1 Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Accuser. 2 Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward was famished. 3 The Tempter came and said to Jesus, “Since you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But Jesus answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the Accuser took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6 saying to him, “Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘God will give the angels charge over you,’
and again ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to the Accuser, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 So again, the Tempter took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the realms of the world and their splendor; 9 and said to Jesus, “All these I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to the Accuser, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God;
serve God alone.’”
11 Then the Accuser left Jesus, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Your voice always speaks words of love and life to us.
Oftentimes we struggle to hear your voice over
The loud voices outside of us or even our own inner critic
Which tell us lies and tempt us with untruths.
Speak clearly to us, this morning.
Come close and settle in our hearts today.
There’s a meme out there that’s pretty popular at our house. It’s a simple meme, just words on a background, and it says, “I’m sorry for the names I called you when I was hungry.”
Truth be told, I think you could sub out “hungry” for “sleepy” at our house right now and the spirit of the meme would still hold water pretty well.
But it’s true, as it turns out hunger can stir up some pretty strong emotions in us. In 2018, the fine folks at Oxford recognized this and added “hangry” to their dictionary for the first time. A combination of hungry and angry, it describes the irritability we feel when we’re hungry. And if that’s the case, I wonder what word Jesus would have used to describe how he felt after 40 days…
I said it on Ash Wednesday, but just in case you missed it, I’m going to try and focus us in on hunger during this Lenten season. Think a bit more of a spiritual hunger than a physical hunger, although, like this morning, we’re going talk a little bit about physical hunger as well.
What do you hunger for, church?
What does your heart long for?
What does your heart ache for? What…or who…does your heart break for?
In the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week, we travel a familiar path together, marking our foreheads in dust in the shape of the very same cross that we’re journeying toward as we culminate on Good Friday in the crucifixion of Christ. So here this morning, only a few days removed from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten journey together, I want to center us close to where I think we’ll end our pilgrimage—our hunger to be close to God.
What does that hunger feel like for you?
Would you describe it as hunger?
Does your heart long to be close to God?
Mine sure does. Although I’ll be honest, I feel like so much stuff can get in our way…phones, calendars, sports schedules, date nights, to-do lists…so then, how do you take time to be close to God? Or maybe a better way to ask…how do you create space in your life for God to come close to you?
When you feel far from God, do you notice it? What does that feel like for you?
For me it’s like a needling feeling or a nagging I just can’t quite get away from, a pervasive feeling that something’s off or missing, but I might not be able to put my finger on it or name it. Kind of like a grumbly tummy.
As humans, we are created to be in relationship and in close proximity to God, but like we heard in the reading from Genesis, ever since the very beginning of our human story, we’ve been discovering new and inventive ways to drive ourselves further from God.
The placement of our gospel story this morning in the Gospel of Matthew is interesting. Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness comes immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. So immediately after hearing, “This is my son, the Beloved,” Jesus is led by that very same spirit to the wilderness, presumably to work out what all that actually means.
Have you ever gotten just a gigantic piece of news that it’s so overwhelming that what you actually need to do is just set everything down, walk away from everyone, and just go and be by yourself for a while? It’s almost what I imagine happening here. Jesus is set off to work out what it actually means that he’s God’s Beloved and one to be listened to.
By the way, I imagine Jesus probably prefers the writer of Matthew’s version of events to the author of Mark. Matthew’s spirit “leads” Jesus into the wilderness, nice and gently maybe, whereas Mark’s spirit “throws” Jesus out there. Incidentally the same word used back in Genesis when God drives out Adam and Eve from the garden after the incident we heard about this morning.
So Jesus gets to work figuring out what all this means. Fasting and figuring it out. Also, 40 days isn’t so much like an actual determinate amount of time. 40 is the biblical code number for “a really long time”…think 40 days and nights of rain on the ark, 40 years wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt…40 is just about how long it takes to get to the end of your rope, it’s where you find the outer limits of what you’re capable of doing for yourself.
And after 40 days of fasting, not only is Jesus hangry, Jesus is ripe for temptation.
Enter the Accuser, or the Tempter. Ha’Satahn. The Satan. But not really like pointy horns and a spiked tail that you might be thinking of. We’re not really given a description of this Satan, but I imagine this Tempter looks very unassuming, unexpected almost…a Tempter and a temptation that almost surprise you how crafty they are, and it gets you thinking that maybe what they’re offering doesn’t sound so bad. “Yeah, you know, you’re right…I am the son of God, the Beloved…I could turn these stones to bread, I could throw myself down, I could bow down and worship…especially if I would get some relief from this fasting and this hunger and the weight of everything I’ve just experienced of being told who I am…”
Sometimes temptation isn’t overt and obvious as cheating on a test or putting something in your body you know isn’t healthy for you…sometimes temptation is subtle and unexpected, just a small step off the course you’ve been on. But nonetheless a betrayal of who you are and who God says you are.
It’s a question of voices, right? What voices are you listening to? There’s the voice of God that calls you “Beloved” and calls you “Child.” And there are the voices of the Accuser, telling you you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, you’re only as good as what you produce, or only valuable if you look a certain way or think a certain way. And listening to and believing those voices sure can be tempting.
And it’s in these moments, which, if we’re being honest, I think happen way more frequently than we think or maybe are comfortable with—it’s in these moments that our hunger to be close or near to the heart of God is strongest, and rightly so.
So what does that look like, church? What might that look like for you in this season of your life, or even just in this season of Lent? How will you satisfy this hunger to be close to God, or listen more intently for those loving words from God in your life?
I threw some ideas out on Ash Wednesday, but just in case you weren’t here or would like a refresher… Maybe that looks like spending some time with Scripture over your morning coffee, or a devotional over your lunch break. Maybe you’ll set aside 1 hour week to volunteer at the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry Food Pantry or Resale Shop, or help pack fresh fruits and veggies for Armstrong Elementary’s Brighter Bites program. Maybe settling closer to the heart of God looks like a more intentional practice of worship this season. Maybe it’s inviting someone to worship with you. Maybe it’s coming and checking out our Wednesday evening soup suppers and Lenten worship, and inviting someone new to join you. Those Wednesday night worship and dinner experiences are a super-low barrier to entry for someone new. It’s very easy going, plus, we feed you! Not much of a better deal than that.
Whatever it is, church, I encourage you to explore that hunger inside this Lenten season. Try something new to break you out of old habits and ruts, and explore those parts of you that hunger for God’s presence.
The things we say to one another or even ourselves when we’re hungry aren’t always the kindest words.
God always speaks words of love and life, especially in our moments of hangriness.
Listen for God, church.
Know that you are worthy.
Know that you are loved.