First Sunday in Lent

First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
3:1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Psalm: Psalm 32

Mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. (Ps. 32:10)

1Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
  and whose sin is put away!
2Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
  and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
  because of my groaning all day long.
4For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
  my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. 
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt.
  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave         me the guilt of my sin.
6Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of         trouble;  when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
7You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble;
  you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
8“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;
  I will guide you with my eye. 
9Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding;
  who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near     you.”
10Great are the tribulations of the wicked;
  but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
11Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord;
  shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19

12Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written,
 ‘One does not live by bread alone,
  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
  and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Children’s Sermon:  Let’s start at the very beginning.  Do those words sound familiar.  Maria in Sound of Music wants to teach the children music.  The “Do, Re, Mi” song opens with:

         Let’s start at the very beginning
         A very good place to start
         When you read, you begin with A-B-C
         When you sing, you begin with Do-Re-Mi.

At church we are not tackling reading, A-B-C, or singing Do-Re-Mi, but we are tackling making our invisible God visible to another.  Tell your neighbor where you would start to tell another about faith.

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer, my Alpha and my Omega.


         Last Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday when we had a glimpse of the Son of Man as Son of God as he stepped into eternity for a moment.  Peter, James and John were told to “listen,” and “get up.  Don’t be afraid!”  Down the mountain they came and headed to Jerusalem with Jesus.  Wednesday we celebrated Ash Wednesday when we were marked with the ashes from the palms of last Palm Sunday.  We were reminded that from ashes we came and to ashes we go.  Today, the first Sunday of Lent, we
“go back to the very beginning” of Jesus’ public ministry, the temptation.  Our text tells of a defining moment for Jesus right after his baptism when the voice from heaven spoke and said, “This is my Son.”  The temptation encounter gives us the building blocks for understanding the unfolding of events during Lent.  So, “let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.”

Two Main Characters

         Being educated, or so we think, scientific, materialistic Americans, it is easy to put the scene today into a Disney movie of a hero facing a wicked witch.  The temptation is not an encounter between two characters in a novel that help us understand life.  This text is about a major encounter between the God of the universe and Satan, the prince of demons, who seeks to rule this world.  It is an encounter between the Kingdom of Heaven invading the Kingdom of this World.  The first reading tells of creation when the serpent defeated Adam and Eve by planting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s word, God’s will and God’s way.  Did God say?  Does God want?  You can be like God if you only.  And so we are here today and Jesus steps into our wilderness to do battle for us.

Rocks to Bread

         We hunger.  Every dieter knows this.  All we need to do is swear off chocolate for Lent and suddenly it is on every counter in the store and every cupboard in our house.  It calls to us!!  People in the Syrian earthquake zone really know hunger.  The people in Ukraine know hunger.  The rains have failed in Kenya and those people know hunger.  We are probably more familiar with temptation.  Satan approaches Jesus and says, “IF.”  “If you are God.”  “If you are God, changes the rocks into bread.”

         The Kingdom of this World seeks to satisfy our physical hungers. If we only try this or that, go here or there, watch this hit, listen to this podcast we will certainly move towards fulfillment.  The bellies of our desires will be satisfied for a better life.  But, Houston, we have a problem.  Tomorrow we are hungry again.  The solutions of this world are temporary.  The solutions of this world focus on our personal needs.  Some hungers are never satisfied.  We need just one more dollar to be happy.

“There are three things that are never satisfied,
    four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
16 the grave, the barren womb,
    land, which is never satisfied with water,
    and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’”

Proverbs 30:15, 16

         Jesus responds, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”  The Kingdom of Heaven starts with the Word of God, not with human hungers.  The Kingdom of Heaven focuses on God and community.  The Kingdom of this world focuses on self.

         So where do we turn to satisfy our hunger?  In Lent we go back to the basics, to A-B-C.  We will walk to Calvary because at our core we are selfish.  It is a challenge to do it God’s way, to forgive, to follow spiritual disciplines, to share, and to endure hard times focusing on God.

