Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him, and honor him. I will satisfy him with long life, and show him my salvation.

After His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and though He was alone, He was never from God. He always dwelt in the presence of His Father; He was secure in His identity. He was naturally hungry at the end of the forty days. Satan took advantage of his weakened state. He taunted Jesus. ďIf you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.Ē Jesus certainly had the power to change stones to bread, but He answered this first temptation with the Word of God.

Satan taunted Jesus a second time. After showing Him all the kingdoms in the world, he said, ďI will give you all this authority, and their glory, for it has been delivered to me; and I give it to whomever I want. If you therefore will worship before me, it will all be yours.Ē Again, Jesus certainly had the authority to rule the world, but He answered this second temptation with the Word of God.

Satan taunted Jesus a third time. ďIf you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here.Ē Following Jesusí lead, Satan quoted scripture to prove his point: ďHe will put his angels in charge of you, to guard youĒ and, ďOn their hands they will bear you up, lest perhaps you dash your foot against a stone.Ē He may know the scripture as well as the best theologians, but he twisted this scripture to tempt Jesus into tempting fate. Our faith is given not to test God but so that we will know Him, love Him and worship Him.

Jesus answered this third temptation with the right use of the Word of God. Each time He faced Satanís taunts, Jesus had an answer that came from God. He dwelled in the shadow of the Most High and the Almighty dwelt within Him. In that He was secure. He certainly did have the power to change stones to bread, to rule over the nations of the world and to call the angels to His aid, but that moment was neither the time nor the place. Satan took Godís Word and twisted it, claiming for himself the authority that he did not have in an attempt to prove Jesus was not the Son of God. Jesus proved His identity by remaining without sin despite being tempted like the rest of us.

Jesus proved He was the Son of God, dwelling within the presence of God and secure in His calling to save the world. Jesus did not come to feed the hungry, to rule over the nations or to be a famous preacher. He came to die, to bring forgiveness and healing to a world that was sick and dying from sin. He was Immanuel, God with us. We can trust His words because He is the Word. He began His ministry by associate Himself with our humanness, but He did so without falling into sin. At the end of His ministry, at the cross, He will take on our sinfulness and save us from the consequences of that sin, death and the grave. We will spend the next forty days considering our own humanness, hearing Godís promises for those who believe in Him.

We all need Jesus. We are reminded of this as we enter into the forty days of Lent. We are encouraged to face our own temptations and fight them with Godís Word, just as Jesus did in the wilderness. Jesus faced the temptations of flesh, power and faith and He prevailed against them. We can too because we have been saved by the cross of Jesus and by His grace dwell in the presence of God. By His Word we can reject Satanís taunts and live in Godís Kingdom.

It isnít easy. I have to admit that it would be far easier to fast from chocolate if I had to spend forty days wandering in a wilderness. It is extremely difficult to avoid eating that Oreo cookie that I know is in the cookie jar. Though it was tradition to rid the house of forbidden foods before Ash Wednesday, we donít usually do that anymore. I donít rid my house of Oreos because others are not fasting. I havenít really chosen to fast Oreos, so it doesnít really matter, but I am not sure that Iím strong enough to do so while Oreos are so accessible. We live in a world surrounded by temptations and it is very, very difficult to avoid falling for them.

I say that it would be much easier to avoid the temptation in that wilderness, but was it easy for Jesus? We find it difficult to understand this story because we know Jesus is perfect, sinless, both fully human and fully divine. How is temptation even a question for Him? Especially since us fallible, human beings are tempted by such unnecessary things.

The temptation in the wilderness was not an easy forty days for our Lord. Jesus didnít need to be standing in a bakery to be tempted by bread. He is able to turn stones to bread, but it was important for Jesus to experience the time in the wilderness so that His focus was where it must be: on His Father and His Word. Satan didnít just force Jesus to confront flesh, power and faith; Satan forced Jesus to think about the ministry He was about to begin. Jesus faced not only the questions of human beings, but the questions of His calling.

