Entering Lent

March 10, 2019 Lent 1

Luke 4:1-13

The first spring following my families move to Richmond brought grandiose plans of a wonderful thriving garden in the backyard of the parsonage. Vern came over and tilled the ground for us and by the time he was completed, we probably had at least 200 square feet of space for a wonderful garden. We marked the garden all out and planted seeds. We put a fence all the way around the garden so that the many rabbits roaming around the yard would stay out. Since it was the first year, it required a lot of tender loving care to weed it and water it. The weeds seemed to like the water much more than the plants did. Then we went on vacation!

We came home to an enclosed jungle! Okay, maybe it was not quite that bad. I still manage to harvest some radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and even a bit of lettuce. The corn did not turn out. Neither did the watermelon or cantaloupe. We would try again the following year and scale it back a little. Last year we decided that it was just too much work! It takes a lot of patience to prepare and cultivate a garden. There are many challenges and temptations that come along the way.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Jesus enters the wilderness. He is tempted and holds fast in his faith. During this season of Lent, you are going to be asked to let go of the things that weigh you down and to cultivate those areas in your life that bring growth.

The temptations that are waved in front of Jesus’ face this week are very powerful. They are temptations that pull people into power that is hard to let go of. What if we could turn a stone into a loaf of bread, or simply anything to feed ourselves? Could this be a blessing to those in countries that have the constant threat of famine. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days! He had to be hungry. I am sure the thought of a loaf of bread would have made his mouth water.

Imagine standing on the highest peak wherever you were and being able to see off in the distance for miles and miles. What if someone promised to you that it could all be yours if you just turned away from God and turned your worship towards evil, idols, or even material possessions? Does not sound too far from the truth for some today, does it? How quick we are to turn away from God for something that is newer, brighter, or shinier.

The third temptation of Jesus is the promise of invincibility. This seems to come to us more often when we are young and stupid! Now, don’t try this at home, but one attempt at this for me was when I thought I could run across the pool cover on my parent’s pool in the middle of winter. I may have been trying to show off for the next-door neighbor, and fortunately, I got all the way to the other side before my foot just barely broke through the ice frozen on top.

It is these temptations that Jesus walks away from after fasting for 40 days. He lets go of them so that he can move forward into the ministry that God is calling him to. A ministry that had been established from the very beginning of time.

Many people have used Lent as a time to fast from something as a discipline. I encourage you this year to let go of something. Not just for Lent, but for good. It could be something that distracts you away from God. A great definition of to let go is to relinquish your grip on something. As we do so it provides us the opportunity to return to God.

While Jesus let go of the temptations after his 40 days in the wilderness, it was also a sign of growth. His time of fasting in the wilderness revealed his great faith in God the Father which prepared him for his ministry ahead. A ministry that would lead to growth in his disciple’s faith as well.

Unlike me trying to cultivate a garden, Jesus was much better in cultivating a faith that laid the foundation for all of us to follow. The term to cultivate usually is used in farming as I am sure many of you know. We can also use it to refer to our lives and today to our faith. To cultivate means to prepare and then foster growth. To cultivate also means to labor, care for, study, refine, or encourage. All of these can relate to our faith and its growth as we draw closer to God this Lenten season. It takes work and we must be intentional.

As you noticed, there is also room for you to write on the doors what you are going to cultivate over these next forty days. After his time of testing in the wilderness, Jesus let go of the temptations and cultivated his faith as he drew closer to God.

How are you going to draw closer to God this season?

Let us pray. Lord, we return to you, asking for forgiveness this season of Lent. In this time of preparation, may we be guided by the Holy Spirit to let go of those things that weigh us down and be drawn to those things that cultivate our commitment to you. Amen.

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Sinners in a Broken World

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March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When was the last time that you encountered the devil? When was the last time that you encountered evil? While Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by the devil, putting God to the test, we too could probably reveal times in our lives that we were tested to turn away from God. The temptations that surround us on a daily basis vary. What may be tempting to one of us, is easily avoided by another. Regardless of the temptation, it can lead us astray and separate us from God.

