Sermons

"An Epic Battle," Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Year C

"An Epic Battle," Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Year C

Mar 10, 2019

Passage:Luke 4:1-13

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Lent

Category: Temptation

Keywords: forgiveness, lent, repentance, temptation

Summary:

The Temptation of Christ in the Gospel of Luke is the story of an epic battle between Jesus and the devil. And although many temptations may be epic, most come to us in the day-to-day as smaller challenges that distract us and get us off track. The purpose of the Lenten journey is to help us focus on the enduring truth of Jesus Christ, that God loves each and every one of us and that we are beloved creations of God. That's what kept Jesus focused in his epic battle and keeps us focused in all our epic, and not-so-epic, battles.

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

This past week, we started our yearly Lenten journey.  We began Lent on Ash Wednesday with the reminder of how precious the gift of life is...the entering into this time of self-examination, of experiencing the repentance, the forgiveness, and the mercy of God alongside millions of people around the world.

And on this first Sunday in Lent, we descend further into this journey as we encounter the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Luke’s description of this temptation is some of the best storytelling in Scripture.  Luke is giving us a front row seat to this great cosmic battle between Jesus and the devil.

Movies and books have replicated this scene inside of different characters and settings with great success.  It’s the ultimate showdown between the forces of good and evil. 

It’s Voldemort and Harry Potter, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, Aslan and the White Witch.

That this temptation of Jesus plays itself out over and over and over again in art, history, and real life speaks to the truth of its message. 

Luke isn’t just telling us an exciting story.  Luke is revealing enduring truth—truth that transcends time, space, and culture.  Truth that is made known to us throughout the Old and New Testaments.  The enduring truth that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Just before today’s passage, we see John baptize Jesus.  The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus and a voice from heaven proclaims Jesus to be the Beloved son of God. 

This baptism is really important to remember because it sets the stage for today’s account of the temptation.  Jesus is preparing for his public ministry. 

He’s getting ready for a journey that will last far longer and be far more challenging than these 40 days.

As we first glimpse Jesus in the wilderness, we see Jesus “full of the Holy Spirit.”  The Spirit leads him into the wilderness where he faces temptation for 40 days.

Most of the Great Masters of Art portray this temptation as an epic battle between Jesus and the devil.  But there are a few that depict Jesus and a man, just a plain man, not a scary looking figure, engaging in conversation. 

Sebastiano Ricci’s painting of the temptation of Christ shows Jesus in the woods sitting on a rock.  An old man dressed in animal skins and walking with a crutch extends his hand to Jesus.  This white-haired, bearded man offers Jesus a rock.

There is nothing menacing about this man or the painting.  If you didn’t know the story, you’d never know it was a painting about a battle between the forces of good and evil. 

You might even think it was an image of an elderly man presenting Jesus with a kind offering.  It’s doesn’t look threatening or scary in any way.[i]

Evil certainly shows up in the form of great temptations.  Sometimes evil comes to us from people who clearly intend us harm. 

But sometimes evil also comes to us disguised, throwing us off track and distracting us.

Our own 40-day journeys in Lent hold the temptations and truths of the longer journeys of our individual lives...our lives as a community...our lives as a Church. 

From the outside, our own journeys may not necessarily look like epic battles between Jesus and the devil.  But Jesus came in human form to fully experience our struggles, to walk with us as one of us, to show us the Way that brings hope and life.

Many of us take on Lenten disciplines, whether that is removing an obstacle from our lives or adding a practice that moves us closer to God.  There are all kinds of opinions about what those disciplines should be. 

Some people feel strongly that removing something from our lives is too sacrificial and doesn’t focus enough on reconciliation.  Some feel strongly that adding a practice doesn’t provide us with enough of an experience of penance. 

But you know what, I don’t think either argument is the “right” one.  It’s about what’s right for each of us at any given time. 

It’s about the small as well as the large temptations in our lives.  It’s about what’s going to bring us into greater fullness as the beloved creation of God that we are.

Often our temptations aren’t some menacing attempt by forces that are bent on destroying us.  Our temptations end up being the things that turn us away from the hope and love of God. 

They sometimes set us face-to-face with huge, life-altering decisions that have the capacity to harm people.  And more often, they’re the many challenges we face daily that deceive us into thinking that we and everyone around are not beloved children of God.

When we turn away from this truth, that we are beloved... that we have the power of the Holy Spirit with us each step of the way...that there is enough love for everyone. 

This is when we are tempted.  This is when we get off course.  This is when we get distracted.

We are created out of love, by a loving Creator, to share that love with every single person in the world.  That is our ministry.  That is what our baptism equips us to do.  That is what God reminds us of over and over and over in the Scriptures.

Jesus kept focused on God’s call to him to share that love with all of humankind...to bring hope and healing to everyone, not just those who seem to “earn” it...to save us from the temptation of ignoring our one and only call...to love.

That’s how Jesus defeated the evil—he kept focused on what God was calling him to do—love humankind so dearly that we would see that love is the only thing that saves us.

If we are responding to ourselves, to the people around us, and to the world with love, we’ll experience God’s mercy.  We’ll experience forgiveness.  We’ll want to share it with others. 

That’s the purpose of this journey in Lent.  That’s the reason for the self-examination.  That’s the goal of refraining from something or adding something to our lives.

God’s love is always the reason and it is always the way that good conquers evil.  Amen.  

 

 

[i] This section inspired by Matt Fitzgerald, "Luke 4:1-13," Feasting on the Gospels, Luke, Volume 1.