Posted on in Sermons by The Rev. David Marshall
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Year C, First Sunday in Lent
Today’s Gospel is the second half of the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is baptized, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and immediately he finds himself being tested by the devil. This is what happens in life. When we make a commitment to growth and transformation, we are immediately tested.
If you accept the Lenten challenge of 20, 1 and 6, you will be tested. When you set out to pray for 20 minutes a day, worship once a week, and find six opportunities to serve others each month, you will discover dozens of distractions and obligations that keep you from your prayer, worship, and service.
Any time you commit to growth and transformation, you will be tested. The more profound the commitment and the greater the change, the greater the testing will be.
Baptism is a life changing commitment to growth and transformation. Just as Jesus was tested, each of us is tested in our commitment to trust in God and follow Jesus. In our Baptismal liturgy, we ask a series of questions of each candidate. Please open a prayer book to page 302 and follow along with me:
Question: Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer: I renounce them.
Renouncing Satan is just the beginning. As soon as you do, you will be tested, just as Jesus was tested after his baptism. Jesus, of course, gives amazing, wonderful answers. Some have looked at this and asked, can any of us really overcome the devil as Jesus does? Are we expected to be like Jesus? Are we supposed to follow his example, or has he overcome the devil for us? How can we live up to that standard?
I think this is the wrong set of questions. The question is not, can we be like Jesus, but rather, what is the nature of God? In Jesus’ response to the devil, he is revealing the true God and demonstrating how faith in the true God works.
The three tests, as told by Luke, are:
- The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
- And the devil said to him, “To you I will give [authority over all the kingdoms of the world]; 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.
- 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.'”
The devil puts the three most common, most powerfully compelling idols before Jesus: Wealth, power, and the promise of a god who will take away all suffering.
Wealth is an idol. Wealth promises that you will be relieved of your suffering, you will be happy and satisfied at last if you finally have wealth. But wealth is a false god, like every idol. When we get wealth we discover that we have just as many problems and worries. Wealth does not relieve our suffering or buy lasting happiness.
Power is another false god. The idol of power promises an end to suffering and uncertainty. If you have enough power, you will be able to determine your own fortune and fate. You will not be subject to others but will be able to command according your own will. Anyone who has achieved power can tell you that power is just as false a god as wealth. Powerful people suffer, struggle and grieve. The idol’s promise is a lie.
The last test that Jesus faces is the most powerful of all. In the last test the devil turns God into an idol. Jump from this temple and God will protect you. God will remove your suffering and the dangers of your life. God will heal you and sooth your heart. What could be more alluring? What promise could be more tempting? We all want that god! And yet, the devil has turned God into an idol. The devil has made the false claims of the idol in the name of God and turned even God into an idol. Instead of the God of scripture, the God of Abraham, the God of resurrection, the devil offers the pagan god of the idol, by promising comfort, satisfaction, happiness, and certainty.
Jesus rejects all three of the idols: wealth, power, and the pagan god of satisfaction and certainty. Jesus shows that instead of placing his hope on an idol, he will embrace life. Instead of hoping for a pagan god to relieve him of suffering and struggle, he will embrace life with courage, compassion, forgiveness, and love. Instead of seeking the escape from life that the idol falsely promises, Jesus will embrace life and participate in God’s loving work of creation.
If we put our trust in the idols of wealth, power, or the pagan god, we will be disappointed. We will reject the idols when they ultimately disappoint us, and if we make God into an idol, we will end up rejecting God.
It is easy to say, “I renounce Satan.” Who doesn’t? The work comes after the renouncing. The work of renouncing Satan is to embrace life. The work of renouncing Satan is to follow Jesus, through even grief, loss, suffering and forsakenness, and then to choose to love anyway. Jesus invites us to participate in resurrection life, not by escaping from life’s testing, but by choosing to love anyway.
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
February 14, 2016