Jesus' temptation Series A
SERMON: Sin and Despair, Salvation and Hope
Our texts today deal with sin and temptation and with grace and faith. The Old Testament reading tells us how Adam and Eve were tempted and sinned against God in the Garden of Eden. The Gospel reading shows Christ living blamelessly in the face of evil by the power of faith.
Temptation and sin, grace and faith are the great themes of our lives as we live our lives - the axis around which everything else revolves. As Christians, we believe that sin has a deadly power from Satan's lips. But we also believe that faith has power - a live-giving power that comes from God.
In our lives, we experience a struggle between these two powers, and even when we are on the side of life, even when we have faith in the God of life, we experience temptation, we feel desires, and live through events that test our faith and seek to lure us away from God and have us serve evil instead.
I believe that most of us feel when it comes to the sin that is in the world, and maybe within ourselves, we are tempted to give in to despair - the despair that nothing we can do will make a difference, the despair that says that there is no help or hope for us or our world. Indeed I believe that this is the greatest temptation of our age.
But my friends, we have within us one who is stronger than the world, one who is greater than the tempter, one who has triumphed over evil both in life - as we see in the story of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness and in death - as we see in the cross - and again three days later - in the resurrection.
Some people - most people perhaps - dwell too much on the negative side of things. Like the game shows Jeopardy - all their answers to life's problems are expressed as questions. They see the problems that exist all around us - but do not lay hold of the solutions - of the good news that also exists all around us - of the salvation that is offered to us all - without condition or qualification.
They despair on account of the giants -forgetting perhaps the story of David -and of how one small stone in his hands ended the Goliath that threatened his nation and caused even Saul and his mighty army to despair of ever being victorious.
A man by the name of Richard Lederer collects funny signs. Some of these are simply the result of people in foreign countries having difficulty translating into English. He says that at the entrance to a river swimming spot, there is a sign: "Swimming is forbidden in the absence of a savior."
Maybe the person who put up that sign knew our needs better than we may suppose. Not only swimming but life itself should not be lived in the absence of a Saviour. We have a Savior - one who remembers who we are.
Our Savior has ventured into the same waters we swim in daily. He has battled the currents - fought the foes - and shown that he is able and show that we - when we swim with him - are able as well.
Our Savior remembers who we are - loves us - and seeks the best for us. He knows that we are weak swimmers -that we, occasionally, will flounder and thrash and sink. He knows the waters we are in -and that is why he has been appointed the judge of the living and the dead.
He does not judge us for the sake of condemning us -as some believe. He takes no delight in catching us in our sin. He has no joy when we hurt ourselves or hurt others. Instead, he reaches out to us, calls us, and seeks to guide and help us. And like any good parent - he forgives us and does all he can to make sure that we start each day new and fresh and bathed in his love and mercy.
Or maybe it would be better if we consider our need for a savior to pull us out of the pits we find ourselves in as we do our own thing. Kenneth Filkins has caught this beautifully in a poem entitled "The Pit." Please take a look at the handout in the service folder. Visualize, if you will, a pit - a pit perhaps of your own devising – or one that you fell into because you were not paying attention - or perhaps one devised for you by others - visualize a pit into which you have fallen and cannot escape on your own.
Filkins writes: A man fell into a pit and he couldn't get out.
BUDDHA said: "Your pit is only a state of mind."
A HINDU said: "This pit is for purging you and making you more
CONFUCIUS said: "If you would have listened to me, you would
never have fallen into that pit."
A NEW AGER said: "Maybe you should network with some other pit
A SELF-PITYING PERSON said: "You haven't seen anything until
you've seen my pit."
A NEWS REPORTER said: "Could I have the exclusive story on your
A FEDERAL BUREAUCRAT said: "Have you paid your taxes on that
A COUNTY INSPECTOR said: "Do you have a permit for that pit?"
A REALIST said: "That's a pit."
An IDEALIST said: "The world shouldn't have pits."
An OPTIMIST said: "Things could be worse."
A PESSIMIST said: "Things will get worse."
BUT, then comes along Jesus, who, on SEEING THE MAN, TOOK HIM BY THE HAND AND LIFTED HIM OUT OF THE PIT.
