First Sunday of Lent, March 5, 2017
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Imagine a time and a place far beyond here and now.
Imagine you and I are living in Seville, Spain.
Imagine we are living amid
the Spanish Inquisition.
Now, imagine Jesus returned.
He performs miracles.
The people recognize and adore Jesus …
Which draws the attention of the Church and its’ inquisitors.
Imagine Jesus being arrested.
Jesus is tried and sentenced inside of an hour
To be burned to death tomorrow morning.
Into our Lord’s cell
Steps the Grand Inquisitor.
Imagine this moment.
The Grand Inquisitor informs Jesus
That the Church no longer needs him.
In fact, the return of Jesus would do nothing more than
Interfere with the mission of the Church.
Citing our Lord’s decisions not to capitulate to the Devil’s temptations in the wilderness,
The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that
While he is capable of wielding the freedom of choice wisely,
The people cannot.
The masses cannot be trusted with freedom.
This is why we have the Church,
The Grand Inquisitor informs Jesus,
For the Church is an institution where
Only a few are strong enough to
Bear the burden of freedom.
Let humankind live and die happy in ignorance.
Imagine the Grand Inquisitor telling Jesus that he was wrong
To reject each temptation by Satan.
Turn the stones to bread,
As men always follow those who feed their bellies.
Cast yourself down from the temple and be caught by your angels.
That would cement your divinity in the minds of people
And they would follow you forever.
Take control over every kingdom of the Earth
And the salvation of all people would be ensured for eternity.
Jesus, you were so, so wrong.
Imagine, for a moment, the silence that follows.
Instead of answering,
Imagine Jesus rising,
Stepping forward, and
Kissing the Grand Inquisitor.
The cell door opens, and Jesus walks away.
This scene I’ve asked you to imagine
Is the Cliff notes version of the Russian poem
Titled “The Grand Inquisitor”
By Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
As found in his novel, “The Brothers Karamazov.”
When we experience Jesus being tempted in the wilderness
The first Sunday of each and every Lent,
We tend to romanticize our Lord’s experience.
Experiencing “The Grand Inquisitor” strips us of all romanticism.
We are denuded of all allusions that
Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness by the Devil
Was a one-and-done item to be checked off
From his list of earthly accomplishments
That needed completed before his Passion and Death.
Forty days and forty nights in the Judean wilderness
Isn’t some sort of reality television show
Where Jesus is competing for daily immunity
Or facing nightly elimination.
Jesus is confronting issues of power and presumption
That you and I routinely fail.
The experience of Israel wondering in the wilderness
For forty years was a time of testing,
A time of humbling Israel,
And allowing the people’s hunger
To teach them that one does not live by bread alone.
(Thanks to Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, and Tucker, 1986)
Likewise, Jesus is fasting
And being tested.
Jesus is fasting.
How has your Lenten fast been going?
Oh, you’ve failed already?
Good for you
You’re in good company.
I’m right there with you.
I attempted to fast from anger.
I, too, have already failed.
Turn to your left and right.
They’ve already failed, too.
We’ve all failed
And taken a bite of the Grand Inquisitor’s bread.
Unlike for you and me,
Temptation is not some minor morality challenge.
Temptation for Jesus is a high stakes game.
Temptation is a testimony to his strength.
The greater the strength, the greater the temptation.
Temptation for Jesus
Is between our God of absolute,
Cosmically creative power,
To which all other gods are subordinate.
The Devil is unable to even hold up a candle
To Jesus Christ,
The Light of the World.
Great temptations are a sign of great power;
Powers and presumptions that have to be addressed
In Christ’s Passion journey to the cross.
How does Jesus speak truth to power?
How does he respond to the Devil
Who “took him to a very high mountain
and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor”?
- Matthew 4:8
How does Jesus answer the charges of the Council,
The accusations of the high priest, all the chief priests, the elders and the scribes?
- Mark 14:53
How does Jesus answer Pilot who asks him
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
- Mark 15:2
To the Grand Inquisitor,
Jesus responds with a kiss.
To the Council and to Pilate,
Jesus’ silence is deafening.
All of which begs us to ask,
What is our relationship with power?
How do you and I speak truth to power?
And, what does this say about our faith and belief?
Faith is something more than
Believing the right things,
Reciting the approved creeds,
Or falling in line with official Church teaching.
Faith is more than believing in an unseen God.
The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness
Leads us to view a life of faith
From an entirely different point of view.
Lead with your strengths.
Your strengths are your time.
Prioritize your time and make God your highest priority.
Your strength is your treasure.
Spend wisely, intentionally, deliberately, conservatively, extravagantly.
Spend what God has given you for the glory of God.
Your strength is prayer.
Spend time in prayer.
And listen some more.
Prayer is your great strength,
As it was a great strength of Jesus.
Living a life of faith,
Placing trust in God,
That God will see you through every temptation and trial in life,
Will sometimes make us look foolish.
We will be mocked by great thinkers of logic.
We will be mocked by those who don’t believe in miracles.
We will be mocked by Grand Inquisitors,
And we will be mocked by the Devil himself.
And even still,
We must speak truth to power,
Leading with the strength God gives us,
Leaning on the support of our collective selves
And on the everlasting arms of Jesus.
If Lent teaches us anything,
It is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Jesus is in for a hard landing when he returns from the wilderness.
He’s soon to discover that John the Baptist has been arrested and jailed.
Jesus is going to be arrested himself,
Accused, held, beaten, and eventually killed.
He will lead with his strength,
His love for you and me.
His desire for our forgiveness
And for the redemption of all of Creation.
It is going to get worse before it gets better.
The Church is in for a hard landing
If we don’t repent of our exclusive and dehumanizing ways,
If we don’t cleanse the money changers from our temples and churches,
If we continue to undermine our love of God and our love of neighbors,
If we don’t wholly surrender our will
To the will of Jesus Christ.
Beloved members and friends,
Beloved disciples of Jesus Christ,
Speak truth to power;
Because the greatest power of this earth
Remains subordinate to the absolute power of God, Almighty.
The tests and trials of this world come
In proportion to the strength Christ has already given you.
And let us speak of Jesus,
The truth of this world.
Let us speak truth to power.
Truth always wins.
Jesus always wins.