Isolation and Toughen Up: What Jesus’ Temptation Isn’t About

This is a sermon I preached last weekend at my internship site based on Luke 13:1-13 (NRSV).

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Grace and peace to you from Jesus, our savior and lord. Amen.

There are a lot of ways I could start today’s sermon. I would like to start with a recognition of God’s love for all, especially on this holiday of Valentine’s Day. But I can’t take my systematic theologian hat off. If only it were true, what happens in systematic theology class, stays in systematic theology class. But this is not true. In fact it even more so launches me back into life and communities, and makes me like a faith detective, wondering what God is up to all the time.

So here’s the deal.

I first, in the face of this gospel story, I have to acknowledge that this gospel text today has been horribly misused by pastors, theologians, and preachers for years. Jesus’ temptation by the devil has been used to as justification for people to stay in abusive relationships, as if to say, “If Jesus can make it past the devil, why can’t you?” [which I know, who would say that, but it has been said] It’s been used to push down those haunted by addiction to stay quiet and not seek help, as if to say “If Jesus can make it past the devil, why can’t you?” This passage has been used to silently encourage people like you and me to believe if they only believe hard enough, they can save Jesus from the devil and from the cross, just enough so we can earn back our sainthood.

Now these are really heavy topics of addiction and abuse. Topics that affect our neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and maybe even you personally. But that’s even more reason why it’s important for you to hear that Jesus’ temptation is not about us needing to feel shamed for not being able to get through it alone.

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So, I have some bad news that is also good news today. Jesus is not asking us to save him. Jesus is not asking us to suffer alone. Jesus is not asking us to stay in relationships that hurt.

Today, Jesus is showing us the only thing that got him through the wilderness out to the other side. Jesus is showing us the Holy Spirit.

It’s easy to miss where the Holy Spirit comes in because it was right in the first sentence: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit.”

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? As you’re in the wilderness no less? The wilderness of walking to the cross, for these 40 days of Lent; what does that mean? That means that as Jesus’ gaze faces the cross, the Holy Spirit never abandons us. Never abandons us to moments of hopelessness and blindness, as a resurrection people, hopeful for a resurrected world. That’s how we get through it.

When I was on staff at Trinity Lutheran back in Minnesota, we were in the midst of a call process for an associate pastor of lifelong learning, the role in which I supplied interim-bridging work for them. In a congregational meeting, the chair of the committee shared how they first discerned who they were looking for in a pastor. They asked God for discernment and prayerful discussion. As he described it, they were looking for someone, “Filled with the Spirit.” And I do believe they got that, an awesome colleague of mine. They called someone “filled with the Spirit,” and that gentleman who described their committee discernment process has stuck with me. He spoke as if he was filled with the Spirit (not that he wanted to be a pastor), but something about that conclusion spoke to my heart. As a congregation and their representatives, they longed for someone filled with the Spirit. It wasn’t just one person. They felt called to find someone together. As a community, they longed.

jars of clay

For a community to long. They longed in only a way that only a group of people can long.

It’s like Job in the Old Testament. His friends hear that he has experienced unthinkable tragedy, and they come to support him. They didn’t even recognize Job, but what they did was they cried, put dust on their heads, and ripped their clothes (a ritual for expressing grief in the ancient world).* They cried with Job. They sat with Job for a week. Can you imagine sitting for a week? I mean, and hour, tops. But for a week? They did this because they learned from their ancestors, that you do not let someone long for justice by themselves. You sit with them, and you long together as a group.

Whenever there is comfort, consolation, sitting together, there is the Holy Spirit. We don’t do this alone! The Spirit always works in tandem, in partnership, in community. In Jesus’ temptation and testing with the devil, he is radically guided. He is not alone. The Holy Spirit does what it means – it’s in advocate and a helper.

This journey to the cross, our journey through Lent, is the most radical display of solidarity—we are no longer shackled by theology that justifies isolation, abuse, privilege, and justifies hurt.

We find good news in this because through the Holy Spirit, we share the weight of the cross as we undertake the enormous task of serving our neighbors and share our joys with each other. We lift those together. We embrace those together.

Today Jesus is embracing a new reality. He does not become what the devil wants him to be. To every request Jesus replies to the devil by quoting the book of Deuteronomy which he studied as young Jew, as if to say, “Devil, you may have weapons of trickery, craft and power, but I have an identity in the God of Israel whose love and hope will never bow before another—an identity that cannot and will not change.”

An identity that cannot and will not change.

An identity that says, you, Son of God, get up and walk.

An identity that says you, daughter of God, get up and walk.

This gospel passage has been in so many terrible ways to justify unhealthy decision and behavior. This passage is not about “who is better” or “who is stronger” or “who can endure more.” Instead, PLEASE hear that this is about walking through the wilderness, and remembering that you are not alone because the Holy Spirit is leading, guiding, and filling you, and wherever the Holy Spirit is, there is advocacy, there is companionship, there is peace. That is the promise we hear today.

Baptize

A depiction of the Holy Spirit by Kristen Malcolm Berry

As we face Jerusalem, we are not alone. The Holy advocate, the Holy companion, the Holy Spirit guides and fills you. Let it be so.

* They later condemn Job, so their “support” becomes a little suspect.

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