sermon, 1Lent, yr A

+In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit+

This past weekend, my daughter Annie and I had the pleasure of spending some time in Chicago. It was an opportunity for both of us to spend some time with my cousins and their families and I had the pleasure of attending a church function. Steve Lowe, a fellow I’ve had an email correspondence with for eight years, was being ordained to the diaconate along with three other people. The ordinations took place at Saint James’ Cathedral, the cathedral of the Diocese of Chicago. I learned that the cathedral has been on the same site since 1837 and was completely destroyed in the great Chicago fire of the 1873. When the cathedral was rebuilt it was done in an interesting style. Lots of pastels, lots of gold filigree work, wallpaper borders and some fairly intricate wallpaper designs. It’s a light and airy place. I spoke with one of the clergy on staff and she told me, with a wry grin, “Some cathedrals are done in gothic style, some are Norman, and some are very modern. Ours is supposed to be Victorian, but we like to call it ‘Early Laura Ashley…’”

After the ordination reception four of us went to a Mexican place a block south of the cathedral. We ate and spent about two hours talking church politics. I cannot speak for any of you, but I know Mary would have been bored to tears with the discussion. We got to talking about Lent and how early Ash Wednesday was this year. According to the Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday can actually be as early as February 4th and as late as March 10th.

On the flight home I got to thinking about my ordination. When priests and deacons are ordained, the bishop lays his or her hands on them and asks that the Holy Spirit fill that person with grace and power. When we studied the ordinal (the ordination rites) in our diocesan school for ministry I was really bothered with the idea of being filled with grace and power…especially power. Power is something that can be used as well as misused. It bothered me so much that I took it to my spiritual director. I told him that I didn’t want to filled with power…”Servants shouldn’t be filled with power…” I protested. Ed nodded, smiled, and said, “My son, you misunderstand…you will be filled with grace AND power…you will someday understand that grace-filled power is different than just plain power…”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Gospel says a lot about good power and bad power. For the past few Sundays of Epiphany the gospel readings from Matthew have followed the sequence of Jesus’ baptism, sections from his sermon on the mount, and concluded, last Sunday, with the transfiguration. Today, the first Sunday in Lent, we find ourselves going back in Matthew, to the temptation of Christ, which took place right after his baptism. It’s not accidental that the lectionary follows this pattern. Lent is a time when we think about the things that have power over us…and some of you may have chosen to give something up for Lent.

In our gospel story today Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Christ’s submission to temptation is not an accident or a matter of his being victimized by the devil….it’s part of Jesus’ obedience to God’s divine plan for him. All three temptations are an attempt to divert the proclamation of God’s kingdom into a kingdom according to the standards of this world. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights…the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread for his personal convenience…Jesus will multiply loaves of bread, but only for others. The devil offers Jesus safety if he jumps from the temple top. Jesus says, “Don’t test my father…” The devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus would receive that power…but from God, not Satan…if you look ahead to one of the last sentences in this gospel, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus receives it NOT by purposefully seeking it and ONLY when given by Abba.

Jesus rebukes each of the evil one’s three temptations with quotations from the book of Deuteronomy…from a time when Israel was wandering for forty years and God spoke to the people through Moses when they were tempted to stray from God’s plan for them.

Jesus confronts the devil after the third temptation with the words, “Away with you, Satan!”…his authoritative command as the Christ which even Satan must be subject to.

So I ask the question I ask myself every time I pick up scripture to read it: What does this lesson mean for me…for us…today, in the year 2005?

Lent is a time of penitence. To be penitent means to feel remorse for one’s sins and wrong-doings. The questions that arise for me when I look at this lesson include “What are my demons?” “What are things in my life that I have done and left undone?” “What separates me from God?”

Spend some time this Lent examining your life and your relationships with God and those around you that you love and care for. Lent shouldn’t be a depressing time of ‘giving something up’…it should be a positive time…a time of growth and renewal…growth and renewal that can only come with self-examination.

We start Lent with Jesus going into the wilderness…and this time of Lent, for us, can be a time when we enter into our wilderness. Whether it’s a wilderness of our minds or our hearts or our bodies…it’s a holy place. Jesus went into the wilderness after he was baptized and came out knowing exactly who he was and what his ministry was supposed to be. When we emerge from our wilderness, we are called to do the same. Finding our way out of the wilderness means that we have come out of our temptation through faith in Christ; it can help us put things in proper order. It helps us to remember that God is God and that God is our help and our salvation. My friends in Christ: have a blessed Lenten journey.


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