March 6, 2022 What to Give Up for Lent  Luke 4:1-13

The Faithful Followers Sunday School class at the Church of What’s Happening Now was discussing the upcoming season of Lent. The congregation had never had such a discussion. This congregation prided itself on their core value of relevance. Adhering to ancient seasons such as Advent and Lent simply did not rise to that standard. Their church calendar had a softball schedule but no mention of Lent.

Their new pastor, however, had suggested the congregation might find the rhythm of a traditional church calendar spiritually enriching. He said they might even find it relevant. The Faithful Followers Sunday School class was not convinced but wanted to be supportive of their new leader and decided to give it a try.

In the past few weeks, they had learned Lent is to be a time of preparation for Easter; a time of enhanced worship, Bible study, prayer, and wrestling with the deeper questions of faith; a time to ready oneself to better experience the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Integral to spiritual preparation for Easter is to spend some time thinking about the obstacles faced daily that keep Christians from living the lives of faithful followers. Lenten self-reflection was never to be an end unto itself. Obstacles and temptations were not only to be identified, they were to be corrected.

That must be where the idea of giving up something for Lent originated. We are to identify obstacles and temptation in our lives that have become stumbling blocks in our Christian walk. Then we are to eliminate them or, at the very least, refrain from them during Lent.”

Let us turn our attention to the gospel reading for today from Luke 4:1-13. Here we are told that immediately after baptism by John, Jesus went alone to a desolate place in the wilderness. Apparently, he went with hopes of having quiet time to fast, to pray, and to seek the presence of God before he began his ministry. Unfortunately, his spiritual retreat was anything but quiet. Luke tells us the devil showed up with a pocketful of temptations. Jesus had to resist these enticements lest they undermine and destroy his ministry.

Although they usually appear to us in modified formats, we still face these temptations. They still ensnare the vulnerable. They still have the power to undermine and destroy. Each of us needs to examine our life carefully to see if there is something in this Biblical narrative we might need to give up for Lent.

Luke tells us the first thing the devil did was to try to take advantage of Jesus’ physical needs. The master had been fasting. More than a little hungry, he was so famished.   The devil picked up a stone and held it in his hand. The evil one smiled and suggested that if Jesus was really the Son of God, he should turn the stone into bread. That bread would satisfy his most immediate physical need his hunger. Jesus resisted by telling the tempter that we cannot live by bread alone.

Turning stone to bread doesn’t seem much of a temptation. Bread is a generic term for food and a euphemism for money and all it will buy. If we could turn stones to bread, we could vanquish famine and lift the desperately poor out of poverty. In that sense, turning stones to bread would be a good thing.

Yes, it would, but Jesus resisted the opportunity. He understood that satisfying physical needs and material wants does not guarantee happiness. Even resisted an overabundance of bread as food and money will not satisfy the underlying existential hunger for meaning and purpose. We need bread but the abundant life does not come by bread alone.

Where are you on this issue? Do you harbor any lingering notion that if you just had a little more money or just acquired a few more possessions you could really be happy? If so, you might want to think about giving up that idea for Lent. You might want to commit yourself to pray and study on why people do not live by bread alone.

After his initial failure, the devil tried a new approach. In the twinkling of an eye, the devil took Jesus to a place where all the kingdoms and  empires were brought into view. Jesus was told that if he would worship the devil, he could rule the world “Think of that Jesus, for a little bowing and scraping, you can be CEO and Chairman of the Board for everything.”

To literally rule the world is not something most of us find particularly tempting. On the other hand, most of us would appreciate having a little more control of our little corner our world. If only I could control my employees, my boss, or my students.”

It is tempting to want to have control. Unfortunately, it is never really possible. We can make an argument that if others would do as we tell them, their lives would improve significantly. Unfortunately, others harbor this notion that they still want to make their own decisions.

No matter how hard we plan, unexpected and unwanted things occur. We try to avoid it, but we still fail from time to time. We live in a world where we never really have total control. The temptation is dangled in front of us, but it can never be.

Coming to terms with the reality that you are not in charge is very liberating. If they ever organize a 12-step program called “Control Freaks Anonymous,” the guiding principle will be: “The best day of your life comes when you admit that you cannot take credit for keeping the stars spangled in the heavens and you need not take responsibility for keeping the earth turning on its axis.”

Jesus saw the danger of trying to rule the empires and kingdoms of the world. Rather than being in control, Jesus understood that victorious living comes by learning to let go and trust God. How are you doing with issues of control? Is that something you need to consider giving up for Lent?

Not one to give up easily, the evil one tried one more thing. He took Jesus to the tallest pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. He told Jesus that he could dive off that spire and not get hurt. If he was really the messiah, God would send angels to rescue him before he splattered in the courtyard. Jesus resisted the temptation by telling the devil: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

As with the others, this temptation doesn’t seem particularly relevant for us. Certainly, a normal, mentally healthy person is not likely to feel tempted to take a nose dive off a high building just to test whether or not God will send a choir of angels to the rescue.

On the other hand, we are tempted to test God. Keep in mind that our relationship to God is not dissimilar to a small but ornery child’s relationship to a loving, patient parent. “Jimmy, how many times do I have to tell you not to stand on the furniture?”

Children test parents and parents grow so weary of it. In that same way, as God’s children, we test the limits and God must get so tired of it. We claim Christ as the Prince of Peace, yet too often over the centuries we have gone to war under the banner of Christ. When we do that, we test God. God must weary of it.

In Christ we are called to care for the most vulnerable. Certainly, children are vulnerable.  I hate to recognize this but many trusted church leaders have hurt many children through the years.   God must so weary of the failings of people who call themselves Christians. We test God.

Our faith teaches that we are to love our enemy and do good to those who hate us. We try but Jesus never faced an enemy like ours. Even when we strive to love our enemy, their hate for us remains. We have seen how we can welcome our enemy into this nation, feed them, clothe them, provide for them a place to live and money to go to college. Our expressions of love only deepened their hate for us.

What should we give up for Lent? On the one hand that question is simple to answer. Give up something that keeps you from being the person God calls you to be. On the other hand, deciding precisely what that might be and how to give it up can require an enormous amount of study, prayer, and deep spiritual reflections. Of course, those are the practices at the heart of the Lenten preparation for Easter.

May God bless you in your wrestling with the question of what to give up for Lent.