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Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent 2023

First Reading: Genesis 3:1-21

 1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” 17And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 20The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.


Psalm 32:1-7

 1Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away! 2Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile! 3While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long. 4For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. 5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. 6I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. 7Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.


Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19

 12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — 13for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.


Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

 1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.



The Temptation of His Life

Robert Penn Warren wrote a novel called All The King’s Men.  It was the story of Willie Stark, a governor of Louisiana and his rise to power.  At the end of his story, he’s shot and killed.  Willie Stark was a man who gained a kingdom and lost all he ever had.  More than two thousand years earlier a man from Galilee said, “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).  Perhaps when this itinerant Rabbi made that statement, He was not only addressing it to those who heard Him, but was also looking back to a time of decision in His own life.

There’s something very curious about our Teacher from Galilee.  Over the 20+ centuries since He returned to the Father, He has captivated the imaginations of scores of people.  His life, ministry, teachings, death and resurrection transcends time and place, culture and custom, race and language.  There’s something in Him that always speaks clearly to us.  We see it throughout the gospels; everywhere He went, and in everything He said and did.  He is the Son of God and Son of Man, fully human and fully divine, and we know, and are thankful, that He obediently became one of us.

While He is the answer to all our struggles, we also see Him struggling with the things He faced.  And, as He finds the way for Himself, He finds the way for us as well.  We see this truth at the very beginning of His ministry.  He left His home in Galilee, and went down the Jordan Valley to a place at the river.  His cousin John the Baptist was there, and he baptized Jesus in the river.  When He came up from the water, a voice from Heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Then, Matthew writes in the first verse of the next chapter, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).

Immediately following His baptism, Jesus is led into the desert to face some of the greatest temptations of His life.  The issue wasn’t whether He would rule the world, but how He would take it.  So, out there in the wilderness of those barren Judean hills, Jesus struggled with what He would do and how He would do it.  Sometimes I worry, that when we read this account, we may not take this very seriously.  We may not think Jesus was really tempted, at least not the way you and I are tempted.  But we need to understand that the temptations Jesus faced were very real temptations.  The same temptations you and I face.  Moreover, He was tempted while fasting for 40 days!

St. Matthew tells us plainly that Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days tempted by the devil.  He didn’t say Jesus wondered, imagined, was charmed, or that He considered His options.  He tells us He was tempted, and that He went there to be tempted.  Furthermore, St. Mark tells us He was tempted.  St. Luke tells us He was tempted.  And in the book of Hebrews we read, “He was in all points tempted as we are.”

If you were to travel to Israel today, you can stand in Jericho and look up into the Judean hills to a place called the Mount of Temptation.  It’s easy to imagine Jesus being up there, alone, fasting for forty days, hungry, tired, struggling with what He would do and how He would do it.  To be sure, He must have considered easier ways to do what He had to do; that would be a natural human reaction.  And because “He was in all points tempted as we are”, I think it’s good for us to consider what He faced.  And the first temptation He faced was in the wrong use of power.

Matthew tells us the tempter came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  Even the way satan phrases the temptation is a temptation in and of itself; “If you are.”  Think about it, how often are we tempted to prove something.  You can almost hear the school yard taunt; I double dog dare you!  To this enticement Matthew writes, “But [Jesus] answered and said, ‘It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”  Jesus knew the answer wasn’t in the wrong use of power.

Yes, He was hungry.  Yes, He needed nourishment, but this wasn’t what the temptation was about.  The temptation was about taking control, about looking to Himself to control the situation.  The temptation was about Jesus using His power to satisfy His cravings, and not be focused on and trusting in the Father.  Jesus understood the power He had.  He knew how He could use this power.  Here He was in a time of fasting, and the tempter told Him He could use His power to get bread, to feed Himself.

Jesus knew He couldn’t give in.  He knew He couldn’t use His power to care for Himself, or for any kind of personal gain or comfort.  Instead, Jesus knew He was to use what God had given Him, to complete the mission God had sent Him to do; to preach good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-20).

Isn’t this a temptation we all face: the wrong use of who we are and what we have, the wrong use of what God has given us?  God has blessed us all abundantly.  A Sunday school teacher asked the children in her class what God had given the children of Israel to eat while they were in the wilderness.  One little girl answered immediately, “Manna.”  The teacher said, “That’s right, and what else?”  After a long pause one boy replied, “Mountain Dew!”  God has blessed all of us.  And one of our temptations is how we use the power God has given us, who we are, and what we have.

The life, teachings, and examples of Jesus all call us to the right use of who we are and what we have.  We’re called to respond the way Jesus did with the right use of all God has given us.  And we’re called to do our best.  It’s said that General Stonewall Jackson once made this statement: “Do the best you can with what you have where you are.”  Marshall Ney was one of Napoleon’s commanders.

