"Into Thine Hands..." © Sunny Miller, 2019 www.sunnymiller.us
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13
An overweight businessman decided it was time to shed some excess pounds. He took his new diet seriously, even changing his driving route to work to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he showed up at work with a gigantic coffee cake. Everyone in the office scolded him, but his smile remained nonetheless. "This is a special coffee cake," he explained. "I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt it was no accident, so I prayed, 'Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, let there be a parking spot open right in front. 'And sure enough, the eighth time around the block, there it was!"
 Illustration taken from eSermons.com.
Ah, temptation. How frequently it rears its ugly head. Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent and each year, as we enter this time of holy preparation for Easter, the story of Jesus’ temptation is our gospel reading for the day. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell of Jesus’ contest with the devil although each provides a slightly different nuance.
The manner in which Luke tells the story may cause us to reconsider our understanding of temptation. Like my opening illustration, we tend to think of temptation as situations in which we are presented with opportunities to indulge in decadent, immoral or inappropriate behaviors, opportunities that threaten to undo our individual will power or self-restraint. Many engage in the practice of giving something up for Lent as a way of strengthening this self-discipline and “fixing the moral compass.” But this morning, as we reflect on Luke’s version of the story, I’d like us to consider that the central issue surrounding temptation is something much greater and much more significant than willpower: it is the issue of trust – or, to use a more “churchy” word, faith. But where does trust come from? How do we develop a sense of trust?
Trust is incredibly important. And I would contend that trust is never an abstract concept. Trust must have a direct object. Trust is relational; grounded in a relationship that is reliable and dependable.
Did you know that – short of Smoky the Bear’s “only you can prevent forest fires,” the oldest, most-enduring American advertising campaign is Allstate’s “you’re in good hands.” It’s been the company’s slogan since the early 50’s. Although it doesn’t use the word “trust,” that’s clearly what it’s about. When an accident strikes, in a moment of crisis and uncertainty, we all want to be able to place out trust in someone or something that is reliable. We want to know that we’re in good hands, right? There’s a lot we can endure if we do, in fact, trust that we’re in good hands. This morning’s art by Sunny Miller captures this idea of trust.
The story of Jesus’ temptation is a story that reinforces this idea that trust is a relational concept. It is very much concerned with how we identify ourselves in relationship to others. Or, to put it more specifically: just what does it mean for Jesus to be the Son of God; to be defined in relationship to God? And what does it mean for us, as followers of Christ, to become children of God. The devil’s opening words (“if you are the Son of God) are a challenge to Jesus’ identity, right; his identity defined through his relationship to his heavenly Father? If Jesus is Son of God then what does that identity mean?
The gospel context, the verses that precede this morning’s story bring emphasis to this concept of “sonship.” In chapter 3, beginning at verse 21, we are told (very briefly) about the baptism of Jesus. After his baptism, Jesus is praying when the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends on him in the bodily form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the beloved.” The story of Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by a genealogy. Aren’t you glad I didn’t read that out loud? Nothing is more dull and monotonous than to listen to the recitation of some ancient genealogy with a bunch of names no one can pronounce… including your pastor. But what is worth noticing is that Luke’s genealogy begins with Jesus and works its way backward, tracing his ancestry all the way to the beginning of creation. These are the evangelist’s exact words in Luke 3:38: “son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.” And so it is significant that the devil’s opening words to Jesus are these: “If you are the Son of God…” I might suggest that, although it appears that making bread from a stone was Jesus’ first temptation, neither bread nor the other temptations that follow are as significant or as dangerous as this initial challenge: “If you are the Son of God.” All that Jesus would go on to do and to say throughout his ministry was a living out of his identity as God’s Son. As readers of Luke’s gospel it’s incredibly important for us to know that Jesus, unlike that first man Adam, knows what it means to live out his identity as God’s Son. And one thing, more than any other, is crucial to that identity: trust. Trust in Almighty God as his heavenly Father; trust in his own identity as beloved son.
