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Lent 1C RCL    March 10, 2019

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

In our opening reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, we have the opportunity to look on as Moses prepares the people of God to enter the promised land. They will be planting crops and raising cattle and sheep. When the harvest comes in, they are to offer the first fruits of that harvest to God in thanksgiving for all that God has done for them. God has brought them out of slavery.

The text offers precise directions for this liturgy. The person is to say certain words to the priest. The priest is to say certain words and perform very specific actions. This is to be done with deep reverence. This text is part of the background for our practice of making and carrying out our pledge of time, talent and treasure to God.

God constantly showers us with many gifts, and we respond with gratitude. This is part of our journey in faith.

Our psalm is one of the most profound statements of faith in the Bible. God is our refuge and our stronghold. The psalm says, “For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” This line is a direct link to our gospel for today.

In our reading from Romans, Paul says, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim.)” This passage can refer to our favorite psalms and other passages from the Bible, which are on our lips and in our hearts, but it also refers to the risen Christ, who is here with us now, very near us, among us, leading and guiding us.

And Paul says something else that is very important. He says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him.” We are all one as Jesus and the Father are one.

Now we turn to our gospel. Every year on the First Sunday in Lent, we read one of the accounts of the temptation of Jesus. This year our gospel is from Luke.

Jesus has just been baptized by John, and God has said that Jesus is God’s Son. Now Jesus goes out into the wilderness, and he is tempted by the forces of darkness. How is he going to carry out his ministry? What values are going to guide his decisions and his actions?

This yearly review of the temptations is a great gift to us. For one thing, we realize once again that Jesus went through just what we go through. He was fully human. He was also fully divine, and he did not succumb to these temptations. This gives us hope that, with his grace, we can faithfully follow him. We can resist the things that would draw us away from God, things that would divert us from following our Good Shepherd who is out in front of us.

This year, the thoughts of Herbert O’Driscoll, one of my favorite scholars and preachers, speak profoundly to me.  He notes that when Satan says, “If you are the Son of God,” it should probably be read in a sneering tone. Satan is questioning the identity of Jesus.

So often temptations have to do with our identity. Who am I? How am I going to conduct my life? O’Driscoll notes that the temptations “appeal to the ego as being self-sufficient.” O’Driscoll says of the first temptation, to turn stones into bread,”We are hearing the temptation to attract followers through bribery, by producing what they want and need. Our Lord refuses.”

When the devil shows our Lord all the kingdoms of the world and offers them to Jesus, O’Driscoll says, “The temptation is to get people to follow by the use of naked power. If you don’t want to bribe them,  then dominate them. Again our Lord refuses.”

In the third temptation, the demon tells Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. As our psalm says, angels would come and rescue him. O’Driscoll writes, “The third option the demon offers is the possibility of impressing people so much that they will be mesmerized by spectacle and will follow. Jesus once again refuses.”

O’Driscoll writes, “Every option is an appeal to his human ego…Jesus defers to a will higher the his own.” And O’Driscoll connects these temptations with that moment of faithful surrender in Gethsemane when Jesus says, as we are called to say from time to time, “Not my will but thine be done.”

Finally, O’Driscoll makes an observation that I think is crucial to us on our journey. After this time of challenge is over, what does Jesus do? He goes to Galilee and calls his first two disciples. O’Driscoll writes, “He has chosen, not the way of the solitary ego, but the way of community, sharing, relationship.”

O’Driscoll notes the line that follows the temptations.”When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The temptation to rely on our own strength, to be less than God calls us to be, is always there, waiting in the wings. But, with God’s grace, it is as a speck of dust in the face of the light of  Christ.

O’Driscoll writes, “The demon does not depart permanently even from Jesus. There will be other encounters, other struggles. We know only too well that this is true for our lives. But we know something else—because of the risen life of our Lord, there is grace for us in our encounters with the demon.” O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, Year C, vol. 2, pp. 16-17.)

This Lent, as we let go of things that draw us away from God, and take on practices that help us grow closer to God, dear Lord Jesus help us to remember that you have walked this way before us and that  you are here to help us on the journey. In your holy Name we pray. Amen.

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