Rev. Dr. Scott Herr
Please Read: Romans 10:8b-13 and Luke 4:1-13
If I were to have told you the sky is falling last week, you would have said I was full of it. But by now you’ve all read or seen the news about the 1,200 people injured by the 7,000 ton asteroid that entered the atmosphere at 40,000 miles per hour over Chelyabinsk, Siberia. When it hit the atmosphere about 12-15 miles above the earth’s surface, it exploded and released the energy of somewhere between 300-500 thousand tons of TNT. That’s about 33 times the force of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
This asteroid was disturbing because astronomers didn’t see it coming at all. How ironic that they were watching another rock going by the Earth 17,200 miles away. But here’s what’s really amazing to me. Clark Chapman, senior scientist at the Southwest Research Institute’s Department of Space Studies in Boulder, CO., said “Small objects the size of a basketball hit the Earth almost every day, once a day on average, and car-size objects hit every month or two.”  That’s crazy! But that’s not all!! Scientists estimate meteoritic bits add up to 80 tons of material falling on Earth from outer space each day... And I was going to give up worrying for Lent!
Seriously, I’m not trying to add any more anxiety to your life. Quite the opposite. I think this whole asteroid thing is a wake up call for us to recognize what an amazing gift each day of life really is! Today is a miracle. Your life is a miracle! And given the preciousness of each day of our lives, I would suggest to you on this first Sunday of Lent that how you are living your life is a topic for deeper reflection. I invite you to consider where is your life is heading?
Lent is the season in the life of the church when we fast and pray and give to the poor as a way of getting back to what’s really essential for life, and reflect more deeply on what it is that we need less of in our lives and what it is that we need more of in our lives in order to fulfill our purpose as the people of God, to live in a way that glorifies God.
Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given 20 days to solve a problem, I would take the first 19 to define it.” Indeed, Lent is the 40 day period when we in the church clarify what gets in the way of us living as beloved children of God! It’s a season when we talk about temptation and sin. This season is patterned after Jesus’ 40 days of wandering in the wilderness.
What is most striking about our gospel text, is that Jesus, Luke writes, is “full of the Holy Spirit.” It is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan, by the Enemy. That’s perplexing. But I would suggest to you that Luke is hinting at the fact that as we are more and more full the Holy Spirit, sin is right there at the door. As we are more filled with the Spirit of God, we become more aware of the challenge and complexity of sin.
The first test that Jesus faces in the wilderness is around his identity. The devil taunts him by questioning, “If you are the Son of God….” Jesus had just been baptized and God spoke the affirmation, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). The first temptation of sin is to forget who we really are. Every person is created in the image of God, both male and female. We have the imago dei and are therefore precious in the eyes of God, regardless of whether we are religious or non-religious, whether we are good or evil, whether we are intelligent or ignorant; rich or poor, beautiful or ugly. As the song goes, “Jesus Loves the little children, All the children of the world, Red and yellow black and white, They are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Sin is forgetting that we are beloved children of God. That no matter how great a sinner we may be, we have a great savior in Jesus because God loves us. We just celebrated Valentine’s Day, and want you to consider that 2,000 years ago God sent us the most wonderful love letter in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He is God’s Valentine Card to you. God sent his son because God “so loved the world…”
Lent is a time to ask whether or not you really believe this essential good news, that God loves you, that you are a beloved child of God? I guess with 8 tons of the sky falling every day, it’s tempting to take a more nihilistic view of life, to act as though it doesn’t really matter, so just eat, drink, and be merry… But the French philosopher Luc Ferry (who by the way is in no way a Christian himself) in his book A Brief History of Thought, says that such statements are “too brutal to be honest.” You can’t believe that it doesn’t matter and go on living. Ferry insists that we cannot live without any hope or meaning, without a conviction that some things are more worth doing with our lives than others. You have to have an answer to the question, “Who am I” if you are going “to live well and therefore freely, capable of joy, generosity and love.”
The question of identity is so basic. The good news is that you will find your deepest meaning and most fulfilling purpose in life as you claim your identity as a beloved son or daughter of the Living God.
The question then becomes how shall we live, given God’s love toward us, given our status as beloved children of God? One of my favorite professors, Diogenes Allen, in his book Temptation, argues that the three temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness are the same temptations that we face as we seek to follow Jesus. As we pursue the life God intends for us we also will face the temptations of materialism, power, and security.
