Scripture Reading (CEB) Luke 4:1-13
1 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. 2 There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. 3 The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.” 5 Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. 7 Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 9 The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” 12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.
I have many regrets – many specifically just from these last two years of the pandemic – but one of my greatest ones is that I didn’t keep a blooper reel of all the times I messed up a sermon. There was something in me that prevented me in laughing at myself, be it shame, or fear of letting you know how scarily-easily I curse worse than any Tarantino movie, or I don’t know what. There was something about recording myself that convinced me I needed to be perfect. That voice urging perfection sounded like me…but it wasn’t me. I’ve known and made peace for a long time that I’m not perfect (being a partner and a parent will certainly reinforce that) – and it wasn’t from you, the congregation, as for the years leading up to the pandemic you’ve never held me to some standard of perfection…so where did it come from?
It wasn’t the Bible, because the notion of perfection isn’t all that prevalent. Matthew 5:48: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect, is as close as it comes (and really that verse and those similar to it seem to mean wholeness or complete rather than what we would call perfect). Instead, our modern obsession with perfection has been fueled by self-help books, unfair comparisons to one another thanks to social media, and the insecurities that we all have. But those insecurities have always been there. Even Jesus struggles with them as we find in our text for today.
Immediately following his baptism (and the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, the Beloved, in whom God is pleased…) something triggers in Jesus. That’s a lot to live up to. Imagine the thirty years of insecurity and failure and doubt that have compelled Jesus to seek baptism and instead of all that being washed away, it becomes heightened by this declaration of God. You are my son…rippling off the water as Jesus looks for the first place to run. You are beloved…as he remembers all the times he spoke ill of others. God is pleased…as he remembers all the times he hit his finger with a hammer and lost his temper. Jesus finds himself in the wilderness – hoping the voice from the heavens can’t find him there.
Instead the voice that comes is much closer. I imagine the voice speaking to Jesus sounded a lot like himself in his ears. Just like I heard recorded sermons needed to be perfect. Or the same voice that you all hear when you fail to live up to unreasonable expectations you put upon yourself. No matter how seductive, that voice it still is wrong…but before I get there I need to admit my own squeamishness with using the word ‘devil.’ That word, like other passages of the Bible has been used in such destructive ways – to weaponize scripture against someone else. Or even internally against ourselves (much like the talk of ‘perfection’ above). But I have no problem speaking of the evils of this world.
Evils that lead to war, that vie for power, that tempt us with our own way over someone else’s, evil whispers convincing ourselves we’re in the right, as Vladamir Putin said this week, that Russia has no ‘ill intentions’ towards Ukraine. I mean, I think he actually believes it while still ordering bombings and the killing of civilians. The devil said the same thing to Jesus – I just don’t want to see you suffer! I don’t want to see you hungry! I don’t want to see you dead at the hands of all those in Jerusalem. That tempting voice is tough to ignore, because it speaks directly to our insecurities. To the places we feel we are not good enough, where shame and fear and guilt run rampant.
As one preacher reflected,
The devil tempts Jesus to doubt his own experiences and his own identity. He tempts Jesus to doubt his own experience and his own identity as God’s Beloved. Every single one of us…will be faced with this temptation. And for Jesus to prove it to the devil would be to prove it to himself. The devil wants to create insecurity for Jesus, because of course it’s the most insecure who are the most erratic, swayed this way or that by whatever promises them love or acceptance or validation. Any validation at all. And if Jesus acts with the power he has, that proof will wipe out any insecurity or doubt hanging in the air.
We’re more likely to seek out validation from voices that agree with us, that assuage internal conflicts, that make us feel like we’re on the right path, rather than those that highlight our failings and imperfects. But something about this devilish echo chamber doesn’t feel right to Jesus. True to himself, the voices of insecurity and doubt feel more real, more true to his call from God. What if those are the voices accompany him all the way to the cross?
We don’t hear of it much because of how the story of his life is told, but there are moments he goes off to pray, moments such as the Garden just before his arrest where he prays for God to remove the cup from before him – moments when his humanity comes shining through. If we truly believe that Jesus was human, then he must have been filled with the same humanity and imperfections and insecurities as you or I. And what Jesus realizes in the wilderness is that he must make peace with those voices, rather than give in to the tempting voices that assure us we’re be happier with power and certainty. Jesus understands that our insecurities, our embracing of ‘good enough’ give us more than enough reasons to try to make this world a better place, even if we die trying.
For what we’ve learned in these years of pandemic is that perfection was never going to be attainable. We gave it an honest shot in March of 2020 where we all stayed home, tried to flatten the curve, emerging only for that which was vitally important. But then for some, those weeks that spilled over into months felt like “crying wolf,” and made us doubt the effectiveness of any other attempt to keep people safe, be they masks, vaccines, or lockdowns. It wore on all of us differently. Some gave in to that little voice whispering in their ears, tempting them away with conspiracy theories and validation for their doubts. Others turned to echo chambers happily only hearing themselves. Others still sought out scientific advice only to have that contradicted by doctors and we were left unsure of what to believe. After each subsequent lockdown, and boosters, and loss of activity our collective hope eroded forcing us to face that we were no longer going to get through this together.
This next phase of reopening should be called ‘good enough.’ (Maybe our whole lives should be called that). We have those who have gotten boosted, and those who have given up – like the mother of a child at my son’s school who when she heard that a workmate was home with covid wanted to just show up at their house to try and catch the disease – like those old chicken pox parties. We have those who just want life to go back to normal, and those unsure of what new normal will look like. We have the immunocompromised – some wondering if they’ll ever be confident to go outside again, and still some in that same group willing to risk contact with others because of everything that’s been taken from them. This is good enough – in all its pain and glory. For we can never be perfect in a population of nearly 8 billion people, because it means 8 billion whispers tempting us in 8 billion ways – though it’s admirable we tried.
So why does ‘good enough’ feel like failure?
When did we believe our insecurities and doubts were weaker than power and certainty?
When did regular life with all of its joys and challenges become less than?
In the wilderness, Jesus embraces the good enough self that God has declared a beloved son. In this Lenten season, we’re going to try to get to the same place: to embrace our good enough selves that God has declared a beloved child. For we can only love others as much as we love ourselves, and so seeking love for ourselves and others, instead of giving into the voices that tempt us away from our insecurities and doubts, let us instead embrace the self in all our incompleteness, for we are still worthy. For God declared from the beginning of creation, for God said, “Let us make humankind in our image…and seeing everything that was made, God said, it was very good.” (Genesis 1)
 http://smokyrow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Matthew-4-1-11.pdf (unsure of author)
 Brown, Brené, The Gifts of Imperfection.
Really enjoyed this sermon. I really have used this in my self talk its Good Enough, and instead of grinding over it in my mind I just move ahead to the task at hand.
It is the end of March and it is helping not feeling so guilty over almost everything I do. Staying focused on the task at hand is something I have to remember and helps to keep on reminding myself. Thank you Chris.