On Wednesday, we officially entered the season of Lent. Lent is our 40 day journey to Easter, mirrored on the forty days Jesus spent in the Wilderness. On Wednesday, we celebrated the day of Ashes, when we were marked on our foreheads or hands and were reminded that we were made from Dust and will return to Dust.  Now we are in the process of walking with Jesus to the cross. In this season, we focus on Jesus’ sacrificial love for the people of God. And, we consider what we must sacrifice in turn.

            Since this season is based on Jesus’ time in the Desert, it is appropriate that we turn to his desert journey for our scripture reading this morning. Please turn with me to Matthew chapter 4 verses one through eleven:

Proclamation of the Scripture            Matthew 4:1-11                 

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 

“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Message                  Blessed Are the Imperfect

            One of the big questions that young people and old people alike ask is “Why does God let bad things happen?” There is a whole branch of theology, called Theodicy that works to study this question – Why does God permit evil?

            I am more of an armchair theologian than one of the great thinkers of our world, but my answer when this comes up is that we are not androids. We are not clones. We are not robots. If God didn’t permit free-will, and allow us to have a variety of life experiences both good and bad, and God didn’t allow us to make choices for ourselves, then we would all be perfectly perfect and perfectly bland.

            But, when our world is falling apart and everything is broken, it is natural to want God to fix our problems and restore what was destroyed.

            When Jesus was in the wilderness, he was tempted by Satan. Satan is an entity from the Abrahamic religions that seduces humans into sin or falsehood. In Judaism, “the Satan” is a heavenly prosecutor who is subordinate to God and tests the loyalty of God’s followers in the heavenly court. When Satan visited Jesus in the wilderness, he was testing to make sure Jesus remained loyal to God and to the mission he was sent to accomplish. We believe Jesus had both human attributes and Godly attributes – Satan was testing Jesus to make sure the Godly attributes were keeping Jesus’ human nature in check. Satan used the temptations to confirm Jesus was resilient and ready for his future work.

            The three temptations were all things that would have created a “perfect” life for Jesus. Jesus was hungry; Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread. If you don’t want to feel hungry or ill or craving, then instantly make food to feed yourself. Jesus responded no – “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

            Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself off of a tall building, to let the angels protect him from going “splat.” Jesus could command the angels to wrap him in the 1st century equivalent of bubble wrap and protect him from fear. But Jesus responded no to Satan and said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

            Satan showed Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world. He tempted Jesus to never experience shame and have the opportunity to rule the world, but only if Jesus bowed down and worshipped Satan. Jesus could have all the political power in the world. But, no – in response Jesus said “Worship the Lord your God, and serve God only.”

            Jesus could have attained perfection – but he chose to fulfill God’s plan for him, which was anything but perfect: Jesus experienced pain, encountered broken and smelly people, felt hunger and thirst, became overwhelmed when people asked him to do too much, got irritated and angry, and suffered a death in the cross that was agonizing and harsh. Jesus could have attained perfection, but instead chose to be like us – broken and vulnerable.

            We will never attain perfection. We try to arrange our lives in ways that are happy and healthy. We work to make good choices for our health and our diet. We work to include among our friends people who are loving and supportive. We try to find fulfilling careers and fun activities. But, no matter what choices we make, many things happen to us that are not under our control. Our bodies do things that surprise us. We have accidents. People we love become ill. Sometimes our best laid out plains are missing a key detail that make everything go awry. No matter what we accomplish, we can’t make our lives perfect.

            When Jesus faced temptation, he chose to go with imperfection. At Satan’s bidding, Jesus actually had the power to make his life perfect. But, he chose to live out his calling and not turn his life into a little bubble of perfection. Jesus told Satan to go away, that Jesus decided to trust God.  Jesus knew his limitations – perfection was not possible. Instead of striving for perfection, we are reminded in this story that we need God. We need God’s grace. After his 40 days of struggle, Jesus was sent angels to comfort him in his weariness, to comfort him in his loneliness and pain….he wasn’t sent angels with bubble wrap to protect him from all future wrongs, but to tend to Jesus in the midst of his fatigue and hunger. God didn’t leave Jesus, his beloved child, to figure everything out on his own. After Jesus overcame the temptations flung at him, Jesus accepted God’s love and help.

            We are also called to remember to learn to accept God’s love and help. God blesses us through our imperfections. God did not make us perfect to begin with. God made us all different. God doesn’t expect us to have everything in our lives perfectly figured out and perfectly under control. God knows things will go off the rails. And, when they do, and messiness happens, and life happens, it is our calling to turn to each other for support and to turn to God for love and help.

            Let us trust in the Lord our God, who blesses us in our imperfection. Amen.