St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland VA
“An Opportune Time”
Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Romans 10:8b-13 "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 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. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." 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. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Luke 4:1-13 After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written,
'One does not live by bread alone.'" Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Looking at today’s readings, a verse sprang to mind.
1 Peter 5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep vigilant. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
In fact, in movie portrayals of the Temptation of Jesus, lions are often used to represent Satan, dangerous, hungry, devouring. It was a wilderness, and someone weakened from fasting for so long would make an easy target for a wild beast.
In practical matters, it is always good advice to avoid decisions when one is under the influence. The influence of our emotions, that is. I learned this in graduate school when I did a Deep Dive to learn about the 12-Step Process while working with the Alcoholics Anonymous group at my church at the time. I learned a great acronym that has stayed with me. H.A.L.T. Halt. Never make a decision, HALT yourself in the process when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I have used that in my team trainings and pilgrimage orientations since then. It is good advice. Before you snap, say something you regret, make a decision you’ll have to live with, HALT. Know yourself and stop it. And I think that is what Jesus models for us here.
So let us set the stage. Jesus prepared himself for his ministry by turning to prayer. He went up from the Jordan River where we see him at his baptism in the previous chapter: [Luke 3]
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” \
But if any human mind tried to wrap itself around the idea that oneself is THE ONE, it would take some time to process. Did he know already, and it was affirmed? Did he not? I don’t know. No one can. But the model here is important. We are about spiritual work, no matter what we do in the name of Christ. The clinic downstairs opens in prayer on Wednesdays. The Vestry just got together to pray and lift up the coming year. As things get busier and busier around here I find I have to set more and more time aside to pray. There is an old phrase that goes: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” That is attributed to Martin Luther, and it rings true.
If Jesus had to get away to pray, certainly we must, too.
I would urge you to have a moment, daily at least, to stop and pray. Daily Devotions for Families is on page 136-140 in the Book of Common Prayer is a GREAT place to start. link The Daily Offices are even better. There are wonderful apps and websites that teens or anybody can use if that is more your thing. Forward Day By Day is another resource. Grab one. We can easily and happily get more. If nothing else, pray the Lord’s Prayer and tell God what is on your heart. Just talk. And then take time to listen. Don’t make the conversation one way. That does not work in any relationship.
It is not too late to take on a new discipline for Lent. God does not have a starting line that you can miss.
So back to Jesus, he goes alone into this area between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem about 30 miles from each other, and hunkers down with God. At the end of this time, 40 days are mentioned, he is tempted. The temptations are choices he could make. They are all the easy route. The easy route to physical relief. The easy route to power. The easy route to being known.
Now the fascinating thing about our interactions that we witness is that we have Jesus and Satan quoting Scripture back and forth. It just goes to show, you may know the Bible, but you have to live it, or it is moot. Sun Tzu in the Art of War: “If you know your enemy and know yourself, and you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
So here we see the devil taking the easy route, hitting Jesus at his weakest, his most vulnerable.
The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"A way to a man’s heart might be through his belly, but here we see Jesus deny himself. His fast was about focusing on what he holds most dear. Like much of what we do, it was an Outward Sign of an Inward Grace. It should be the same when we fast. What is it we choose to embrace? Jesus clings to God. Even famished he knew that he need not succumb to this.
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"The next temptation was to Jesus’ identity. It was a blow to his sense of self to not claim all the power at his command. But in this self-limiting he could truly show us what God was like AND that we could be like that, too. We can choose love over hate; we can choose others over self; and, we can choose servanthood over pride.
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"And the final temptation is the most incipient. We all have needs of the flesh; we have to eat, sleep, and take care of our bodies. We all have identity needs; we care about our loves as we must care for ourselves. Having a healthy sense of self is important, but having an appropriate sense of self is absolute. This cheap magic trick would have all Jerusalem flock to him, but for what? Satan says, “If you are the Son of God…” He is pushing either Jesus’ doubt, or daring him to play Satan’s games. Jesus recognized and declared he knew who he was. In this final temptation, Jesus reminds Satan who is really in control. He reframes the situation and basically shows that Satan, in the end, has no power over him. “Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” There is no temptation to Satan’s supposed power because he already has the power, the True power that can only come from God.
A few weeks ago, the day of Youth Sunday, most of you did not hear my sermon at the 8 o’clock Eucharist where I reminded those there that in any situation God has your back. It was true for Jesus. It is true for you.
On Friday, someone offered me something I had chosen to give up for Lent. It was tempting. It was attractive, and the person was very encouraging. I had to stop, HALT, and make a choice. What is it that I hold most dear? This moment which would be nice, or to keep my commitment I made for this time. Thankfully I chose to keep my commitment. It is what I treasured more.
When temptation comes and rears its ugly head, remember that. Take the bigger picture point of view. Think on what you hold most dear. Remember who you are and whose you are. Recognize a temptation for what it is, and remember you have the ability to choose something else, something better. You can choose to not accept to be tempted. When Satan is looking for an opportune time to tempt you, like he did with Jesus, may we see it as OUR opportune time to choose to love God all the more. Amen.