"Bread, Power, and Physics"
17 February 2013, Lent 1C
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church
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.
At the start of every Lent,
we find Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.
Think of Jesus in a barren, hilly gravel pit;
surrounded by mountains and gullies of gravel as far as the eye can see.
This is a land that is blazing hot in the day
and cold as ice at night.
There isn’t much green to speak of,
not many animals,
just rocks and grit.
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man,
immediately following his baptism,
identified by the voice of God as, “my beloved, with whom I am well pleased”
is filled by the Spirit and driven to this barren landscape
where we hear he fasts
and is tempted by the devil for forty days.
Think of these forty days of temptation as a prelude to the more popular
big three that are the climax of today’s Gospel.
Personified, or not, the devil is in Jesus’ brain.
Thankfully, he has the Spirit in his heart,
which is a very important detail St. Luke wants us to hear.
When anyone is subjected to such intense stress at the hand of the devil himself,
it’s no wonder Jesus is unable to eat.
We don’t know if it was a spiritual discipline or just the weight of the world upon him,
Jesus doesn’t eat for forty days.
Forty days of temptation was the sinister plan to wear Jesus down,
to break him of his will,
and to cause him physical weakness for the devil’s final attempt
to derail Jesus
from following God’s greater plan.
Cold at night, burning with heat in the day,
hungry, tired, and weak …
the devil expected Jesus to be easy prey.
The prelude to our Gospel this morning
sets us in the footsteps of our Savior.
Don’t we come home often
tired from school or work,
numb from the intensity of focus,
tired from getting through the day,
exhausted from dealing with the stress,
cold from February’s ice cold grip?
Add death, illness, and taxes.
Add strife, confrontation, and worry about family.
Don’t we want to get home and cocoon up
after one day of being tired, cold, and weak?
Take away the food and extend that feeling to forty days
and forty nights sleeping on a bed roll
on the ground.
Got the picture?
There are times in our life where we are just as vulnerable;
where temptation is easier to take us down,
where a swan dive into the vat of sin might appear to be the simplest solution.
The Gospel truth of this text today is that the devil,
either in human form or
as in voices in your head,
intentionally seeks us out during our times of vulnerability,
just as he actively sought out Jesus.
What are we to do
when the devils attention is turned to our direction?
We look to Christ to reveal our defense,
to teach us our tactics.
We look to Jesus is follow in his divine example.
The Spirit filled Jesus.
When the Spirit fills you, too,
we are given the strength
to defend against every arrow and shot of evil.
By opening your heart to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in your life,
of making your heart a home where the Spirit is welcome to abide,
we are given all that is necessary to repel whatever
temptation or evil is thrown our way.
We can be weak to the point of imminent death,
but a Spirit filled heart
is a soul that will be protected and defended by none other than God himself.
A Spirit filled heart is one that surrenders the body to the will of God.
With God in control
forty days and nights
The devil probably expected great outcomes.
After nearly six weeks of hand-to-hand spiritual warfare,
my guess is that the devil expected Jesus to cave.
“Oh, you must be hungry?” the snake hissed.
An attack on hunger and appetite is a weak first attempt,
unless, of course, you’re a person like me who enjoys an all-you-can-eat buffet line.
Seriously, if Jesus can fast for forty days without bread,
he can certainly make it to forty one.
“If you are the Son of God,” he begins …
Wait, let me interrupt this narrative right here and now.
Jesus IS the Son of God.
No if’s about it.
The devil begins with a non-starter.
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Wow, even the devil enjoys a magic show.
Quickly, the devil paints himself as the lead
in a Greek tragedy.
The temptation is that of self reliance:
one doesn’t need to depend upon God for sustenance and support.
Simply turn rocks into loaves and water into wine.
You can do it
all by yourself,
or so the tempter suggests.
“No!” the Spirit speaks.
Our sustenance is more than just food and drink.
There is more to life than nutrition in and waste out.
None of us are mindless consumers, takers, parasites.
Each and every one of us is a perfectly created child of God.
“‘'Man does not live by bread alone,”
(and the phrase that is included in Matthew,
which comes directly from Deuteronomy)
“but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4)
Hunger humbles us,
causes us to remember our roots,
of newly freed Hebrews
hungry in the desert complaining to Moses.
Hunger reminds us that the road to self-dependence leads us straight into the wilderness to die.
Hunger reminds us that our only dependence can be on the One that sends us unleavened bread.
Like our Hebrew ancestors
and Jesus before us
hunger is our way of surrendering ourselves completely to a benevolent and loving God.
We are fed by God,
both literally and figuratively,
by bread and His word.
Strike one, Mr. devil.
“Let’s stop at the scenic overlook, shall we?
In that direction is Jordan.
Over there is the sea and Rome to the west.
Up north is Damascus.
Down south is Egypt.
I’ll give it all to you,”
“If you, then, will worship me.”
As if the kingdoms of the world were the devil’s to give.
