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Jesus Was Framed

Rev. Jennifer Adams – March 13, 2011 – Lent 1A

So we are on the first Sunday of Lent, the season which began on Ash Wednesday and is the forty days and forty nights leading us to Easter. And on the first Sunday of Lent we always hear the story of Jesus in the wilderness, his “Temptation” the story is called; and this being year A in the lectionary cycle we hear the story from the gospel of Matthew. And it’s familiar – Jesus is tempted three times by the devil. First the devil tempted him to change stones into bread in order never to be hungry again; then he tempted Jesus to throw himself down and experience what it was like to not be harmed; finally the devil tempted Jesus to worship him and inherit all the kingdoms of the world. Now I have to admit that each was somewhat attractive in its own way, (hence the title Temptation, I suppose); each of devil’s offers involved something that perhaps we have all craved at one time or another: to feel deeply, forever satisfied; to feel completely and utterly safe: we might even claim to recognize the occasional desire to want to rule over more than we do.

But of course Jesus turned the devil down, he resisted at every turn – “One does not live by bread alone!” he responded. “Do not put your Lord to the test,” he shouted back. And then the final blow of “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him!” wrapped it all up and sent Satan on his way. End of familiar story.

Now it’s not a surprise anymore that Jesus resisted and that resistance to temptation is one of the themes of Lent – and repenting for those moments in which we did succumb to temptation is another theme of the season. But I have to admit, since I’m here among friends, that knowing what Jesus did isn’t always enough for me; perhaps it should be enough, but in the spirit of true Lenten confessions, I’m telling you that it isn’t always. You see, I want to know how Jesus did it not only what Jesus did. Because maybe he was loaded with special powers or secret teachings that gave him a leg up our there. He was the Son of God for heaven’s sakes, so maybe his divinity was in full force out there and therefore, we of mere human status don’t really stand a chance. What was Jesus given that made such strong resistance possible?

Now I think that in order to get that sense of “how” Jesus did it we have to look not only at the core of the story of the Temptation, we have to look at how it was framed. What preceded this challenge in the desert? What followed it? So let’s shift away from a focus on the temptations and look into the framework for a minute or two … Immediately preceding this story is the story of Jesus baptism. That’s actually the opening line of the gospel we just heard and we heard that whole story on the first Sunday in Epiphany.

Remember it? At Jesus baptism in the River Jordan, a voice came from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit was present.“You are my Beloved,” the voice said. And then presumably still dripping wet, Jesus was led into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. So, as far as we know anyway, Jesus wasn’t given special powers or divine strengths or even tips about facing down the challenges of the desert. He wasn’t warned or armed or advised in any mystical sort of way. He was simply and basically told who he was, “Beloved of God” and then the Spirit moved him along into the desert and he was Tempted. “Beloved” as framework part one.

And then after the temptation (Framework Part II) a beautiful thing happened. Angels came and cared for him, the gospel said. And while what that looked like is left to our imaginations, most important for us to hear is that out there in the wilderness, the Son of God received care, allowed others to serve him, love him, feed him perhaps, and be in company with him. Framework Part II – “Being cared for.”

And so maybe “beloved-ness” and “being cared for” were the keys to that wilderness thing for Jesus, the reasons why the temptations didn’t get him. And perhaps they are keys for us too. Jesus was framed all right, but it wasn’t the devil who did it. God did. A good dose of belovedness a gentle touch of care and Jesus was good to go. And the good news is that that same framework is there for us too. We are God’s beloved proclaimed throughout the gospels; and the care of others is something that is offered at every turn if we are open to receiving it. Just look around and you’ll know that none of us needs to be in the desert alone.

And actually that piece of the story is just as hard as any of it, if you are as independently minded as most of us tend to be. Sara Miles puts it like this in her book Jesus Freak, which is our parish read this Lent, “I still was terrible at asking for help … I was good at dismissing other people’s hesitations, the endless cycle of excuses I heard all the time: I don’t want to bother you. Nobody would understand. Other people have real troubles. . .And my own excuses were equally [off]. But they were so embedded in my self-image as a capable grown-up that I almost always chose to keep my problems to myself. It was easy to ask [someone] to reach up and light the oil lamps when we were setting up for the service, or someone else to move the altar with me when were cleaning up after the pantry. But asking for attention, comfort, time, care, listening, prayer, that made my skin crawl … And yet, when I could force myself to do it, I saw how getting to the point of asking was an essential part of my healing.

And according to this story it was for Jesus too. Even Jesus received help, let himself be cared for and comforted by the angels.

And so perhaps the Story of the Temptation isn’t primarily about the temptation after all; it’s about God’s wrapping us up in all we need in order to be able to weather any wilderness we face.

To weather any wilderness knowing that instant gratification, surface securities, and power over others might be quick fixes, but they are not the Shalom to which we are being led. So hang in there for approximately 36 more days and nights. We’ve been framed too, by belovedness and by care and there is even more of that goodness to come.