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First Sunday in Lent, February 14, 2016

When Evan was put in my arms on April 8, 1986, I had some decisions to make. I was without a doubt a mother, but I had to decide what kind of mother I would be. It turned out I was a mother who allowed my son to watch cartoons on TV for a specified length of time because he didn’t like the slower moving Sesame Street or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. It turned out I was the kind of mother who let my child have something different to eat if he didn’t like what we were eating. After all, parents don’t cook what they don’t like so it isn’t an issue for them. I was the kind of mother who let her ADD son watch baseball while he did his homework because it really did help him focus better on his work I was the type of mother who brought her son up in the church and explained that daddy did not go with us because daddy didn’t believe in God and Evan and I did. It was just a matter of fact truth, like we liked tuna fish sandwiches and daddy didn’t. 

Jesus has already been identified as the Son of God. The angel said it to Mary, the angels proclaimed it to the shepherds, Simeon thanked God for showing him the hope of Israel and the world, and at his baptism, God proclaimed that he was the Son of God with whom he was well pleased. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and remained with him.

Now Jesus had to decide what kind of Son of God he was going to be. Before he was led into the wilderness, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, the power that would help him choose how he was going to be God’s son. Luke tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, reminding us of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, learning who they would be as God’s people. Jesus fasted and prayed and stayed close to God in the Spirit, and the devil tempted him. We are not let in on how the devil tempted him during the 40 days. But because Jesus was fully human, this was a rough time for him. Jesus was not tempted and then quickly brushed it off. Being tempted means that Jesus really wanted to do the things that the evil one wanted him to do. He was drawn to the devil’s choice for the way he would be the Son of God. But Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. Even though he knew that being obedient to God would lead to the Cross, he held firm to his desire to do God’s will. Like any of us, he could never have done this in his own strength; he drew heavily on the Holy Spirit’s encouragement, support, guidance and direction.

What we are shown is the temptations the devil threw at him at the end of his period in the wilderness. Jesus had not eaten in 40 days and he was starving, so when the devil suggested he turn the stone into bread, it was mighty tempting, but Jesus refused. He knew he had the power, but God had not told him to do it. His quote from Deuteronomy, “Man does not live by bread alone”, reflects the time in the wilderness when God gave the Israelites manna and Moses reminded them that it was less important that they knew the gift of the manna than that they knew God had provided them with the gift (Beverly Gaventa). Jesus did in fact feed many people with a very little bread, but only when God told him to. Turning stones into bread for all would have been a sign that Jesus had great economic power to help the masses, but Jesus said no to this way of being God’s Son. (Alan P. Sherouse) He was not on the earth to spend all his time feeding the people and being known simply as a wonder worker. The Holy Spirit that filled him helped him opt for God’s way, for the way God had chosen for Jesus to proclaim the kingdom of God.

The second temptation is political power (Alan P. Sherouse). The devil says all power over the kingdoms of the world has been given to him – which is probably a lie in itself – and that he could give the power to anyone he chose. He would give it to Jesus if he would just add worshiping the devil to worshiping God. Jesus knows the devil would never give up any power he had, and once again, filled with the Holy Spirit, he turned the offer down with a quote from Deuteronomy about worshiping God and serving only him. Now it must have been very tempting for the Son of God to use his great power to bring the kingdoms of the world to peace, to stop violence, oppression, fear and power hunger, but in doing that he would capitulate to the world’s definition of power and the Holy Spirit helped him see this was not God’s way. This kind of messiah would be consumed with reforming, yes, but he would be engaging with earthly things and not proclaiming the heavenly things of the kingdom. And he would be worshipping the very one who has always wanted evil for the world, where Jesus wanted good for the world.

The third temptation was spiritual power (Alan P. Sherouse). Since Jesus was the Son of God he could count on God’s protection. If he threw himself off the temple in Jerusalem, the angels would come and rescue him. The devil was asking Jesus to pick certainty instead of faith that God would take care of him. He was tempting Jesus to push the envelope, to prove to himself that as the Son of God he merited this kind of action from his Father. But the Holy Spirit came to his aid again. Jesus said no, quoting again from Deuteronomy about not testing the Lord. He said no to pre-emptively wielding spiritual power. He said no to being in control. He said no to being like a performer in a circus, working magic for people to see and exclaim over. This kind of behavior would not advance the kingdom of God.

By the end of his sojourn in the wilderness, Jesus knew what kind of Son of God he would be. He would be one who obeyed his Father and was filled with the Holy Spirit to help him accomplish his tasks. He knew what his mission was and had decided not to turn away from it or from God’s desires about how he would proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus would not be in control. He would not take absolute power though he could have. He would ask God what his next move was to be and then follow God’s directions.

By giving up control of his power, Jesus became subject to earthly powers (Matt Fitzgerald). The empire and the Jewish religious authorities conspired to and succeeded in killing him, but he continued to trust God’s power to raise him from the dead, to win not material salvation for the world, but spiritual salvation, the forgiveness of sins and freedom from the bondage of death.

We are filled with the Holy Spirit at our baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and can decide what kind of sons and daughters of God we want to be. Needless to say, we do not hold true to our vows all the time. The forces of evil in the world seduce us away from following in Jesus’ path. We want control; we want power; we want to do what we think God is not doing for us or for the world. With the best intentions, we may build a golden calf and worship it, frustrated that God allows corruption and violence, hunger and homelessness. Our identity as sons and daughters of God is to do something about these evils and others, but the Holy Spirit within us reminds us that we can only go so far.

Lent is a time to remind ourselves of what kind of Son of God Jesus promised to be – one that was filled with the Holy Spirit and obedient to God’s will, wielding his power as God chose. As we remember Jesus’ choice, we need to remember our own baptismal covenant in which we made the choice to follow Jesus’ ways in being sons and daughters of God. We cannot of course have the same options Jesus had of using his supernatural powers to claim sway over the world, but we do have the option of using our power for good in God’s way or our way. Our identity as sons and daughters of God is already established. We continually decide what that means for us and take that purpose with us wherever we go. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, who guides us and leads us if we let that happen. Open yourselves to the Spirit’s guidance and be the sons and daughters of God you were called to be.


     --- Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching – Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 196
Alan P. Sherouse, Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Exegetical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 97
Matt Fitzgerald, Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Homiletical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 97