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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Smartphones, Temptation and Blessing

Luke 4:1-13
I own a smartphone; the brand and model don’t matter. My phone does an okay job most of the time. It keeps me connected – sometimes overly connected to people and news and weather reports; it allows me the ability to look up information on almost any topic under the sun with just a couple of taps and swipes.
My phone is not perfect by any means – last week it did a software update and ever since then, Paula’s text messages come up as though from a person named Brenda. But most days, it does the job it’s intended to do.
And yet, I have people telling me that it isn’t good enough – that there this or that model of smartphone – the newest, the most up-to-date – which is a faster, better, and smarter phone than the one I currently own. These messages come not just from technology companies advertising the newest gizmo they want to sell me, but friends and family members, advising me it might be time to trade in and upgrade my phone.
I received no less than 6 new offers of credit cards in the mail, and several more through email this week. That’s pretty typical of most weeks – though the offers double just before the Christmas shopping season. Like most of you, I have a couple of credit cards and I use them for convenience. I don’t need any more credit cards, and I don’t need to replace the ones I have with a different type. But that doesn’t stop the deluge of offers, telling me that I’m not getting enough points, or rewards, or other benefits with what I have.
Through all forms of communication these days, I get advice on everything from weight-reduction and exercise programs to memory-improving programs (which you know I could use!) to books and internet helps for my sermons, to advise me what kind of mattress I need to improve the quality of my sleep, to what kind of fertilizer I should use on my lawn because, let’s face it, it’s just not green enough.
Are you catching the trend here?
So much of what we are told on a daily basis colors our lives with the cultural judgment that we, what we have, and what we do, is “not enough.”
This reality creates in us certainty in our own inadequacy; it’s supposed to. It makes us more susceptible to the implicit promises that the senders of those messages can fix us, and fix our lives. “Trust me,” these voices say. “We (or I) will save you from yourself.”
And it’s not just advertisers of products and programs that give us this message. We also hear it from candidates for public office regardless of the brand or party, as well as from watch-dog groups, and the media who all seek to create in us insecurity and fear.
Terrorism, immigrants, corporations, joblessness, low wages, high taxes, crime statistics, rank inequality, global warming, the wealthy, the poor, rising insurance costs, sky-high medical costs, decreasing birthrates – depending on who you are listening to, the target shifts, but the message is still the same – you should be afraid because on your own you can do nothing to mitigate or erase any of these dangers. All you have to do is elect me and I’ll keep you safe. I will save you from danger.
As our Gospel lesson began today, Jesus returned from the Jordan River, where he had just been Baptized. There, as he came up from the water, the Holy Spirit fell on him and God’s voice affirmed him, saying, You are my Chosen One, My Son, whom I dearly love.” The Holy Spirit filled Jesus. God’s Spirit was in him and around him and through him.
And now Jesus, so filled, is led by that very same Spirit into the wilderness - a place of both divine encounter and demonic danger. We don’t know what happened during the forty days, what other kind of temptations the devil threw his way, only that Jesus was tempted the whole time.
And finally, having come through that time without succumbing to the devil’s wiles, Jesus nearly reaches the end of his time in the wilderness. He can see the finish line!
He is starving. He is tired. He is, remember, fully human as well as fully divine – so after forty days of fasting, he is at his most vulnerable. So of course, Satan uses that fact and strikes again, confident that surely now, when Jesus is this close to exhausting his resistance and strength, he will give in to temptation.
Ary Scheffer, “The Temptation of Christ” (1854)
He gives Jesus three ways to go the easier, softer way. To this man-god who will feed 5,000 with just five loaves and two fish, and heal people of their blindness and lameness and diseases, and himself die and rise again to save humanity from the cost of its sin, the devil says, just turn stone into bread and appease your hunger.
The devil pretends that he has the power to give and to take away ultimate authority over the world, and will do so, if Jesus will just worship him.
And finally, the devil guides Jesus to the highest of heights and tests his confidence in his God-given identity. “If you are really the Son of God, prove it – throw yourself down from here, and let’s see God send those angels come to save you,” he sneers, essentially suggesting that Jesus could use the angels as his own personal security force if he really is the Son of God.
Bread, power, safety.
Funny, those are essentially the same things with which the media, advertisers, and voices seeking power in our world today, attempt to entice us to give our allegiance and our trust to them, today.
While the devil tempts Jesus, perhaps the larger picture for us as we begin our Lenten journey, is to notice that through his response to the devil, Jesus in fact shows us a better way. Jesus illustrates that trusting in God and embracing in the identity we have received as God’s beloved through our own Baptism, we can resist the temptations and trials of life, and we cling to the truth of God’s unending love.
We are daily tempted in countless ways to lose our confidence in God and faith in the power through which we are claimed in, through and by the blood of Jesus.
But each time we gather together as we do today we are reminded of and strengthened in our God-given identity as God’s beloved children. We are reminded through font, Word and meal that we are God’s children and we are loved just as we are. It is enough and more than we can ever imagine to be so loved by the creator God and saved by God’s grace in and through Jesus.
God’s abundant life comes to us in the midst of death, as Jesus’ blood was poured out upon the cross.
The devil and his minions are ceaseless in their insistence that the cross is nothing but foolishness and powerlessness. And yet it is the wisdom of God to send Jesus to win our salvation upon that cross to give us new life. To give us eternal life. We don’t have to understand it. We just have to believe it.
The devil and his minions would like nothing better than to have us believe that we are not good enough, that God’s love is not strong enough, and that Jesus’ sacrifice is not powerful enough to save us from the powers of the world and our own sinfulness.
In Baptism and from the Cross, God’s Holy Spirit promises us just the opposite – that in Jesus and through the power of our Baptism, God will never let us go.  
The encounter between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness speaks to the nature of temptation itself. It, temptation, is that which seeks to lure us away from trusting relationship with God; it seeks to draw us away from confidence in God and his holy hold on us.
Through the abundant life that we have in Jesus, God’s claim on us is ironclad, and the devil has no claim at all.
            During Lent we are often focused on self-denial, sacrifice, and resisting temptation, and that, in and of itself is good. But those practices alone are incomplete. Rather, let our practices of Lent serve to draw us closer to God, re-direct our attention from the worldly message that we are not good enough, and toward lives of trust and confidence in the love and grace of God poured out on the cross.
            May our repentance take us away from dependence on worldly approval and judgements of worth to the only judgement that matters, God’s judgement of love and desire for relationship with you.
            The thing is, all other messages aside, the only one we need to hear and believe is that God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what, and for this reason alone we are enough, because God made it so.
            To confirm this truth, I’d like to ask you to turn to a person next to you or, if you are sitting alone and cannot easily move to near to another person. Each of you, please trace the sign of the cross on the other’s forehead and say, “Remember your baptism, for you are God’s beloved child.” Or, to yourself, make the sign of the cross and say to yourself, “I am God’s beloved child”.
            As you journey through Lent, may you remember that you are enough. May you know that God’s love is enough, and that it is for you, forever. Amen. 

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