Lent, Temptations of Jesus and Valentine’s Day is there a connection?
I noticed that Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year. This is not specifically a Christian festival. It is probably more of a “Hallmark Holiday” designed to sell stuff: festive cards with decorative hearts, chocolate, flowers, and dinner reservations. But in spite of all the things on display in the stores, I thought it would be fun to do something during worship on that day. After all, isn’t Valentine’s Day about love? All of you can quote many Bible verses that proclaim God’s love and our calling to love one another. At a recent Music and Worship Committee meeting, I mentioned Valentine’s Day and asked for suggestions. There was a suggestion that we ask the Wednesday School children to do something, perhaps make homemade Valentine cards and give them out on that Sunday.
My next step was to check out the texts for Sunday, February 14th and I immediately recognized a problem. It is the first Sunday in Lent. The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is always the Temptations of Jesus: Jesus in the wilderness tempted and tested by the devil. Lent is a serious time for repentance and renewal of faith. Valentine’s Day and the devil out to get Jesus do not mix. It is too bad we could not have one of the texts from a couple of Sundays before for Valentine’s Day, the great inspirational words on love from the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Maybe I should relegate Valentine’s Day to the Fellowship hour and ask that heart-shaped cookies be served.
But I wasn’t quite ready to give up on Valentine’s Day. Although it is Lent I am not going to tell my wife, “sorry dear, no card or gift this year. It is the solemn season of Lent. Let us do something serious together and make sure we are not having a good time.” So I gave the Temptations of Jesus text further thought. After his baptism, where Jesus was declared the beloved Son of God, the Holy Spirit did not lead Jesus to a banquet of wine and feasting but into the wilderness and fasting. In the context wilderness is desert, and it is a hostile place. Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days and the devil never gave Jesus a break. No doubt Jesus was hungry, dirty, and in need of a bath. If the devil had a mirror, he could have held it out in front of Jesus and said, “Just look at yourself, full of sand and starving; what kind of “Son of God” is that. At least show your stuff and turn this measly stone into a meal, a tiny loaf of bread.” Jesus responded by quoting Scripture, “One does not live by bread alone.” Jesus was quoting Scripture when Moses told Israel that the time of testing in the wilderness was to teach them “that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, Jesus made it clear he was going to trust the heavenly Father to provide for his needs. The identity of Son of God was not for showing off and seeking status. The Son of God is a Valentine from heaven, a gift of God’s love, for Jesus would fulfill his role as a servant. This can teach us that in our precious relationships we are not to be busy seeking our own advantage, but we trust Jesus to guide us and be attuned to the needs of those we love. We can be living Valentines by practicing sensitivity.
Next the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, specifically the authority that comes with political and military power, and the glory of great wealth. The devil made it clear to Jesus that he had a great deal of influence with the powerbrokers of the world. The devil offered Jesus a piece of the action with just one catch: worship me. The devil seemed so crass and crazy here, why in the world would Jesus, the Son of God even consider worshiping the Evil One? But as they say, ‘crazy like a fox’; the devil must have sniffed vulnerability with Jesus. The issue would not be giving Jesus Fort Knox or command of the 7th fleet. The devil was offering a path for power, influence, and success. In other words, “Follow me, Jesus, and I will show how to get people to fear and respect you.” Jesus knew that the path he was to follow meant suffering, a complete reversal of the devil’s offer. But Jesus told the Sneaky One, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Jesus, the Son of God, is a Valentine from heaven. Jesus came not to instill fear and fright, but faith in trust in a God who loves this world. Greed is a powerful force in the world, and it is a test for us. This is why worship is so vital, for there we hear the good news of grace, God’s generous outpouring of forgiveness and salvation. Saved by grace we can serve as living Valentines in a world so often wounded and worked over by greed by being generous with our time, talent, and treasure.
According the Luke’s gospel, the devil was not through; he took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and told him to jump off. This would not be suicide the devil declared, but a spectacle: as you are flying through the air with the greatest of ease, God will send angels to protect you from gravity’s pull. The devil even pulled out his copy of the Scriptures to quote a verse from the psalms about guardian angels. After all, Jesus, wouldn’t it be good for the Son of God, (pardon the pun) to test “his wings”? Let the people know who you are and there is no better place to make your entrance that from the Temple. Jesus knew the idea of jumping off from the Temple high point to test the angels’ response time did not pass the smell test. Jesus told the devil, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus’ mission and ministry would not be a circus stunt to entertain the crowd. Jesus, the Son of God, would be a Valentine from heaven. He came not to entertain, but to save. The Temple would not be a jumping off spot for Jesus, but a holy place of prayer for all people. Jesus came to obey the will of God, and this would eventually mean be lifted up on the cross. And Jesus would not jump down from the cross. Jesus would be crucified because he would not fall for the values of selfishness, success at any cost, and his stubborn refusal to worship the gods of this world. His suffering and death were for us, revealing the full depth of God’s love. Since Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death, and has called us to follow him and the ways of God, we are set free to be living Valentines rejoicing in the daily opportunities to share God’s love.
So maybe the First Sunday in Lent, the Temptations of Jesus, and Valentine’s Day do connect after all. By the way, the first lesson for Sunday, February 14th, instructed the people of God to confess their faith in a God of generosity and grace, and then go have a feast, a community celebration thankful for the love and goodness of God. Isn’t this a good description of our worship: we gather to praise our God, thankful for forgiveness and salvation, and then we come to Holy Communion and feast on the life of Jesus, his love ever empowering us to his ministry of love for others.