First Sunday in Lent

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
All Saints, 2014 November 2, 2014 All Saints’ Day, Year A Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
Pentecost 20, year A October 26, 2014 Proper 25, Year A Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36
Pentecost 19, year A October 19, 2014 Proper 24, Year A Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
Pentecost 17, year A October 5, 2014 Proper 22, Year A Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
Pentecost 16, year A September 28, 2014 Proper 21, Year A Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
Pentecost 14, year A September 14, 2014 Proper 19, Year A Matthew 18:21-35
Pentecost 13, year A September 7, 2014 Proper 18, Year A Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
Pentecost 11, year A August 24, 2014 Proper 16, Year A Matthew 16:13-20
Pentecost 10, year A August 17, 2014 Proper 15, Year A Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28
Pentecost 9, year A August 10, 2014 Proper 14, Year A Matthew 14:22-33
Pentecost 8, year A August 3, 2014 Pentecost 8, year A Matthew 14:13-21
Pentecost 6, year A July 20, 2014 Proper 11, Year A Romans 8:12-25
Pentecost 7, year A July 20, 2014 Proper 12, Year A I Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33
Pentecost 5, year A July 13, 2014 Proper 10, Year A Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, Psalm 65:9-14
Genevieve Davis’ Funeral Homily July 13, 2014 Burial of the Dead, Rite II Isaiah 35:1-10, I John 4:7-8,11-12, John 14:1-3


First Sunday in Lent

Sermon Date:March 9, 2014

Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11

Liturgy Calendar: First Sunday in Lent, Year A

"The Temptations of Crhist" – Botticelli  (1480-1482)

PDF version 

I want to fix everything that is wrong in this world, and I know I don’t have the power to do that, but God certainly does, so why doesn’t God just get people straightened out and  end suffering? Then we could all live happily ever after in a state of bliss.   

The other day I was visiting someone who has constant pain in her hip and leg, pain so bad that she’s most comfortable sitting still, and even then, the pain is never completely gone.

Every time I visit her, I wish that I could  lay my hands on her and  be such a channel for God’s healing power that her pain would instantly vanish and never come back.  Sometimes I get caught up in thinking that if only I had enough faith, this healing could happen.  I just want this situation to be fixed.

And before I leave, we pray and I always ask God to relieve her pain, if that is God’s will.

Today’s gospel passage has got me thinking differently about prayer. 

Jesus is in the wilderness and he’s fasted for so long that he’s famished, hunger beyond anything any of us have experienced.  He must be weak and tired.  And yet, he has the power to change even stones into bread, and the tempter knows  that and reminds Jesus of that. 

“You don’t have to lie there starving to death, Jesus.” 

The fact that Jesus doesn’t resort to his divinity to relieve his suffering tells us that Jesus really has come to live and die as one of us—a person who willingly endures the same physical sufferings and temptations that we all experience as human beings.

Now  I’m thinking that my prayers –asking God to use divine powers to relieve my suffering or the suffering of someone else, is not the place to start when I pray.

When I had sciatica year before last, I was in such pain that I really couldn’t even think straight.  Every step I took was sheer agony.  And my immediate prayer was, “Please God, take away this pain, right now,  a prayer which did not get instantaneous results.   

Now I’m thinking that I was presumptuous to pray only like this, expecting God instantly to take away the pain that I was experiencing because I have a human and mortal body. 

In my desperate appeal to God’s almighty powers, I had trouble remembering that  Jesus chose to live and die as one of us—and that Jesus experienced the whole shebang of what it means to be alive on this earth as a human being, not only the good things, but also the awful things about having a body that will eventually, whether we like it or not, let us down, a body that will suffer and die. 

I wish I’d prayed to be more aware of Jesus with me in my suffering, and  to remember that God knows what it’s like to suffer.

Because of God’s great love for us, God is going to be right beside us and in the midst of the suffering that all of us, sooner or later, are going to have to endure. 

