1st Sunday in Lent

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

1When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

1You who dwell in the shelter of | the Most High,
  who abide in the shadow of the Almighty—
2you will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my stronghold,
  my God in whom I put my trust.” 
9Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
  and the Most High your habitation,
10no evil will befall you,
  nor shall affliction come near your dwelling.
11For God will give the angels charge over you,
  to guard you in all your ways.
12Upon their hands they will bear you up,
  lest you strike your foot against a stone. 
13You will tread upon the lion cub and viper;
  you will trample down the lion and the serpent.
14I will deliver those who cling to me;
  I will uphold them, because they know my name.
15They will call me, and I will answer them;
  I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and honor them.
16With long life will I satisfy them,
  and show them my salvation. 

Second Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

8b“The word is near you,
  on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
  5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written,
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
  9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written,
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
  to protect you,’
11and
 ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
  so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  The Fox and the Crow

         One bright morning Master Fox was going through the woods in search of a bite to eat. He saw a Crow on the limb of a tree overhead.  She held a bit of cheese in her beak.

         “No need to search any farther,” thought sly Master Fox.  “Here is a dainty bite for my breakfast.”  He greeted the crow, “Good morning, beautiful creature!”

         The Crow, cocked her head suspiciously.  But she kept her beak tightly closed on the cheese and did not return his greeting.  Mr. Fox began to compliment her, “How charming you are and how your feathers shine!  What a beautiful form and splendid wings you have!  Surely you have a very lovely voice.  Could you sing just one song, I know I should hail you Queen of Birds.”

         Listening to these flattering words the Crow forgot all her suspicion, and also her breakfast.  She wanted very much to be called Queen of Birds.  So she opened her beak wide to utter her loudest caw, and down fell the cheese straight into the Fox’s open mouth.

         “Thank you,” said Master Fox sweetly, as he walked off. “You have a voice sure enough.  But where are your wits?”

PRAYER:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Writing a sermon with what looks like war in Ukraine and a possible threat of nuclear response by Russia feels not so very different from the power “smackdown” we see going on in our text today.  Jesus and Satan meet in the wilderness to duke it out.  We use polite words like “Temptation” because we know who the winner is but, in fact, it is a power battle.  Evil thinks it is dealing with a vain crow and with us, her feathered friends, but we shall see differently.  The temptation while occurring at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism, sets a theme and provides a framework as we are being asked to reflect on it today as Jesus turns and heads to Jerusalem at the beginning of Lent.

         Today is the first Sunday in the church season we call Lent.  Epiphany told us about our God ass he ushered in his kingdom.  Lent will tell us how God secures this kingdom and our eternal salvation.  Our world may debate who truly has the power – the guy who threatens to use nuclear power at his finger tips or economic and social sanctions — but we will see it is the God who created the world and gifted us with free will.  My friends, we do not want to be that crow flattered by false promises.  I suspect we are not debating whether we resist chocolate for 40 days.  Even as the news keeps on telling us, “The next 24 hours are critical,” I suspect we need to dig into our text today because how we stand in the spiritual battle going on and how Jesus walks the next 40 days to the cross, “is critical!”

CONTEXT

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Our context that sets the stage for the confrontation holds two important facts.  Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is in the wilderness.

         We have seen the Holy Spirit active in Jesus’ life.  The Holy Spirit was at the conception, enabling the incarnation.  The Holy Spirit appears at the baptism, descending like a dove.  Jesus is not a lone ranger walking to the cross but is walking in partnership with the Trinity.  I say this because I think we often forget that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives too.  Often we live as if God’s presence is like a savings account we have in reserve for a rainy day.  God is somewhere over in Europe and on call for our emergencies…if he has time.  This text reminds us that the Holy Spirit was leading Jesus even during difficult times. The Holy Spirit is our GPS today, if we look and listen.

     Secondly Jesus is in the wilderness.  Do we need to hear that again? Jesus, God, is in God’s will in the wilderness, those horrible forsaken places in life.  He is not off in heaven.  He is in our ugly places. True, he has not eaten for forty days.  I suspect life for him was not that different than the pictures of the people huddled in the subways of Kyiv while fighting is going on.  I think Jesus understands completely the wars going on in our lives so impacted by the passions of those around us and those passions surging up from within us.  There must have been a human sense of extreme vulnerability as the evil one starts whispering in his ear.  That sly fox starts with complements, “If you are God…”

POWER CONFRONTATION: “IF”

Jesus is questioned three times by the devil.  Perhaps you do not believe in a being we call “the devil” but the doubts, the questions here are questions that have rung down through the centuries.  Does God’s Word really say, does it really mean, and is there not another way.  We read the words at the creation account and we read them again in the wilderness account and we will see the challenges to Jesus as he walks to the cross.  We will hear the little voice question us as we walk through Lent.  So let’s listen now.

Stones to Bread

         The first temptation was: in the face of hunger, could Jesus not use his power to turn stones into bread.  I have always understood this temptation was for Jesus to use his power to satisfy his own personal needs.  The challenge is to be self centered and not God centered.  Jesus was famished.  A little selfishness to alleviate pain can’t be wrong, right?  Jesus responds quoting Scripture that we are not to live by bread alone.  For sure if chocolate is what we are refusing to eat this month, it will appear from some forgotten place in the refrigerator or at a friend’s house for dinner.  I can almost hear the little voice asking if God really said we can’t eat chocolate.  And for sure we see Jesus on the cross refusing the wine to dull the pain of the crucifixion.  The fox complements the crow about her beautiful feathers.  Surly there must be a beautiful voice also.

