Wicker Park Lutheran Church
Rev. Jason S. Glombicki
February 26, 2023
The first Sunday of Lent always tells the story of Jesus’s temptation. In Mark’s gospel, we read that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and was tempted, but we don’t get any details. In today’s reading from Matthew along with Luke’s version, we heard details about Jesus’s temptation. Now, since Jesus was likely alone and temptation is essentially a personal, inner experience, today’s reading is likely a narrative midrash – that is, an interpretation of the event in such a way as to make it useful for believers. To make Jesus’s temptation more helpful, Matthew drew on the 40-day desert fast of both Moses and Elijah along with the temptations and trails by the Israelites over their 40 years of wandering. So too, our liturgical tradition observes a 40-day Lenten season, and in our worship space, we embrace that wilderness décor as we journey and recall those moments in between.
That “in between” nature is an important part of today’s gospel as well. You see, this narrative is found after the story of Jesus’s baptism where a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” And today’s story is before the beginning of Jesus’ ministry where he preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” So, right in between the revelation of Jesus’s identity as God’s son and when Jesus began his public ministry, is where we find today’s temptation.
Now, it’s easy for those of us who have given something up for the Lenten season to make Jesus’s temptation about our pursuit to avoid temptation. But, today’s gospel is not about chocolate, lattes, take out, or any of those Lenten fasts we’ve become accustomed. Sure, the content of the first temptation was about bread and satisfying hunger, but the function of that temptation is so much more. In fact, the content of turning stones into bread, calling upon the angels for safety, and the promise of power and dominion each are primarily about identity.
You see, Dr. David Lose notes that in that first temptation the tempter said, “IF you are the son of God,” and that functions to call the identity of Jesus into question. Here “the devil seeks to rob Jesus of his God-given identity [found in Jesus’s baptism] and replace it with a false one of his own manufacture.” And “Jesus resists this temptation not through an act of brute force or sheer will, but rather by taking refuge in an identity founded and secured through his relationship with God, a relationship that implies absolute dependence on God and identification with all others. Jesus will be content to be hungry as others are hungry, dependent on God’s Word and grace for all good things. He will be at risk and vulnerable as are all others, finding safety in the promises of God. And he will refuse to define himself or seek power apart from his relationship with God, giving his worship and allegiance only to the Lord God who created and sustains him.” Today, Jesus’s identity will be challenged, and Jesus will remain rooted in his God-given identity.
And even if this reading is not a factual recap of what happened to Jesus, then it is a powerful midrash that speaks truth about Jesus’s life and our own. Sure, we might not have conversations with the devil or be whisked away to the top of a high mountain like Jesus, but we are constantly besieged by the temptation to give up or replace our identity. Advertisements and social media often create in us a sense of lack, insecurity, and inadequacy that undermined our God-given identity. We are told that if we buy teeth whitener, a new exercise machine, a larger home, or a flashy car, then we will be acceptable and loveable. The message of our consumer-consumption culture is clear: you are never enough. You are not smart enough, skinny enough, pretty enough, rich enough, young enough, white enough, straight enough, or masculine enough. And because of this deficit, you do not deserve respect, love, and acceptance. You see, that’s the lie that the world serves us and how Jesus was tempted today.
But the reality is, all of that is a lie. It’s an attempt to steal your identity and substitute it with something that will leave you feeling defunct and lifeless. And the good news is that Jesus set the record straight. Jesus stood up to the ways that the world tries to steal our identity. Jesus reminded us that we are valued, we are loved, and we are enough. And as we come to embrace that reality, then we can more fully live into that identity. We can orient our lives around the values that birthed our identity – those of love, justice, and peace.
And this remembering that we are loved, valued, and enough is so hard. That’s why I know I need to be here in this place each week. I need to be reminded through scripture and song, communion and community, through water and reverence. What I’ve come to realize is that showing up matters. Now, I want to be clear that worship livestream is great for a lot of things, especially when you’re sick or traveling. But there’s so much more than viewing this experience. Here in this place, we gather and live out our God-given identity. In today’s reading, Jesus was challenged with individualism and self-satisfaction. However, rooted in his identity, he rejected individualistic pursuits and emphasized God’s beloved community. So, when we’re able, it’s so important to come be in community. To welcome the stranger and visitor. To support those on the margins. To join in singing, scripture, communion, and fellowship time. For, our faith is an embodied faith where presence matters. Our faith is about showing up.
But sometimes the church itself doesn’t welcome and include. Sure, it could be through our absence, but it can also be because of our omission. This is the reality that our denomination faces. Those on the margins have reminded our denomination that when the ELCA was formed people of color and queer people were excluded.
And so, as we come to own up to that reality, the church began a Commission for a Restored Lutheran Church. This Commission is looking to reconsider the statements of purpose, the principles of organizational structure, and all related matters giving attention to a shared commitment to dismantle racism. You see, it’s so easy for our identity and the identity of the church to be co-opted by the world. It’s easy to let the way it has always been done dictate the way it is. But as people of faith, as followers of Christ, as people of the God’s vision, we take time in the wilderness to explore the reality of the world and look to respond with God’s vision. There’s an announcement in your bulletin about the Commission, and I invite you to explore more about what the church is working towards. If you are feeling called to help the larger church grasp on to God’s identity more fully, please be sure to fill out the nomination form TODAY! In the months ahead, our congregation will be leaning into the process with the larger church. We at Wicker Park Lutheran have committed to the work of anti-racism, social and economic justice, and environmental care. This is the work that flows from our God-given identity in baptism.
So, that’s today’s gospel. A story that could have easily turned into a sermon about making through the 40 days of Lent without chocolate has turned into something more. Instead, we’ve explored how the function of this story reveals more than its content. We’ve seen that this story is about how the world so often wants to convert our God-given identity into one that is filled with lies. Yet, we have a God who continually reminds us that we are loved, we are cherished, and we are enough. And in response to that reminder, we can be beacons of that same love by working toward justice, striving for peace, and reminding others that they are loved. May we follow in Christ’s footsteps in these wilderness days as we journey toward the joy of the Easter season. Amen.
 New Jerome Bible Commentary