By the Rev.
First Sunday in Lent
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, March 1, 1998
91 Assurance of God's protection
You who live in the
shelter of the Most High,
Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress;
My God, in whom I trust."
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the deadly pestilence;
He will cover you with his pinions,
And under his wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
Or the arrow that
flies by day,
Or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or the destruction that wastes and noonday.
A thousand may fall
at your side,
Ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
And see the punishment of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you; no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command
his angels concerning you
To guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
So that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot
Those who love me,
I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
And show them my salvation
4:1-13 Jesus tempted by the devil
full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by
the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted for forty days by
the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they
were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you
are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of
answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread
the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms
of the world. And he said to him, "I will give to you their
glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me,
and I give it to anyone I please. If you will worship me, it will
all be yours.
answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and
serve only him.'"
the devil took him to Jerusalem and placed him on the pinnacle of
the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw
yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his
angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they
will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"
answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to
the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he
departed from him until an opportune time.
Coelestia #1690 The Lord's temptations--and ours
Lord's life, from earliest childhood right through his last hour
on earth, involved constant temptation and constant victory. It is
clear that this did not end with his temptation in the wilderness
because it says in Luke, "After the devil had finished every
temptation, he left him for a time" (Luke 4:13), and also
because he endured temptations right through his death on the
cross. . . .
temptations described in Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12, 13, and Luke
4:1-13 summarize all the Lord's temptations: that from his love
toward the entire human race, he fought against selfish and
materialistic loves, which completely fill the hells.
temptation is an attack against the love that is within us. The
level of temptation depends on the level of our love. If our love
is not attacked, there is no temptation.
full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by
the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by
the devil. (Luke 4:1, 2)
that Ash Wednesday has passed, we are in Lent, a period of forty
days (excluding Sundays) that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends
at Easter. This derives from the forty days Jesus fasted in the
desert and was tempted by the devil. Although this event took
place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, right after he
was baptized, and not the end, right before he was crucified and
rose again, Christian tradition has bound the two events together
so that we commemorate the forty days of fasting and temptation in
the days leading up to Easter.
is a certain rhythm and pattern to this. At the beginning of
Genesis, we read about six days of labor and a seventh day of
rest, and this becomes the defining pattern of our lives. Weekdays
when we work; weekends when we have a day or two off--even if our
"weekend" falls in the middle of the week. Plowing,
planting, tending the crops, and harvesting, followed by the
winter, when the ground lies dormant and we live on the fruits of
our labor. School from fall through spring, and then summer
vacation. Fifty or so weeks of work, and one or two weeks off--or
more for some people. And then back to work, where our day may
consist of several hours in the morning punctuated by a brief
coffee break, then a longer lunch break, and back to work until
the end of our work day, when we can go home and, if we're lucky,
relax a bit before our bodies and minds get their rest in sleep.
Our lives fall into patterns, both small and large, of working and
so, Lent is for us a journey to resurrection. The forty days of
Lent are the forty days of labor, of fasting, of struggle, of
temptation. They are broken up each week as Sunday comes around--a
day set apart from traditional Lenten observances. A day of rest
from our labors. Finally, the entire period of Lent culminates in
the rejoicing--the spiritual rest--of the Lord's resurrection on
does this journey toward resurrection carry us? What are some of
the stops along the way? In our reading from Luke, the Lord's
journey carried him immediately into the desert, where he fasted
and was tempted by the devil for forty days. We always notice the
famous temptations that happen at the end of this forty day
period; but it is easy to miss the fact that the Lord was being
tempted by the devil for the entire forty days. The Lord's
temptations were not a simple, one-time affair, any more than we
are tempted once in our lives and then it's all over. No, as
Swedenborg says, the Lord was tempted throughout his life
on earth; the specific temptations mentioned in our reading are
only a brief summary of the many deep, spiritual struggles that
the Lord went through during the thirty some years he lived as a
flesh and blood human being on our earth. The Lord's experience
was similar to our own--only at a far deeper level.
may sometimes think that we are the only ones who have had to go
through so much trial and struggle in our lives--that other
people's lives have been easy compared to ours. That is because we
see their lives from the outside, but our lives from the inside.
