Message for Lent 1 on Matthew 4:1-11 given on Sunday, March 1, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
Have you noticed that we do not feel temptations when we feel strong, confidant, capable, and in healthy relationships? No, temptation and testing happen when we are at our weakest—when we are vulnerable, going through transition, full of doubt, riddled with insecurity, questioning our purpose, or feeling unworthy.
Perhaps you have heard of checking in with yourself using the HALT method: H–Hungry; A–Angry; L–Lonely; T–Tired. These are the times we are likely to give in to temptation and do things we will regret later. It could be anything from losing our temper, impulse buying, over-eating, controlling others’ behavior, not exercising, having that 2nd, 3rd or 4th drink, saying something we shouldn’t, getting into others’ business—you get the idea. Perhaps we all have a “go-to” behavior when we are “hangry” (hungry and angry) as my daughter calls it, plus lonely or tired. It is so easy to give in to an immediate comfort, or to release steam rather than take care of the real, normal human needs we have underneath.
The devil certainly seems to be going after Jesus when he is at his weakest. He is testing Jesus with everything he’s got at the worst possible moment. If Jesus took the HALT test – he would come up with red flags everywhere:
Hungry—Jesus has not eaten in 40 days. I have hard time fasting for 1 meal, so I can’t imagine 40 days. Severe symptoms of starvation start around 35-40 days, so suffice it to say, Jesus was mad hungry.
Angry—The Holy Spirit leads him out to the wilderness. Jesus was just baptized and is supposed to be starting his ministry, and now he’s got to spend over a month fasting and fighting off the demons and wild animals of the wilderness? I would be more than a little angry if it were me.
Lonely—No doubt. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else around until the devil shows up. Jesus finally has someone to talk with and this is the companion he gets?
Tired—Forty days without food in the wilderness would wear anybody out—I would imagine Jesus is just exhausted at the end of this ordeal.
So, of course, this is when temptation comes. The devil tests him—not with just any old garden-variety wiles, but with temptations that look particularly good—ones that would solve his predicament pretty quickly. Jesus could satisfy all of his own needs himself and give up relying on God.
• Jesus could solve his hunger with some immediate bread
• Jesus wouldn’t feel so lonely if just one or two angels would show up for a dramatic rescue
• Jesus could get a sense of self and power back, eliminating his anger at being led out into the wilderness if he just worships the devil a little bit so he can possess all the kingdoms of the world
• surely all of this would give him an energy boost and he would not be so darn tired after this wilderness ordeal
Jesus could put a HALT to the Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired situation that the devil has so convincingly put before him. But, like all temptations, Jesus sees that they may satisfy for the moment, but they are fleeting—they will not deeply satisfy any needs of his for the long haul, not for the journey of ministry, nor for the stretch of eternity—none of which he can do if he gives up now on relying on God.
How does Jesus resist this even in his weakened state? I prayed about this very question, and the answer I received was surprisingly simple. Just before Jesus is sent into the wilderness he was Baptized—the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit alights on him and God speaks up with a very important testimony. God told him God loved him. God said, “This is my beloved son. You are loved, you are mine, I love you.
No amount of bread, power, angels, attention or glory could be more meaningful, more deeply satisfying, or longer lasting than being Beloved in the eyes of God, his father. Jesus already had everything he needed—he had nothing to prove, nothing more to gain, nothing more he truly craved. In his human form, Jesus had God-sized hole in heart, and it was already filled with love. This love sustained him while he felt physically hungry and tired, and emotionally angry and lonely.
The funny thing is, Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his ministry but he has not healed anyone and has not done anything big for God. He was not loved by God as a reward, after resisting the temptations of the devil—he was loved before ever going into the wilderness. He did not do anything to deserve God’s love. He was beloved at the beginning—a priori love! Jesus received this pure, beloved, embrace of God unconditionally, and he believed it, he soaked it up, he survived the wilderness wrapped in love, and so can we.
We all have God-sized hole in our heart that only God can fill. It is hard to believe and difficult to receive because we know deep down that we do not deserve God’s love—that’s the point though, isn’t it? We do not deserve it. Jesus did not earn it either—we are in the same baptismal boat as Jesus. We are just beloved by God—pure and simple—loved from the beginning—a priori love and grace. We too, have everything we need—God’s absolute love for us—so we have nothing to prove to God or anyone else. And when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired—we forget and think that our favorite food will fill that God-sized hole in our heart, or alcohol, or money, or trying harder, or the perfect relationship, or a bigger house, or like Adam and Eve—the perfect apple, or more knowledge, or the next internet guru life coach, but then we come here and we remember. We remember it’s all about God’s complete love for us—which comes in the shape of bread and wine, forgiveness and peace and community in Jesus Christ, who defeated the devil and temptation FOR us.
There is a Cherokee legend about the rite of passage when a young teenage boy becomes a man. His father takes him into the woods and blindfolds him. The boy has to sit through the night blindfolded for twelve hours alone in the wilderness. He hears the wolves howl, the bear tread nearby, and all the terrifying sounds of the night around him for the entire night alone. When he survives the night and removes his blindfold, and he sees his father, who has been sitting nearby, keeping watch over his beloved son.
You are God’s beloved son or daughter. Take a minute throughout your day during Lent and breathe in a daily meditation, “I am God’s beloved child.” Pick up a hand-held prayer cross or a Lenten devotional as a daily reminder this Lent that already have all you need. When our deeper longings are satisfied by how much God loves us, take notice of how that shapes your day—
• we need less approval from others,
• we don’t need to get in the last word,
• we can bypass whatever indulgence tempts us away from relying on God’s love as our source of all we need
• we can let go and let God manage other people instead of us,
• we can relax our fear about tomorrow, what the future holds and put it in God’s hands
• we can HALT and take care of our real needs in healthy ways without guilt.
The Beatles were right, All You Need is Love—all we need is God’s love. Nothing else will satisfy like God’s boundless, unmerited, powerful, all-encompassing, ever-living, everlasting love.