Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Speaking of Netflix, there is a series on it right now called “Dirty John”. Have any of you seen it or at least heard of it? To be honest, I when I saw it in the list of new releases, I had zero interest in watching it as it just sounded… well… kinda dirty. And I didn’t really want to watch anything dirty especially when the kids share the same Netflix profile as us and can see what we’ve been watching and all that.

But I caught an article talking about how good the show is and Winnie told me she watched it so I guess it wasn’t all that dirty. I mean, you know if my wife watched it, it is probably ok. I’m still not going to show you the trailer though as it does have a couple racy scenes. Anyway, in case you don’t know about the show at all, it is about basically this quite affluent single mom who dabbles in online dating, meets this charming and funny guy named John, played by Eric Bana, and totally falls for him. Within like 2 months of meeting they’re living together and get married and sharing a bank account and stuff, all the while her daughters have all these red flags all over the place but she herself was completely oblivious. Turns out John, or as you probably guessed, “Dirty John” as his friends call him, is a total liar, cheat, thief, conman. He’s been in numerous relationships and took advantage of them all. Everything was about power to him, and his anger issues and inability to empathize with his victims made him feel entitled to all things that he takes from these women.

I’m not quite finished the series yet, so no spoilers from you who may have, but I’ve never tried online dating before and already I really don’t want to. I’ll just stick with my wife, thank you very much. And it is actually a true story, the actual events happened like just 5-6 years ago, so that makes it even more creepy, knowing that there can be people like that in real life who could be so cold hearted and evil and just feel like they don’t need to take into consideration anyone else but themselves.

In some of the later episodes though, they had some flashbacks on when John was a kid, and what his home life was like living with his father and sister. Their dad used John to pull scam after scam, from planting glass into their food at a restaurant and actually eating it to have the blood to prove it, to running out into the street in front of a car and breaking his leg. The whole time his dad told John that he was proud of the things he could do, that he was living up to the gangster blood they have in their family. Essentially, his dad very intentionally raised his son to be this conniving free loading scam artist.

I don’t know if the part about his dad is true or if the writers just included it so the audience would have a little sympathy for Dirty John. Either case, learning about this background does change things a bit. We see the trauma he’s been through against his life now and think, “well, yeah”. We look at how he was raised, and think “of course he grew up to be who he became to be.” We would tend to shift the blame off of John and put it squarely onto his dad instead.

And I guess that makes sense. I mean we have sayings about chips off old blocks and apples falling not far from the trees. We charge parents with raising their children right as they are supposed to be the responsible ones in the relationship. We sometimes look at a child’s parent when something goes wrong.

Still, I don’t think that means that Dirty John is completely blameless in his actions. He still chose to do wrong, to hurt others, and to take advantage of his good Eric Bana looks in seducing women into trusting him as he continued in his unscrupulous actions. However, it is interesting to see who his dad was and how that played a part in who he eventually came to be.

Today’s reading shows us another example of the apple falling not too far from the tree. This of course is a very familiar story as we get it every year on the first Sunday of Lent. Jesus is led into the wilderness after his baptism and is tempted to do three seemingly harmless and even beneficial things. And each time he is tempted to do so, Jesus wisely and tactfully shot them down, knowing exactly what to say and how to handle the situation, in a perfect Son of God style.

And we’ve heard the lessons and morals from the story, you know, “avoid temptation by knowing your scripture like Jesus did”, or “resist the devil and the devil will succumb to you”, or even “don’t turn rocks into bread, seriously, not a good idea.” But I really do think there is more to it than just that, obviously as I’ve never not once in my life have ever been tempted to turn a rock into bread. Thought hasn’t even ever crossed my mind.

And even the others don’t seem too hard to avoid. Don’t throw yourself off a building thinking that angels will catch you. Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to try that one. Or bow down to the devil and get all power and authority in the world. You know, that one might be tough if it that opportunity were ever to present itself, but somehow, it hasn’t.

But if you look a bit deeper at these temptations, these trials, these tests, you’ll see that they have a bit more going on than meets the eye. Turning a rock into bread is more about using your power for your own needs. Jumping off a building is more about testing God, getting God to prove God’s love for us. Bowing to the satan is believing the lies that we’re told about our value and worth, and how it is up to ourselves to improve it.

Yeah, those are a bit harder to resist, I think.

The thing is that this voice in our head, these lies that we hear, this satan that is tempting and testing us, is disguised so well telling us that we are doing good. You know, it’s ok to steal from the rich as long as you’re giving it to the poor. It’s ok to break the law as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s ok turn this rock into bread as long as you’re hungry enough. Prove to everyone once and for all how spiritual and pious you are by giving in to the powers of this world and endorse them for your own political and probable financial gain.

Ok, that was eerily specific, but vague enough that you can’t prove that I’m talking about who I’m talking about. Either case, often the temptation isn’t something easily avoided, but something much more subtle, something much more “grey area” than we think, something much more deceiving in that it seems like we are being good and faithful, when actually we might not notice the lies that we are believing in and falling into.

Again, if someone told me to turn a rock into bread or throw myself off a building, that would be a hard no. But if they were to ask me to prove my self-worth, to show that I am loved, and to do something that everyone could see that I am undeniably a child of God? Yeah, that is a bit harder.

The thing is though, we’re told that as a child of God, we should be such and such a way, we should be doing such and such things, and we should know such and such stuff. So we sometimes think that as a child of God we need to fit a certain mold, and we shoehorn ourselves in and say yeah, this apple didn’t fall far from the tree, I am who I said I am, I am a child of God.

But God says different. God says through the bread and cup that anyone who is hungry is welcome. God says through God’s own word that all are promised grace and mercy. God declares to us through the waters of baptism that we all are, each and every one of us, beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased.

See, we aren’t children of God because we earn it or we can act a certain way or we live up to that name, but because God wills it. God wants it that way. God has decided from even before we were born to create us, to love us, and to claim us as God’s very own.

I know, it’s hard sometimes to accept this truth. It’s hard to believe it. It’s even hard to remember it. So that is why we have this season of Lent, in which we have about 5 weeks to prepare ourselves for the identity-in-God-giving season of Easter. And to prepare, we enter a discipline of fasting, not necessarily from food but from something that might take our eyes of our graciously given identity as God’s children, something that we’ve perhaps cherished too much, something that we have come to believe to be our only source of joy, something that might define us more than God’s grace and mercy defines us. Personally, I’m going to try to give up negative thoughts around myself and my parenting, in hopes that I can give up my thoughts of being a failure as a father.

But yours can be different. It could be giving up another, different kind of bad habit. Or giving up a certain kind of food. Maybe giving up some sort of material possession that you’ve put your self-worth into enough that it is time to temporarily let it go. See Lent isn’t about changing yourself completely, but it is about removing distractions from out of your sight, that you might know more fully the grace and love and identity given to you by God.

So whatever it is that you decide to give up or not give up, may we together journey these 40 days in prayer, preparing ourselves for the life giving season of Easter, and finding and renewing our identities in God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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