Does this mean that I’m going to stop praying for God’s divine intervention?  Of course not.  I’m going to continue to pray that God’s almighty power will come to bear on the pain and suffering in this world, and that all of that pain and suffering will be relieved, including my own.

But first, I’m going to remember that God is right with us in our suffering.

I’m comforted by the fact that the earthly ministry of Jesus begins with this suffering in the wilderness and ends with the suffering on the cross, which the second temptation foreshadows,  because I know that Jesus shares in our human weaknesses, our pain, and eventually in our deaths and that I don’t have to experience any of this alone.  It’s this comfort that I’m going to seek first in prayer from now on–

because the comfort of knowing that  God is truly present with us in our pain and suffering  is the first, and most important piece in what is often a long and drawn out process of healing. 

The third temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness is also all about fixing things here and now.  The tempter takes Jesus up a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.”

This is a huge temptation.  Just think about this from God’s perspective.  God created the world and everything in it to be good, and this is a great chance to fix it all and make it good again by using earthly power.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus resisted taking on earthly power and prestige and being an earthly king and ruler, in spite of the expectation that the Messiah who was to come would do just that.

Instantly, I’m struck with how we  human beings tend to deal with power and use it when we get  it.  Just look at the newspaper any day of the week—many of the headlines are about the misuse of power, both internationally and also on an individual basis. 

The easiest way to use power is to dictate to others how things will be in order to create what we consider is the perfect world, or the perfect neighborhood, or the perfect church, or the perfect family, and the list could go on.  We even use this power to make our own lives perfect.

But we can get off track in the ways we use power—take people with eating disorders, for instance.  These people have the power to control what goes into their bodies, and by misusing this power in an effort to force their bodies into some idea of perfection, they end up hurting and damaging themselves.

We can all think of families, churches and neighborhoods that have been split apart by power struggles which start out simply as people having different ideas about what constitutes perfection and then trying to impose their visions by force on those with whom they disagree. 

The bottom line, which Jesus makes clear in the gospel, is that, ultimately, we are not in charge of anything at all—that our job as Christians and as faithful human beings is to worship God and to serve only God.

Putting worship and service to God first then puts how we use power into perspective–because to worship God and to serve God is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

And so what then becomes more important than my particular vision of a perfect world is service to God and to my neighbor.  This doesn’t mean that I’m constantly rolling over and playing dead, letting others run over me, but it means that my concern for my neighbor and my love for God will ultimately shape my vision of what constitutes perfection. 

And so when another person and I disagree, I don’t want to use my power in a dictatorial way, but to use it as Jesus did—to worship and serve God first, to be obedient to God and then to use my power accordingly, remembering that God is in charge. 

On the surface, this approach looks powerless.  Who could have less power than a person gasping for breath and dying on a cross?  People taunted Jesus as he died.  “If you really have power, then you’d show us and come down from the cross.”

And yet, that willing obedience to God  that Jesus had, which led through death into God’s resurrection of Jesus, has been changing the world for the better ever since, although the tempter still roams in our hearts, and through our church, through our neighborhoods, and often seems to have complete control over the kingdoms of this world. 

When  we let God help us use our own power as servants rather than as dictators, then God can use us to help transform the world into a place full of God’s grace and glory. 

Today’s gospel ends with this line.  “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

This is good news!

God does not leave us comfortless in our sufferings.  And—in addition to being with us, God also sends angels to us to wait on us when we are in those wilderness times in our lives.  One example—when we’re sick and in need, doctors help us with our physical recovery, friends and family help us take care of our day to day needs.  People wait on us and help us. 

And when we’re obedient servants, God will send us out to those in need to do the work of angels. This work can something like sending a card to someone, or sitting with someone as they grieve, or preparing a meal–  The examples of what God sends us out to do for others is endless.

Here’s some Lenten homework for you—to mull over these three questions during this coming week.

How does this story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness change your own prayer and relationship to God? 

And how does this story make you think differently about  your own power and how you use that power in your relationships with others?

And who is God calling you to care for and to wait on?


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