Feb. 26, 2023

Prayer of the Day

Lord God, our strength, the struggle between good and evil rages within and around us, and the devil and all the forces that defy you tempt us with empty promises. Keep us steadfast in your word, and when we fall, raise us again and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
3:1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Psalm: Psalm 32

1Happy are they whose transgressions | are forgiven,
  and whose sin is | put away!
2Happy are they to whom the Lord im- | putes no guilt,
  and in whose spirit there | is no guile!
3While I held my tongue, my bones with- | ered away,
  because of my groaning | all day long.
4For your hand was heavy upon me | day and night;
  my moisture was dried up as in the | heat of summer. R
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not con- | ceal my guilt.
  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt | of my sin.
6Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in | time of trouble;
  when the great waters overflow, they | shall not reach them.
7You are my hiding-place; you preserve | me from trouble;
  you surround me with shouts | of deliverance.
8“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that | you should go;
  I will guide you | with my eye. R
9Do not be like horse or mule, which have no | understanding;
  who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will | not stay near you.”
10Great are the tribulations | of the wicked;
  but mercy embraces those who trust | in the Lord.
11Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice | in the Lord;
  shout for joy, all who are | true of heart. R

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19

12Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, 
 ‘One does not live by bread alone,
  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
  and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Pastor Meggan’s Sermon

The season of Lent emerged in the early Christian church as the final, intensive time of preparation—of instruction and formation—for people who would be baptized at Easter. Remember that during the first centuries of the Christian Church, baptism was for adults. Lent was designed to lead baptismal candidates to their baptismal waters. Preparation was long and full of instruction. As the final time of preparation, Lent was chiefly a time of Christian formation.  

We moved our baptismal font for the season in the attempt to draw new attention to the baptismal waters and promises. We will spend time during this season considering what it means to walk wet, as baptized children of God, in Nampa, Idaho in 2023. Freed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what’s next?  Nothing was required of us to come to the font, to receive the promises of forgiveness and abundant life. And yet the Sacrament of Baptism includes promises and declarations of our own which can inform our living today. All of the Old and New Testament texts assigned for the Sundays of Lent this year help us in the baptismal journey.

The question today then is why is Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the wilderness an important story for people about to be baptized into the Christian faith? Why is it an important story for Christian formation? This is our backdrop as we enter this morning’s narrative. 

Today we see and hear Jesus reacting to his own set of tensions. Alone in the wilderness, fasting for 40 days, he also is locked-in in his own way. How will he react to his conditions? What direction will his life take? How will he choose to live? In Jesus’ case, the answers to these questions will not only shape his life, but the whole of humanity.

This is not a temptation scene. This is a scene in which an appointed agent tests Jesus’ solidity. The tester is a prosecutor, not a demon. He is an inspector with official responsibilities before God. He is not a cosmic force arrayed against God.  He is not Satan; he is the satan, the inspector and tester. We might consider the book of Job in the Old Testament, and the figure of the satan that is found there—that is the character.

The first thing to notice is that Jesus is brought to the place of testing by the Holy Spirit.  That means that no matter how things finally come out, Jesus is not ambushed. He is examined. The next thing to observe is that this examination begins with a ritual weakening of the candidate. Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights. We are told that at the end of this rigorous fast he was hungry.  This may seem obvious, but it is significant.  

Hunger is not simply a biological state.  It is an index of what it means to be a human being. Jesus, as a result of his ritual fast, has become fully alive, a human being at the most basic level, capable of the greatness and depravity that hunger brings to life. It is in this state of basic human life that the tester approaches him.

The tempter asks him to turn stones into loaves. The real test is whether Jesus will desire to leap above being a human being and claim status as a son of God. The tester is testing to see whether Jesus will expect privileges, expect the laws of nature to change so that he will have bread to eat without relying on someone to bake it, someone to grind the meal, someone to harvest the grain, someone to plant the grain. Will Jesus ask something of the world that it does not give?

Then the tester takes Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” for angels will rescue you.  Spectators are not mentioned, but the temptation must be for Jesus to make some sensational demonstration that he is the Son of God. Jesus refuses, not because of any lack of faith in God’s power and care. He refuses because honoring God excludes every kind of manipulation, including putting God to the test.