This morning we begin our journey through the Sundays of Lent. For the next five weeks we will be getting to know Martin Luther a little better through the small catechism. For some of you, these questions are familiar:

What is this? or What does this mean?

For those that don’t, these are the questions that Luther asks as he walks through the chief parts of the catechism. Perhaps, he was motivated by his children walking around the house and asking what everything was. He was probably one of the first theologians to have children and help him shape the catechism as we know it today. The catechism, or the idea of it, can go back to the apostle Paul. In Galatians 6:6, he writes, “Those who are taught the word share in all good things with their teacher.” The catechism is simply a Christian instruction on how to live a life of faith. The catechism as we know it has three chief parts: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Within these parts, Luther moves from the law to the gospel, which I will explain shortly. It is in the catechism that sponsors and parents are asked to guide the newly baptized as they grow and Luther meant for this to be a helpful resource to use. If you were not aware, the Small Catechism is printed in the Red ELW in front of you, beginning on page 1160.

As we remember the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year, studying the small catechism is one way to do so. And as we study it, we can think about how we can reclaim the catechism for today.

We begin this morning with the Ten Commandments. The first chief part of the small catechism. The commandments are not anything new, as we first hear of them as they are given to the people of Israel in Exodus. It is in the giving of the commandments that Moses brings the law to the people. As I said earlier, Luther starts with the Law and works his way toward the gospel in the structure of the catechism. The law is simply what it sounds like. The chief function of the law is not to show us how to get into heaven, but to show us our sin. The Ten Commandments represents the law at work in the Old Testament. Rules for the people of Israel. It points towards the sin of humanity and calls it like it is.

Martin Luther viewed all of God’s commandments in light of the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. His explanation, “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things,” points towards a call to faith. It is in this faith that is the heart of the matter for all of the commandments. When we lose our faith, we are more easily tempted into committing sins against God and our fellow humanity.

We easily put other things before God. We put wealth, power, material possessions, and many other things before God at times.

How often do we make wrongful use of the name of the Lord?

Do we truly take time to rest on a Sabbath? A time to be with God, away from all other worries and truly experience the deep caring relationship that God wants with us.

I am sure that we all grew up perfect angels and never despised nor angered our parents. Have we truly honored them and respected them to the best of our ability?

I am going to assume that it is most likely that no one here has committed murder. However, have you wished harm upon someone else? Have you refused help to someone in need?

Have you ever lusted for someone that was not your spouse? Jesus tells us that we can commit sin even just by looking at someone with a deep desire.

Have you ever helped yourself to something that was not yours? Even as simple as an apple on a neighbor’s tree.

Have you ever spoken badly about someone? Have you ever gossiped?

Have you longed for a car as nice as the one your neighbor just got? How about anything else that the neighbor owns?

As you see, The Ten Commandments are the law that shows us our sins. Now that we have been overcome with the law, where are we to find God’s grace? That will not come until next week as we venture into the Creed.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is confronted with temptations that we would at many times have a hard time turning away from. Who doesn’t long to have their deep hunger fulfilled? The thought of being invincible is tempting in more ways than one. The thirst for power is what has driven many of the world’s empires.

While the Ten Commandments certainly show us our sins, the love of God is made abundantly clear in God’s son, Jesus Christ.

When faced with temptation, Jesus is an example for us to follow. It is in his example that we witness the grace of God. God is present in the Word to feed us when we are hungry and to quench our thirst. God is present in our worship and in our service.

As Jesus stood with the Devil in the wilderness and proved that he was stronger than him, we witness the power of God to resist temptation. This is the same Jesus that will be crucified for the sins of the world. The strength that he shows in the wilderness will be reflected upon the cross as he fulfills his purpose. In this we experience the saving grace of God and salvation that comes to us, sinners in a broken world. Amen.

The Unexpected God

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John 12:1-8

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Creator, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

How many of you like to go shopping?

Of course with having two teenagers in the house I have spent my fair share of time in a mall over the course of the years. If you have been in a mall at any time, I am sure that you are familiar with some of the smells that you encounter. The smells that come wafting out of the food court are enough to tempt you into possibly eating when you aren’t even hungry. Almost every mall has a pretzel place and the smells that come from there can make your taste buds water. The smells coming from the cinnamon rolls will make you gain a couple of pounds instantly!

