Do you know who you are?

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Luke 4:1-13

 

4: 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he 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 devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:1-13, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season of Lent, that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the life-giving words of the Spirit. Amen.

 

In his autobiography, the actor Kirk Douglas tells about an experience he had as a young actor.  At the time, he was already a well-known Hollywood star.  On this day he was driving along the California coast when he noticed a young man in a naval uniform standing on the side of the road hitchhiking.  Douglas pulled over and gave the young sailor a ride.  He did not tell the young sailor who he was, but the sailor recognized Kirk Douglas immediately.

 

They talked about where the young sailor was stationed, where he was headed, and what he planned to do with his life after the Navy.  The conversation carried on but after a while, the young sailor couldn’t bite his tongue any longer and he asked, “Mister, do you know who you are?”[1]

 

Do you know who you are? It is the underlying question of our scripture passages for this First Sunday in the Season of Lent.  The Lenten season is a time to retell the stories of our faith, particularly the stories of our Lord, his teachings, his ministry on the way to Jerusalem, and his passion.   Telling stories— the stories of faith— reminds us who and whose we are.  The stories of our faith help to shape our identity and give us purpose and direction in life.  Because there is more to our identity than our name, our family background and our DNA.  Our identity is greatly influenced by the stories and the narratives that have influenced our lives.

 

The biblical narratives are one such influence. Take Moses, for example, He believed that remembering where he and the Israelites had been and their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land would help to keep them faithful to God. So, Moses challenged the Israelites to remember that journey when they brought the first fruits of their harvest as an offering in the Temple.  Moses said, “You say this before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.  He went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and then he became a great nation, mighty and populous. And when his Egyptian captors were harsh on him, he cried out to God and God heard his cry and delivered him and brought us out of bondage.’” Moses encouraged the Israelites to recite this history that was both a confession of their faith, and a statement of thanksgiving to provide boundaries and purpose to their lives.  To this day observant Jews continue to celebrate this history as they say, “Tell it again and again, so we will always remember who and whose, are.” These stories continue to form their collective identity and their faith.[2]

 

In Luke’s gospel we learn that Jesus’ identity is challenged in the wilderness by Satan.  You notice that Satan or the devil tempts or tests Jesus three times in this story.  You will also notice the devil doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything particularity bad.  The devil simply invites Jesus to forget who he is and whose he is.  Jesus has just been confirmed in his identity by the voice of God at his baptism. “You are my chosen, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.”[3]  Jesus had been called to live out a story of service for others out of love for God.  And the devil is inviting him to betray his identity and misuse his power.

 

That is the most insidious aspect of temptation.   It is not always an enticement to do something we shouldn’t do because it is bad or wrong.  Temptation can also lure us away from something – namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship and Baptism.[4]

Too often, we Christians, have focused on all the things we shouldn’t do, instead of pointing us to the gift and grace of our identity as children of God.  But the devil knows better.  Notice how each of the temptations seeks to erode and undercut Jesus’ identity.  Which is why this passage is really about identity theft.

 

Because all three of these temptations— and as best that I understand, all temptations— are fundamentally intended to shift our trust away from God and onto ourselves.  We see that very subtly in the language that sets up each temptation. Each one centers on the little word, “you.”[5]

If you are the Son of God…

To you I will give all these kingdoms…

If you are the Son of God…

 

This is one reason why we gather for worship each and every week to remind us of our identity as children of God.  We are under constant assault, maybe not as straight forward as Jesus and the devil in this story, but much more covert ways each and every day.

 

We are tempted in so many ways to lose our faith in God and confidence in ourselves.  So, we come to church to be reminded of our identity as beloved children of God. In the face of so many assaults on our identity we come to church to have that identity renewed and restored that we might live in the confidence of God’s abundant life and unending love.[6]

 

Tom Long, Presbyterian preacher tells the story about Hugh Thompson.  Do you remember Hugh Thompson?  On March 16, 1968, Thompson was a young helicopter pilot flying on patrol over the countryside of Vietnam.  When he and his crew flew over the village of My Lai, they saw something horrific taking place below.  The troops of US Army Charlie Company, under the constant pressure of danger and the madness of war, had lost control and their discipline, and their humanity, and they had begun slaughtering unarmed civilians in the village, most of them women, children and elderly men.

 

Seeing this Thompson had to respond. So, he landed his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining villagers.  Then at great risk to himself, he got out of the helicopter and confronted the officer in charge, Lt. William Calley.  Following this confrontation, he and his crew airlifted the few villagers who were still alive out of My Lai.  He then radioed a report of the scene and in doing so saved many civilian lives.

 

Thompson’s action went unnoticed for year’s even decades, until finally he was publically recognized. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Emory University in Atlanta.  Standing on the platform at the University’s commencement, Thompson spoke, and he told how he found the courage and the strength to do what he did on March 16, 1968?  His statement to the graduates and the audience both shocked them and brought them to a thoughtful silence.

 

He said, “I’d to like to thank my mother and father for trying to instill in me the difference between right and wrong.”   “We were country people.  We didn’t have much.  I was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and we had very little, but one thing we did have was the Golden Rule.  My parents taught me early on, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  That’s why I did what I did that day.  It’s hard to put certain things into words.  You graduates are going to have to make decisions in your life.  Please make the right decisions, because we’re depending on yon. God bless you all.”

 

Why did he do what he did?  Where did he find the strength and courage?  Words taught to him in childhood and repeated over and over: “Do unto others…, Do unto others…, Do unto others….” Jesus said, “It is written …, it is written …, it is written …One does not live by bread alone.” There is a script to help you remember who you are.[7]

 

You are a child of God, created and claimed by the Creator of heaven and earth.  You have been claimed and redeemed so that you can live out your life by faith.

 

Let us pray: Holy God, you have claimed us as your own. May we rest secure in our identity as children of God. Amen.

[1] The Reverend Joseph S. Harvard. “Who Are You?” A sermon preached on February 29, 2004 at First Presbyterian Church, Durham, North Carolina. Based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

[2] Ibid

[3] Matthew 3:17, NRSV.

[4] The Reverend Dr. David Lose. Lent 1 C: Identity Theft, Luke 4: 1-13 found at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/lent-1-c-identity-theft

 

[5] The Reverend Robert Montgomery. “Facing Temptation” A sermon preached on February 21, 2010, First Sunday of Lent at First Presbyterian Church, Pulaski, TN. Based on Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 and Luke 4: 1 -13.

[6] The Reverend Dr. David Lose. Lent 1 C: Identity Theft, Luke 4: 1-13 found at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/lent-1-c-identity-theft

 

[7] The Reverend Joseph S. Harvard. “WHO ARE YOU?” A sermon preached on February 29, 2004 at First Presbyterian Church, Durham, North Carolina. Based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

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