left as Jesus had in the wilderness to work on this. Of course, modern experiments have shown that it takes 66 days to change a habit, so we may need to leak over into the Easter season. If, of course, if the plan is a permanent change.
Let us look at the text. 

Jesus is in the wilderness “led by the Spirit”. Before that, Jesus was baptized by John and heard the booming affirmation - This is my son, my beloved with whom I am well pleased. It is directly from that “high” that the Spirit takes him to the wilderness.

I don’t think that God actually tests people by inflicting wilderness upon them. People have wilderness experiences that often test or challenge them. The challenges of the wilderness tend to be about grasping, hubris, and uncertainty or despair. Jesus’ three replies to the devil come from Deuteronomy’s teachings to not forget the lessons of the wilderness as the people enter the promised land.

Before the first temptation about stones to bread, Luke tells us that Jesus was starving. Have you ever fasted from something? Hunger – from whatever is abstained - is a teacher. What underlies your want? What drives your need? If I am famished, am I not loved or worthy?

Jesus’ answer is a part of verse Deuteronomy 8: 3. The whole verse goes like this: [God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. It is a reminder from the wilderness tutorial. Could the people apply it to a new situation? Could they open their hands and let go of control? Even in prosperity, would they recognize and receive that all was a gift? 

What word would you use to name the second temptation? Glory, power, arrogance? From Jesus’ response, I think he named it idolatry. From Deuteronomy 6: take care that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow other gods...  Will prosperity and success become accomplishments that become the most important thing in life?

And how about that final temptation? You think you are the Beloved, but will God keep you safe? Does God really care? It is easy to understand challenges and loss as something from the hand of an uncaring, unconcerned God. Is God’s back turned against me?  

I don’t think Jesus resisted his temptations by toughing it out. He used the past to guide his present. And the past revealed a God of love who walked with the people in the wilderness as they learned to open their hands, recognize their dependence with humility, and through vulnerability, allow grace to reassure them.

I those lessons are good ones for Lent. Taking time for introspection and repentance, for listening for the word that, according to our Romans text, is in our heart, and for being open to grace of our loving God are beneficial anytime in the church year! But I also think that we need to realize that we will never be “strong enough” or “good enough” to resist all temptations. We need to hold those lessons closely but ultimately trust that “there is grace for that”.

Then in a “cliff hanger” Luke says that the devil let him until the next opportunity…

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245