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Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent 2020

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5: 12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus’ ministry begins in the desert, the highlands of the Judean desert west of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. It is probably the same desert where we found John the Baptist. The leading concerns of the texts in this First Sunday in Lent are temptation, sin and the effects of sin. Not what you would call a light menu.

It starts with a flicker of thought, a tiny idea that darts across your mind while you are doing something else. It seems harmless, just one of the millions of things that our brains come up with. But then, it is back, a minute or an hour later. You experience it as something familiar, something enticing. Perhaps thoughts like…. I can claim this as travel expenses on my taxes, even though I rode with a friend to the conference….if I had a chance to make clever cutting remark to a person who has always been mean to me….if I play my cards right I might get this for nothing… Always, in the beginning, it seems quite reasonable, only just pushing the limits a little bit. But if we sit with the idea, or allow it to play out, then a new course is set, heading for disaster at some level - at any level, it is temptation.

Christians have always found comfort in the idea that Jesus was tempted just as we are. But his temptations in this famous story, are not just examples showing us how to resist, but how to resist with the proper tools. Notice how well prepared Jesus is with the right scriptural responses to each temptation - to come back again and again. They are part of the larger story of how “heaven’s rule” came to earth.

Part of the point of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ that we see in Jesus’ mission, is that there was another power ruling the earth. If Jesus was to bring God’s rescuing rule to the world, the present power will be defeated. Jesus’ temptations are the personal side of the larger battle he had to fight if God’s rule was to take hold. Like David fighting Goliath, he had to take on the enemy one on one, if the people as a whole were to be set free.

The three temptations here, are like most temptations, they are good things that are being distorted. Bread is good, unless you are on the Daniel Fast. Jesus will later create a huge amount of it from a few loaves, to feed the hungry people. But should he do that just for himself – just to satisfy himself that he really is the ‘Son of God’ as we heard in his baptism? No, Jesus will satisfy himself with what God has said, instead of with attempts to prove it.

So, too, Jesus may already have a sense that his own vocation would end in a horrible death, trusting that God would raise him from the dead. But the satanic distortion of this is that he should perform a crazy stunt to attract attention. Again, Jesus refuses – that he would be using God’s power as magic.

Finally, it’s clear throughout Matthew’s gospel that Jesus as ‘King of the Jews’ is to become the true Lord of the whole world. But the path that makes this happen is not a satanic one which would make him grab it for his own ends. The whole book of Matthew is about the alternative path, the true way by which Jesus comes to embody heaven’s rule on earth.

Once again, we are not simple spectators in this extraordinary drama. We too, are tempted to do the right things in the wrong way or for the wrong reason. Part of the discipline of Lent is about learning to recognize the flickering impulses, the whispering voices, for what they are, and to have the scripture-fueled courage to resist them. We, too, are part of the ongoing battle for heaven’s rule to be established on earth. Every successful fight against temptation is one more step on the road to the ultimate victory.

During this Lenten season, one question rises above all others: “What does it mean to be a faithful disciple of Jesus?” Frederick Buechner suggests that after his baptism, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness asking himself the question of what it meant to be Jesus, and that during Lent, we are to ask ourselves what it means to be Christians, what it means to follow Jesus. Before we can understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, the Messiah, we must understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah.

“Satan” put three temptations before Jesus: If you are hungry, change stones into bread. If you are the Son of God, leap from the tower and rely on angels to rescue you. If you bow down before me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours. These examples that seem archaic and irrelevant, now represent things that are all too familiar to us. Magical powers, helplessness, rescue, control, and power, beckon us every day of our lives. We frequently are tempted with, “Just around the corner lies happiness; a new job will provide satisfaction and fulfillment, if only I had what she has, then I would be…”

I love a good story, a good book, a good movie. Part of what makes it good for me is that the characters learn, not just character development, but that they “get it.” They get it in the sense of who they are, who God is and who God is within them. It is about learning our God-given gifts. It’s about using those gifts. When I read, “Chasing Francis”, the characters spoke to me. Chase Falson is the main character. He is an evangelical pastor in a mega church he started. He didn’t grow up active in a church. At one point in his early teens, he asked his father if they were Christians. His father replied, “No, we’re Episcopalians.”

He met a girl in college who introduced him to an evangelical man who greatly impacted Chase’s idea of religion, faith and the Bible. He went to seminary and became a pastor. Things were rocking along, his church was growing, and he was following the game plan. Then one of his church members’ daughter died. The mom was a recovering addict and had just gotten her life together, when her child died. For Chase, something died within him. He began to feel that it had all been a lie. His faith was gone. The Jesus he had known for twenty years was not making things right, was not making the doubt go away. The Board of Elders told him to take some time off and go away- far away. He decided to visit his uncle, a Franciscan brother in Italy. There he was introduced to the person and teachings of Francis of Assisi.

He was struck with the story of the beginning of Francis’ ministry where his father brought charges against him for taking something from him that he gave away to someone in need. Francis stood in front of the judge and took off all his clothes to give to his father – all that he owned. The judge was so touched by the gesture, he took off his robe and wrapped it around Francis and dismissed the charges.