A pit is an awful place to be -particularly the pit created by sin and temptation. But there is One who will help. There is one who did not succumb to the pit and who seeks to help us out of our pit. His name is Jesus - and he is willing. And not only is he willing - he has already acted - acted to save us -acted to bring to the world a new day. Who acted to bring to each of us a new life. All praise to him.
Do not dwell in whatever pit you are in. Do not accept the pit. Do not, as a video I watched not long ago, do as a sheep did after it was pulled out of a pit, run right back into another pit where it became hopelessly stuck.
Instead, look up from your pit so you can see Jesus reach down and hold you as he pulls you out, dusts you off, and sets you back on the straight path, the better life that is given freely to all who desire it. Amen.
Matthew 17:1-9 Series A
Transfiguration is a glimpse of glory.
Just before the beginning of Lent, the Christian Church goes mountain climbing every year. We go, like Peter and James and John did, following Jesus. At the mountain height, we see him as he is, for by him and with him, and in him, the glory of God shines.
The season of Epiphany ends as it begins with a brilliant light, a shining star guiding people to him. Jesus the Day Star, the bright and morning star, shines here on the mount of Transfiguration as the light from heaven shone above his cradle in Bethlehem thirty or so years earlier.
But why you might ask do we take the climb to see this light? Why do we take valuable time away from our busy lives and devote ourselves to climbing the mountain where God's glory is revealed? We might even think, in all honesty, God should be glad that I am here this morning, or for those watching on YouTube and Facebook that they are watching.
We climb the mountain of Transfiguration each year before we begin our journey in Lent, just as Moses climbed Mount Pisgah before he died to get a glimpse of the Promised Land to see where we are headed.
We are told in our Gospel reading that when Jesus arrived at the mountaintop, his figure changed, and the outside of him, which had been ordinary and like us, shone as if he was not like one of us. Jesus shone with the glory that caused Moses to shine that day on the Mountain of Sinai when the holy Law from heaven came down.
Jesus shone with the glory that carried Elijah up to heaven's height -gone from this world - but alive in the next. Jesus shone with the glory of his baptismal day when his Father's voice from above was heard to say: "This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased" - and indeed those words first uttered at the Jordan River that day are repeated on the Mountain Top, except this time God the Father added, "Listen to him." A holy command that we, too, are to obey by listening, truly listening to him as he speaks in his love letter to us, the Bible.
What can mere mortals say when faced with such glory? "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," says the old hymn. But not Peter. When in doubt, shouts it out. First, he says the obvious, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." How about we prolong this camp-out on the mountain, Lord? We can rig up a tent for you and Elijah and even one for Moses.
But that, of course, was not the point. As Elijah and Moses disappeared with Jesus only remaining, God was pointing out that the Law, as signified by Elijah and Moses, had been replaced by God's Son, Jesus. Jesus faced the long journey to another mountain, where he would be lifted higher on a cross. Jesus knew the long walk to the cross was ahead, with all its problems.
Jesus knew that he could walk away from the will of the Holy One. Jesus knew that he had a way out of this, but Jesus also knew that because he is so madly in love with us, he would not take a way out. He knew what needed to be done to make peace between us and God's righteous wrath.
As unlikely as it seems, the scripture tells us in many places that to be like Jesus is our destiny, that the intention of God in his calling of us is to make us like him. Because of Jesus, we are destined for glory like his - a glory that will make us shine as he did that day.
But first - as with Jesus - there is a cross we need to bear. And so - each year, we climb the mountain of Transfiguration with him and his beloved disciples. We climb it to share the vision that Peter, James, and John beheld that day and to be strengthened by it, for there is a rough road ahead of us between now and seeing Jesus in person
The wonderful news of God's Sacred romance with us, a love that exceeds anything we can imagine, is that he gives us the vision and the strength we need to face the fears and shortcomings of our lives, to respond to the call of God to live beyond ourselves, to live lives of sacrifice and courage till the glory we see in Christ today settles on us, not just for a day, but forever.
In the coming weeks, as we walk with Jesus, we will be reminded over and over again that the Lord did not go straight from his baptism to heaven. He went out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and walked the path of suffering for us, prayed for us, and fought the spiritual fight for us, that he bled and died for us. We will remember and ponder his love for us.