When Ney had lost all of his men on the Russian front, he went back to see Napoleon.  He told him he had tried and failed.  Napoleon asked how he might know that he had done his best.  Ney answered, “Sir, I would ask of you no more than I have done.”  Jesus faced temptation at a very difficult and vulnerable time, and He asks no more of us than He has done Himself.  It has to do with the right and best use of the power we possess, who we are, and what we have.  Next, Jesus was tempted by the wrong way to obtain popularity.

Matthew tells us the tempter came to Jesus and, as he showed Him a view from the pinnacle of the Temple said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”  The temptation was to do something so spectacular that He would have an almost instant following.  But Jesus knew He couldn’t do that, that wasn’t part of God’s plan.  If it had been, He wouldn’t have been born in a stable.  Instead, He would have come to a royal family and would have been greeted at His birth with a celebration filled with powerful people, not lowly shepherds.

To satan’s second temptation, Matthew records Jesus’ reply; “It is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”  Jesus understood that His mission wasn’t about gaining acceptance and popularity.  Jesus came to serve His heavenly Father, and establish His kingdom.  And like satan’s first attempt, Jesus knew He couldn’t give in.  His ministry wasn’t about popularity, His ministry was about giving Himself up, not holding Himself up.  Jesus knew that His way of being lifted up was to be lifted up on a cross and in this way, and only in this way, He would draw all people unto Himself.  Popularity and acceptance is a temptation we all face.  With all the technology we have today, it seems that people will do almost anything to gain popularity and acceptance.  A woman was all caught up in the Christmas rush.

However, just when she thought she had everything done on Christmas Eve, she remembered she had neglected to send cards to some people on one of her lists.  She ran out to the store, bought fifty cards, came home and addressed and stamped 49 of them, and rushed to the post office to mail them.  She came back home, and after dinner sat down for a moment and looked at the one card left over. She opened it and read the words on the inside, “This card is just to say a special gift is on the way.”  In a way she’s right, Jesus is returning soon.  But I’m certain that wasn’t what was on her mind as she read the card.

Sometimes we’re only focused on gaining popularity and acceptance.  Young people face it.  We call it peer pressure.  Adults face it.  We call it keeping up with the Jones’.  But this isn’t God’s call in our lives.  Instead, it’s a call to be faithful followers who, like Jesus, seek to serve God and labor in His kingdom.  One of the leaders of the early church was Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.

At age 86, Polycarp was brought to trial by the authorities and was told he must renounce his Christian faith.  To this he replied, “Fourscore and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong: how then can I revile my King, my Savior?”  For his refusal, Polycarp was burned at the stake.  Later when the Christians wrote their history of that period they said, “Polycarp was martyred, Statius Quadratus being proconsul of Asia, and Jesus Christ being King forever!”  God calls us to be the people who are faithful, and to seek to serve God and His kingdom.  Finally, Jesus was tempted by the wrong kind of partnership.

Matthew tells us the tempter came to Jesus and showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth and said, “All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.”  There’s that provocative word again…if.  But Jesus answered, “Begone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve!'” Jesus knew He could never be partners with the devil.  He could never compromise who He was and what He was about.

St. Paul understood this temptation when he wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  (2 Corinthians 6:14).  Jesus understood there can never be a partnership with the devil.  Jesus’ partnership is with our heavenly Father, and so is ours.  Satan says worship me and the world is your oyster.  Jesus says take up your cross and follow me, and I will give you eternal life.  Again, this is a temptation we all face.  Choose the ways of the world to gain temporal things or worship God and gain eternal life.

Satan promises the things of this world, things that moth and rust destroy, that thieves break in and steal.  God promises us things that neither moth nor rust can destroy, nor can a thief steal them (Matthew 6:19-21).  This is a temptation we face every day.  We’re tempted to take our eyes off God and look to the quick, easy, the shiny things of this world that can only provide temporary satisfaction.  God says our partnership is to be with Him and yes, there will be trials and tribulations, but for those who endure, we gain eternal life.  What’s even better is that God has made a covenant with us through Jesus, a new covenant in His blood.  And in this covenant, we have all the promises of God.

And in that covenant comes the call to live as His people.  And one of His promises is that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It doesn’t matter what we face, God will always be there to lead us and guide us.  Think about it, why did Jesus make it through those temptations?  It’s because He remembered who He was.  In between His Baptism and His temptations He heard the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  He never forgot it, the voice of His Father calling Him.

There was a boy whose behavior left much to be desired.  One day his mother noticed a change in him.  He seemed to be making an effort to be thoughtful and kind.  One day she decided to ask him what was going on.  He said, “The other day at church the preacher put his hand on my head and said, ‘You are a fine boy.’  I knew he would be disappointed if he found out I wasn’t, so I decided to try to be one.”  He never forgot it.  It was like the voice of God calling him.

Today’s gospel lesson reminds us that in those times when we’re in the wilderness, and temptation comes and offers us the wrong answer, the wrong choice — the wrong use of power, popularity, the wrong kind of partnership — then we can remember that God has called us by name: “This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”  St. Paul reminds us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).


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