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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
March 06 2022
Grace and peace to you from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I had dinner with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, and she asked whether I was giving up anything for Lent. And before I could answer, she said, “Wait – do Lutherans give up stuff for Lent?”
And I said, “Yeah, some people do. And some people take on certain practices.” But that it isn’t about depriving ourselves or imitating the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Because for us, it’s about focusing on our relationship with God and, in manner of speaking, rededicating ourselves to God.
What I didn’t get into, because dinner with friends is dinner with friends, is that when we intentionally focus on our relationship with God, our identity as God defines it becomes clear. And the stuff that gets in the way of that falls away.
Ideally, we would always be intentionally focused on our relationship with God. But stuff does get in the way. And it’s when that happens over the long term that we flounder and lose sight of who we are.
The story of Jesus being tested in the wilderness is always the Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent. And when we hear it, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can imitate Jesus and resist every test put in front of us.
But we know that we can’t – we’re human. And it isn’t because we don’t know right from wrong or that we don’t try hard enough. And this is different than eating dessert when you know that you probably shouldn’t, because this isn’t about Jesus being a moral hero.
What’s at stake in this situation is his identity. All of the devil’s questions were aimed at trying to get Jesus to take on a false understanding of who he was as the Messiah.
If Jesus had done any of the things that the devil tried to get him to do, he would’ve been serving his own needs and conforming to the world’s idea of what the Messiah should be like and what he should do in the rest of his life and ministry.
Instead, Jesus defined what it meant for him to be the Messiah on God’s terms, not the world’s. So the devil left Jesus alone for the time being, and returned to him in Jerusalem on the night that he was betrayed.
Besides showing us how Jesus defined himself, this story also teaches us about our identity – where we find it and who defines it. And the bottom line is that God defines who we are. And God’s definition of us is rooted in love. But we live in a world where things constantly try to pull us away from that.
In the Gospel reading, the things that the devil tried to use were food, power, and safety. But it could be anything: youth, beauty, and wealth; or confidence, fame, and security. Anything. Pick your three. Or five, or whatever.
The hard part is that we don’t always see it coming. When we’re faced with the tests that come our way, they don’t always look like such a bad thing. But on a certain level, they all try to get us to shift our identity away from God and toward something else.
And when our identity gets shifted, things get blurry. And it happens more easily than we care to admit.
When it happens, we lose sight not only of who we are as beloved people created in God’s image, we also lose sight of other people as being beloved and created in God’s image – and sometimes we just become blind to the fact that they’re human beings altogether.
And then we end up acting in our own self-interest, trying to do more and be more and get more. And we get wrapped up in that instead of thinking about what’s going on with others or how our decisions might affect them.
And if we get wrapped up in it tightly enough, we turn in on ourselves and completely disregard what’s going on around us. And then people get hurt, either we ourselves or the people around us. And if we aren’t careful, it can snowball.
The challenges that tested Jesus in the wilderness are the same ones that he faced throughout his ministry. They didn’t change. He performed many miraculous acts – the first one fed at least 5000 hungry people. And the people who followed him tried to get him to do more and more of those things.
And Jesus did use the power that God gave him to combat hunger, sickness, corruption, injustice, sin, and death. But it was a different sort of power directed at a different kingdom. And along the way, he taught people that truly trusting in God doesn’t mean compromising the way that God defines you.
In everything he did, Jesus based his actions and his decisions on God’s definition of who he was as the Messiah, and no one else’s.
When we face tests throughout our lives – whatever they are – on the surface, they might be different. And I don’t mean a life-changing medical diagnosis or losing your job or deciding whether to stay in an unhealthy relationship. Those are different. I’m talking about the tests that ask us to shift our identity away from God and toward something or someone else.
On the surface, they might be different. But on a deeper level, they’re all the same. They all play on our fears and insecurities. And when they come, we won’t navigate every single one perfectly. We’re gonna mess it up and sometimes we’ll fall flat on our faces. But God defines who we are, not our pass/fail rate on the choices we make.
We live in a world that competes for our identity. And in that competition, there are two predominant stories that are told. One says that you aren’t good enough – so you need to have more and do more and be self-reliant. That story is based on the world’s definition of who you are.
The other story says that you are enough, as you are. So you don’t need to hoard what you have or worry about tomorrow or live for yourself. That story is based on God’s definition of who you are. And in this and every other season, that’s the one that matters. Thanks be to God! Amen.