+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 4:1-13
Theme: By Word and Spirit
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Lent is the season of renewal. We reset our watches. We reboot our smart phones. We restart our computers. We recalibrate the instruments and tools of our trade. Sometimes this is done for minor adjustments. Other times we need to wipe the slate clean. Lent is such a time. It’s the time for a no holds barred candid gut-check about the things that drive us and the things that captivate us; the things we idolize and the things we despise; our fears, our temptations and our hopes.
The gospel reading before us is a starting point for our journey. Christ is clashing with Satan. Here we have the earthly embodiment- a small-scale representation- of the cosmic struggle. The Son of radiance face to face with the prince of darkness. The defender of truth confronting the Father of lies. The incarnate God opposing the epitome of evil.
So what is Satan’s approach? It’s not as brash as we might imagine. But it is, of course, sinister. First he appeals to Christ’s human needs. Just a little unassuming miracle to satisfy the hunger of the stomach, he suggests. We are beset by such temptations constantly; greed and lust, frivolity and indulgence, our self-centred ambitions and the need to convince our conscience that they’re all for the common good. These sins of the flesh are often quite obvious.
But the devil’s second and third temptations raise the bar. He now appeals to Jesus’ higher sense of purpose, even His trust in the Father’s plan. “The devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered, ‘It says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”1
Could Jesus be led to second-guess, to adopt a different perspective? Maybe there was another way? Would the heavenly Father be flexible? Would He bend to certain conditions? Why could Jesus not have His cake (gain victory over Satan) and eat it too (avoid suffering and sacrifice)? We know He did not yield. As He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Not My will, but Yours be done.”2
There can be no bargaining with God; yet how often we try it. If God blesses me in such and such a way then, I promise I will show my obedience in a certain manner. If God gives me a sign (specially, one of my own designation), then I will respond accordingly. After all, don’t I deserve to have God prove Himself to me first! This mindset does not amount to testing God, but negotiating with Him, bartering- trying to set conditions and place demands that He must first meet. The stark truth is such attempts are not expressions of faith.
Our Lenten journey cannot be fruitful if we deny that our most damning sins involve those which seek to wield control from God. This is where unbelief seeks to reassert itself. Not that we would be so bold as to attempt to wrest from God His control over the sweeping events of history. But we seek to do it in the immediate sphere of influence in our own lives. We like to be lord of our own manor.
Dear friends, our faith exists in penitence. Faith is never arrogant but always humble. This entails not only a recognition of our sin but the trust that God’s ways are superior to ours even when we cannot see it. Humility is evidenced in patience. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord,”3 says David the Psalmist. We have God’s promise of deliverance. No threat or fear can gainsay God’s oath.
Remember the words of the apostle today, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”4 To confess Jesus as Lord was to risk everything in a First Century society saturated with polytheistic teaching and the expectation of venerating the Caesar as the exclusive ruler of the land. Perhaps those who exalted the stability of the empire- the pax Romana- would have allowed this Jesus a place in the pantheon, the large collection of gods and goddess to whom was attributed jurisdiction of everything from the fertility of the livestock to the protection of the army. But to acclaim Him as Lord was akin to political treason and religious insanity. Pilate cared little about Christ’s confession of truth but was keen to understand His concept of kingship. The Jews accused Him of blasphemy.
We are moving again towards a polytheistic culture. There are legitimate fears about the ravages of atheism and secularism, but mystical, supernatural, and spiritual pursuits have by no means been abandoned. Yet they are moving quickly away from Christian foundations. Many still seek a spiritualist connection, but one custom-made to suit their fancy. Some want tolerance without judgment, forgiveness without atonement, empowerment without responsibility, salvation without sacrifice. They may seek to glean from Christian truth certain elements that can be reimaged.
More and more look for divinity in the earth, stars, and sky or within themselves.
Fortune-telling, mediums and contacting or channeling the deceased are making a resurgence. People want to feel in touch with and in control of their destiny. All there better if one can be convinced everything from relationships to careers is written in the stars! Though personal, they prefer their spirituality to be creedless, cross-less, and Christ-less.
It is in the context of this worldview that you bear a confession. You are led by the Spirit in a spiritual wilderness. You learn to carry around your yoke of mortality in a different way than those who have no hope, those who have false hope, and those who are completely preoccupied with the indulgences of this world. We learn to make godly assessments and not evaluate as the world does. A busy life is not necessarily a godly life- Paul warns of busybodies. A fulfilling life is not necessarily a pious life. Whose agenda is being served?
The Spirit led Christ into His contest with Satan. The Spirit leads us in our daily struggle with sin. We can accomplish nothing without Him. But in faith we have the confidence that God uses us everywhere and in every way. Everything a believer does out of faith is a good work. It is a good work not because of some quality we lend to it even with our best intentions and motivations but because it flows from the trust that Christ has done THE good work. The law can be followed because the law has been fulfilled. The baptized can serve because they have been served. We can be living sacrifices5 because Christ, our sacrifice6, lives. He was crucified. He is risen!
And He continues to intercede to reset, recalibrate and restore us. He does this through the forgiveness of our sins which has real impact in countless ways. Christ brings light into dark places. He calms the anxious. He settles the restless. He welcomes the outcast. He feeds the hungry. He restores the sick. Those He chooses not to restore in this life, He nurses. Those who remain restless, He accompanies. Those who are still anxious, He soothes. Those who linger as outcasts, He embraces. To those who are yet famished He offers His own body and blood for nourishment. And for all who fail of strength to any longer contest this world of sin He prepares not a respite, but a repose of eternal rest of a celestial caliber. For remember, the end of Lent is Easter and the mortal will be clothed with immortality. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
First Sunday in Lent
17 February 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 4:9-12
2 Luke 22:42
3 Psalm 27:14
4 Romans 10:9
5 See Romans 12:1
6 See 1 Corinthians 5:7