Today the flowers on the altar are given in part by Tracey Fatzinger and Greg Parker in celebration of their wedding anniversary. This week Tracey and Greg are celebrating twenty-four years of marriage since that day they held one another’s hands and promised their life to one another, and among the many unexpected blessings they will give thanks for are their two intelligent, beautiful children – blessings they could never have imagined all those years ago, on the day they were married.
In the months leading up to each wedding ceremony that I serve as pastor for, I invite the couple to attend four sessions of marriage counseling. We typically meet here at the church in my office and after we’ve all sat down and visited a bit, I always begin by asking the couple to tell me the story of what has brought them to this decision in their lives.
Some couples tell the entire story of their courtship, and sometimes their telling of the story includes the actual proposal – and they will tell me who asked who, and what the response was; what they were feeling at that moment they first said YES to each other – that moment at which they both said in some form or fashion, “I promise to share my life you forever.”
But that YES that couples say to each other, when they promise their lives to one another, is also a NO. Or perhaps its more-fair to say that their YES to one another is a NO to a myriad of other things, many of which they may have enjoyed in the past.
Their YES to one another is also a NO to leaving for the weekend without having to tell anyone what they’re up to, it’s a NO to doing whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it, it’s a NO to other potential partners, and it’s a NO to spending money however they like without consulting one another.
The things that these spouses-to-be say NO to aren’t necessarily bad things, but they can’t say YES to them anymore because they’ve said YES to one another.
Out in the wilderness, Jesus says NO to the devil because he has already said YES to God.
The first temptation laid out before Jesus by the devil is this: will you desert God for bread? Certainly, bread is not bad! Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed food to eat! He became exactly like us except for our sin – hunger and all! Certainly, God provided bread for the Israelites in the wilderness and after all, later on in Luke’s gospel, Jesus will turn two fish and a few loaves into bread for five thousand people, which is at least something similar to what the devil is asking Jesus to do.
But Jesus can read the devil’s intentions: He knows that the devil is a slanderer and an accuser. And this becomes even more clear with the devil’s second offer: the devil invites Jesus to desert God for power of his own and to commit idolatry. The devil only asks Jesus to bow low and worship him, and turn his back on the Lord God.
But Jesus reminds the devil of the first commandment, on which all the others rest: Worship the Lord God only and serve only him.
So finally, the devil, giving it one more shot, asks Jesus: will you ask God to do your will rather than you seeking his will? But Jesus refuses and so the devil leaves Jesus until a more favorable time.
Jesus could say NO to these tests because he had said YES to God.
And really, these three temptations are all the same, as all temptations are the same.
Jesus was tempted with bread, then power, and then control, but at each turn the real underlying temptation was for Jesus to put his hope in something other than God.
This is always the temptation, from the garden when Adam and Eve take the bite of fruit hoping that it will put them on even footing with God…to the people of Israel in the wilderness who complain against God believing if they were calling the shots all the wilderness wandering we be going more smoothly…to us who don’t really trust God to take care of us and often believe we’ll have better luck if we take care of things on our own.
Maybe the things that Jesus was tempted by are the things that tempt us…maybe we’re tempted by food, or power, or control. Or maybe we’re tempted more by wealth and status… our maybe its our own comfort and pleasure… or maybe a carefree life of drifting from one cool new experience to another taking pictures along the way so we can post them on facebook and make everyone jealous, which will bring more approval and acceptance from others, which is what we may very well desire most of all.
These temptations get dressed up in different clothes – but whatever the form – is always the same. The temptation that comes from outside of us and acts on us is the temptation to find our identity in something else or someone else other than the God revealed to us by a suffering Jesus on the cross.
Maybe this story about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil seems fanciful and unreal or mythological, what with the devil speaking to Jesus in person, face-to-face, and whisking Jesus around from place to place in an instant like some archaic version of a Christmas Carol and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future — but what is more real than temptation?
Jesus knew real temptation. And what’s more-true about this life than knowing the difference between right and wrong and finding ourselves unable to choose to do what’s right?
We experience it every day. Its easier to tell a little white lie –or a big one for that matter – than face the uncomfortable truth, its easier to be mad at someone rather than to see where our own decisions contributed to the problem, its easier to look the other way than to get involved in the hard work of making our community stronger, its easy to choose the path that both major political parties in our country have chosen and which has brought us to this long cold stalemate, which is to believe that the ends justify the means and its okay to do or say the wrong thing if it brings about some envisioned greater good.
We are tempted daily. And we fail daily. By our actions we show that we love ourselves more than others, we love things more than people, and we love control more than compassion.
But when Jesus is tempted, he says, “We do not live by bread alone…power…or control, “but we live instead by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Jesus faced all these temptations we face and said NO to them, because he had already said YES to God.
And in our baptism, we are joined to Christ and God says YES to us.
God says YES to us and calls us his own. God says YES to us and promises faithfulness to us. God says YES to us and promises he’ll never leave us. And because in every YES there is a NO, in baptism God also says NO: God says NO to punishing us for our failing. God says NO to cutting us loose and leaving us on our own. God says NO to giving us what we deserve.
Every time we celebrate a baptism we hear an echo of this very wilderness scene.
The baptismal party – the family of the infant – or the adult, if an adult is being baptized, is asked three questions to which they are to respond NO and three to which they are invited to respond YES.
They are asked to say NO to the devil and all the forces that defy God, NO to the powers of this world that rebel against God, and NO to the ways of sin that draw us away from God.
And they are asked to say NO to these things… so that they can say YES when they are asked: Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
Within every YES there is a NO and within every NO there is a YES.
As a congregation we help one another say YES to God and help one another say NO to the things that would hurt us, or hurt one another, and lead us away from God. We live together in partnership trusting that once and for all God has said YES to us in welcome and unconditional love.
Every year on the first Sunday in Lent, the church hears this story – the story of the Holy Spirit leading Jesus out into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
Even before the cross of Good Friday and empty tomb of Easter that are to come, we are able to see that the devil, darkness, and sin, which have their way with us on a daily basis, have no power over Jesus.
Jesus defeats all these dark powers because of the YES he has said eternally to God, and he takes our hand and leads us through the wilderness into that YES of God in which he lives. He leads us on this journey that begins with ashes and leads to life.
Thanks be to God.