March 6, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

1When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

1You who dwell in the shelter of | the Most High,
  who abide in the shadow of | the Almighty—
2you will say to the Lord, “My refuge | and my stronghold, 
  my God in whom I | put my trust.” 
9Because you have made the | Lord your refuge,
  and the Most High your | habitation,
10no evil | will befall you,
  nor shall affliction come | near your dwelling.
11For God will give the angels charge | over you,
  to guard you in | all your ways.
12Upon their hands they will | bear you up,
  lest you strike your foot a- | gainst a stone. 
13You will tread upon the lion | cub and viper;
  you will trample down the lion | and the serpent.
14I will deliver those who | cling to me;
  I will uphold them, because they | know my name.
15They will call me, and I will | answer them;
  I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and | honor them.
16With long life will I | satisfy them,
  and show them | my salvation.

Romans 10:8b-13

8b“The word is near you,
  on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Luke 4:1-13

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
  5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “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. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, 
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
  9Then 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, 10for it is written, 
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
  to protect you,’
11and 
 ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
  so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Christ Tempted – Monreale Cathedral; Monreale, Italy

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The term “Lent” originally comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten” which means “spring.” This is the time, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, when the days are lengthening. Lent is a springtime for the souls. We dig down around the roots of our faith–giving those roots all they need to flourish. It is a season of fasting, prayer, giving, and repentance. Repentance is having a new perspective, new lenses to see God, ourselves, and our neighbors. We put the Alleluias away until Easter morning and instead sing, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”

The season of Lent began as period of fasting leading up to the Vigil of Easter. Catechumens, a churchy word for those preparing for baptism at Easter, would fast and spend days in intense preparation. For those that were already baptized, Lent was a period to be renewed in their faith by studying the Bible, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

Although it was originally only a two-day period of preparation, Lent became a three-week preparatory period in the middle of the fourth century and then this was further expanded into six-weeks, or forty days. By the end of the fifth century, there was a desire to exclude Sundays from Lent since Sundays are always celebrated as feasts of the Resurrection. And so, Lent begins not on Sunday, but on Ash Wednesday.

The current practice of forty days of Lent recall Moses’ forty-day fast on Mount Sinai, Elijah’s 40 days on the mountain, and of course Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness after his Baptism.

To fully grasp Jesus’ journey, we have to go back to that baptism. Then and there God declared Jesus to be his Beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased. The words of that address are taken up in today’s story of testing. This time they are on the lips of the adversary. Two times the devil recalls God’s address. He calls it into question with the taunt, “If you are the Song of God.” It is followed by specific tests to find out whether Jesus truly is God’s Son–from the devil’s point of view.

These are not tests to do things that are desirable but not good for him (like our temptation to eat an extra piece of cake). These are tests to see whether even good things can lure Jesus from a focus on God and God’s will.

One pastor summed up the three tests as being about wealth, power, and safety. These are tests we are familiar with today. “At every turn it seems we are tempted to set aside God’s agenda for our own. We are tempted to be derailed from the best God wants for us all…. Jesus is tempted with three things quite familiar to us as well: wealth, power, and safety.” 

The first temptation is to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. This would certainly ease Jesus’ hunger after 40 days of fasting. If Jesus can do that then he can also turn the many stones covering Israel’s landscape into food. He could feed the many hungry people in a land often wracked by famine. This sounds like the manna in the wilderness that fed the Israelites. The challenge is to be a new Moses. 

Later Jesus will teach his disciples to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is necessary for life. Martin Luther says bread is “Everything that nourishes our body and meets its needs, such as: Food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, yard, fields, cattle, money, possessions, a devout spouse, devout children, devout employees, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors and other things like this.”

So, what’s wrong with Jesus wanting these things? Absolutely nothing, unless their support replaces his primary mission. Our lives too are derailed by good things. The temptation is to make our life about the constant pursuit of more. If you follow Jesus, there will comes a time when you are tempted to forget your God-given mission by following the god of more. 

Elsewhere, Jesus teaches, “Don’t worry about your life: what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear. Trust God, who clothes the fields and feeds the birds. Seek first God’s kingdom and let everything else work itself out.”

The second test portrays the devil in the role of “ruler of this world” who can manage the governance of the world’s kingdoms. The price is to worship or honor that authority. In return, the devil will hand it all to Jesus. Remember that most of the known world in our author Luke’s day was under the strong and oppressive control of Rome. A change in regime could only be for the world’s good, right?

