Grace and peace are yours from the Triune God. Amen.
Our Gospel reading today features the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. But to frame this story, let’s first flip back a page.
If we reread the last few verses of Chapter 3, we see that this tense story of Jesus facing down the devil, is directly preceded by a story with a completely different tone and focus. You see, in Matthew 3, Jesus is baptized. We meet him in Chapter 3, not in the desert, but in the water…There he is, in the River Jordan, with a radiant light beaming down…droplets still dripping off of his garments…and a voice from Heaven echoing, “This is my Son, my beloved. With him, I am well pleased.”
It is directly after hearing this voice “This is my Son, my beloved,” that Jesus is sent off into the desert to encounter another voice. A voice that, instead of shimmering with light, slithers like a snake, “Turn this stone into bread. Throw yourself off the temple. Bow down and worship me.”
The interesting thing about the voice from Heaven in the River Jordan, is that when God is literally beaming with pride over who Jesus is, Jesus has not yet even officially begun his ministry. God is pleased with Jesus and loves Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection, before miracles and healings. Before Jesus really DOES anything.
The voice of the accuser, in contrast, is a bottomless, gaping pit of darkness, and greed. It tells Jesus, and it tells us, “Who you are is not enough.”
It’s not enough that God has claimed you and called you beloved. It’s not enough. Produce more. Do more. Be more. And the adversary then tempts Jesus to use his power for personal glory and gain.
There are a lot of voices telling who we are. Our bosses and teachers, our friends and families, politicians, advertisements. And so the question is: which voice are you going to listen to?
And this is where it gets tricky, because the devil is crafty. And the voices of darkness in our midst have so often stolen the language that was originally intended to give life, and appropriated it and misused it to the point that it feels like a weapon of violence and death. That’s what Satan did in the desert. When Satan was luring Jesus with whispered promises of glory and fame, the voice was hissing, “It is written….”. Satan was using scripture to tell Jesus that being “God’s beloved” was not enough.
The church too has made this mistake before. We have taken scripture and twisted it, to tell people that they need fixing before they can be a part of God’s family. We have sinned when we have perpetuated this lie that “those people” are not good enough. And when we infect our communities with this lie, we can even start to believe it ourselves. We can forget that God has already loved us and deemed us worthy. We can forget that we are enough. And so we need a safe space, a season, a time carved out to be reminded.
Lent is a season of remembering “enoughs.” We take on Lenten disciplines to remind ourselves that we are enough, we have enough, that God is enough. That even if the bills are piling up and anxiety is mounting, that in the face of any calamity and despite whatever we are lacking, we can rest in the knowledge of this truth: We belong to God. And that is our true identity. Not what we produce, not what we do. Not how pious or holy we are. Not our salaries, not our social status, not our church attendance, no. Our true identity is that the God of all creation ripped open Heaven to come down to Earth, and with a voice that echoes throughout the ages, God has said to us, “You are my child. You are my beloved.”
This last Wednesday we were reminded that we are flawed, fractured, people. We were reminded that we are mortal and frail. And yet, even in the face of that difficult truth, we were marked with the cross ofChrist on our foreheads, reminding us that even at our weakest, our most foul, that we are claimed by God. A God who sees us at our worst, and loves us anyway. A God who calls us beloved, even in and especially in our weakness.
And so when you are choosing a Lenten discipline, I urge you not to buy into the lie, whispered in the desert, that you need to “do more” or “be better.” Instead, choose a discipline that reminds you of who you already are. Because if we are already claimed as God’s children, we don’t need Lent to be some weird kind of Churchy New Years Resolution to guilt us into being “good enough” for God. Choose instead a Lenten discipline that disrupts your routine, that silences the voices of darkness, and creates space for you to realign yourself with your identity as a beloved child of God.
Because, when we slow down and empty ourselves of our fears and feeble attempts to “fix” ourselves, to be and have “enough”..When we give up on the business of guilt and shame, we allow God to empower us by reminding us that God has already claimed us as beloved. And no one, NO ONE, no one else, not your family, not your boss, not the beauty industry, not the military industrial complex, not the church, not death…NO ONE…not even a demon from the very bowels of hell, gets to tell you who you are.