Most people go out of their way to present as stable an outward
appearance as they can manage. We don't like to advertise our
inner struggles to the world! But we should not be deceived into
thinking that the outward appearance tells the whole story. Much
of Jesus' life looks relatively peaceful outwardly, as he travels
through the countryside teaching, preaching, and healing. But our
reading today gives us a brief glimpse into the profound
struggles--the raging battles--that were going on inside of him
all along. The crucifixion, and the time just before it when Jesus
is praying in the garden of Gethsemane, are another such glimpse.
means that in our own trials, temptations, and struggles we can
take comfort in knowing that not only do other people know
the experience of temptation and struggle, but our Lord and God,
Jesus Christ, knows this experience more fully and deeply than we
ever will. And so, as we go through our desert journey toward our
own personal resurrection as more loving and spiritual beings, we
can know that the Lord is with us through the whole journey,
offering us comfort and strength. "He will cover you with his
pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. His
faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror
of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day" (Psalm 91:4,
we journey on toward personal resurrection, our temptation
struggles get deeper and deeper. We gain greater spiritual
strength each time we overcome--and we need every ounce of that
strength to face the next, deeper and more difficult struggle. We
know that this is true if we look back at who we were ten, twenty,
thirty, or more years ago. We can see, when we reflect on it, that
the issues and trials we face now would have completely overcome
our earlier self. A few decades ago, we simply could not have
faced the things we are facing now! If we feel that the evil
impulses we are struggling against are getting worse and worse,
this is not a sign that we are getting worse; rather, it is
a sign that we have matured emotionally and spiritually, and are
ready to face deeper issues in our lives and our relationships.
is this kind of progression in the three temptations that the
devil placed before Jesus in our story. Each one is deeper and
more difficult than the last.
there is the temptation to command a stone to be a loaf of bread.
In Bible times, bread was the "staff of life." Bread did
sustain people's lives, and breaking bread with others was a sign
of hospitality, friendship, and kindness toward them. It is a
short step to see that bread is a symbol, or correspondence, of
the good of love and kindness in action.
on the other hand, cannot sustain life--at least, not human
life. It is too hard to be chewed and digested, and it does not
have the nutrients we need to sustain our bodies. Stone is hard
and unyielding. It is a great thing to build a house on, but not a
good thing to live and thrive on as a human being. It is a natural
symbol for facts, knowledge, information that we can use to give
strength and structure to our ideas, a foundation for our way of
living. But it is no substitute for love and kindness toward our
fellow human beings.
command a stone to become bread is to try to substitute
information for love in our dealings with others. We make stones
into bread if, for example, someone comes to us needing moral
support in kicking a bad habit, and instead we give them a lecture
on the evils of the habit they are trying to quit. In our younger
years, we are often quick to make these kinds of judgments against
others, and slower to give the true bread of our unconditional
love, kindness, friendship, and support--the bread of life that
sustains us all.
in time most of us do learn. We learn to act in a more kind and
thoughtful way toward the people in our lives--not to give them
hard stones when nourishing bread is what is needed. Once we have
more-or-less gotten our outward behavior under control, we move on
to the deeper issues of our inner desires and motivations.
we head into our adult years, and into the working world,
"all the kingdoms of the world" are laid before our
eyes. We see the possessions and pleasures that money can bring;
when we are struggling to get by, we feel the lack of those
possessions and pleasures. Like Jesus, we are sorely tempted,
through a period of many years, to give in and worship material
possessions and pleasures instead of keeping our focus on serving
the Lord's higher purpose for our lives. It may take us many years
to move beyond this nagging temptation of a materialistic focus
that the world is always dangling before our eyes.
if we continue to mature emotionally and spiritually, we leave
behind that particular temptation. The world loses its allure; its
glitter no longer dazzles our eyes. Now we are heading into the
most difficult struggles of all: the struggles against our own
self-centeredness. The struggle against the feeling that we,
and not the Lord, are the center of the universe. The feeling that
our lives are the best--or the worst--around. That only we
really understand what is going on; that we are the ones
who have to hold up the world. And since we are so central to
ourselves, if we do lapse from the path of love and goodness--if
we throw ourselves down from the pinnacle of the temple into
hurtful ways of speaking and behaving--well, we are so special
that it will not be held against us! The Lord will command his
angels to take away the consequences of our wrongdoing.
we are not meant to test the Lord in this way. Rather, our deepest
struggles are all about letting go of our desire to control
life and have things go our own way. Our ultimate test is about
whether we insist upon leading ourselves, or whether we will allow
the Lord to be the guiding force in our lives.
we can struggle through to an acceptance of the Lord's supreme
power and leadership in our lives, then we have reached the
destination in our journey to resurrection. For then the Lord--who
was previously dead in the grave of our materialistic, selfish
focus--can rise in the glory of divine love and wisdom flowing
into us and inspiring us to lives of mutual understanding and
kindness with everyone around us, and with the Lord. Then we have
truly traveled through our forty days in the desert, to a glorious
new life in God's love. Amen.