1st Sunday of Lent, Yr A– The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.

I have heard the story told that there is a village somewhere on the African continent where if someone in the village commits a crime, that person is brought into the center of the village while all the villagers gather around them.

And then the villagers proceed to tell this person all the good things about them.

They embody an infusion of love to counteract the destruction of sin.

Today, on this first Sunday of Lent, we hear the story of Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

But let us remember that before entering the wilderness, he is first claimed as God’s beloved at his baptism.

Just as we have been!

Now…Jesus did not sin in that wilderness, but my friends, we are not Jesus!

We face temptations daily,
and sometimes,
perhaps oftentimes,
we succumb.
So what might today’s Scriptures about Jesus have to do with our lives?

Can you imagine standing in the midst of your community,
having done something to harm another human being,
and instead of being blasted with judgment and derision,
you are instead reminded of your gifts and goodness?

I think that is our beginning point.

God created each of us in God’s own image…
in goodness and love and joy;
as God’s beloved,
with unique gifts which contribute to the building up of God’s Kingdom.

We are created by God to live in relationship with God and all God’s creation.

With that as our beginning,
we then enter the wilderness of life.

All of the devil’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness were temptations to power and to not trust in God’s providence.

We also face many temptations to power and self-reliance…

The media tells us constantly that we aren’t enough: we aren’t rich enough, or good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, or healthy enough. And with certain products or regimens we can take control.

Current political rhetoric tells us that there isn’t enough to go around… that we aren’t safe…that we must protect ourselves and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.

Yet these temptations to power and self-sufficiency only breed fear, greed, and the destruction of others and self.

Our scripture tells us that temptation is inevitable on our faith journey;
how we respond to such temptations is what is critical.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ temptations and later examples from his life of how he relates to such temptations.

Having fasted for 40 days in the wilderness Jesus was famished. The tempter came and enticed him to use his power to turn stones into bread.

“One does not live by bread alone,” Jesus says, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

God will provide.

Later in the gospel we have two stories of the feeding of the crowds in which Jesus took a few loaves of bread, gave thanks to God, and then distributed food to thousands of hungry folks, with baskets full of food left over.

Jesus believed in the abundance of God,
and the multitudes were fed.
Then the devil placed Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple, tempting Jesus by saying, “throw yourself down” and the angels will bear you up.

Again Jesus refused to put God to the test.

At the end of the gospel as Jesus hangs high upon the pinnacle of the cross, passersby deride him saying, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross. (Mt 27:43b)

But Jesus did not come down.

Again, the devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and offered to give them to Jesus if Jesus would but fall down and worship him.

Again Jesus refused, reminding the devil the commandment to love and serve only God.

Later in the garden of Gethsemane when Judas arrives with crowds armed with swords and clubs, one of those with Jesus pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest.

Jesus told his disciple to put away his sword saying, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled?” (Mt 26:47-54)

Jesus’ path, and the one we are called to follow, is one of humility, service and obedience to God. Not a claim to violent power and self-sufficiency.

We follow a God of love and mercy and forgiveness
who wraps us in tender arms
and tells us of an unquenchable love,
even, and perhaps especially, when we fail.
In turn Jesus calls us to tend to the needs of the poor, the oppressed, those who hunger and thirst, the stranger and wanderer, those in deep pain who are rejected by the ones with power.

As we witness Christ’s ministry in the world through scripture and reflect on his compassionate response to the world around him, we are enabled to serve others as he served, trusting in God to be our strength.

So, as we begin our Lenten journeys in self-examination, let us remember our baptism…that God has claimed us and tells us we are beloved.

We are enough,
and there is plenty!

We need not live in fear but in trust in God
so that we might live with generosity and respect for all,
accepting God’s loving embrace
and offering that embrace to others.