Chase learns that the church is more than the buildings. Chase’s approach to the Bible had been to read the Bible, try to understand what it’s saying and then apply it. Francis’ approach to the Bible was to apply the Bible and then come to a fresh understanding of what it actually meant. Chase began to realize the temptation that had pulled him away – from center, from meaning, from faith. He began to see Francis’ response to God calling him to rebuild the church was more about mission and ministry, instead of buildings. He began to see what God was calling him to – to create a loving church that would give the people their dignity back after the world had taken it away – a church for everyone, not just the wealthy. The human ending, not the Hollywood ending lead him to begin anew – with his newly defined idea of church, of living out the gospel, of using Francis’ idea of evangelism that was expressed through living his life. Francis said, “There is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” He frequently said, “Preach as you go!”

I want our Lenten journey to focus on grace. To grow in grace and our understanding of grace in our lives. At the very center of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God. Grace is clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ. Paul Zahn tells us, “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.” Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God to those who don’t deserve it. We have been given grace by God and we are to share grace with others.

Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these things result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment separates, discourages, kills. Only grace makes us alive. I read a shorthand for grace is –“mercy, not merit.” Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. I want our mantra to become – In God, we grow in grace.

Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death with no hope of resurrection. While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God; his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor.

God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life. We live in God’s grace, so we are expected to share that grace with others. The grace crosses you have been given are to be a constant reminder. For us to hold them as we pray so we acknowledge the grace of God is upon us. The vertical limb of the cross reminds us of the source of grace comes from God. The horizontal limb encourages us to share grace with others. So instead of judging, we choose to love….we choose mercy…we choose grace.

Anyway

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make us vulnerable. Be frank and honest anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Later in his ministry, Jesus would accomplish each one of these “temptations,” but in a reversal of those days in the desert. He would change stones into bread – a few loaves of bread and five small fish would feed the five thousand. He would “hurl himself from a tower” and “be caught by angels,” by giving up his life on the cross. He would be worshipped, by humbling himself as a servant.

For us, what if, instead of waiting for the stones to be changed to bread, we share the food we have, the gifts we have; if, rather than waiting for the fantasy job, we take on with joy and determination the people and work of our lives; if, rather than waiting to be rescued, we lay down our lives for our friends, in sharing time, attention and intention – then we shatter the deadly

illusion and embrace the living reality. We become actively engaged in our own lives, our families, our work, our church, our community, our world. God wants us to live by faith, not by magic. In God, we grow in grace. Amen.Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent 2020 Grace

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5: 12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus’ ministry begins in the desert, the highlands of the Judean desert west of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. It is probably the same desert where we found John the Baptist. The leading concerns of the texts in this First Sunday in Lent are temptation, sin and the effects of sin. Not what you would call a light menu.

It starts with a flicker of thought, a tiny idea that darts across your mind while you are doing something else. It seems harmless, just one of the millions of things that our brains come up with. But then, it is back, a minute or an hour later. You experience it as something familiar, something enticing. Perhaps thoughts like…. I can claim this as travel expenses on my taxes, even though I rode with a friend to the conference….if I had a chance to make clever cutting remark to a person who has always been mean to me….if I play my cards right I might get this for nothing… Always, in the beginning, it seems quite reasonable, only just pushing the limits a little bit. But if we sit with the idea, or allow it to play out, then a new course is set, heading for disaster at some level - at any level, it is temptation.

Christians have always found comfort in the idea that Jesus was tempted just as we are. But his temptations in this famous story, are not just examples showing us how to resist, but how to resist with the proper tools. Notice how well prepared Jesus is with the right scriptural responses to each temptation - to come back again and again. They are part of the larger story of how “heaven’s rule” came to earth.

Part of the point of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ that we see in Jesus’ mission, is that there was another power ruling the earth. If Jesus was to bring God’s rescuing rule to the world, the present power will be defeated. Jesus’ temptations are the personal side of the larger battle he had to fight if God’s rule was to take hold. Like David fighting Goliath, he had to take on the enemy one on one, if the people as a whole were to be set free.

The three temptations here, are like most temptations, they are good things that are being distorted. Bread is good, unless you are on the Daniel Fast. Jesus will later create a huge amount of it from a few loaves, to feed the hungry people. But should he do that just for himself – just to satisfy himself that he really is the ‘Son of God’ as we heard in his baptism? No, Jesus will satisfy himself with what God has said, instead of with attempts to prove it.

So, too, Jesus may already have a sense that his own vocation would end in a horrible death, trusting that God would raise him from the dead. But the satanic distortion of this is that he should perform a crazy stunt to attract attention. Again, Jesus refuses – that he would be using God’s power as magic.

Finally, it’s clear throughout Matthew’s gospel that Jesus as ‘King of the Jews’ is to become the true Lord of the whole world. But the path that makes this happen is not a satanic one which would make him grab it for his own ends. The whole book of Matthew is about the alternative path, the true way by which Jesus comes to embody heaven’s rule on earth.

