The lesson for the first sunday of lent is an ancient choice, the temptation or testing of Jesus. For a long time it was taken as an excuse for preaching fasting. Jesus fasted, so should you. The problem with that is we aren’t Jesus and we are probably not lead by the Spirit into such a fast. It is not that there isn’t a “Jesus as our example” in this text. Jesus sustains the testing of Satan. In his example we have the full devil’s playbook. This sermon spends some time on that. But the gospel message of the sermon is Jesus won. Satan had never lost a testing until that day. He’s never really won one since. Christ sustained the test and remained faithful. And we can hide ourselves in him. Everyone who calls on Christ is victorious. The victory over Satan is given to them by faith in the work of Jesus. This sermon proclaims that victory.
There is always a bit of a frisson when I have a text with Satan in it. Giving Satan a voice from the pulpit always feels like crossing a boundary. There is a bit of that in here. But the main contemplative point is how Law and Gospel are connected with an “and”. In this world you don’t get one without the other, although that is always the temptation. Satan’s temptations are to break the relationships that bind and order our existence. Sometimes that temptation is straight up to our sinful nature. Sometimes that testing is to the power of the ring. But however they express themselves, they are always a rebellion against both the grace and the order of God. He has a way that He desires us to walk. When we tell the Spirit, sorry, I don’t like that desert or those 40 days, we’ve gone off the path. This sermon meditates on how Jesus walked it for us (hence the closing hymn), and bids us to follow.
The first Sunday in Lent brings the temptation of Jesus as the text. The text is usually turned into a moral lesson about knowing your bible. And there is some of that here. But as I worked through the text and the various inputs this week, that fit less and less easily. Especially given Luke’s text. The temptations come in a slightly different order here, and the Devil and Jesus flip-flop words. Jesus goes from “it is written” to “it is said” when the devil picks up quoting scripture. This is no sword drill bible quoting one-up-man-ship.
The postmodern world tells us that everything is interpretation. There are authoritative interpretations made so by power. There are deviant or subversive interpretations. But, there are no facts; there is no truth. In the first two temptations Jesus clearly refutes that as he both takes as true and binding the Word of God and refutes a power and authority’s ability to assert interpretation against fact. In the third temptation Jesus turns to the opposite problem. Instead of thinking that everything is interpretation, its opposite is often a too great a certainty. When the devil starts quoting scripture the temptation is to put a very precise interpretation on a poetic verse.
Applied to the modern church or would you have both the church that has abandoned the law because they hunger after the approval of the world, and you have the church that is uncomfortable with faith and hope and mystery. The narrow way lies between the two ditches. Letting the secret things be God’s, but claiming surely those things that have been revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29
This is an attempt to preach the text by connecting roots of post-modernism with how we see it playing out in events today. As such, as David Foster Wallace would once quip, I’m attempting to point out the water to the fish (what’s water?). It is preaching directly at a space that is probably never in questioned. As such it might have zoomed right past.