The First Sunday in Lent; Year C (2/17/2013)

Lessons:Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 (11) Romans 10:8b-13 St. Luke 4:1-13

Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land.  Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”  5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”  9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’  11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”  12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

St. Luke 4:1-13 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Welcome to the Wilderness

Lent begins tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday. It is the fourth season in the liturgical church year. There are 40 days in Lent (not including Sundays). Traditionally, Lent is a time for practicing and studying the faith in a more intentional way. It was initially created for those who were new to Christian faith. After requesting to become members of the church, adults would enter into a period of fasting, prayer, study and service. Following this fairly rigorous approach to living the Christian life, initiates would be baptized at the Easter Vigil (on the evening before Easter Sunday), and receive the Eucharist for the first time as the congregation celebrated the resurrection. Eventually this practice was commended to all Christians on an annual basis, and the season of Lent was born.

For the Christian today, Lent is a time of discovery. It is a time to explore what life isn’t, and a time to explore what life is. We glimpse that in this week’s Gospel lesson.

In the fourth chapter of St. Luke, we learn that Jesus himself takes time away to prepare for his public ministry. Actually he doesn’t take it, it is thrust upon him: the Holy Spirit leads him into this wilderness experience, where he “fasts” (goes without food) for forty days. At the end of that time of fasting, St. Luke tells us, weakened by hunger, Jesus is tempted by the Devil.

In some respects, it doesn’t seem as though the Devil has brought his A game. “You’re hungry? Make yourself some bread.” “You’re alone and vulnerable? Join my team, and all the world is yours.” “You are in danger? Throw yourself off the edge and God will keep you safe.” One suspects that this is child’s play for the Messiah. He knows who he is. He has his scripture down. He answers text with text. The result of this testing never seems to be in doubt. Jesus rejects it all.

But what is Jesus rejecting here? Is he resisting three specific appeals to do something he shouldn’t do? Is the Devil checking to see if Jesus will use his super-powers to alleviate his own hunger, or loneliness or fear? Or, instead, is Jesus presented with three realities that seek to draw all of humanity (including him) away from the life God intends for us?

In fact, life isn’t all about being filled with good things, being surrounded by good friends and being spared from life’s pain. You wouldn’t know that from the evidence that surrounds us, of course. The muse of this world is relentless. We are assaulted all day long with the illusion that life is all about what we can procure, whom we can befriend, and what calamities we can avoid.

The purpose of Lent is to disabuse us of this illusion. True life is found in the hunger for God’s presence; in the company of fellow believers; in the hope that helps us conquer the pain. True life is found in the honesty of confession; in the beauty of God’s grace; in the power of God’s Spirit.

Lent welcomes us into the wilderness — into those moments when we peel away the facade and behold life as it is: broken and imperfect, yet profoundly redeemed by God. As we study the scriptures, join our voices in praise, lift up our lives to God in prayer, offer ourselves in support of ministry, reach out in service to our neighbor… we discover that true life is found in what Jesus models for us: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness in the days before his public ministry?
  2. How does the Devil make use of Scripture in an attempt to lead Jesus astray?
  3. How does Jesus make use of Scripture to stay true to what God wants for him?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What tempts me to pursue the world’s values rather than God’s?
  2. What spiritual practices might I adopt to help me keep my bearing in the midst of temptation?
  3. How can this season of Lent help me to “Worship the Lord my God, and serve only him?”