Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lent 1 sermon

Sermon for Lent 1


Lent 1 Sermon
The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
Greenwood, VA

I pray that we each might strive to keep a holy Lent, and a good place to begin is to examine Jesus’ own time in the wilderness, to see the blessings that it offered him, and to see the blessings that it offers us.

After his baptism by John in the river Jordan, Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. 

Bursting, in fact,
bursting with Joy,
energy
enthusiasm,

Jesus also had the sense and the feeling that something great was about to happen, that he would be doing great things, and that God would empower him to do it.  So after he was baptized, he returned from the Jordan.  Returned perhaps to home, wondering what would happen next.  Wondering what the Holy Spirit would be doing in him and with him.  It was, perhaps, like riding a great wave, a tsunami wave, in fact.  Getting one’s board up on the crest and then riding that energy and that wave, being in some sense one with the wave.  Knowing, in fact, that the wave is powerful and supporting, but also a power beyond ones self.  Jesus returned from the Jordan.


And then was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, or perhaps more likely (as Mark wrote), was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.  Perhaps Jesus returned home after his baptism and realized that he “could not go home again” in the same way that he had before.  Perhaps Jesus realized that he needed to be away for awhile, that he needed the testing and the formation of the wilderness in order to discern and figure out what would happen next.


As he was driven into the wilderness, in Luke’s account, Jesus was tempted by the devil after forty days of hunger.  Like any of us when we spend time sitting in meditation, when, in Lent, we give up sweets or chocolate or soda or any of our desires, temptations come to us.  Luke recounts that Jesus ate nothing at all during those days, surely he was tempted, at least tempted by the desire to eat.  Jesus was tempted by the devil in those forty days in the wilderness, and his time in the wilderness give us a model, perhaps, of the way that we might keep a holy Lent.  The number forty is a holy number in the Bible – forty years in the wilderness for Moses and the Israelites.  Forty days of rain for Noah and his animals.  Forty signifies a holy time, but a time of wandering.  Forty signifies a time set apart, hoping beyond hope to find home. 


Between Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his public ministry, he returns from the Jordan, but then is driven into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil, where he ate nothing at all, and where “he was famished.” 


“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.



In the midst of his hunger, the devil tempts him with three temptations which are recounted by Luke.

First, the devil says, “if you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus answered him concisely and eloquently, despite his hunger, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 

And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all their authority; for it has been given over to me, and I will give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone..’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

 So, Jesus is tempted by physical temptations – temptations of eating, of surrendering one’s ideals and one’s commitment for a slice of bread.  It reminds me of Esau, who when famished returned to his house and was so hungry that he gave up his birthright to his brother Jacob for a lousy bowl of lentil soup.  As a kid, I could never understand why he would do this – because I hated lentil soup.  I am far more spiritually advanced now, however, because lentil soup is quite tasty. 


And Jesus is tempted by worldly power, that he will be given temporal power over all the kingdoms of the world, if only he surrenders his love for his Father, if only he surrenders his own calling, if only he surrenders his own sense of being full with the Holy Spirit.  He is offered it all, but is not willing to lose his soul in order to gain the world. 


And also Jesus is tempted by religious power, much like worldly power, but here the devil imagines that the angels will save Jesus.  Here, the devil imagines that if Jesus puts God to the test that God will, of course, command the angels to save Jesus’ skin.  But, Jesus refuses this temptation as well.  Though he is famished, likely weak, likely tired, likely lonely, has moved through these tests and is, perhaps, ready for what is to come.  Though empty, he is full of the Holy Spirit.  Though weak, he is strong in his Faithfulness.  Though tired, he is enlivened by his success over the devil.  Though lonely, he is comforted by God’s presence and love.


Having been baptized in the river Jordan Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns home, but is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where he does not eat for forty days, and he is famished.  He is tempted by the devil, but casts off these temptations, and is prepared, in a deep and abiding way, to do what God has called him to do.  His time of hunger, of weakness, of tiredness and loneliness, have yielded blessings and power beyond “all understanding.”  His time away, in the harsh wilderness, has yielded blessings of holiness and hope.


So, we too, as we enter into this season of Lent, we are offered the opportunity to accept the fullness of the Holy Spirit, which has come to us in our own baptism.  We can cast off some of the things that remove us from the love and the real presence of God in our lives.  As we move through the season of Lent, even our own feelings of being famished, of weakness, of tiredness, of loneliness, can yield blessings.  We know that God feeds us, give us power, gives us energy, and offers us love and companionship even in our darkest times. 


I pray that we each might strive to keep a holy Lent, and a good place to begin is to examine Jesus’ own time in the wilderness, to see the blessings that it offered him, and to see the blessings that it offers us.


1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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