Jesus was able to counter Satanís taunts with Godís Word, but do we have enough knowledge of scriptures to do the same? Imagine you are in a wilderness where there are no Oreos. What happens? You want Oreos more than ever. We desperately desire the thing that is not accessible, thatís part of our humanness. Ask anyone who gets a craving for Chick-fil-A on a Sunday! We hunger not only for food but for other things of the flesh. This can happen, too, with our calling. Are we chasing after the wrong things instead of keeping our hearts and our minds on God?

In the Old Testament lesson, God gives His people instruction on how to present their first fruits offering at the Temple. The people are not to simply thank God for what they are able to give, but also to remember God for all that He had done for them. The past - the exodus - was more than something that had happened to them. It was the way God molded them into the nation they were to become. The escape out of Egypt, the forty years of wandering and the victories over those who dwelt in the land were all gifts from God. Everything they had was theirs by the hand of the same God who did all that for them.

They were instructed to remember their roots every time they presented the first fruits, not only in the first generation but in every generation to follow. Their offering was meant to be a time to remember how they got to that moment; this memory was as important as the offering. They praised God as the recited His story, praising Him for His gifts. It did not matter that a future generation were not the ones who escaped and wandered; the gifts of God were given to every generation that followed.

We tend to forget the past. We tend to think that we earned our present blessings with our own power and ability, ignoring the role that our ancestors played in getting us to where we are today. Their history is our history. Their successes have become ours; their failures are a part of how we have grown to be. We may not be able to claim the story of the Exodus for ourselves, but we have a story, too. We have a story in which God has saved His people - our own ancestors, both familiar and apostolic - and blessed them in this world. Their life and their faith has imprinted on our lives and faith. Where would we be today if they had not shared Godís grace so that it would trickle down to us?

Unfortunately, we also inherited their humanness. Thatís why we need Jesus. The next forty days are a time when we can think about the ways we need to be transformed by Godís Word. It is also a time for us to recall Godís story as it was lived out by those who came before so that we can respond to Satanís taunts with His Word. The hope is that we come out of our wilderness wandering closer to God than we began.

There is a movie starring Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris called ďStepmom.Ē The movie is about a woman (Julia Roberts) who falls in love with a divorced man (Ed Harris). Susan Sarandon plays the ex-wife. Two children complete this very modern family.

Early in the movie Susan Sarandonís character did everything she could to make it difficult on her ex and his new lady. She even tried turn the hearts of her children away from the new woman in their fatherís life. The boy once told his mother, ďMom, if you want me to hate her, I will.Ē Julia Roberts did not know how to be a mom. She was young and inexperienced but willing to learn. One day the boy got lost because he wandered off when he was in her care. Juliaís character was scared and his mother was angry, accusing her of not caring enough. She even threatened to restrict visitation. The girl - a teenager who willfully fought her own mother - was often rude and mean, trying to get the ďstepmomĒ in trouble so she would be forced out of the picture altogether. Both children think that if new woman is gone, then their family will be right again.

However, their mother got very sick with an incurable cancer. Though the doctors tried to make her well, her condition progressively worsened throughout the movie. She did not tell the family until it was too late. One day, when she was feeling very ill, she realized that her ex-husbandís new woman offered some hope for her family. She was dying so she began treating the ďstepmomĒ with more respect. The children saw her change and also began treating her differently.

The mother told her daughter, ďTry to see something good in her.Ē One day, Julia Roberts and the daughter were in their home and the daughter was frustrated by an art project. Julia asked her what was wrong. The daughter wanted to push her away, but eventually confessed the problem. Patiently and graciously Julia, who was an artist herself, showed her a technique that would work. That moment of grace was a turning point in their relationship. In the end the entire family accepted Julia Roberts, even Susan Sarandon, and they all dealt with the future together.

It wasnít easy. The catalyst for love was a dinner between the mother and the new woman. The younger woman wanted to do things one way, the mother had her own way. However, they began to co-exist in a right relationship that helped the children to adjust to the inevitable. It took not only a mindful decision to cooperate, but also a love that was beyond their understanding. At first Susan Sarandon grasped the importance with her head of making Julia Roberts welcome into her world. However, it was not until they knew each other in a deeper way - with their hearts - confessing their fears and their hopes for the children together, that they really came into a right relationship.

