Sermon for Lent 1, Year C, March 10, 2019

Deuteronomy 26:1-11                    Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16                           Romans 10:8b-13              Luke 4:1-13

          Each season of our church year has a different focus.   And the season of Lent focuses on our need to follow Jesus.  The forty days of Lent reminds us that Jesus faced temptations in his life, just as we do in ours.  Luke says, “After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” 

Just who is the devil?  The devil, or Satan, means different things to differ people – including theologians.  In this wilderness story, I believe the devil represents the different temptations themselves that Jesus faces as he will do next.  This is what I believe his time in the wilderness is about, a time of self-examination as he prepared to begin his earthly ministry.

In the story the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth, then says, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  This temptation is for him to seek a position of authority over us. But Jesus does not want to force himself on us, he wants us to choose to follow him on our own accord.  The threat of punishment is what motivates many to follow the leaders of nations. In the wilderness Jesus chose to use love to motivate us, to draw us to him. 

Jesus responds to the devil by quoting Deuteronomy, saying, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”  So, here Jesus is rejecting the temptation to acquire power and choosing love instead. 

Next the devil challenges Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God.  It is a temptation to make himself the center of his ministry, the center of attention.  Jesus rejects this as well.  He chooses instead to make God and God’s love for us the focus by offering hope and compassion to those in need.  In a number of the healing stories, Jesus tells the person he heals not to tell anyone.  And, Jesus is quick to give the credit to the person’s faith for their healing – not himself.

Taking credit for good things happening is a temptation that every leader faces.  Yet, we can accomplish nothing on our own.  We use our God-given talents and abilities, and the support of others to do good things.  As your priest, I may be able to contribute to the growth of our parish, but you contribute even more.  You bring life to this parish by your participation, by inviting others to come with you, and by following Christ’s example and loving the stranger who walks through our doors. 

We may want more people to join our church, but increasing our membership should not be our primary focus.   Our primary goal needs to be what Jesus says in response to being tempted to assume power over us.  Jesus says, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”  Worshiping and serving God is not about Sunday attendance, it is about relationships.  Attendance and growth are a by-product of us doing what we are called to do – loving God and loving one another (including the stranger, and people who are lonely).

Events like last Tuesday night’s Mardi Gras party, show that we can have fun together and enjoy wonderful food and music.  I love having the parish hall filled with members and visitors enjoying great food and listening to the jazz band from Lyon College.  It is wonderful and I am so appreciative of all who helped and who made it such a success.

Hospitality is an important ministry – and Tuesday night was a wonderful demonstration of our hospitality, even if it was a fundraiser.  Inviting people to attend Mardi Gras was good; if you now invite them to attend church with you, it says you truly care.  It can be intimidating to attend an unfamiliar church – especially an Episcopal Church, where people stand, kneel, sit and all seem to know what to say when.  So many people wait for, or need an invitation. 

During Lent, our services can be even more intimidating than usual as we use the Rite I liturgy at the10:30 service (where we tend to have more visitors).  The Victorian language adds an additional degree of confusion.  We make changes in our liturgy during Lent, at both services, to cause even cradle Episcopalians to pay more attention to what is being said. 

Lent is a time in which we should reflect, as Jesus does, on the types of relationships we want to build with others.  Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy; today’s first lesson is from a different section of Deuteronomy.  Here Moses is preparing the people of Israel for life in the Promised Land. He tells them to take an offering to the priest from the “first fruits” of their first harvest and tell the priest the story of how they came to live where they live and receive the gifts of their harvest. 

Moses is teaching them the power of telling their story – not their individual stories, but the story of their people.  Stories are important. Telling our personal stories is part of building relationships, but listening to others tell their stories may even be more important. Listening says to them I want to know you.  When we listen, the focus is not on ourselves, it is on them.   Jesus is tempted to make himself the focus of his ministry, but he shifts the focus to the love of God for those in need.   In doing so, we still learn about him, and we learn what God wants.

The story Moses wants the people to tell is THEIR story.    The message here is, “it’s not about me – it’s about us!”  When we build relationships my story and your story become OUR story.  So, as you go through the week, I encourage you to work on adding others to the story of your faith, and the story of our faith here at St. Paul’s.

Let us pray.

          Loving God, your love for us knows no bounds.  Help us, we pray, to open our hearts to others, that they might join our faith journey and together we might spread your love to those in need of hope and companionship.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.