Perhaps he should have thrown in the Brooklyn Bridge, too!
Giving what he didn’t own?
Why? for what?
Who we worship
is to whom
we give power and authority.
Does anyone possibly expect Jesus to give power to the devil?
God doesn’t appease the devil,
nor does God allow one lost lamb to remain lost.
The power of God is the power of love;
that’s not something that could be given to the devil.
Does anyone possibly expect Jesus to surrender Divine authority to the devil?
ARE YOU KIDDING?
The authority of God is drawn from God’s greatness,
God’s creation and command of the cosmos and humanity.
God’s authority is non-transferable,
because it was, and forever will be, the nature of God.
Worship is giving praise and thanksgiving.
Does anyone possibly expect Jesus to praise the devil and his work?
Does anyone possibly expect Jesus to thank the devil for the rock in Cain’s hand?
or the adulterous and homicidal plot in David’s mind?
The devil screws up the world,
thrives on chaos,
poisons everything that is good.
There is nothing praiseworthy here.
IS THE DEVIL SERIOUS?
Jesus doesn’t thank the devil for pain and suffering,
and neither should we.
Jesus doesn’t praise the devil for the mess that he’s created,
and neither should we.
Jesus doesn’t give one inch to the devil in his all out spiritual warfare,
and neither should we.
Again, Jesus cites scripture for his defense.
The Spirit within
speaks the Word,
(that which brings us Divine, sustaining, nourishment),
by articulating the Deuteronomic Law:
“You shall fear the Lord your God;
him alone you shall worship;
to him you shall hold fast,
and by his name you shall swear.” (Deuteronomy 10:20)
Our thanks goes to God.
Our praise is directed to God.
God created us, God loves us, God forgives us, and God saves us.
For this, we are thankful and we give God all our praise.
We worship God, and God alone.
Strike two, Mr. devil.
“Jesus doesn’t fall for hunger or power;
perhaps,” the devil schemes,
“Jesus just might fall for the temptation of physics.”
I mentioned earlier that even the devil enjoyed a magic show,
this is something on the order of Star Trek transporter rooms,
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s use of the Force in Star Wars,
Or Hal’s intelligent design in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The devil is tempting Jesus to pull a rookie Spiderman stunt
and to throw himself off of the top of the Temple
with the hope that supersonic spider webs shooting from his forearms
or a flying legion of angels
will somehow appear and save him
in a cliffhanger second.
It’s a good 150 foot from the roof of the Temple to the courtyard,
another 150 foot from the courtyard down the Temple’s foundation walls to the city below.
“If you are the Son of God,” ….
obviously the devil is a slow learner.
“Throw yourself down from here,
for it is written,” he says,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
(quoting Psalm 91:11)
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
(quoting Psalm 91:12)
Oh, so now the devil has become a Biblical scholar?
He’s become a Hebrew scholar who specializes in the Psalms?
My goodness, this devil just does not stop.
It isn’t enough to tempt the God who created physics
to manipulate physics
purely for the benefit of only the devil,
but it is something altogether more disturbing
to consider the devil stooping so low as to use the good words of God against God himself.
This is the spiritual warfare equivalent of using mustard gas,
as a last, gasp effort to win the day.
Yet, as we see here,
quoting scripture to God,
would be following in the devil’s footsteps to lose the war.
Oh, how often we do this!
How often we recklessly sling scripture around
to justify our behavior,
to defend our belief,
to tempt our adversary,
or to take the offensive to our foe.
Scripture is not a weapon
and it is the devil’s work to use it as such.
Scripture is the good word of God.
Like bread it is meant to feed us,
to nurture us for the journey of faith,
to sustain us during our own days on the mountain top
as well as when we spend 40 days fasting in the wilderness.
The word of God comes to us as a gift of guidance, direction, and affirmation.
The word of God also comes to us as God’s gift of correction and opportunity for adjustment.
Jesus gives it right back to him
quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16:
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test!”
Strike three, Mr. devil.
and out he goes;
until an opportune time.
It is no coincidence that the beginning of Luke’s passion narrative
we hear that “Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot,” (Luke 22:3)
when the opportune time presented itself.
Yes, Satan slipped into Judas’ skin.
(I’m thinking of a Silence of the Lambs type of creepiness)
This alone should give us some sense of the
enormity, complexity, and tenacity of the devil’s work.
There was a time in my younger days when I under estimated
explaining it away as delusionary voices
or the hallucinations of a diseased mind.
However, with age and experience I’m taking the devil much more seriously
in my own personal life
and in the life of my parish.
The stakes of free will are too high to err.
The temptations that I personally experience and I know you experience, too,
are too strong to not be prepared.
If anything, Lent is a cold splash in the face reminder
of the unforgiving nature
and violent spiritual warfare that is taking place
for each and every one of our souls.
Jesus is on a journey
to wage this battle on our behalf.
There is only one road to victory,
and that road takes us through Jerusalem.
to a cross and a tomb. Amen.