Genesis, chapter 3, relays the story of the first man and woman in the garden and the temptation with which they wrestled. Their temptation was no more about eating fruit from a forbidden tree than Jesus’ temptation is about a loaf of bread. Neither of these temptations is really about food. The temptation for that first man and woman was to question God’s Word; to question whether or not God had their best interest in mind. Could God be trusted? God had only given them one rule. God had only forbidden one tree in a garden full of trees. But the words of the serpent tempted the woman to question God’s Word, to doubt God’s goodness, to doubt that God could be trusted. Likewise, the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years (not 40 days) found themselves walking in circles because they were stuck in a continual loop of mistrust and anxiety. They are children of the Lord their God, Moses reminds them. But they do not act like trusting children. Unlike Jesus, they question God’s ability and willingness to care for them in that harsh and rugged wilderness. They whine to Moses saying, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” They do not trust God to sustain them and provide for them. They are sure they will starve, accusing Moses: “for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” But Moses reminds them that their accusations are really brought against God. Moses is their fall guy, the employee standing at the counter in front of them. But, their real gripe is with the management. God, they are convinced, is not to be trusted.
So, this story of Jesus’ temptation serves to teach us what it means to be a child of God; what it means for us to live out our identity as beloved children of God. Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Many of you missed worship on the first Sunday of Epiphany due to the snow storm. But it was Baptism of our Lord Sunday and that day I began my sermon with the question “Who tells you who you are?” Baptism names us “child of God” and whether we choose to embrace or reject that identity makes all the difference in the world. On that Baptism of our Lord Sunday, we baptized Leah. Last Sunday, Jackie and Bernadette had Leah’s first birthday party here at the church. They opened Leah’s party up to all of you to attend… although, unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very cooperative. But nothing could have been more appropriate. It was a family birthday party here at our family home to celebrate the first birthday of our newest baby sister, Leah. Friends: it’s not the world’s job to tell us who we are; that’s the Church’s job. And Church tells us that our identity is beloved daughter/ beloved son of God. To live out that identity means to live from a place of trust.
Jesus lived by trust; not only during his time in the wilderness but throughout his ministry to the bitter end as he hung from the cross. He trusted in the faithful care of his heavenly Father. And, as followers of Christ, we become God’s beloved sons and daughters.
So this morning I would encourage you to ask yourself: where do I struggle to trust God’s care for me? Are there areas of my life where I don’t feel held in the trustworthy hands of God? And what practice or mindset do I need to take up or give up this Lent in order to trust more deeply in my sacred identity as God’s beloved child?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are much greater temptations in life than a delicious coffee cake. Far more threatening to us than sugar are those circumstances and occasions in life that cause us to doubt God’s willingness or ability to care for us. And sometimes it is hard. Sometimes the devil is hard at work in our lives and in the lives of the Church. He is an expert at planting seeds of worry and anxiety, self-doubt and self-loathing. Sometimes circumstances in our lives can become so disheartening, so discouraging that we may be tempted to wonder if God has forgotten about us, if he has abandoned us to simply wander aimlessly through the wilderness. But God never abandons us. Through the power of his Holy Spirit, he is always present with us. We can rest secure in the trustworthy hands of God.
The story is told of a house that caught fire one night. A young boy in the home panicked and, in an attempt to flee the flames, run upstairs instead of down. He stood on the top floor before an open window as the house became increasingly engulfed in flames. His father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame and smoke and the darkness of the night. As can be imagined, he was afraid to jump. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."
Sometimes it’s hard to trust in hands that we cannot see. But God is with us and God is trustworthy. My friends, Lent is a season that invites us to deepen our trust in God. It is a season to mature in our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters. Even when we journey through the wilderness, even when all we can see is the darkness of night, God is there. Trust in the Lord your God. Trust that you are God’s beloved child. You’re in good hands. Amen.
 See Genesis, chapters 2-3 (specifically, chapter 3, verses 1-7)
 Exodus 14:1
 Exodus 14:11
 Exodus 16:3b
 Exodus 16:8
 For examples, see John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:26; 4:6; 1 John 3:1; 5:2.
 Illustration taken from eSermons.com.
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