Message for Lent 1 on Matthew 4:1-11 on Feb. 25, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas
Our theme for Lent is Traveling Light. Today we are talking about Letting go of Anxiety. I wonder if advertisers would have any success at all at selling us stuff we don’t need if we did not all have anxiety?
Anxiety about having enough, earning enough, knowing enough, looking good enough, appearing young enough, being comfortable enough, feeling safe enough, being fun enough, living long enough, being fit enough, exercising power enough…and we could go on….
What gets your anxiety churning and feeling that who you are is not enough? I have a Bag of Anxiety products here (didn’t the Apostle Paul say something about being a fool for Christ?).
• Here’s a “one-drop re-wind”- I bought this at the beginning of the pandemic when I thought, “I am on video all the time now, I have got to do something about this neck! Doesn’t work.
• This cream wasn’t any better the anti-wrinkle cream I already use—and neither was this one, or this one, this one!
• This hair oil I used to regrow bald spots from chemo and prevent thinning hair-it stunk to high heaven and gave me a migraine.
• These contour pads have been in my drawer since we lived in St. Louis—I think they were for these mud flaps growing under my arms—now I just say, “God is getting a head start on my angel wings.”
• This book, “Lagom” is about the Swedish way of living with relaxed joy—I’ve read one page.
• My oncologist told me I had to keep my weight low, so I couldn’t just do that with healthy diet and exercise, so I took these Burn pills, and they made me jitter like crazy.
Whatever it is, this kind of anxiety weighs us down, causes self-doubt and inner turmoil. Anxiety can cause us to scramble after things that do not give meaning while closing us off to opportunities that do.
Anxiety produces a never-ending upward spiral, but there’s never an arrival platform, a ta-dah where our everyone says, “well you’ve got it, you’ve arrived!”
There’s always a “you need this fitness shake (skinny greens, anyone?), these 5 steps to write your book and make a million dollars life hack.”
It’s an illusion that we can do it all ourselves if we just have the right stuff. It’s hard to travel light through life and believe we are enough, with all this going around us and in our head.
The devil shows up in the wilderness as a salesman par excellence where Jesus, having fasted for 40 days, does not have enough of anything. Jesus has reason to be rife with anxiety.
• Jesus is famished—he does not have enough or ANY comfort or food or sustenance.
• Jesus is alone—he does not have enough or ANY companionship, support, help or influence.
• Jesus is depleted—he does not exercise any power that he does have to relieve his earthly circumstances.
Such an opportune time for the devil to swoop in and say, “have I got a deal for you! You can solve all your problems—You’ve got the power, Jesus! You can do this yourself! You don’t need God."
#1 “Turn these stones to bread—you’ve gone 40 days without food, and I can see your ribs, Jesus! Have a little bread—You’re never going to have a comfortable life…do more with your power…take the bread and run…”
Jesus doesn’t bite.
#2 “Hey Jesus, God promised to take care of you, so let’s have a show—you throw yourself of the pinnacle of the temple, the angels will rescue you—then you can get a book deal! My Brush with Death and the Angels Who Rescued Me. I could get you on all the major news outlets (GNN Galilee News Network!) You didn’t get any followers or Likes with that Jordan river baptism stunt; you need more influence to succeed, …
But, Jesus does not want to take on the devil’s role and test God, so again he takes a pass.
#3 “Hey Jesus, maybe you would use your power if you just had more of it? Imagine all the kingdoms of the world –all belonging to you –just worship me instead of God! Talk about power and status—look at the Romans—you need to achieve more power if you’re going to succeed against them!”
Jesus has all the reasons in the world to be filled with anxiety, to feel like who he is and what he has is truly not enough, and to give in to all three of these temptations to take more, be more, to use his power more, yet he does not do it.