Again, Jesus answers no. The price is too high. Jesus’ reply is from the She’ma Israel, in Deuteronomyl. Moses gave this creed to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. He told them not to forget who gave the land and commanded them to worship and serve the Lord. Jesus reinforces this rule later when he gives the first or two great commands: Love the Lord your God. All authority belongs only to God. Even playing the world’s game for a good purpose would risk serving something less than God.

The devil tempts Jesus to trade his calling, hist destiny, his integrity for power. Like bread, power is not bad. Think of what you could do with political power. You could feed people. You could change systems around finance and housing. You could empower everyone to vote. You could make a real difference. 

Jesus, however, accomplished his mission without holding political office. He did not wield power in that way. If we chase power, political, church, or other, we will miss what God can do with our powerlessness. God says, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.” It was not in Jesus’ political or military power that made a difference. It was his love and serving and dying for us which made all the difference.

The testing concludes in Jerusalem. This is the same place where Jesus’ ministry will culminate in his passion and resurrection. The devil quotes Psalm 91, which promises God’s protection to those who are righteous. The temple in Jerusalem is the place where supposedly the most righteous carry out their work. “Go there,” the devil challenges, “and test it!” 

However, many of the professionally righteous people in Jesus’ day were living out their role by working hand in glove with the Roman occupiers. They were actually hurting Israel’s poor and suffering people. Surely reform is in order. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy again, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Like power and wealth, safety is not a bad thing. But if saving our own skin becomes the highest good, we will never risk anything. There would be no cross. We may think ships are safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for. Life is dangerous. In the end, no one gets out alive. Don’t trade your mission for an illusion of immortality. 

The 40 days of Lent begin in the wilderness, for each of us for Jesus. Wilderness is not always a comfortable place, but it is necessary. It is a place with much to offer: reflection and healing, but also temptation and testing. 

Bishop Rinehart warns, “Expect to have your calling and mission questioned. Satan speaks constantly: ‘Why give your life to this silly religious business? The church is just a petulant club of judgmental moralists. Leave this behind. Go make some real bread. Live the high life. Eat and drink for tomorrow we die. Forget your cross. Are you some kind of masochist? Why sacrifice for others? Why be a servant? Why servitude at all? Go for the gusto. Don’t worry about the poor. Didn’t Jesus say the poor will always be with you? You can’t save the world. Go, live your life.’”

Perhaps one of the reasons we fear the wilderness experience is because we know that we will encounter voices of doubt, fear, and temptation, as well as the voices of faith, hope and love. So, the season of Lent and its accompanying wilderness are not without risks. The wilderness is wild after all. But the alternative is closing our hearts to the spiritual, being left to go on our own strength.

This season invites us to change routines. Listen. Fast. Pray. Give. Trust. Know that none of our practices or disciplines makes you a better person, right before God, of special merit. Instead, the disciplines of Lent simply clear away the clutter so that we can see and hear God more clearly.

What of the end of Jesus’ time in the wilderness? Jesus sent the devil packing. “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The devil came back. It happened during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. The devil entered Judas and set in motion the betrayal and arrest, the trial and the denial, the abandonment and the crucifixion. He spoke through a variety of voices. Religious leaders said, “Let him save himself if he is the Messiah.” A criminal asked “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” Again, there is temptation for proof, a sign, or some kind of power and action.

The devil always comes back. We will never pass the devil’s testing. And we do not look at Jesus to see how to do it. We are like the criminal on the cross. We are in captivity and cannot free ourselves. Today, in the wilderness of our temptations, Jesus Christ comes. He comes through water, bread and wine, to remember you, to claim you and free you from sin, death and the power of the devil. Thanks be to God.

Prayers of Intercession – Sundays and Seasons

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

Drawn close to the heart of God, we offer these prayers for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

We pray for the church. Sharpen its proclamation of the word so that your people learn to reject voices of deception and distraction. Strengthen all who are tempted to believe lies about themselves or others. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We pray for the earth and all its creatures. Protect wilderness places and all plant and animal species that call them home. Sustain farmers and all laborers who work the land and harvest the fruits of its abundance. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We pray for the nations of the world. Awaken elected leaders and government officials to the needs of those who are oppressed and grant them compassion to deal mercifully with immigrants and refugees who reside among us. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We pray for those in need. Rescue those experiencing mental illness or contending with addiction. Ease the anxiety of those who live with dementia. Command your angels concerning all who are sick (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We pray for this assembly. Bless those who bake bread and prepare the table for our communion celebration. Accompany those who share the bounty of this meal with those who are homebound or hospitalized. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

We give thanks for those who have died (especially). Gather them with all the saints into your heavenly dwelling place. Encourage us with the promise that all who call upon your name are saved. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Accept the prayers we bring, O God, on behalf of a world in need, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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