It takes heads and hearts for us to be righteous in Godís eyes, the righteousness about which Paul speaks between God and His people. In the Old Testament, righteousness came from obedience to the Law. However, Paul explains in the book of Romans that it we canít be righteous by our works. Human flesh is unable to be good enough, to do right enough to be in that right relationship with God. So God made it possible in a new way, with a new covenant. That covenant is found in Jesus Christ. Godís Word, which is Jesus, dwells in us and it is He that makes it possible for us to have a right relationship.

We love God. We know God. It is not enough to just love God or to just know God. For a right relationship, our hearts and our heads must be involved; we need to confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord. Salvation is found in Him.

Paul reminds us that our faith in Christ is not just a heart thing or a head thing. It is both. Jesus Christ is Lord and as Lord He is the foundation on which a new covenant and a new relationship is built. Paul looks to the past, to the story of God as we read in the scriptures, to explain this new covenant of God. The people of the past personified wisdom as the manifestation of God, Paul identified Jesus as that manifestation. The past established what would be, and Jesus fulfilled the promises.

Everything that we are - our strength, our hope, our peace - is found in Jesus Christ. He is Lord. We dwell in Him. Our salvation is dependent on our love for God and our love for Jesus, but it is also built on our knowledge of God as He is manifest in the flesh of Jesus. We dwell in Him but dwelling in Him does not mean that we should test His faithfulness. God will protect us, save us, empower us. However, we see in Jesusí temptation in the wilderness that we can be tempted by things that appear good. We need to rest in all the gifts that God has given us - our past, Godís Word and His promise - and with His strength we will be able to discern what is right and do what is truly good.

Jesus did not prove Himself to be the Son of God by turning stones into bread or by testing Godís faithfulness with foolish actions like jumping off the roof of the Temple. He was secure in His calling to save the world. The proof was not in what Jesus did. Jesus proved Himself to be the Son of God because He dwelt in the power of the Most High God, turning to Godís Word and Godís promises as the foundation of all that He was to do. He came to die, to bring forgiveness and healing to a world that was sick and dying from sin. He was Immanuel, God with us, and from then until now God no longer lives in a temple. Instead, He lives within the hearts of those who believe.

Whatever we choose to do as we go on this Lenten journey, letís remember that we arenít trying to prove ourselves. We feel pretty good at the end of the forty days when we manage to survive our fasting without failure. I am still delighted to say that a Lenten fast from years ago continues today because I stopped drinking so much soda. I love the paintings I produced during previous Lenten challenges. These practices had an impact on me, not just spiritually but in my daily life. But we are reminded that this is not the reason we go on this journey. We follow Jesus to draw near to God. We practice our devotions and fasting to remind ourselves how to call on the name of the Lord.

Lent teaches us how to abide in God even as we have to face the difficulties and temptations of this world. The end of our Lenten journey is not pleasant. We have to face the cross with Jesus, deal with His death and the end of our assumptions about what He really came to do. We want Jesus to feed us, to be our king and for the whole world to believe in Him as we do. But we realize as He is hanging on the cross that this is not how it is meant to be. Our troubles are far more complex, our pain is much deeper than we can imagine. Our sin is beyond our ability to overcome. There was no easy way to fix what was wrong with the world and we have to face that reality on Good Friday when even Jesus cried out to His Father in His suffering and pain.

And so weíll spend the next six weeks learning how to abide in the shelter of God so that when Satan taunts us, we will trust that God can pull us through. We may use this time as a time for fasting, as Jesus fasted during His forty days in the wilderness. But even more so, let us take this Lenten season to listen to Godís words, to keep His Word on our lips and in our hearts so that we, too, can face the devil with Godís truth when he tries to tempt us to go by a different path. God has promised to be with us through our troubles and to save us from all that means to do us harm. We may suffer, after all Jesus suffered, but we know that God will deliver us to the place He has prepared for us in eternity.

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