Trinity News and Sermons

2015/2/22 Sermon Bullets

First Sunday in Lent

• When I was in seminary, we were told that, if we should become pastors or other rostered leaders in the church, rather than being so holy and removed from the troubles of this world, we could expect temptations to become even greater for us.
• Placed into positions of trust, with the “care of souls” our responsibility, and going from being apprentices to CEOs in one day/night (ordination), the temptation of power and potential abuse would be ever near us.
• Not words of inspiration and comfort, but words of warning.
• I have shared these words with every diakonia class that I have taught in 4 years – if you are going to take a leadership position in the church, if you are going to spend more time in prayer, if you are going to make Jesus Christ the very heart and center of your lives, expect temptation and frustration and criticism to come your way.
• As my great friend Pastor Mack Smith used to say, “Paul, you are looking good on wood.” Meaning of course, I am picking up the Cross and following Jesus.
• C.S. Lewis wrote an amazing book called The Screwtape Letters, which is a short novel about a higher level demon, Uncle Wormwood writing to his nephew, Screwtape, about how to please the devil and do their job effectively and efficiently.
• In it, the uncle says in effect, “Don’t worry about murderers and thieves and such – we’ve already got them. Don’t waste your time. Concentrate on those who are religious – those who worship regularly. Have them lose focus on the message of the sermon and liturgy and tempt them to think, ‘Why did they pick THIS hymn? It is unsingable!’ or ‘Can you believe she wore that hat and outfit to church today? Did she look in the mirror before she left home?’ In this way we can win more souls for our Master.”
• (Part of what Lewis was doing was making commentary about the Anglican church of his day where religious persons would get caught up in petty concerns instead of focusing on the wonder of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus!)
• It is not always easy to be a Christian. Learning what it means to live in God’s embrace, we also know what it means to follow the 2 Great Commandments to Love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. And knowing this, we acknowledge how we fall short. So sometimes we despair and just say – OK, I’m going to sin, so let’s just do it!
• Those who don’t “know God” sometimes don’t have the pang of a guilty conscience in them.
• It seems with baptism and moving forward in the Christian life, comes temptation. Wouldn’t life be easier if it wasn’t?
• Why do we do it? Why do we succumb to the temptation to do what we often know is wrong?
• In one of the longest running musicals in theater history, The Fantasticks, there is a wonderful song called “Never Say No”. Some of its words are –
• Why did the kids pour jam on the cat? Raspberry jam all over the cat? Why should the kids do something like that, When all that we said was no?
• Why did the kids put beans in their ears? No one can hear with beans in their ears. After a while the reason appears. They did it cause we said no.
• When we are told NOT to do something, that seems to be the very thing we crave to do.
• St. Paul talks about this in Romans 7 when he says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. . . . So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched person that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
• Today, in our gospel lesson, Jesus is baptized by John, sees the Spirit descending upon him, hears that he is the Beloved of the Father – and then is immediately driven into the desert by the same Spirit to be tempted.
• For me, this shows his solidarity with all humanity. Claimed by God, called God’s beloved, TEMPTATION follows! God is not a cold distant God who says, These are the laws, follow them or else. God understands COMPLETELY what we encounter because God in Jesus Christ becomes one of us to experience what we experience. God’s love for us is so powerful that his Son endures temptation from Satan.
• In the versions of this gospel lesson from Matthew and Luke we hear the specific ways in which Jesus was tempted, but not here. And in each of the three temptations, Jesus quotes scripture – the Living Word – to counter the devil’s manipulative offers.
• This is most instructive for us as well. When temptations come – AND THEY DO! – we call upon the Spirit of the Living God to come to our aid. Using the resources he has given us helps us. His word/the Bible, prayer, the Sacraments, the gathered community/the church, fellow companions on the journey with us – all help us.
• But in those times when the temptation gets the best of us, and especially, as we are saying in our confession during this Lenten season we confess, “what we have done and what we have left undone” – we cling to the promise of God’s love and forgiveness that is ours in the Cross of Jesus.
• When we feel the power of sin consuming us, and almost despair that we cannot escape it, we do as Luther taught us – RETURN TO BAPTISM. Remember the words over each of us: You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with Cross of Christ forever!
• When sin creeps up and we catch ourselves in the act of not loving God above all and neighbor as ourselves and say, “Oh no! I blew it again!” we can hear the words of St. Paul: Who will deliver me? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!