First Sunday in Lent (C)

First Sunday in Lent (C)    February 17, 2013

Luke 4:1-13

 I once saw a cartoon[1] about the life cycle of a bagel. See if you can imagine this!  In the first pane, there’s this plain, smooth, round, shiny bagel.   An essential, straightforward bagel.

And then in the next pane, the plain old ordinary bagel has become dissatisfied.  Why not add a little whole wheat?  A little oatmeal?  Why not be a Multi-Grain bagel?

But alas! Too soon the discontent returns, and the Multi-Grain Bagel becomes an Everything Bagel—a very special bagel with everything previously mentioned  . . . PLUS sun-dried tomatoes and asiago cheese.  Poppy seeds, sunflower seeds flax seeds.  The Everything Bagel is REALLY SOMETHING!

And yet, in time, the Everything Bagel also becomes dissatisfied.  Without even knowing just exactly how it happens, the Everything Bagel becomes The Bagel Unhappy Despite Having Everything. 

And so the Bagel takes some time apart from the bagel bin to reflect on the meaning of life.  Soon, the Bagel is no longer The Bagel Unhappy Despite Having Everything.

The Bagel is The Bagel Reassessing Its Goals and Values.  A brooding, introspective, lost-in-thought bagel.

And finally, in the last pane, the Bagel previously known as Multi-Grain and Everything and Unhappy, the Bagel previously known as Reassessing Its Goals and Values, goes back to being a plain old ordinary naked bagel.

And if you’re still listening, (I think I see a few of you out there already nodding off), you might be thinking, “Where on earth is she going with this?”  Since it’s Lent, maybe you’re thinking I’m getting ready to tell you your life is just too complicated, and during the next 40 days, God wants you to be like that bagel and strip down to the essential you.  Well, that might be good advice, but you don’t have to come to church to get it.  Advice like that is everywhere.

There’s the stripping down we choose as a discipline.  And there’s the stripping down that comes to us against our will.  If you don’t have a safe place to land or you’re hungry or lonely or unemployed or losing your health or your mind or grieving the loss of someone you love, or the loss of your whole world, you know about the kind of stripping down that comes to you against your will.  Life does a pretty good job of stripping us down against our will.

In the life of faith, the heart of the matter isn’t stripping ourselves down .  The heart of the matter is feeding on the Word of God . . . feeding on God’s promises and receiving God’s gifts in a time like this time and all other times when the world is feeding us rocks.

Enter Jesus, a naked little thing, born to live and to die.  After his baptism, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness, and there he has a collision with the Tempter.  Jesus has come into the world to make all things new.  But how’s he ever going to make things new without coming in contact with all things old?

When your opponent’s the Devil, all the usual power tools aren’t any help.  Power tools like: strutting your stuff, deceit, betrayal, cruelty, violence and maybe some more that you can think of.

In his collision with evil, these old power tools aren’t any use to Jesus.  For 40 days & 40 nights there in the wilderness, Jesus eats nothing.  He’s almost dead when the Tempter tries to sweet talk him into turning stones into bread or jumping off the temple and saving himself . . . or bowing down and worshiping him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world.

“Come on!  Just do it,” the Tempter says.  “Forget what you came for.  It’s easy; my power tools are everywhere.  Just grab one and use it.”

But Jesus doesn’t budge.  With every temptation, Jesus says no, each time becoming clearer about God’s purpose.  Jesus came into the world armed with a human body:  to live among all us needy people, to show us compassion and forgiveness, to give us bread for free, to meet the power of sin and death face-to-face, to overturn the old powers and the old ways, and to die on the cross.

After the temptations, the essential, stripped down Jesus, is ready to rely on God (and not on the usual power tools ) to make all things new.  He relies on the essential life-giving power tools like: compassion and forgiveness, sacrifice, peacemaking, hope, gentleness, humility, honesty in naming the wrong in the world without becoming the wrong in the world.

In the wilderness, Jesus leaves behind all the sinister power tools of the Old Creation.

And armed with love, he heads off in a human body in the direction of the cross.  This is Jesus, the one whom we follow.  And he is our hope, and he is our promise.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


[1] Drew Dernavich in the New Yorker (1/28/08)

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