Year C — The First Sunday in Lent

Commentary for February 17, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Click HERE to listen to the podcast on Lectionary Lab Live

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Living lives of gratitude is an awfully good way to “resist temptation.”

The Israelites were instructed to remember where they had come from, and the ways that God had delivered and blessed them. Their offerings were a response — not an obligation — to the action of God in saving them from slavery and oppression. 

I’ve always been a little curious about the phrase, “land of milk and honey” to describe the promise of God for the land of promise. Then, I stop and imagine what they had to eat as slaves in Egypt and the contrast becomes clearer. 

Gruel and hard bread = bad; milk and honey = good.

Stop, consider, and be grateful. This has something to do with the heart of worship, I’m thinking.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
This psalm contains the phrase that the devil quotes to Jesus. Why the devil wanted to get into a scripture battle with the Son of God, I don’t know.

God’s protection is always with us; we are quite often delivered out of trouble (see v.15.)

This is not the same as being delivered before trouble ever hits us or harms us. We still live in a dangerous, hard-scrabble world; Jesus understood that there is tempting God, and then there is trusting God. 

The former is not such a good idea, while the latter allows us to live lives of peaceful confidence that God is with us in the midst of whatever mischief the devil stirs up for us!

Romans 10:8b-13
Well, there you go.

I love Romans 10:13 for its simplicity and clarity. (Of course, Paul is quoting the prophet Joel here — but I love both of these guys for sharing it!) What does it take to have God help, save, and defend us?

Call. Yell. Shout out. Pray. Hope. Trust. Believe.

Not too many other strings attached or hoops to jump through, when you get right down to it.

‘Nuff said.

Luke 4:1-13
The old gospel song says, “Tempted and tried, I need a great Savior; one who can help my burdens to bear.” (I Must Tell Jesus, Elisha A. Hoffman)

The story of Jesus in the wilderness teaches us many things, no doubt; but not the least of the lessons to be had here is the fact that Jesus can help us in the inevitable trials and temptations of our lives because he knows exactly how it feels!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Have you ever noticed that when someone behaves in an outrageous or improper or, most often, horribly RUDE manner, the first thing people say is:

“Well, just who do you think you are?”

That is the right question. Who we think we are shapes how we think we are entitled or obliged to behave.And the Bible shows us that Satan knew this.That is why he challenged Jesus on the point of identity in this Gospel lesson. 


The key to understanding the story of the temptations lies in the THREE little words: IF YOU ARE.

In Luke 3: 22 – following Jesus’ baptism, a voice comes from heaven and says, 

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And here just a few days later, the devil says,
If you arethe Son of God.”

Satan presents Jesus with the opportunity to define what it means to be the Son of God; He is given the opportunity to win popularity by turning stones into bread, feeding the masses and feeding his ego at the same time, 

He is given the opportunity to achieve great power by worshipping the devil and turning his back on trusting God to provide. 
He is given the opportunity to achieve great fame by throwing himself off the temple and showing himself to be God’s Chosen One by letting the angels catch him.

These temptations invite Jesus to imitate the Emperors in Rome who secured power by giving the people free food and free entertainment, winning their favor with bread and gladiators.The temptations with which Jesus was faced are the very ones that we, you and I, fall victim to on a regular, I would almost say, a daily basis.


In little subtle ways we seek popularity or power or possessions as a way of hedging our bets against the uncertainty of the world.
 

After all, we live in an age in which disturbed young people walk into schools armed with assault weapons and shoot innocent 6 year olds; where stock markets plunge and housing prices fall, where wars rage and tornados strike and hurricanes threaten to blow us all away.

A little control over our own lives and a bit of money securely invested, what’s wrong with that? 

The problem is: the things the Devil wanted Jesus to do as the Son of God are selfish, and self-serving and ultimately self-glorifying. And Jesus rejected them because being centered on self is inconsistent with being the Christ, the Beloved, the Son of God, the one sent to save others.

It was during the forty days in the wilderness that Jesus struggled with what it meant to be the Son of God. 
When he became clear about that identity, he came out of the wilderness, and began to preach the Kingdom of God and to perform mighty acts of healing and exorcism. In the forty days in the wilderness, Jesus became certain of who he was and came forth ready to behave in accord with his identity.

When Jesus knew who he was, the question of what he was to do was already answered.
 
To be the Christ, the Son of God, laid out for him a path to follow, a way of being in the world that led to certain things to do. Preaching. Healing. Confronting Evil.


Throughout these forty days of Lent we are called to contemplate the life of Jesus, his path of service and obedience to God, his living out his identity as the Son of God. As we do that, we must ask ourselves some identity questions, personally and congregationally. 

Who am I? Who am I, really? And what is God calling me to do?
 
Who are we? Who are we, the church in all its expressions, really? And what is God calling us to do?

I know I am a rostered leader in the ELCA? But what does that mean, now, in 2013, and in the place where I presently serve? What am I to do?

It is an important question, and the answer will shape your life. Likewise, as congregations, as a synod, as a denomination, as a community of faith, we struggle with identity questions. 

Who are we, really?


Are we a gathering of like-minded people, who share a preference for a certain form of theology and worship? If so, then the things we do should be designed to provide for our survival, to take care of ourselves.

Or are we a people whom God has called together to be the Body of Christ, as Luther says in the Small Catechism: Called, gathered, empowered and sent? Called to be Christians, gathered around Word and Sacrament, Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Sent into the world to spread the Love of God. If that is who we are (and I believe it is) then the things we do will be designed to care for the world, for others.


Jesus spent forty days in the Wilderness struggling with the question of identity, struggling to discover what it meant to be the Son of God. Throughout the forty days of Lent, we are called to do the same. 

We must ask ourselves,
 
If we are the beloved children of God, what is God calling us to do?

Sisters and brothers, I ask you: just WHO do you think you are?

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year C — The First Sunday in Lent

  1. Dear John and DelmerThank you so much for your notes on the readings for the first Sunday in Lent and for the sermon. They were very helpful to me as a layperson preparing a sermon for yesterday.I also listened to and enjoyed your podcast. However as I have now been able to download it successfully to my mp3 player and listen to it in bed, I was also able to nearly fall asleep so may not have got so much from it as if I'd been wide awake.Who are we, as individuals and as congregations, and what is our purpose are very good questions to contemplate during this season. Eva in NS

  2. Eva, my sermons have been putting people to sleep for years, so you are in good company! Thanks as always for your comments and insights. The offer still stands to have you "guest" on our show…just let me know.

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