 “…throw yourself down…”

         We hunger but we also long for security.  All we have to do is turn on the commercials and we hear about this or that insurance, this or that security devise for our house, and what our protective social services should have done in this or that circumstance.  How quickly we turn from the number killed in the earthquake to questions of whether building codes were followed and the impact on upcoming elections.  Satan next approaches Jesus and says, “IF.”  “If you are the Son of God.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” from the pinnacle of the Temple in the Holy City where Satan had taken him.  Surely God does not allow his people to get hurt.

         You can almost hear Satan sneer; God doesn’t want you to be hurt.  Certainly you won’t die.  Sounds like the Garden of Eden to me.  Sometimes we hear that question in our ear, “Where is your God?”  The Kingdom of this World tries to convince us that following worldly wisdom can avoid death and illness.  The solutions of this world do not stop the wounds of life but offer bandages for problems and we must still walk through death. 

         Jesus responds, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”  The Kingdom of Heaven acknowledges the wisdom, presence and protection of God for all his subjects.  God was there with the people in the earthquake.  He is with those in Ukraine.  And he is with us in our everyday challenges.  He is the Creator and we are the creatures.  We can trust him and do not need to trust insurance, in case.  I am not saying, don’t buy insurance, but that our ultimate trust is in God.  His way is best.

         So if we are challenged in trusting for our hungers, where are we challenged today in trusting God for our security?  I find it interesting that “throw yourself down” can also refer to a posture of prayer as well as a temptation to test God’s love for us.  When our security is threatened, that is the time to throw ourselves down in prayer.  So perhaps the question is how is Bethany doing in personal and corporate prayer, not only for personal needs but also for a pastor and for our community.

“…worship me…”

         We hunger and long for security, and for power.  We jokingly talk about our “control issues.”  When our checkbook doesn’t balance, we rack our brain for what we forgot to write down.  When the red light goes on in the car we worry how much the bill will be.  I won’t mention the health and safety of our children, grandchildren, and friends as we hear the news of irrational mass shootings at places we used to consider safe.  Oh my.  The news now reports on how this is impacting young children going to school and wondering if their parents will return from work.  Life is not only insecure but we cannot control our days.  We sometimes feel powerless.  Satan offers Jesus complete control of this world if Jesus will bow down and worship Satan.

     Jesus could have all the kingdoms of the world if only he would allow Satan to be its god.  Eve ate the fruit believing she would be like God and she gave the fruit to Adam.  The price was huge and has come down through the ages, impacting our lives today.  We are not gods no matter how many people praise us.  Time marches on and we all die because the burdens of life were never meant for us to carry.

         Jesus does not dignify this temptation with a response.  He says, “Be gone.”  We are to worship God and serve only him.  It’s the first commandment.  The kingdom of this world tries to convince us we can be a god or goddess of beauty, of wealth, or government, of so many things.  But it is a lie.  And so we come back to the very beginning.  There are two kingdoms, heaven or earth, Jesus or Satan.  As we walk through Lent we will see Jesus, “Son of God” and “Son of Man.”

Let’s start at the very beginning.

James says it well in his epistle.

“12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  (James 1:12-15)”

  • A:  We live in a tension between the Kingdom of Heaven that we are becoming more familiar with through the life of God Incarnate, Jesus, and the Kingdom of this World that Satan would like us to choose.
  • B:  We will be tempted by our hungers, our deep need for security, and our driving desire to be in control.  Satan loves to work by raising doubts in our mind about God’s word, God’s will and God’s way.
  • C:  Jesus, when tempted, drew on Scripture.  Turn to Scripture when feeling tempted.

As we walk through Lent we will watch as Jesus meets people to give life when they are hungry.  Security will be found in relationship to God.  And we will not need to worry about being in control because we know God is in control, even when a cross looms before us.  A-B-C, Do-Re-Me-, the very beginning is

“36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)”

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: