Monday, February 23, 2015

First Sunday in Lent, Rev. Kirsten's Sermon

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The question that these readings raise for me  today is, Why does the Spirit drive Jesus out into the wilderness?  Out in the wilderness, Jesus is tempted by Satan, he is with the wild beasts.  But he resists sin and evil.  He returns to Galilee, still proclaiming God’s salvation.  He promises the people that the Kingdom has come near and that they can repent and believe in the good news.  Why does God proclaim Jesus his Son, with whom he is well pleased and then immediately the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness?

I’m worried about this because I know that I am in the wilderness.  Sometimes it feels like we are being sorely tested.  Sometimes there are too many temptations, too many challenges.  Our "enemies" are people who are challenging—people who are hard to love.  Our temptations are in our bodies,  we have to overcome physical urges, the urge to express  anger, the urge to possess something, the self-destructive urges to eat, drink or do things that are not good for us.   We are challenged by hardships—sickness, or loss, failures or want.   I wonder if God is testing us.  Is that why the Spirit leads Jesus out into the wilderness?

Just so there is no confusion, I’m going to answer that question right away:  No,  God is not testing Jesus,  God is not testing us. 

The wilderness is out there in the world.  Satan is testing Jesus.  Temptations are part of being a human.  There are ways for us to sin all around us.  God is sure and trustworthy.  The angels wait on Jesus and after forty days, Jesus comes out of the wilderness proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.  God is on the side of the divine victory over evil, sickness, over death, not on the side of mortal sin or human failure.

But how do I come to that answer from these readings?  We have in our readings today an exploration of God’s covenant with us.  A covenant is a promise, a commitment, a contract, or a guarantee.   A covenant always requires two parties.  In legal terms, there must be an offer and an acceptance for a contract to be binding.   Convenants are about an exchange between two parties. 

And this is how it is with us and God.  God covenants to love us and save us.  On our part we must believe in God, and follow God’s truth, God’s ways.  

How do we know that God will keep God’s side of the bargain?  Well, as in all covenants, there has to be trust.  With every contract or promise or guarantee, there is possibility that the promise could be broken on either side.  But we enter into promises, and contracts, we make and accept guarantees because we trust the other party.  Our faith in God, is that trust .  Our faith is developed as we have experiences of God’s saving grace.  We have an experience of God’s covenant in the resurrection of Jesus.  And we have ongoing experiences of God’s grace, fulfilling God’s promise to us as we live in the world. 

In this period of Lent, we are invited to build up that trust in God,  we are preparing ourselves for the Kingdom of God to come near.  We are preparing ourselves to experience the freedom and new life in Christ at Easter.  So I think of this story of the temptation of Jesus as an invitation to us to build up our faith, our trust in God and to live as fully as we can into our covenant with God, preparing ourselves for an Easter experience.

We pray the Lord’s Prayer daily or in the context of the Eucharist.  We say,  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  This prayer asks like the psalmist for support and encouragement for teaching in God’s ways, for strength in the face of temptations. 

The psalmist, in Psalm 25 prays: 

Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

Peter's Epistle encourages this building up of trust, of faith through baptism.  Peter says that baptism does not remove dirt, but it is an appeal for a good conscience.  Baptism gives us an experience of God’s covenant.  Our failings, our misdeeds are forgiven and we are given an opportunity to live more fully in God’s love and hope for us. 

So the answer that I hear to my question—“Why does the Spirit drive Jesus out into the wilderness?” is this—Jesus faces temptation from Satan as an act of solidarity with us.  We live in the wilderness all the time.  We are tempted by stuff (material things), by our selfish desires, by our passions and our fears.   We are overcome by our human failings.   Jesus resists these temptations, lives a life without sin.  By doing this, Jesus leads us away from temptation.  God teaches us, encourages us, loves us by giving us the Word, Jesus in the human flesh.

In this period of Lent,  we are reminded that we are human, just mortal beings, and we make mistakes.  Sometimes when we are afraid, we act in ways that are not admirable.  Maybe we don’t share with our neighbors because we are afraid that we might not have enough.  Maybe we don’t express love because we don’t trust that the other person will love us back.  Maybe we hold a grudge or judge someone harshly.  But Jesus leads us out of the wilderness. 

Through our baptism, we are forgiven.  Every day when we fail, God stands by listening and loving us, forgiving us and encouraging us.  We are working away to overcome evil and death, and God is right with us.  As we wander around in the wilderness, facing the daily trials of life,  God is teaching us, supporting us, giving us grace.  I have an image of the Spirit, taking Jesus by the hand.  I see a breeze, a gentle wind, Wisdom, Sophia lighting the path through a dark, dark forest.  She is pushing Jesus from behind.  Wherever Jesus turns there is Satan, but the Spirit is right with him. 

And through Jesus,  we are offered this experience.  Our covenant with God can be strengthened and renewed because we are following Jesus’ path.  The Spirit is also with us.  

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