Tuesday, February 15

Sermon: First Sunday of Lent

There is no sermon per se, simply a series of notes to share. I was told that I preached fiver good sermons. So, enjoy!

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And so, after he was baptized, Jesus went into the wilderness. “This is my beloved,” proclaimed the voice…that great gentle voice. Then the same dove, that same gentle alighting upon the shoulder drove Jesus into the wilderness for forty days and nights. There in the wilderness, Jesus was tested.

In the wilderness there was hunger....and a battle with scripture.
Then in the city, Jerusalem itself, there was a thought to test God...and a battle with scripture
Finally, on the mountain top, Jesus was handed the whole world...he turned it down and there was a battle with scripture.

Get thee behind me, Satan. Go away. Do not come back here.

Why a test? Why this reenactment of the exodus? That is what we have here. This passage from Matthew is often called the Temptations of Christ. Perhaps some commentators are right and it would be better to call it "The Testing of Jesus." This is a test. And Jesus passes with flying colors. The test is the same that Israel faced in the wilderness. Consistent with the rest of Matthew, Jesus embodies all of Israel, the covenant and her people. But this time, instead of failing and testing the bounds of the covenant, Jesus lives fully into the covenant, following the will of God and not Satan.

Then Jesus goes out and heals and performs miracles. He does no such thing for the Devil. Intention, service, matters. Only after he passes the test does he go an perform the miracles. The miracles are the same that he avoids performing when the Devil asks him to. He performs them only in the service of God.

The issue is who he lives for, whose will he lives into. He understands the promise we have from God. That promise is given to us in the Psalm.

32:8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
32:9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
32:10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
God's eye will be upon us. We are not alone in this journey. We are not abandoned to it. As difficult as it is, God is with us in it. Even in the wilderness, God's will for us is the same and God will be with us.

We need not torment one another, one of our favorits passtimes. So often I read this passage and think that we are punished somehow by not following God, but the more simple truth of it is descriptive. We torment one anotther. We torment one another with our scriptural prooftexting. We torment ourselves, denying one another, even ourselves, the love of God, the promise of God's eye upon us. We seldom use the gift of steadfast love. We seldom stand with one another in adversity. We seldom treat ourselves as if we were actually God's beloved. We need stand in steadfast love with one another. This is the nature of God's will. We must trust in God, somehow this is our way and we must find it.

Daniel Harrington reminds us that "humility" and "fasting" share a common root in Hebrew. Jesus forst action, after he is Baptized by the Spirit, is to humble himself. For forty days and nights, he fasts, he prays, he humbles himself. Perhaps this is how he is able to discern Satan so easily. So often i assume that the thing I should be impressed with is Jesus' use of scripture, but that is not it. It is Jesus' humility and the will to follow God that follows humility. The discipline of fasting can lead us to humility and into the will of God. This is Lent. This is why we fast. This is why we "give up" things this time of year. It is not for suffering's sake alone. Our fasting is to make us humble so that we may better discern the will of God.

Then, and only then, may we find our way and emerge from this journey in the wilderness to perform miracles, signs of Gods will for the world.

Thomas Merton has this to say about contemplative prayer. I think that it suits our purposes here. How do we follow this promise in the Psalm? How do we manage the jopurney in the wilderness?
What you most need in this dark journey is an unfaltering trust in the Divine guidance, as well as the courage to risk everything for Him. In many ways the journey seems to be a foolish gamble And you may well make may mistakes. You are thoroughly capable of deceiving yourself. Humility and docile submission to the guidance of a good Director will neutralize the effect of your own mistakes. Even your Director himself may not always be right. But you must trust in God, who "writes straight on crooked lines" and brings good out of evil. What matters in the contemplative life is not for your Director to be always infallibly right, but for you to be heroically faithful to grace and to love. If God calls you to Him, then He implicitly promises you all the graces you need to reach Him. You must be blindly faithful to this promise.

God rewards us with steadfast love.

Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him sayst the psalmist.

Then the devil will leave you, and angels will come and wait on you.