It is the first Sunday of Lent and the scripture readings are NOT MESSING AROUND. I mean, we are talking about temptation right away. This is the heart of the matter, right? It’s as if the committee that chooses these readings sat back and said “nah, let’s not go easy on them. Let’s start right in on temptation.” Sure, I mean, why not? I’m also a fan of holding Weight Watchers meetings at Golden Corral. So, let’s clear up a real quick misconception about this piece of scripture. The temptation (pun intended) is to read this scripture and think “I am tempted sometimes by things, maybe even by people, certainly by Satan. Jesus was tempted by Satan with bread and power and his identity was challenged. Jesus persevered and overcame his temptations. Therefore, I should be able to overcome and persevere my temptations. End of story.”
Wrong. That’s not how it works. Beloved, any time we may try and compare ourselves to Christ we’re going to come out looking not so great because we aren’t Christ. Jesus was, is, and will always be better at resisting and overcoming temptation than us. That’s because he is the son of God, literally. I also think sometimes we may not always know what to do with this scripture because we don’t know what to do with Satan. He’s not the most popular sermon topic. But, I assure you he is very real. The temptations he offers are very real. The sooner we start to put a name on evil and all the forces that defy God, the sooner we can renounce them and call him the liar he is. Get behind me Satan. Lastly, these temptations aren’t just about sneaking chocolate. This isn’t about minor indiscretions. I think Satan only comes for us when our souls are hungry for what we think can satisfy us and we go looking other places than God. We’re craving, we’re hungry, we get in desert moments, we start traveling with our eyes or hearts and don’t you know who’s going to show up every single time dangling shiny carrots in front of us but Satan? Here’s what scripture may not say today: if we take what Satan is offering, it’ll never be enough. Hear that again: if we take what Satan is offering, IT’LL NEVER BE ENOUGH.
We cave to temptation as individuals but how about as a church? You don’t think Satan would love to put a notch in his win column by recruiting an entire church? Now, if you don’t think that’s possible, I wish you could eavesdrop on conversations I hear or am a part of. It’s an interesting cycle of fear, abundance and/or scarcity, mixed with tradition and modernity. And at the center of the cycle, in charge of the three ring circus (it should come as no surprise) is Satan himself. So the conversations usually sound something like this “we need more of ‘these’ type of people in our church.” Now, “these” types of people can vary, depending on your situation. Sometimes it’s young people, families, people of color, LGBTQ people or whatever you’d like to fill in the blank with. This desire usually arises out of the abundance of something needing to be done (people to take over those jobs that have been done by the same people for the last 65 years) or scarcity (if we don’t get them in the doors, we’re going to have to close). In order to get these people in the doors of the church, we might have to change a bit (thanks, modernity) to accommodate like with a new worship time, some flexible seating, ooh! A band! But then what about the organ, our liturgy, and our traditions. And at the center of these conversations is Satan, spinning the rings of temptation, flashing the ways we can be just like the newest, biggest, most awesomest church down the street instead of staying steadfast in who we are and who God called us to be. That shiny carrot looks awfully tempting.
At the root of temptation is the question of identity. Are you, are we, willing to put aside our core identity for whatever Satan is offering? It’s not just with the church example I gave, it’s with every temptation. Satan dangles something, someone, we could be right in front of us. We could be that. We could make more money, but at what cost to our personal health? We could have a different job but at what cost to our relationships? We could have a relationship, but at what cost to our morals? Jesus knew his identity; we were just told it last week: beloved son. We are that too: beloved children of God. Do we trust in that identity enough to turn away from the temptations and rest assured in who God created us to be? And look, I get it. Giving into certain temptations can feel good…temporarily. Because remember, whatever Satan is offering will never be enough. We will never and can never be satisfied with whatever Satan is offering.
Maybe what Jesus is trying to communicate with us and the disciples today is this: you are enough. We are enough. Just as we are, we are enough. You are created in God’s image. We were all created in God’s image. And it’s enough. Sure, it’s totally fine and very normal to want to shine brighter, be better, bolder, whatever. And there are ways to do that with the help of God. But remember, the “brighter” that Satan offers fades, and quickly. The “faster” that Satan offers eventually slows down. The “bigger” that Satan offers isn’t always better. What you are is enough. What we have is enough. We come from God and we will return to God. Maybe this Lent if you are tempted, it will be by this: to allow yourself to be loved, just as you are; to claim your identity as a child of God without apology; to receive grace without flinching; to rest knowing you don’t have to do it all (and really, you can’t); to come to the table with a hunger for justice and righteousness; and to remember your baptismal promises that you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, forever. Remember that if you are tempted, you will not be alone. Christ is with you. The company of angels surround you. The Holy Spirit will guide you. Satan hasn’t won yet. You are enough. We are enough. Get behind me, Satan.