Sunday, March 1, 2020
First Sunday in Lent, Year A

Prayer of the Day
Lord God, our strength, the struggle between good and evil rages within and around us, and the devil and all the forces that defy you tempt us with empty promises. Keep us steadfast in your word, and when we fall, raise us again and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19 Death came through one; life comes through one
Matthew 4:1-11 The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days

Sermon
Title:  God’s Place, Our Benefit

This year, the Sunday morning gospel readings that illumine our Lenten journey, are five rich stories that each tell of a Jesus encounter.  Today, we hear that familiar story that we hear every First Sunday in Lent – Jesus’ encounter with the Devil in the wilderness, aka the Temptation of Jesus.  In the Sunday’s that follow, we will hear of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and finally the siblings Lazarus, Mary, and Martha on the occasion of Lazarus’ death.  Well, his first death.  But we’ll get to that later.

In addition to exploring these wonderful stories, we will also be exploring that most known of all prayers, the Lord’s prayer.  Lent is a good time to think about prayer, and a good time to do a little catechetical study.  So, I say, let’s get it all in during this short 40 day season.  (Unless you have decided to give up something that you really love, then it can be 40 really long days.)

They were certainly 40 really long days for Jesus in the wilderness.  Coming off his spectacular baptism in which the heavens opened, a dove descended, and the claiming voice of God was heard; as we read, Jesus is immediately driven into the wilderness by the Spirit.  Before beginning his public ministry, before he begins spreading the word of God’s reign that seeks to draw all creation back to God, there is a need for some soul searching.  Yes, even for Jesus.  How vulnerable he must have been.  Hungry, thirsty, coming to a deeper understanding about his identity and his call.  It was similar for the Israelite’s as they questioned their identity and call to be the chosen people of God during their 40 years in the wilderness.  Yes, our wilderness wanderings, whether literally or figuratively, have a way of causing us to question God’s presence and compassion, God’s leading and mercy.  But it also remains a good place for soul searching, examining our identity as children of God and our call to serve and spread God’s reign.

And yet, each time we pray “Our Father who art in Heaven,” whether we pray from green pastures or barren wilderness, whether times when we are filled with gratitude for God’s abundance or when we are questioning God’s goodness, when we say those words – Our Father who are in Heaven – we are affirming our belief that the God of creation who resides in the heavens, having dominion over all the earth and so much more, is in fact there, listening, loving, caring, providing.  (Of course, it doesn’t matter whether you say father, mother, parent, creator, or any other word that works for you.  God is certainly not limited to our gender expressions, bound to our finite language, reduced by our restricting definitions and cognitive concepts.)

“God who is in Heaven and Holy is God’s name,” not only reminds us that God is present, but it also sets things in order.  Who God is and who we are.  An order that, like Adam and Eve in that first reading, we are too often, too eager to attempt to overthrow.  For that story of the forbidden apple bite reminds us of humanity’s rebellious nature.  Whether you call it sin or stubbornness, self-aggrandizing or inflated self-image; it is all about the ego.  One of the best creative acronyms I have heard is for the word ego – Edging God Out.

The serpent in the garden invites humanity to edge God out, to eliminate the need for some heavenly entity, to free us from what we might see as dependence, servitude, subordination. And this is not just a once-in-the-garden experience or temptation.  No, the biting of this forbidden fruit, this seeking of divine status, has been going on throughout human existence.  History books are filled with examples of individuals and groups, tribes and nations, playing God.  Lifting themselves up to a status that stands above all others and has no need to listen to the wisdom and guidance of the creator.  And it continues, for newspapers (sorry, had a flash back to the 20th century for a second) better to say – the internet, and the tv, postings and tweets continue to proclaim story after story of humanity’s drive to edge God out.  And, in the name of Lenten truth telling and confession, we must admit that our own diaries and journals, whether written or just in our memories, are filled with our own examples of edging God out.  We strive to act as though we have all knowledge of good and evil that was promised back in the garden with that first ego-driven bite to edge God out.  And time and time again, we just end up seeing how naked and helpless we are.  We futilely (or should we say fruitlessly) try to cover up our own ignorance.

In Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the devil is certainly playing the same game, making the same offer that was made way back in the garden.  Jesus is invited to act to satisfy his ego, to serve self and not God.  The devil invites him to use his unique gifts to nourish himself, ignoring the mission that lies ahead.  Jesus is invited to put God to the test.  Rather than to trust in God’s word and have faith that God’s promises are true, he is encouraged to make God be at his beck and call.  To save him according to his whims and risks.  Finally, the big one, Jesus is promised all power, all control if he will just replace God with his own self-interest.  Though Jesus is ultimately crowned king of creation, the devil was offering him a way that did not involve the humility of serving and the humiliation of suffering.  The devil’s promise did not demand rejection by his own and abandonment by his friends.  There was no cross and death on this tempting road to power.  All he was asked to do was to edge God out, and place ego-feeding evil on the throne of his life.  Sounds pretty tempting.

Our Father, Mother, Parent, Creator, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.  The first words of a familiar prayer.  But so very important.  Affirming God’s place in all that is.  Affirming God’s place in our lives.  Saying “yes” to the God who loves us beyond measure.  Saying “no” to any power or entity that seeks to edge God out.  Saying “yes” to the God who comes among us to save us, even though it means serving and suffering.  Saying “no” to false promises of comfort that offer no hope and no peace.  Saying “yes’ to the God of life and love through community and connection.  Saying “no” to self-centered living that will be our destruction.

God in heaven, holy is your name.  We pray it with reverence, humility, thanksgiving, joy, surrender, confidence, trust, hope, and peace.  God owns it with love, mercy and grace, made known in Jesus the Christ, made new each day through the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

 

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