In the greatest love story ever told we are to remember during Lent that God has made the cross the way of life and peace, which is a good thing for our destiny is joined to Christ's destiny. We remember during Lent as the hymn "Amazing Grace" tells us, don't worry, I will not sing it.
"Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see."
We remember during Lent that as the last verse of "Amazing Grace" tells us,
"When we've been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we've no less days to sing God's praise
than when we first begun."
The glimpse that we are granted of Christ's glory on the holy mountain today is a foretaste of heaven, the image of humanity as God intended us to be in creation. As we prepare to bring ourselves into the disciplined walk of faith and devotion during Lent, we remember this glory of God that calls to us. We remember that we will be bright, shining as the sun.
Everything we do in Lent brings us a step closer to the joys of Easter. On the holy mountain of Transfiguration, we taste those sweet eternal joys. We take strength from them, Christ's strength, as we prepare to walk our Lenten journey together.
I urge you to attend the Wednesday evening services. For as wonderful as Easter Sunday, or as I like to say, "Resurrection Sunday" since bunnies and Easter eggs have pretty much taken it over, is with the music, choir, and glorious message of Jesus' Resurrection, I don't believe that you can feel the true joy of Easter without walking with him on his journey to the cross. Blessed be his name, now and forever more. Amen.
2-12-23 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Living the Joy of Participating in the Sacred Romance
In the Greek language from which our Bibles are translated, there are three different words for love. First, there is sexual love, that love between a husband and wife. Secondly, there is brotherly love, such as close friends, siblings, or relatives might have for each other. I think you could also include those who would give their life up to save others in that category. Last but certainly not least is the love that loves for the sake of loving. That is perfect love, the love that only God has.
Since Tuesday is Valentines Day, I want to share with you some of my thoughts on a book written by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge titled 'The Sacred Romance.' In their book, they invite the reader to think about their relationship with God, who comes to the rescue of the brokenhearted. The truth of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection, is intended to free us to love God and others with our whole hearts.
Deep down, if we are honest with our deepest longings, we all long for the love that only God can give us. I want you to think of God's salvation story in the sense of it being a cosmic drama. Our longing for love and unconditional acceptance is the setting for what Brent and John call the Sacred Romance.
Like any good drama, the hero comes to the rescue of his beloved; that is us. God, the Father, is the author of this romance, and God the Son is the lead character. We, the beloved, need to be delivered from the arrows of life that inflict harm on us and cause us to pull away from God the Father, who wants to rescue us.
"The process of our sanctification, our journey rests entirely on our ability to see life from the basis of two questions. Who are we, and where is God in our lives as we live them today? Even though it might seem like it at times, our lives are not random series of events; they tell a personal story that has meaning. We are in a Sacred Romance. There is something wonderful that draws our hearts; we are being wooed. We are the Beloved; our hearts are the most important thing about us."
Brent and John claim that we have lived for so long with a rational approach to Christianity, getting all the facts straight, and learning the catechism when we were young, that we have nearly lost what it truly means to be a Christian that truly rejoices for being forgiven. Who truly has the desire to love others because God loves us.
They put forth in this book that we should see Scripture as a cosmic drama in four acts—creation, Fall, redemption, and hope—dramatic narratives you can apply to all areas of life. "Our rationalistic approach to life has, for too many Christians, stripped us of a faith that is barely more than mere fact-telling. Modern evangelicalism reads like an instruction book. Everything in the book is true, for all the facts are there, but it doesn't take your breath away. It does not force us to our knees in reverence and awe, as with Moses at the burning bush or the disciples in the presence of the risen Christ."
Act I God's Eternal Heart. We must remember that the big-picture, the Sacred Romance, began long before our overwhelming smaller stories began. Before time existed, there was a loving relationship we cannot even begin to grasp between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
In Act II, God's heart is betrayed when the angel Lucifer, or as we are more familiar, Satan, turns on his Maker and gains traction with others in the heavenly realm with the idea that God doesn't have a pure loving heart.
