What is your price?
Luke 4: 1-13
This is the first Sunday in Lent. And this passage about Jesus being tempted by the Devil is the traditional reading for this Sunday and for good reason. It is a call to attention - it is designed to wake up the church - a reminder that we may have forgotten what it means to be one of Jesus' disciples - that being a disciple comes with challenges - as well as with comfort.
Lent is not mentioned in the Bible - because - it didn't exist. the Bible was written when the fervor of being a Christian was sweeping the Middle East. The people were living under the expectation that the world would end any day - it was not easy to be a Christian living with the threat of persecution day in and out - but the reward was to be eminent - Being a Christian would bring you eternal life - soon - any day. We see evidence of that in today's Epistle reading from Romans.
Romans 10: 8-13 -
"The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart"
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (NRSV)
We have to remember that the early Christians were the downtrodden, the exiled, the broken. The promise of salvation fueled a fire in their hearts. Living according to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was clearly worth the effort.
But over time - when the world did not end, as Christianity became the religion of all, when it was the religion of the rich and powerful as well as the downtrodden, being a Christian held fewer and fewer challenges - it did not bring constant persecution - it was easy to live as everyone else did - forgetting the words of Jesus - forgetting that one must die before one can live.
Lent - from the Old English word, Lenten, meaning spring. A journey of 40 days in the wilderness - alone - to remember the words of Jesus - to remember once again what it means to be a Christian. Springtime again - for our souls. Preparation for the paschal feast - a time to open our hearts to receive the risen Christ.
Let us go back to the text for this morning: I want you to listen for the challenge and the comfort.
Jesus has just been baptized at the Jordan river - and is filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is led by that same spirit out into the wilderness. and for 40 days the devil tries to determine what price will buy Jesus' soul. The devil says - can I offer you assurance that you will be able to take care of yourself and your family forever - That your own efforts will secure your financial future. - That you won't need God -
You can rely on yourself (and me) to create a world that will provide you with the financial power and personal comfort you desire? I can promise you - you will have all the bread that you need. We know what Jesus answers - How do we answer? It is tempting.
Then the devil tries again - "So that isn't enough? Then let me give you political power - power over your world - let me assign you as the judge and the jury. - we don't need God's input here - we together will decide who will be rich and who will poor - who will succeed and who will fail. You can be the boss - you can call the shots. come on - this could be really rewarding for us.
Jesus who was filled with the Holy Spirit responds "I will Worship God and God only". Who is the boss in your life? Who do you worship? Who guides your heart?
The devil isn't daunted by Jesus' rejection - He tries once again. Avoid the cross - you don't need that - you can rise without it!
You don't need God - you don't even have proof of God - you do know that I am here for you - think about it - this is the best way - salvation - my way - no cross, no fall - no dying to find life - come on - what is stopping you?
All of these temptations are ours - they exist in our world everyday - tempting us continually to reach out and grab one and rely on it - and the worst part about this is - the more power we have -the more money we have, the greater our temptations. We are like those early Christians who needed the church to establish the season of lent. We have convinced ourselves that we don't need to rely on God - that a comfortable Christian can embody the Gospel message. We have convinced ourselves that there is no rush - the challenges of living faithfully will always be there when ever we get around to it.
But don't we know in our hearts that that just isn't true. And those of us who knew and loved Charlie Staib who died on Friday know it more deeply than perhaps we ever did before.
We will always remember Charlie - standing right here every Maundy Thursday singing - "were you there when they crucified my Lord?" No small question - no easy answer. It is a challenge.
We have heard the challenge - have you heard the comfort? There is good news. God is with us in the challenge. We are not alone -
Our scripture reading issues an invitation - to dwell with and be led by the Holy Spirit. An invitation to resist what is perhaps our greatest temptation - to approach this table without the assurance of God's forgiveness - with our proof-fed faith and our hardened hearts. The text issues the same invitation that is offered by Jesus Christ - "Come to this table - come with your heart open - be one with your God - these gifts contain the fire and the mystery of life - receive them - let them direct and guide your life.
This is not our table - it is the Lord's table - and it is open to all who wish to know Jesus Christ. come - not because you must, but because you may - come not counting on your own strength, come because you are weak, come because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of God's forgiveness. but most of all - come because you hear the gracious invitation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.