The smell that truly shocks the senses is when you wander into any of the department stores and get immediately pelted by the smells of the cosmetic and fragrance counters. Sometimes so overwhelming that you have to hold your breath just to get through that area of the store, hoping that you can hold your breath long enough without passing out!

It would be my estimation that if we were to walk in on Jesus having dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in our gospel lesson this morning we would have sensed that we had just encountered the fragrance counter in a department store. An entire pound of perfume Mary had purchased, to anoint Jesus’ feet, and to be used at his burial. There was enough on his feet for her to wipe them with her hair!

What are we to make of this story? The breaking of bread among friends with an anointing that not only points towards Jesus’ death; it also points toward his action of washing the disciples feet during the Passover. Is it the fear of scarcity that takes center stage in this gospel lesson, or is it a story of God’s abundant love poured out for all of creation?

This Lenten season we have walked together as a congregation being reminded weekly of our call to turn back to our baptism on a daily basis. Repenting of those things that we have done wrong and those things that we have failed to do allows us to deepen our relationship with a loving, grace-filled God.

We entered this Lenten season with Jesus. Being tempted in the wilderness. As we have entered our own wilderness this Lent, we are reminded of the many temptations that come in front of us on a daily basis. The temptations to turn away from God and place something else in higher priority. I invited you to welcome in disruptions and listen to where God may be calling you in that time and place. We have thought about what we were going to say “yes” to this Lent, and what we were going to say “no” to. Perhaps you have done well following your Lenten discipline, however, I will have to admit that I have been tempted once or twice and may have possibly slipped a little.

Our journey through the past five weeks have been full of temptations whether we have noticed them or not. We may have succumbed to them and not even realized it. God has continued to work throughout the world in the past five weeks as well! God has shown up in places that may not have been expected and has brought hope and peace to those that are hurting and in need of healing. God does this by being with first responders and caring hands that reach out in love and support. Perhaps maybe God will even show up in the mess of a political system in our country that is currently being dominated by hate and fear.

God has shown the unexpected in our gospel lessons these past weeks also. God has been in the unexpected image of Jesus as mother hen gathering in all of the little children. God has been in the unexpected role of the gardener telling us to “just relax and let me tend to and nurture this thing (whatever it may be) that is so close to you and It will bear fruit as it is fed.” God is unexpectedly seen in the father of the prodigal son that comes home after spending all of his inheritance on wasteful living.

Again we find God in the most unexpected places this morning. For Mary to use such costly perfume to wash Jesus’ feet was unheard of. For her as a woman to be anointing is unheard of. She breaks all barriers when she takes it upon herself to wash and anoint Jesus in the midst of dinner. It was leaders and kings that did the anointing, look at Saul and how he anointed David. God shows up in the most unexpected places, breaking barrier to reveal the unexpected.

The objections raised by Judas even come as unexpected as we know the rest of the story and know what lays beyond Jesus’ death. Luke even inserts his own knowledge of Judas’ greed and sinfulness in this story to set up what is about to happen in the betrayal. Here we even experience the unexpected. A sudden plot twist that we may not have seen coming if we did not know the rest of the story. As we have got to know Jesus, we may not be surprised to find that he defends Mary, but to tell us that we will always have the poor with us, that is possibly unexpected. If we will always have the poor with us, how do we live into that together as a community? Stanley Hauerwas suggests that, “The poor we always have with us in Jesus. It is the poor that all extravagance is to be given.” By doing so we shower Jesus with the love that has been given to us from the beginning of creation and reminded of in the waters of baptism.

This next couple of weeks is going to go by at a fast rate as we prepare for Palm/Passion Sunday next weekend as we enter into Holy Week. We will come to the basin to have a feet washed on Maundy Thursday and gather around the table to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday will provide us with a chance to be with Christ and examine what the crucifixion means to us. The Saturday Easter Vigil will allow us to experience that which was unexpected to the disciples.

God is up to something new! God is showing up in the unexpected! May the fragrance of God’s love wash over us in our preparations for the next two weeks and surprise us with the unexpected.