NRSV DEUTERONOMY 26:1-11
26 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, 5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
NRSV LUKE 4:1-13
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 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. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
9 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, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
I am sure there are members of this congregation who can remember back to the time when they saw the first of the Walt Disney animated movies – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was such a success that in every generation since the folks at Disney have come out with an animated movie to entertain, inform and mark childhoods.
The one that did that for my children was The Lion King. In that tale the young cub Simba has to flee the kingdom on the death of his father, which his wicked uncle accused him of causing. He gets in with a couple of animals who are more into eating grubs than meat, settles down to a comfortable existence, and tries to forget. That is, until the mystical Mandrill monkey Rafiki gets wind – literally – that he is still alive and goes looking for him. When he finds Simba he tells the now grown lion that he knows where his father is – in the waters of a pond. Simba is doubtful but then Rafiki stirs the waters and tells him, “He lives in you.”
Then the ghost of Mufasa, his father, appears and tells him that it is time for him to take his place as the rightful king. As he leaves, the Mufasa apparition tells him, “Remember who you are.”
Of course, that is not the only movie, book or play that deals with remembering who you are. There are characters all over the place who forget the essence of their being, and another person has to come onto the scene, or a crisis pops up and they are forced to come to terms with remembering and being who they most authentically are.
We are now in the season of Lent – the forty days, excluding Sundays, until the great high holy day of Easter. It is a real temptation for preachers to gloss over these days: don’t make people feel too bad or you will scare them off and they won’t come back to church, tell them something like, “oh, come on, you are not that bad, we all make mistakes, we all mess up, but Sunday’s coming and it will be peaches and cream.”
There is some truth to that. But those words can make us forget who we are and what this time of year can do for us. Yes, we can overdo it with the sackcloth and ashes bit, get too focused on our sins that we do not think about anything else. But the opposite is also true – we can trivialize our brokenness and pass lightly over the times in our lives when we have forgotten who we are. And if we forget who we are, we may very well miss who God is.
The first Sunday in Lent traditionally centers on the temptations of Jesus. But the text out of Deuteronomy says so much about remembering who we are in the light of God’s grace that we cannot pass it by. It’s part of Moses’ farewell speech to the people before they cross over into the Promised Land. He is reminding them that there will come a time when they will be nice and fat and sassy in their homes and will start to think they did this all themselves. They might forget not just who they are; but more importantly they might forget the God whose mighty hand and outstretched arm got them there.
So every late spring they are to bring the first fruits of their harvest; the very best of what they have, and they are to give it to God at the main place of worship. But there is an even more important activity they must do in connection with this – they are called to recite the story of their deliverance, of the journey and the slavery and the hardships and the liberation given to them by the God who gave them the harvest. They start it off by saying the words, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…”
And with those words, they are doing something special – they are re-membering themselves into the story of their people, the story of their salvation. It’s like whenever we celebrate communion – like we are doing this morning – and we hear the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and the way he puts it: “For I delivered unto you what was delivered unto me, that on the night of our Lord’s arrest in eating his disciples he took bread … and took the cup … and said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.” They are saying that all of this self-made people stuff is a mirage. God has been at work in our lives from the beginning, delivering us from all the slaveries we have experienced into the place where we can be a blessing for others to enjoy the grace of God.
Remember who you are.
That is also the theme of every one of Jesus’ temptations as given to us by Luke. In the early chapters Jesus is identified as God’s Son: in the annunciation to Mary, in the birth story, in his baptism, and in his genealogy which immediately precedes this story. It ends with the words, “son of Adam, son of God.” Luke leaves no doubt that Jesus is God’s Son. Now what does that mean? How is that sonship lived out? How does Jesus remember who he is? Do not make light of this – these are temptations because they are appealing. But they are also ways of veering Jesus away from his understanding of what it means to be God’s Son, to be dependent on God’s care, of being connected with God in such a way that nothing else takes over.
The devil certainly has his agenda. In two of the three temptations, he taunts Jesus, “If you are the son of God,…” Jesus has been wandering around the wilderness, the place where death stalks, for forty days and forty nights, not eating anything. Of course he’s famished. And that stone would look pretty good as a nice pita right about now.
But he knows better. And he knows better because he remembers who he is and he remembers words from the same book that produced “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…” Other words, like: “People do not live by bread alone…” As it goes on to say, “…but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. “ Those words were given in the context of the giving of the manna, the means by which God provided for the people, to sustain them in their journey. Jesus says, God sustained them then, God will sustain me now.
Then the devil takes him to a high place, and while up there shows Jesus in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. “All this has been given to me and I can give it to anyone I chose. Worship me and it will all be yours.” Quite a statement, on a variety of levels. Worship is that important to the devil; worship, that activity that so many people blow off. Worship is so important to the devil that he is willing to give everything for it.
But the centerpiece is not the devil. It is God. And Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Power is not the end-game for Jesus. Faithfulness is.
As is the case whenever the Bible gives us a series of three it is the last one that is the clincher. Sure enough, the devil takes Jesus up to the top of the temple, the largest building of that area, and challenges him to jump off. The devil even cites Scripture, our reading for the day, the one that says that God will take care of the faithful so that their foot will not be dashed against a stone. It’s a line that Shakespeare was probably thinking about when he said, “Even the devil uses scripture to justify his purposes.”
Luke and Matthew have different orders of these last two temptations, and it’s interesting why they did that. But for now, we just look at Luke’s version and remember how important Jerusalem is to this whole story. The infant Jesus is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem for purification, the 12-year old Jesus talks with the teachers in Jerusalem, it is to Jerusalem that Jesus sets his face and never looks back. Jerusalem – the religious center, the place where Jesus would be crucified. And wouldn’t it be nice to take a short cut and avoid that messy crucifixion stuff and jump off the Temple and wow those adversaries, show off how you really are the Son of God, Jesus?
Do you get it? This temptation is the one that comes not just to Jesus but to every one of us. It is the temptation that says, ‘You are not enough. You are so ordinary. You are not enough to impress people just as you are, and that is so important. You are not old enough, you are not young enough, you are not good looking enough, you are not rich enough, you are not cool enough, you are not popular enough … You are not enough. So do something special. Do something spectacular. Do something that will show up all your enemies, put them in their place.’ How many of us live in our dream worlds where we can wow and impress by something spectacular that we wish we could do, by some incredible thing that we wish would happen to us. But there is no place in any of that for God’s grace.
Because God’s grace doesn’t exist in our imaginations. It exists as real life happens to us. It is there when things go well, but it is especially there when life breaks up all around us, when our feet get dashed by the stones of assorted tragedies. It exists when people think well of us, but it is particularly there when we do something dumb and it seems like no one wants to be near us. It exists as we live in the moment, with the reality and the embrace of what is and who we are. By God’s grace, we remember who we are, and we know we are enough.
Jesus sees that, and he responds with yet another verse from Deuteronomy: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Don’t dare God. Don’t do something stupid or reckless or harmful and think God will bail you out. Trust God. Remember who you are.
As we gather around the table we have all kinds of temptations to think this life is all about me, about us, about whether we do this or that. But with the story of Jesus’ temptations we recognize once again that God has entered into the fullness of human experience – complete with temptations and death – and has overcome them with a light that shines in any darkness we will know. May we eat this bread and drink this cup and remember who we are: A people claimed and called by a loving God, and trust that God will help us deal with any temptation we will ever know. Amen.