Act III of the Cosmic Drama God puts his heart on trial in the flurry of dramatic actions we call "creation." What were his motives for doing this? Paul explained God's intentions in the first chapter of Ephesians. "Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Long before we got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs for glorious living." (The Message).
For a true romance to occur, we must be free to reject God. After the Fall, humanity now lives our own small, tarnished lives that leave us unfulfilled. Too often, we settle for just getting through our daily and seasonal routines instead living in a trusting, loving relationship with God.
Act IV of the Cosmic Drama is the continuation of the Story interrupted by the Fall. God made the earth and entrusted it to humanity to take care of it while enjoying its beauty and living off its produce. "That arrangement was corrupted by the Fall. Humanity no longer responds to his leadership as it once did. When Christ accomplished our redemption, he restored us to put us back in the game."
Act V Heaven is not something that begins after this life is over. God's rule in our hearts begins when we are drawn into a relationship with Christ. God invites us to participate in his ongoing work restoring order and beauty. He calls us to participate in helping the kingdom of God break into the lives around us. Paul's prayer as it is recorded in Ephesians chapter one is that the God of glory How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people - free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in the deepest Heaven, everything on planet earth. (Ephesians 1, The Message).
God's Incarnation, his becoming one of us, was a daring raid into enemy territory. The whole world lay under the power of the evil one, and we were held in the dungeons of darkness. God risked it all to rescue us. What does God want from us in response to his reckless ambition that shoves all conventions aside, willing literally to move Heaven and earth?
From one religious camp, we're told that what God wants is obedience, sacrifice, or adherence to the right doctrines or morality. Other religious camps tell us that God is after our contentment, happiness, self-actualization, or something else along those lines. Of course, he is concerned about all these things, but they are not his primary concern. What he is after is us—our laughter, our tears, our dreams, our fears, our hearts of hearts. In other words, our love and trust. Remember his lament in Isaiah 29:13, that though his people were performing all their duties, 'their hearts are far from me.'"
When the prophet Elijah was worn out and in need of restoration, he did not hear God in a great wind, earthquake, or fire. Finally, he heard him in a "gentle whisper." God today desires to talk with us in the quietness of our own hearts through his Spirit, who, as we are told in God's words, is in us. His voice has whispered to us about a Sacred Romance, a romance unlike anything we have ever or will know. A Sacred Romance that is much bigger than the distractions that keep me focused on the details of my life. His Spirit is wooing us to realize there is something more to my life than the routines I have settled for. He is wooing us into a closer relationship with Christ.
Without our hearing and believing the Spirit's whispers urging us to look for something more in our life with God, making progress in the life of sanctification remains another duty. Our hearts, minds, and bodies have to be in the effort.
It is not within us to change our sin-oriented hearts. We may want to rely on willpower, but that won't last long. Just look at how many times you have vowed to make a spiritual change in your life, and it did not turn out well. We just cannot do it on our own.
The journey of sanctification is more likely to engage our hearts when we realize the much bigger Cosmic Drama of what God wanted our relationship with him to be like in the Sacred Romance Drama. Appreciating his wooing love can arouse our hearts of love to participate in the act of joyful living. We are part of something much bigger — the greatest love story ever told! Amen
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Shining Light of the Cross
Matthew 5:13-20 and I Corinthians 1:1-12
Our Epiphany Gospel reading for this morning in verses fourteen and fifteen tells us, "You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives Light to all in the house.".
I can't speak for you, but every time I hear or read those words, I am struck by how terrible I am at being the Light of Christ to those I come into contact with during the week. I can do a pretty good job in what I call a safe area, but when there is a chance of being ridiculed or laughed at, I am not very good at being the Light that Jesus wants me to be.
This was brought to my attention at Vals Pizza several weeks ago when I had lunch with a local pastor. By the time we had finished lunch and were walking out the door, he had told five other people, total strangers, about Jesus and invited them to worship at his church. Every time he spoke to someone, it was done in such a natural and loving way that he lived his life as a Light to the world. I was amazed and ashamed because I would not have done that in a restaurant.
I wondered why I wouldn't have done what he did. First, I would have thought it was inappropriate, but the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit I would not have done what he was doing because I was afraid to share Jesus with those in the restaurant. I would rather take the easy way out and hide my Light, actually Jesus' Light, under a basket, as our Gospel tells us.