           But could there be a deeper meaning?  Jesus told Peter that he was going to build his church on the rock of Peter’s faith. Matthew 16:18 reports Jesus turning and saying to Peter after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  The Sermon on the Mount uses the example of the wise man building his house on the rock and not on the sand.  Could it be that Satan was tempting Jesus to soften the Gospel and make it more palatable, easier to swallow? 

          I think of the evangelists that equate the Gospel to a TV commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it.”  Try Jesus and you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise.  Just touch the TV and pray.  It seems so logical that faith should not be hard and if God is good and loving then our lives should be happy and we should not have to suffer with at least hunger and certainly not disease and war.  If God is God then for sure we think a god worth worshipping is a god who gives us the good life and success.  Many a person struggles in their faith when hardships come. Satan is tempting Jesus to use his power to make life easy and make the Gospel eatable.

         The draw of materialism is a real challenge I suspect many of us know this.  There is the temptation to work long hours and skip church.  How many times have we heard complaints about tithing?  God does not need my life because he has it all but I need God to make my life better.  I no longer see God in relationship but begin treating him like an ATM.  If I deposit good deeds then he owes me.  Ouch.  I think we will face that temptation during Lent and Jesus will face it as he faces the cross.

Popularity for Worship

The second temptation is the devil offering Jesus popularity in exchange for worship.  The devil shows Jesus the kingdoms of the world and offers them to Jesus if Jesus will only worship him.  Wait one moment, please.  Listen to that temptation carefully.  Jesus answers the temptation with Scripture but do you hear the lie within it?  Who created the kingdoms of the world and who has the power to give, use or take them away?  Certainly not the devil.  No.  Evil is a lie that claims power that it does not have.  Many go down this rabbit hole of misinformation.  The fox can call the crow “Queen of Birds” but that title is not his to give.

     Alcohol does not bring happiness, resolve problems, or bring wealth.  It brings headaches, clouded thinking, and vomiting.  Political power does bring fame … for awhile but the truth is that we all age and as Solomon laments in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19,

         “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must   leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether       that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun.”

I hear a similar despair in reports of statements of Pres. Putin that a planet without Russia is unthinkable so a nuclear response is thinkable.  Evil tries to convince us that it has the power to give life and happiness if we only worship it, follow it, but whatever the offer, it is a lie.

         As we walk to the cross these next weeks we will see Jesus in the last events of his earthly life reversing the lies of evil.  The sick are healed not only in body but also from guilt.  The abandoned are not alone.  Jesus sees and calls them into visibility.  Death will not have the last word.

         So how are we deceived by evil today?  Are there ways that we trust the powers of this world and forget that the kingdoms of this world belong to God to give and rule?  Lent is a time to peel back those lies and refocus ourselves.  Popularity, health, and wealth last for a time but let us worship the One who will rule for eternity!

Suffering or Security

Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread, misusing his personal power.  Jesus is tempted to worship the lies of evil misrepresenting his social power.  Lastly Jesus is tempted to throw himself from a high tower twisting God’s promise of physical security, protection from pain and suffering and implying that God ultimately is not the eternal spiritual power.  In fact, all three temptations call into question our understanding of God.

         One of the hardest challenges we face is the challenge of suffering.  As we listen to the news about the war in Ukraine and see our fellow human beings told to kill or being killed, we may wonder if God is truly all powerful.  When a doctor gives us a terminal diagnosis or says that surgery is in our future, we can despair.  When our children struggle and rebel or perhaps are hurt, our spirits are crushed.  The cross was an accepted execution by the Romans.  Jesus saw this form of execution in his country and knew it was not a pretty death he was facing.  The temptation again is to avoid the cross and death as that cannot be of God.  God by definition is there to protect us.

         Luke is a little more polite in Jesus’ dismissal of this voice, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” but Matthew reports Jesus saying, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only!’”  Jesus does not argue or reason with evil but now dismisses it.  Some temptations we deal with by refusing to engage.  When the crow opened his mouth to respond to the temptation of the fox, the cheese was lost.

          I know I cannot eat just one chip.  To try is only going down a road that leads to failure.  The truth is that God is God and I am his creation.  He has not promised me a rose garden now.  Only tales and TV series end that way.  For the next few weeks, we will be walking with Jesus to the cross for we also must all die.  Only God knows the master plan for the world, for Ukraine, and for us.  God in the wildernesses is ushering in a Kingdom that will be under his rule.  We have free will to choose.       Temptation would whisper in our ear that God’s way is hard like a rock and should be eatable like bread.  God’s way is unpopular and involves rejection.  And ultimately God’s way should not involve suffering and danger.  Jesus responded to the lies of evil by quoting Scripture and by refusing to engage with it.  The sly fox fools the vain crow into dropping her cheese but evil does not fool Jesus.  Jesus is walking to the cross for us so that we will have eternal life in his kingdom where there is no hunger, where we are loved, and where we need not fear danger.  The Lenten journey to the cross takes us to that kingdom.  Let us refuse the lies of the sly fox and focus on Jesus during Lent.

Let the people of God say AMEN.

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