Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Sunday of Lent

Central—10 March 2019—Michael Kooiman

Luke 4
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]”
9 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. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[d]”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

It’s time for a game of Bible trivia, so if you know the answer, just shout it out.

Who tried to put all the breadmakers out of business on a single day?
Who is the son of the most famous stepfather in history?
Who was not above using a little spit and dirt to heal others?
Who was seldom angry, but frequently righteously indignant?
Who preferred to wear baby clothes that swaddled?
Who’s favourite number was seven times seventy?
Who wept?

I would like to tell you that the idea of a quiz game where every question has the same answer is mine, but it’s not. Some years ago, someone published a beer quiz where the answer to every question was beer. You think that sounds boring, but questions can have much to teach. Can you name a famous Galilean who drank wine instead of beer? Jesus, of course.

I share this because the reading Bob shared isn’t really about temptation so much as dueling Bible verses, proving the old adage that even the devil can quote scripture. And not only can the devil quote it, he can use it to try to pervert the course of salvation, which is similar to obstruction, and has nothing to do with collusion.

So we begin. The devil starts with an extraordinary trick, quoting Jesus in the future, who said: “Who among you, if your son asked for bread, would give him a stone.” (Mt 7.9) Which the devil adapts to say, “If you are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread.” Jesus, however, knows his Deuteronomy, and says “People don’t live by bread alone,” and could have added the rest of the verse, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Take that, devil.

Next, the devil takes a couple of verses from Daniel and twists them to his purposes. Here’s the passage:

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ (7.27)

Obviously Jesus knows this passage, where the evil tenth king (or was it the 45th?) was cast aside by the God who will appoint a righteous ruler instead. But Jesus takes the point that matters, another quote from his favourite Deuteronomy, saying “Worship the Lord your God and serve God alone.” (6.13)

Clearly, the devil is being bested, so he takes a more direct approach, this time inviting Jesus to leap off the roof of the Temple, quoting our Psalm of the day about the guardian angel who will keep Jesus from being harmed. So how did he counter that? If you guessed Deuteronomy, you would be right. Jesus said ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ (Deut 6.16)

What do we make of all of this, aside from learning that if you want to understand Jesus you might begin by reading Deuteronomy? Well, maybe that was the whole point from the beginning. Maybe it’s less about Jesus besting the devil (as if the outcome was ever in doubt) and more about asserting a program, releasing a mission statement, sending a memo to everyone who has ears to hear.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ own sermon on the plain, actually three sermons, preached from the plains of Moab to some spiritually-hungry Israelites. Deuteronomy literally means “second law,” a retelling in sermon form, a restatement of all that God expects of these people. But Moses doesn’t start with statues, or shalts, or shalt nots, but with a story—the story of a people wandering in the desert some forty years.

That’s the first sermon. The next sermon begins with the Ten Commandments and then transposes them for living in the land. Laws around sacrifice, and avoiding other gods, and mercy toward the widow, the orphan and the alien. And then the conclusion, the final sermon, that presupposes the people will fail, but reminds them that even in the face of failure, if they turn to God again, their fortunes will be restored.

But I think there is more here, more than Jesus the new Moses, author of liberation, renewing the law and caring for the most vulnerable. I think there is more here than learning to be faithful while surrounded by Canaanites, or Romans, or modern people who are indifferent to a life of faith. The more seems to be hiding in plain sight, as Jesus thwarts the devil by quoting from the same chapter of Deuteronomy twice, the sixth chapter, the same chapter than give us this:

A scribe asked Jesus which commandment was the first of all, and this is what he said: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

So let’s recap, and remember—that anytime the devil troubles or hope flees, these are the words you need:

Worship and serve God alone.
Don’t test God, it won’t work.
Remember the Lord is one.
Give God your heart, your soul, your mind, and even all your strength.
And end where Jesus ends, looking beyond Deuteronomy for a moment, searching the farthest reaches of scripture, even to an obscure verse in Leviticus, to crown his message: Love your neighbour as yourself.

Well, it’s all well and good to have a program, and to have a really good backstory, but what do we do now? And why does this reading open Lent, and what is Lent, really? One of the better summaries I can find comes from a Reformed Church liturgy:

We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for repentance
and our need for the love and forgiveness shown to us in Jesus Christ.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a Holy Lent,
by self-examination and penitence,
by prayer and fasting,
by practicing works of love,
and by reading and reflecting on God's Holy Word.

Forty days in the wilderness and forty days of Lent. Forty years of desert wandering, and forty days Moses spend with God on Mt. Sinai. Forty days and nights of rain to cleanse the earth, and forty hours Jesus spent in the tomb, harrowing hell and preparing for the resurrection. It may be easier to launch a rocket then calculate the date of Easter, but we know what we can do for forty days before Easter:

Ask ourselves: do we worship God alone? What else do we worship, and how does that twist our faith or our sense of self?
Ask ourselves: have we been testing God? Have you caught yourself saying “if-you-do this-then-I’ll-do-that-Lord”? Does it ever work?
Ask ourselves: do we truly believe that God is one? What other gods have we erected, the market? The existing order? The past?
Ask ourselves: Can we give God our heart, soul, mind and strength? Is it asking too much? And what does it mean, for me? For you?
Ask ourselves: Who is my neighbour? Is it one door down? The next street, all of Weston, Ford Nation? What about neighbouring countries?

Implied in the program that Jesus found in Deuteronomy and made his own is self-examination, prayer, works of love, and a desire to reflect on God’s Word. And while I don’t normally assign homework, I would encourage you to read the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, one of those anchor chapters that helps hold the Bible together. One of the things you will read might be a good place to end, encouragement as you join the Lenten journey. It comes immediately after the beginning of the Great Commandment:

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

And may God bless you each day.



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