2/14/16 First Sunday in Lent
I am honored to be invited into the pulpit this first weekend in Lent and I am so grateful that you braved the elements to be here. By now, some of you may have foresworn chocolate for these 40 days – or alcohol, or Facebook etc. Others of us add meaning to our Lenten journey by making a commitment to take something on, rather than giving something up. For example, some of you have already committed to be a prayer buddy for one of the children in this year’s First Communion class, which involves praying for them and their family on a daily basis, writing a couple notes of encouragement and then, on their special day, pinning on their boutonniere or corsage. BTW-JJ Keelan and I are still in the process lining up prayer buddies, so it’s not too late- you can talk to JJ or me after worship.
So, we kick off this season of fasting and self-denial appropriately with a story of temptation, Jesus face-to-face with the devil. We already know that Jesus is the Son of God. We know he has the power to feed a crowd of 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. Turning a stone into a loaf of bread should be a no-brainer. But, something more is going on here. The devil is challenging Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. It sounds a little like a 2nd grade playground challenge- “Son of God? Oh, really? Prove it! Turn the stone into bread”. And then, the devil tempts Jesus by offering him the glory and power of a world leader and all Jesus has to do in return is a little devil-worship. We all appreciate a good short cut, especially if we can avoid the suffering and pain that we know lies ahead on Jesus’ path, but Jesus will have none of it. And finally, the devil again challenges the relationship that Jesus has with his Father. “If you jump from the rooftop of the temple, do you really think God will send his angels to catch you? Are you sure? Yeah?- prove it! Jump! “
No big surprise that Jesus knows his Bible verses and hurls them at the devil like spears. What’s interesting to me is the Bible verses Jesus chooses are all quotes from Moses, talking to the hungry, complaining, quarrelsome Israelites who are also in the wilderness, but for 40 years, not 40 days. The wilderness is the place where we realize our powerlessness, our utter dependence on God. But what am I saying? You know. You’ve been in the wilderness at some point in your life.
By quoting Moses, Jesus is placing his encounter in the wilderness inside of the larger Exodus story from over 1200 years before. It’s his story, too. It’s also our story. It’s a story we still celebrate every Easter Vigil here. God’s faithfulness to the Israelites put them, and puts us, in a covenant relationship with God. The devil can’t mess with that, but he’s going to try, every chance he gets!
I can pretty well guarantee that during this whole Lenten season, no one will ask you to turn a stone into bread. It’s also highly unlikely that anyone will invite you to run for President of these United States. Just as unlikely that anyone will tempt you to jump off our church roof top. However, it is quite likely that a politician (take your pick) will in a round-about way, ask: “Do you really trust that God will keep you and your family safe from ISIS if you don’t vote for me?” It is also quite likely that some car manufacturer (again, take your pick) will in a round-bout way, ask: “Do you really believe God loves you and your family enough that you won’t get in a car accident, even though you’re not driving my intelligent accident-proof car? We are challenged every day to sort through a barrage of tempting messages, and not just from politicians or car manufacturers. The devil will also tempt us with offers of wealth, recaptured youth or beauty, or fame. There’s really nothing he won’t do to make us wonder about our relationship with God. That’s what he does. And he won’t pester us on a good day. He waits…and waits…for that day when we got bad news from the doctor; or the day we lose our job; or we’re feeling unloved or unlovable; alone; afraid; abandoned; orphaned. Or maybe like, Jesus in today’s Gospel…hungry and weakened. He waits, and he’s so good at waiting.
If and when that day comes, I want you to remember this: GOD LOVES YOU! – so much that he sent you the most special Valentine you will ever receive. It’s hanging on the cross today, front and center and it says: “I love you this much. You are holy and precious in my sight. I will never leave you, and that’s a promise stronger than death.” It’s way better than a heart-shaped box of chocolates or a dozen long stemmed red roses. It’s a gift that is eternal, given to each of us at our baptism. The devil can’t mess with it-can’t touch it with a ten foot pole. This Valentine not only changes us on the inside, it changes how we see the people sitting in the pews around us today, and out there too.
I find that I need to have that baptismal gift renewed- often! It’s one of the many reasons that I keep coming back here. Every time we gather together in worship we are reminded that EACH OF US IS A BELOVED CHILD OF GOD, HOLY AND PRECIOUS IN HIS SIGHT. Nothing the devil can offer you in this whole wide world can mess with that! That’s the message I want to share with you, and as a prayer buddy, with a very special little boy in the First Communion class.
You don’t know me (yet!) but I wanted to let you know that I will be praying for you every single day while you are preparing for your First Communion. I have been receiving communion for almost 50 years now (that’s thousands of times!) and I’m still amazed at the mystery of it all. Each time I hear the powerful words, “the body of Christ given FOR YOU” and “the blood of Christ shed FOR YOU” I kind of tingle realizing just how much God loves me, no matter what I’ve done (or failed to do). It strengthens me. It gives me peace in my heart. When I’m feeling bad about myself, it makes me feel good again. When I feel unloved (or unlovable) it reminds me that God ALWAYS loves me, no matter what.
I’ll also be praying for your family every day. You are so blessed that they are making sure you learn and understand just how important your First Communion is!
I will be there to pin on your boutonniere and share that important day with you. Until then, remember, I will be praying for you every single day.
Your Prayer Buddy
Linda S. Magill