Sunday, February 14, 2016
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
[Luke 4:13 NRSV]
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. It also happens to be Valentine’s Day. And for good measure, throw in the fact that February 14, the Church also commemorates Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavs. I will also remember this day because on this date in 2010, I celebrated my second baptism at my old parish, The Lutheran Church of the Covenant, in Maple Heights, Ohio. It was Transfiguration Sunday. On a personal and secular note, nine years ago on this day we closed on our current home.
But the first Sunday in Lent in the Luke cycle (Year C in the lectionary) is most memorable because the Gospel reading for this Sunday contains one of my favorite episodes in all of Scripture.
The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness takes place immediately after his baptism. During my times as a parish pastor it became nearly an obsession with me to point this out to parents who brought their children to our church for baptism thinking that once they are baptized, everything is going to be easy. It is much the same with many who come to the Christians faith as adults. They think that once they come to faith in Christ all will be well. God tells us through this temptation story that quite the opposite is true. That is exactly when the Devil goes into attack mode. The Evil One strikes us sometimes at the very moment that we consider we are doing something very noble, and spiritual.
The New Revised Standard Version of Luke 4:13 ends this reading with the words: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
An opportune time. I was captivated by those words upon hearing a recorded sermon by the late Peter Gomes, the Minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, nearly 20 years ago. It was Gomes’ sermon which first made me notice that even though Jesus got the better of the devil in that confrontation in the wilderness, the devil didn’t give up, but kept resurfacing. Jesus’ temptation did not end in the wilderness. It was just the beginning. He showed up again at Gethsemane when he “entered into Judas Iscariot [Luke 22:3].” The 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, illustrates this vividly.
Likewise, the devil continues to show up to confront us. Lent is a good time, an opportune time if you will, for that to be pointed out to us. Lent is, after all, about discipline and obedience. Jesus obeyed God and resisted Satan. Jesus’ encounter with the devil is an excellent model to guide us in our constant struggle with sin and evil.
In the shadow of that cross we make our way through these 40 days, recognizing who we are and what we are—sinners who stand in need of God’s grace and forgiveness and the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters.
Merciful God, as we begin our 40-day journey of Lent, help us to follow you into the wilderness. Encourage us daily to move from lives of self-centeredness to lives of service. Inspire us to fast, to deny our false luxury, to refuse the ways of self-indulgence, to avoid success at all cost. May your Spirit lead us, that we may follow you. Amen.