Was it because unlike us, he was free from worry and anxiety? I doubt it—other Bible stories show Jesus sharing our human experience—weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, distraught over Jerusalem like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing, praying for the cup of crucifixion to be passed from him in the Garden of Gethsemane. I imagine Jesus was plenty anxious, exhausted, starving and depleted when those temptations came.
But none of that changed or overpowered his true identity and connection with God. Just before the Spirit led him into the wilderness, he was Baptized, and the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit landed on him and God said. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” God said, “you are mine, I love you. Your identity is in being my child. I am with you. I will not forsake you.”
No amount of bread, power, angels, attention, influence, or glory could be more meaningful, more deeply satisfying, or longer lasting than being Beloved in the eyes of God, his father. In knowing his identity. In being clear on who he is. In being intimately connected to the Creator.
The devil failed because he tempted Jesus to achieve and to strive for what he already had—his identity and relationship with God already provides all the sustenance, all the love, all the power, identity, and relationship that mattered.
Jesus already has everything he needed—he has nothing to prove, nothing more to gain, nothing more he truly craved, nothing to accomplish or achieve apart from his relationship with God. He knows Who he was and Whose he was, so in that sense, what the devil offers aren’t really temptations at all.
So, with each of the devil’s enticements, Jesus comes back to his relationship with God—and he does that by quoting Scripture passages that keep him grounded in his identity as a beloved child of God. And as he does this, the anxiety, the lure of the temptations fade into the background and the devil disappeared. The temptations cannot offer him anything he does not already have from God.
The most amazing thing is, Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his ministry before he has healed anyone and or done anything big for God. He is not loved by God as a reward, after resisting the temptations of the devil—he is loved before ever going into the wilderness. Jesus does not do anything to deserve God’s love. He is beloved first—a priori love! Jesus received this pure, beloved, embrace of God unconditionally, and he believes it, he soaks it up, he survives the wilderness wrapped in love and identity as God’s child, and so can we.
You are God’s Beloved Son. You are God’s Beloved Daughter.
You are beloved by God who made you—pure and simple—loved from the beginning—a priori love and grace. You are loved not as a reward or because you have earned it or deserve it, but simply because God made you and says, “you are mine, Child of God.”
This is your identity. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else is needed. We too, have everything we need—God’s absolute love for us—so we have nothing to prove to God or anyone else. When we are grounded in Who we and Whose we are, we can let go of this anxiety about not being enough, having enough, doing enough, achieving enough, and with Jesus, we accept God’s complete and absolute love for us.
It does not matter our size or shape our bank account or status. To God and to us, you are enough. You are a Beloved Child, and God cherishes a relationship with you.
Our children who sang for us are the best example of how to live our identity as a child of God. They are content to simply be the child of their parent—this is who they are and whose they are. The only reference point of their identity.
While in seminary, before I had kids, I went to the park with my friend John and his daughter 4 year old daughter, Mara. She was standing on the platform of the jungle gym and we stood their talking. Without saying a word, she just leaned forward in a trust fall toward her dad, John noticed and caught her in her arms, and he looked at me and said, “that’s trust.”
That’s the image for us of falling into complete trust in our identity as a child—a child of God, whom we trust to catch us as we let go of our anxieties, and the temptation to achieve what we already have in God—acceptance, peace, provision, love. I invite your daily mantra this week to be “I am beloved child of God.” Say it with me. “I am beloved child of God.” How does it feel to breathe this in and let it be enough in your life, that you are beloved child of God? Practice letting it be enough this week.
This is why God sent Jesus, after all, so we can trust-fall into his arms—so we would know that faith is about relationship with a God who loves us.
Every week, God’s love for us comes in the shape of bread and wine, forgiveness and community in Jesus Christ, who defeated the devil and temptation FOR us and rose victorious, so we can let go of our anxiety and live out of our identity in God.
And when we come to this table God says, ta-dah! Beloved child, I am so glad you came to feast on love and forgiveness! Go from here traveling light, trust-falling into my love knowing who you are and whose you are.
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