Lectionary blog for Feb. 17, 2013
First Sunday in Lent
Text: Luke 4:1-13
Have you ever noticed that when someone behaves in an outrageous or improper or, most often, horribly rude manner, the first thing people say is:
“Well, just who do you think you are?”
That is the right question. Who we think we are shapes how we think we are entitled or obliged to behave.
And the Bible shows us that Satan knew this.
That is why he challenged Jesus on the point of identity in this Gospel lesson.
The key to understanding the story of the temptations lies in the three little words: If you are.
In Luke 3:22b, following Jesus’ baptism, a voice comes from heaven and says,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
And here just a few days later, the devil says,
“If you are the Son of God.”
Satan presents Jesus with the opportunity to define what it means to be the Son of God.
He is given the opportunity to win popularity by turning stones into bread, feeding the masses and feeding his ego at the same time.
He is given the opportunity to achieve great power by worshiping the devil and turning his back on trusting God to provide.
He is given the opportunity to achieve great fame by throwing himself off the temple and showing himself to be God’s Chosen One by letting the angels catch him.
These temptations invite Jesus to imitate the emperors in Rome who secured power by giving the people free food and free entertainment, winning their favor with bread and gladiators.
The temptations with which Jesus was faced are the very ones that we, you and I, fall victim to on a regular, I would almost say, daily basis.
In subtle ways we seek popularity or power or possessions in order to hedge our bets against the uncertainty of the world.
After all, we live in an age in which disturbed young people walk into schools armed with assault weapons and shoot innocent 6-year-olds; where stock markets plunge and housing prices fall; where wars rage and tornados strike and hurricanes threaten to blow us all away.
A little control over our own lives and a bit of money securely invested, what’s wrong with that?
The problem is: The things the Devil wanted Jesus to do as the Son of God are selfish and self-serving and ultimately self-glorifying.
And Jesus rejected them because being centered on self is inconsistent with being the Christ, the Beloved, the Son of God, the one sent to save others.
It was during the 40 days in the wilderness that Jesus struggled with what it meant to be the Son of God.
When he became clear about that identity, he came out of the wilderness and began to preach the kingdom of God and to perform mighty acts of healing and exorcism.
In the 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus became certain of who he was and came forth ready to behave in accord with his identity.
When Jesus knew who he was, the question of what he was to do was already answered.
To be the Christ, the Son of God, laid out for him a path to follow, a way of being in the world that led to certain things to do: Preaching. Healing. Confronting evil.
Throughout these 40 days of Lent we are called to contemplate the life of Jesus, his path of service and obedience to God, his living out his identity as the Son of God.
As we do that, we must ask ourselves some identity questions, personally and congregationally.
Who am I? Who am I, really? And what is God calling me to do?
Who are we? Who are we, the church in all its expressions, really? And what is God calling us to do?
I know I am a rostered leader in the ELCA. But what does that mean, now, in 2013, and in the place where I presently serve? What am I to do?
It is an important question, and the answer will shape your life.
Likewise, as congregations, as a synod, as a denomination, as a community of faith, we struggle with identity questions.
Who are we, really?
Are we a gathering of like-minded people, who share a preference for a certain form of theology and worship?
If so, then the things we do should be designed to provide for our survival, to take care of ourselves.
Or are we a people whom God has called together to be the Body of Christ, as Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism: Called, gathered, empowered and sent?
Called to be Christians, gathered around word and sacrament, empowered by the Holy Spirit, sent into the world to spread the love of God.
If that is who we are (and I believe it is) then the things we do will be designed to care for the world, for others.
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness struggling with the question of identity, struggling to discover what it meant to be the Son of God.
Throughout the 40 days of Lent, we are called to do the same.
We must ask ourselves, if we are the beloved children of God, what is God calling us to do?
Sisters and brothers, I ask you: just WHO do you think you are?
Amen and amen.
- Can you think of a time when you knew what God was calling you to do?
- Who do you think you are?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.