Sermon: Temptation and Myopia (Luke 4:1-13)

The Monday after the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, three days after, I went to a big clergy meeting at the Newtown Congregational Church to pray for the community and to learn how we might help. 

Only a few folks will remember, but in the next couple of weeks after that, our church supplied lunch on two different days for disaster relief workers and others who were hands on helpers in the community, which was greatly appreciated.  

I think Chip Evans prepared a hot meal here in the church kitchen, and Barbara did a pasta salad.  

Tony Izzi drove it up in the church van.  

We were blessed in some ways that we knew how to do that.  

In addition to Chip, who was a professional chef, it turned out that our years of doing monthly meals at Pacific House—the scale of that kind of meal prep and transport, having the right equipment to transport it—had trained us well.

Even if that hadn’t been the case, I’m sure we would have figured it out. 

We were honored to do it—glad, really, that there was something concrete, some form of showing our care, that we were in a position to offer. 

From what I read later, not all the help that the Newtown church received turned out to be helpful. 

For example, in the next few weeks, they would receive no fewer than 65,000 teddy bears—1000 of them life sized.  

That sort of thing often happens in disasters.  

After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, one national retailer with the best of intentions donated 40,000 ladies’ belts; and in Haiti after the earthquake, another company donated 10 entire shipping containers of refrigerators, which depend on electricity, which they didn’t have, and which had the wrong style plug even if they had.  

In some cases, our deep desire to help people—to get things moving—outpaces our understanding of what is actually most helpful, or what a community’s needs truly are.  

Our desire to do something – to do anything – can be almost a kind of panic, and perhaps, if we’re honest, it may be more about us than about them.

There can be such a world of difference between reacting to something that happens and truly responding to it, can’t there? 

II.

It bears mention this morning because in our Gospel passage, it seems like the Devil is hoping to push Jesus into reacting.  

He seems to arrive well into the 40 days, when Jesus has been out there for a while.  

The hunger, the loneliness, the boredom, the full range of emotions we encounter when we are well and truly by ourselves for a bit—all these have had their say.  

Maybe other things have had their say, too.  

I wonder if Jesus heard the voices of his past as he was out there, ostensibly to prepare for his future. 

Mark and Matthew’s gospels both describe a moment sometime after these 40 days, when Jesus would return home and preach in the synagogue in Nazareth, only to have his neighbors audibly whispering things like, “Who is this?  Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”

Their disbelief speaks volumes, and surely this is not for the very first time.  

And so perhaps before he encounters the presence of the Tempter, Jesus has had an extended period to hear the voices of his old neighbors, and it has taken almost everything in him to claim the strength to love them as himself.  

He’s worn out. 

I’m told that in AA, they teach you to be particularly attentive to, and careful with yourself when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. 

They use the acronym HALT to keep it close at hand.  HALT—hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.  

These are important to keep track of because they are so often behind the temptation to throw away sobriety.  

They are so often a precursor to our own reactivity.  

Jesus is not on the program, of course, but it seems likely that after so long in the wilderness, he is all of those things, hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, and so perhaps it is no surprise that the Devil arrives.  

“Wouldn’t you like to show them all, Jesus?”

“Wouldn’t people change their tune if they knew who they were really dealing with?”

“Wouldn’t it be great to get somewhere with changing the world?”

For a moment, it seems as if the very power of God to transform the world might be turned Satanic—or at least, so Satan seems to be hoping.  

Satan seems to put great faith in reactivity.  

III.

But to no avail.  

Jesus may be worn thin as an old sandal, but he doesn’t react. 

Instead, he responds.  

The Devil makes him an offer, and then another, and then another, and each time, Jesus refuses, always quoting Scripture.  

There’s nothing especially remarkable about the texts he chooses to do that, although they are a propos.  

But it’s not as if he pulls out the Ten Commandments, or Genesis 1, or something really juicy from the Prophets.  

You know, the big guns.  

Jesus isn’t out to clobber anybody, not even Satan, at least in this instance.  

He doesn’t have to.  

Because even in this moment when he’s run ragged and stretched so thin, Jesus remains rooted in God.  

He knows he is still living a life under God—even in God—which is just to say that he is capable of remembering that who he is and what he does are playing out on a much bigger stage than just some abandoned corner of the wilderness. 

That, of course, is just what the Tempter wants him to forget. 

Temptation usually isn’t some sort of deliberate choice to do evil. 

More often, it’s what happens when someone decides that doing good—and being good—no longer matter and maybe never did.

Nobody cares.  

It’s a kind of myopia.      

In the hard moments when we ask ourselves, “who cares?” temptation in some form can seem like an answer.  

But that’s not where Jesus is. 

Instead, for all the challenges of the wilderness, he finds strength and sustenance, hope and new horizons.

He knows that even when he struggles, he remains in the sight of God, and this strengthens him to live beyond his immediate moment.

He remembers that God cares, and in that, he can rise to the occasion rather than sink to Satan’s level.  

It gives him the capacity to respond rather than react.  

IV.

The churches of our tradition did not used to observe Lent. 

There are many reasons, some of them more about being purposefully un-Catholic than intentionally Protestant. 

A somewhat better line of thinking was simply that prayer, self-discipline, and spiritual groundedness, not to mention avoiding temptation, were how Christians are called to live for 365 days a year, not just 40.  

And yet, I think it’s been good for us to embrace this particular season.  

It’s good because we still struggle with moments when it seems as if nobody cares. 

There are still so many occasions when it seems as if being good and doing good no longer matter and maybe never did.  

Even our best and most generous intentions can be misdirected, like those 65,000 teddy bears descending on Newtown, which were testament to a nation’s immediate grief rather than its commitment to journey with that community and to pursue the longer, harder work of healing.  

Lent calls us to look within ourselves so that we can learn to see beyond ourselves.  

It reminds us that God cares about what we do and about who we are, and in that, it makes it possible for us to be people who face temptation and rise again.  

Amen.  

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