Turning stones into bread is about the temptation of materialism; that is, substituting anything in this world to fill the deep hunger in us that only God can fill. For example, I was struck in our couples’ group with a study that showed the alarming growth of the pornography industry. “Annual pornography revenues are more than $90 billion worldwide. In the US, pornography revenues were …more than all the combined revenues of pro baseball, basketball, and football... Every day, 2.5 million pornographic emails are sent.” But get this: Do you know what the number one day for downloading pornography is? Sunday. Talk about worshipping ourselves? How ironic! Whether it’s your bank account, or your house or your car or your degree or whatever, it’s the issue of finding in material things a counterfeit sense of worth and meaning. Jesus had to face that temptation, and so do we…
Secondly, Jesus is tempted with power. Implicit in this temptation is the lie that the Devil has any real power to give. Or more to the point for us, that we have any power that we can actually keep. Just when you think you have it all, you’ll get hit with a car-sized meteor! The question is not about how much power you have or don’t have, but what do you do with the power you have? And if you are feeling powerless, who will be your source of authority and influence? Will you lord it over others, or will you give it away?
Whatever you may think of Pope Benedict, his resignation is an impressive example of Christian humility. It think it took incredible spiritual maturity for this brother to relinquish the power and influence that goes with the Holy See. He is a powerful example to us all of giving power away!
Finally, the Devil tempts Jesus with security. Oh, how subtle is this temptation. As though we can ever be secure! On the one hand, Satan tempts Jesus with a pointless risk. Throw yourself off the temple because the angels will catch you. It’s not that risk is inherently evil, but to what end are we taking risks? Are we risking to show off our own power, or are we taking risks for others? This issue of security is all about dealing with faith versus fear. Are we being driven by fear - of failure, or of change, of death of a certain way of life or aspect of life - or are we driven by faith, trust in the sovereignty of God?
Michelle was sharing that one of her professors at Pittsburgh Seminary sees an important aspect of sin as hiding, that in taking the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve immediately hid from God and one another. I think this relates to this temptation of security. We find safety in all the wrong things: in materialism, in power, in reputation, in how others see us. We hide the real issues that are going on within us.
My favorite motto for life is simply, “To be and not to seem…” I would suggest to you that Lent is a time for learning again to be and not to seem, to move out of the ruts of life, to move away from appearances and getting back to substance. It’s a time for spiritual Spring cleaning. It’s a time to recognize that there are problems in our lives. And in order to identify those problem we need to first of all admit that our salvation ultimately will not be by our own efforts, but by the grace of God. Even when repentance and faith require hard work, we can accomplish that work only by God’s grace.
I would suggest to you also that as we wrestle with materialism, power and security issues in our own lives, we must keep our eyes fixed steadily on the cross of Christ. It is through the cross that we will experience Easter new life. That is the hope that is set before us. Paul affirms there is a deep generosity in the Lord: “the Lord is generous to all who call on him…”
Think of Lent as a time to call upon the Lord. It’s a time to cry out to God with the frustration from our own self-help efforts, and to learn anew to really trust God to take us from here to the cross, and through the cross to resurrection life.
Some of you were around a few years ago when I shared that a colleague and friend’s wife has been struggling with a brain tumor. We joined with the congregation of the International Community Church in Surrey in praying for Suzie and it’s been a number of years where after surgery and multiple other forms of cancer treatment she tried to live a more or less normal life. Well, we just learned the cancer is back. The tumor is growing again and is affecting her speech, her sight and memory. It doesn’t look good.
What has impressed me is how my colleague has been able to confess his utter powerlessness in the face of his wife’s demise. He has done everything humanly possible to care for her and get her the help she needs, but it’s coming to the end of her life. It might as well have been a meteor that hit their family…
In his blog, he recently wrote about the sovereignty of God: “If God was 90% sovereign, then, by definition, he is not sovereign. It is a 100% thing. And that gives me great comfort. I may not understand his ways or agree with His plan. I don’t have to. I rest confidently knowing that He is sovereign; the one reigning and ruling over all of life… God, if you’d like to make this whole ‘old order of things’ pass away, I would be just fine with that. Truthfully, I’d be more than okay. I wish you would do it right now… Until then, I will wait in trusting, eager anticipation... I am content to just be your child and let you hold me…”
In this season of traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving to the poor, maybe what we need most is first to confess that God is sovereign, and that we are content to be God’s beloved children… When the sky is falling and you are feeling like you’ve been led into the wilderness of life, you and I may be full of a lot of things. Maybe we need to fast from our own fullness and feast on God’s love and grace. Being full of the Spirit of God will lead us to those deeper questions and challenges on the road to new life. Whatever we do this Lent, I pray that the Spirit will lead us from despair to hope, from nihilism to meaning, from materialism to the way of the cross, from power-hoarding to service, from insecurity to true security, from fear to faith, from hiding to integrity, from death to life, from grief to joy, from the cross to Easter resurrection!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
, February 16, 2013), referenced February 16, 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/science/space/size-of-blast-and-number-of-injuries-are-seen-as-rare-for-a-rock-from-space.html?ref=global-home&_r=0
 Mark Driscoll, Marriage for Real, referenced February 15, 2013: http://marshill.com/media/real-marriage/sex-god-gross-or-gift.