Once again, we are not simple spectators in this extraordinary drama. We too, are tempted to do the right things in the wrong way or for the wrong reason. Part of the discipline of Lent is about learning to recognize the flickering impulses, the whispering voices, for what they are, and to have the scripture-fueled courage to resist them. We, too, are part of the ongoing battle for heaven’s rule to be established on earth. Every successful fight against temptation is one more step on the road to the ultimate victory.

During this Lenten season, one question rises above all others: “What does it mean to be a faithful disciple of Jesus?” Frederick Buechner suggests that after his baptism, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness asking himself the question of what it meant to be Jesus, and that during Lent, we are to ask ourselves what it means to be Christians, what it means to follow Jesus. Before we can understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, the Messiah, we must understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah.

“Satan” put three temptations before Jesus: If you are hungry, change stones into bread. If you are the Son of God, leap from the tower and rely on angels to rescue you. If you bow down before me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours. These examples that seem archaic and irrelevant, now represent things that are all too familiar to us. Magical powers, helplessness, rescue, control, and power, beckon us every day of our lives. We frequently are tempted with, “Just around the corner lies happiness; a new job will provide satisfaction and fulfillment, if only I had what she has, then I would be…”

I love a good story, a good book, a good movie. Part of what makes it good for me is that the characters learn, not just character development, but that they “get it.” They get it in the sense of who they are, who God is and who God is within them. It is about learning our God-given gifts. It’s about using those gifts. When I read, “Chasing Francis”, the characters spoke to me. Chase Falson is the main character. He is an evangelical pastor in a mega church he started. He didn’t grow up active in a church. At one point in his early teens, he asked his father if they were Christians. His father replied, “No, we’re Episcopalians.”

He met a girl in college who introduced him to an evangelical man who greatly impacted Chase’s idea of religion, faith and the Bible. He went to seminary and became a pastor. Things were rocking along, his church was growing, and he was following the game plan. Then one of his church members’ daughter died. The mom was a recovering addict and had just gotten her life together, when her child died. For Chase, something died within him. He began to feel that it had all been a lie. His faith was gone. The Jesus he had known for twenty years was not making things right, was not making the doubt go away. The Board of Elders told him to take some time off and go away- far away. He decided to visit his uncle, a Franciscan brother in Italy. There he was introduced to the person and teachings of Francis of Assisi.

He was struck with the story of the beginning of Francis’ ministry where his father brought charges against him for taking something from him that he gave away to someone in need. Francis stood in front of the judge and took off all his clothes to give to his father – all that he owned. The judge was so touched by the gesture, he took off his robe and wrapped it around Francis and dismissed the charges.

Chase learns that the church is more than the buildings. Chase’s approach to the Bible had been to read the Bible, try to understand what it’s saying and then apply it. Francis’ approach to the Bible was to apply the Bible and then come to a fresh understanding of what it actually meant. Chase began to realize the temptation that had pulled him away – from center, from meaning, from faith. He began to see Francis’ response to God calling him to rebuild the church was more about mission and ministry, instead of buildings. He began to see what God was calling him to – to create a loving church that would give the people their dignity back after the world had taken it away – a church for everyone, not just the wealthy. The human ending, not the Hollywood ending lead him to begin anew – with his newly defined idea of church, of living out the gospel, of using Francis’ idea of evangelism that was expressed through living his life. Francis said, “There is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” He frequently said, “Preach as you go!”

I want our Lenten journey to focus on grace. To grow in grace and our understanding of grace in our lives. At the very center of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God. Grace is clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ. Paul Zahn tells us, “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.” Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God to those who don’t deserve it. We have been given grace by God and we are to share grace with others.

Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these things result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment separates, discourages, kills. Only grace makes us alive. I read a shorthand for grace is –“mercy, not merit.” Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. I want our mantra to become – In God, we grow in grace.

Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death with no hope of resurrection. While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God; his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor.

God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life. We live in God’s grace, so we are expected to share that grace with others. The grace crosses you have been given are to be a constant reminder. For us to hold them as we pray so we acknowledge the grace of God is upon us. The vertical limb of the cross reminds us of the source of grace comes from God. The horizontal limb encourages us to share grace with others. So instead of judging, we choose to love….we choose mercy…we choose grace.

Anyway

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make us vulnerable. Be frank and honest anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Later in his ministry, Jesus would accomplish each one of these “temptations,” but in a reversal of those days in the desert. He would change stones into bread – a few loaves of bread and five small fish would feed the five thousand. He would “hurl himself from a tower” and “be caught by angels,” by giving up his life on the cross. He would be worshipped, by humbling himself as a servant.

For us, what if, instead of waiting for the stones to be changed to bread, we share the food we have, the gifts we have; if, rather than waiting for the fantasy job, we take on with joy and determination the people and work of our lives; if, rather than waiting to be rescued, we lay down our lives for our friends, in sharing time, attention and intention – then we shatter the deadly

illusion and embrace the living reality. We become actively engaged in our own lives, our families, our work, our church, our community, our world. God wants us to live by faith, not by magic. In God, we grow in grace. Amen.

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