The third test is for Jesus to rule the kingdoms of the world, to assume the role presently played by the Roman emperor. The test is to do it by surrendering to the devil’s kingship. The tester’s command challenged Jesus to accept the current state of the rebellious state of the world. With Jesus’ power, he could have it all. But Jesus will not deviate from worshiping the one true God, even for the noble-sounding purpose of taking over all the kingdoms of the world. 

In this fourth chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus’ earthly life as that of one who fully shares the weakness of our human situation. The picture of Jesus as the obedient Son of God does not abolish or compromise the image of Jesus as truly human.  Jesus is both Son of God and Son of Man.

Those preparing for baptism in the early church who asked: “Why should I believe in Jesus?” are given answers in today’s text. Jesus is a model of obedience to God.  He emerges victorious from his combat with the tester. He can safeguard and maintain his honor and avoid shame. Until his arrest, trial, and death, no one—human or spirit—succeeds in shaming him, tripping him up, or causing him to fall from his ministry. This is the consequence of unflinching obedience to God.

In our service of Baptism in 2023, the baptized, or the parents and sponsors, participate in what we call the “Profession of Faith.” The Profession begins with something we do not often discuss, a three-fold renunciation. Three-fold, the same pattern we hear this morning in Jesus’ trial with Satan. The pastor asks, “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?…Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?…Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?” One definition for renounce is to reject.  I like combining reject with a slightly different translation, “to give up.”  

We do not renounce them of our own power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit. The message from today’s story in the wilderness is not to go and be like Jesus, renouncing the devil. Instead it’s a reminder that in baptism we are united with Christ, who can in fact reject, or give up, the powers of this world.

We are saying that, united with Christ, we give up all of those things that defy God; that we give up everything else which we serve: money, power, privilege.  We renounce them and yet we know full well that most of us will bow down to one of these in our lifetime, if not this very afternoon. So why is this part of Baptism? 

Because in the waters of Baptism our old self is drowned and we are united with Christ, and Christ truly did give up and reject the devil and the powers of this world that rebel against God. And so, we come up from the waters forgiven, free, and with new life.

Jesus’ time in the wilderness is also a prelude to his entire ministry. Jesus refuses in the wilderness to turn stones into bread, but soon he will feed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish (Matt 14:17-21; 15:33-38), and he will teach his disciples to pray to God for their “daily bread” (Matt 6:11).

Jesus refuses to take advantage of his relationship to God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple, but at the end of his earthly ministry he endures the taunts of others (Matt 27:38-44) while trusting God’s power to the end upon the heights of a Roman cross (Matt 27:46).

And Jesus turns down the devil’s offer of political leadership over the kingdoms of the world. Instead, he offers the kingdom of the heavens to all those who follow him in the way of righteousness.

All of this should have us asking: What does it look like to trust God? What are appropriate uses of authority and power that serve the world by serving God? These questions can guide our living and formation just as they guided early Christians preparing for baptism. How should we live out our faithfulness in the realities of daily life, empowered by “Emmanuel, God with us?”

Overwhelming and desolate as our wildernesses may seem, today’s gospel reminds us of something essential: Jesus has already gone ahead of us, even to the most forsaken places of the wilderness. Jesus meets us in the most difficult tests of our lives. No place is so desolate, so distant, or so challenging that Jesus has not already been there. And no temptation is so great that Jesus has not already overcome it.

Prayers of Intercession

Sustained by God’s abundant mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.

You alone are God. Sustain your church in times of wilderness. Give vision and wisdom to bishops, their staff, and all entrusted with the ministry of administration (especially). Counsel all who faithfully lead your people into the future. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

You create verdant gardens and expansive deserts. Tend to the needs of every living creature. Bless those who work in fields and orchards (local sources of food and food distributors may be named), that the world is nourished by the fruits of their labor. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

You know our temptations. Sustain those who govern and legislate. Instill in them a sense of your justice and righteousness, that equity and peace would pervade all the regions and nations of the world. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

You are a hiding place for all in distress. Draw near to exiles, and accompany all refugees and immigrants, especially children who travel alone. In times of trouble, trauma, or illness, surround your people with your steadfast love (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

You offer abundance to all. Bless the ministries of hospitality in this place. Care for those who tend to the needs of others, especially worship greeters, coffee hour hosts, and nursery attendants (other ministries of care and hospitality may be named). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

You alone are God. We praise you for the faithful departed in every age. Unite our prayers with theirs, until our wilderness journey is complete, and we rest in you. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your steadfast love and your promise to renew your whole creation; through Jesus Christ our Savior.



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