I have done a lot of soul searching since then, and hopefully, I will do better in the future as I remember that I have been touched by the Light of Jesus, as verse four in the sermon hymn tells us.
Please join me in reading together verse four, "From the Cross, Thy wisdom shining Breaketh forth in conquering might; From the Cross forever beameth all Thy bright redeeming Light. Alleluia, alleluia Praise to Thee who Light does send, Alleluia, alleluia without end."
When I think of the Cross, especially the Cross that Jesus died on I usually think of sin, extreme pain, death, and darkness. But this hymn says, "No! from the Cross shines God's wisdom. From the Cross shines redeeming Light. From the Cross comes our great epiphany—that we will not be condemned! For Christ, the Light is crucified for you! The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, the Light nailed to a Cross, is the central truth of our faith that enlightens the human mind.
St. Paul says, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." This does not mean that he avoided other topics. In 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses many issues: marriage and divorce, the Lord's Supper and its proper practice, lawsuits, conflicts among parishioners, the hope of the resurrection, spiritual gifts, and the higher gift of love.
When Paul says to speak "only of Christ crucified," he means that as far as one's salvation is concerned, Christ crucified is all you need, for the Light on the Cross shows us the depth of our sin. Our sin is so great it took the blood of Jesus to cleanse us. If God willingly gave up his own Son for my forgiveness, for your forgiveness, he must like forgiving.
Yes, the Cross proves there is joy in heaven when even one sinner repents. And if we are forgiven in Christ, then we have been reconciled to the Father. And if we have been reconciled to the Father, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And if we have peace with him, the devil no longer has any claim on us, for we belong to God!
The Light of the Cross is the key to all wisdom, and once you have it, the Gospel reveals one truth on top of another. Those who don't understand the Cross see the Law as an enemy because God's Law is a constant reminder that they do not measure up. They hate it. And even among Christians, our sinful flesh still kicks and screams and puts up a fight when we are faced with the accusing finger of the Law.
But the new man—standing in the Light of the Cross—thinks much differently. He delights in the Law because he sees that the Law is cross-shaped. It's about denying ourselves (like Jesus did for us), taking up our own Cross (like Jesus did for us), and then loving him as he loves us.
You see, when you view the Law through the eyes of love, the Law becomes lovely because it pictures our Jesus. As Christ says in our Gospel, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16). We are to delight in every commandment because, in the fulfillment of each, we see the Light of Jesus on the Cross.
When you see Jesus as the Light of the Cross, you start to eliminate wrong ideas about God, like the idea that your suffering happened because God is out to get you or because God is callous and doesn't care. Thoughts like that cannot be true. If he did not spare his own Son, he certainly loves you and clearly has your best interests in mind.
The Light of the Cross offers possible alternatives to your questions about why this is happening to me. Perhaps God is using this event to strengthen your faith or to teach you to pray. Perhaps he's conforming you into the image of his Son; he's making you more Christlike. Perhaps he's taking away an idol that was ruining your life, or he's simply making you long for the next life, for the new world to come when he wipes away every tear from your eyes. While we cannot answer all such questions specifically, we can be confident that whatever the answer is, it is rooted in his love for you.
Think about it: had you been there with the followers of Jesus on Good Friday, it would have seemed horrible and meaningless. You might have asked, "How can a good God allow this to happen?" The enemy seemed victorious. However, St. Peter proclaims that it was all "according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). God knew what evil would try to do, and God used evil's intentions to accomplish his plans. They intended it for evil, but God meant it for good.
Likewise, God foreknew your suffering, and though the devil intends to use suffering to drive a wedge between you and God, God will work all things—even your suffering—for your good. The Light of the Cross reveals this! It reveals God's character—his love—and how he works all things, even evil things, for your good. Indeed, the Light of the Cross reveals all things. It reveals sin and grace. It gives us a joyous delight in the Gospel and helps us to delight in the Law!
And finally, let the Light of the Cross shine on your pain and suffering. It will give you the endurance and patience to withstand your trials with faith. So it is with good reason that Paul says, I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
"You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives Light to all in the house. In the same way, let your Light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Amen