1st Weekend in Lent - 3-6-2022
March 06, 2022 | Russell Melby
Passage: Luke 4:1-13
Friends in Christ, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. The first part of my message today is, so to speak, carryover from when I was privileged to be the guest preacher here on February five and six. During that message, I invited members of our congregation to call on a neighbor, and upon learning the neighbor did not have a church home, invite them to worship with us on a forthcoming Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Calling, texting, emailing, Facebooking and in-person invitations were examples I gave as to how one could contact a neighbor. Those of you who were able to do so along with anyone who might have wanted to, but for whatever reason, could not -- you're all invited to join me around the table in the Commons following worship to share our experiences with one another. At that time, I will share my visiting experience with you. Our conversations will be, as you might have guessed, very informal.
Today's gospel reading from Saint Luke, Chapter four shows us Jesus at one of his most vulnerable encounters in the Bible. His confrontation with the devil, sometimes referred to as the diabolical one, serves as the ultimate model for Christians who are tempted at different times in our lives. Jesus entered the wilderness filled with the Holy Spirit. When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. As we hear and experience in our service of Holy Baptism, whether as infants, young people or adults.
We are persuaded that the Holy Spirit is with us, even when we doubt or wonder about our own place in the Christian life. When we are tempted on our wilderness journeys to run away from God and focus on ourselves, we can remember our baptisms and the promise God makes to us. The mystery of how God continues to work in the world, we can embrace in faith the words of Saint Paul, who wrote in Second Corinthians Chapter five that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world unto himself. To be sure, during troubled times--and when haven't there been troubled times?--it is sometimes very difficult to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, especially among those who are suffering. Unlike Jesus, as well as Saint Paul, most of us are not Jews. Jesus was a Jew who was fully human, as we are, though, we believe and teach he lived without sin. We believe in teach how Jesus was human and divine at the same time. We can be persuaded by the gift of the Holy Spirit that our Lord's life, death and resurrection is God's way of redeeming the world God loves. For me and perhaps for you as well, this ongoing hope will sustain us on our wilderness journeys, as we look to Jesus, our perfect model of faithfulness.
Jesus began his 40 days in the wilderness filled with the Holy Spirit, and after 40 days of fasting, he was, as the text says, most certainly famished. And so it was that the devil, also known as the diabolical one, says to him, if you are the son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread. Jesus responds by quoting from Deuteronomy Chapter eight, verse three. "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Jesus used the scriptures that were available to him. Now, to say that Jesus knew his Bible, would be an ultimate understatement. Then the devil led Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of the Earth and said to him, to you, I will give their glory and all this authority for it has been given over to me and I give it to anyone I please. If you then worship me, it will all be yours. Again, our Lord responds by reciting portions of what we know as the Old Testament. Jesus returns to Deuteronomy Chapters six and 10. To summarize what the scribe had recorded. "Worship the Lord, your God and serve only him."
Our Old Testament was key for our Lord, and it is crucial for us as we confront the devil in the diabolical one's various disguises even today. As the devil confronts our Lord for the third and last time, the devil quotes scripture to Jesus. In fact, he uses a short section from Psalm 91, the appointed Psalm for today. Verses nine through 11. The devil says, for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways on their hands, they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. Clever is the devil in his diabolical ways. He used the word of God to confront God. We know, of course that even though our lord was famished and suffering from 40 days without food and presumably without water, Jesus responded to the devil quoting from Deuteronomy Chapter six, verse 16 in our Bibles. "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." The assigned reading today from the fourth chapter of St. Luke did not end with our Lord's warning to the devil. The last verse in today's reading from St. Luke is rather ominous as I hear it. When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
The diabolical one returns toward the end of St. Luke's gospel in Chapter 22 in the person of Judas Iscariot who would betray our Lord? On one occasion, I heard a colleague of mine in South Dakota preach a sermon she titled, "Our brother, Judas." I don't remember the contents of a sermon, it was a long time ago. But I do remember how I felt sitting in the back of that chapel and thinking to myself that I would not betray Jesus as Judas did. And of course, I immediately thought of Peter. Later, to become Saint Peter and realize that I was and am quite capable of betraying our Lord in how I act or I don't act toward our neighbors in need.
Except through prayers and sharing some of my income through Lutheran disaster response. I am not certain how else to respond to the ongoing international crisis in Ukraine. I am very thankful to Governor Kim Reynolds for declaring today a day of prayer for the people of Ukraine. People in Venezuela, Myanmar and the Uyghur population in China also come to mind as fellow human beings created in the image of God who are experiencing on a daily basis, hell on Earth. And there are other countries where people experience ongoing suffering, to be sure, that some of you may know about in ways I don't. Beyond charity and prayers, I think of the privilege we have to communicate with our governor, our U.S. senators and representatives, along with participating in peace in nonviolent peace events. Which I am persuaded are symbolic ways to show that we care about our neighbors in need.
One person from the 20th century whose writings influenced me was Albert Camus -- a humanitarian, a Nobel Peace Prize winner in literature and a self-described non-believer. In 1948, just two to three years after the war ended, WWII, that is, he spoke to a group of Christians following the end of the war and said, "Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don't help us, who else in the world can help us do this?"
Thanks be to God. We are saved from the evil one, the devil, the diabolical one because of God's gracious actions in our baptisms and through his presence even today. Jesus confronted the devil during his profound wilderness experience, and thanks to the word of God recorded in Deuteronomy, the Psalms and throughout the Old and New Testaments, Jesus emerged to enter Galilee and do his ministry throughout the land. Followed by his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the dead. We Christians believe and teach that our Lord's life, death and resurrection is the ongoing hope of the world. Even while too many of our fellow humans experience the literal Hell on Earth. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Amen.