The First Sunday in Lent, 14 February 2016

Deuteronomy 261:11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
St. Luke 4:1-13

Background: Temptation    
Looking at a series of articles on “temptation”, it was interesting to see that the word “trial” was used a great deal in attempting an understanding of the notion of temptation. In Greek, the noun, peirasmos, is masculine, while in Hebrew, the noun, maccah, is feminine – a reflection perhaps of how women were thought of in the biblical record. The idea of trial, actions being observed by an external entity, lends itself to a God who looks upon as we act in life. But there are other understandings of temptation, and indeed there is an understanding of temptation as a purely internal force as well. It is there that we find other means that seem appropriate: failing, rebellion, proving, and enticement. Indeed we can see all these forces at work in our understandings of what temptation is and means. If indeed it is a trial, is it a trial by God, or other “high powers”, or by our peers. Or, does it need to be a sentient entity at all – does my television tempt me, or the candy box. Some thoughts as we walk with Christ, and encounter temptation in our entrance into Lent.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us." When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me." You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

The Gospel will tend to make us associate this particular Sunday with temptation, but this reading does not. It connects this day with remembrance, journey, and salvation. The context, of course, is the journey, as Israel moves from Egypt to the land of promise. The effect of the words, however, is remembrance, and presented to us as a liturgy as well. The remembrance of Israel and its subsequent salvation becomes the stuff of prayer and chant. For those of us who have done Seder with Jewish friends and family, the passage that begins, “My father was a wandering Aramean,” will bring to the surface all sorts of images of the present day as well as the imagined past. In that remembrance the whole context of the “wandering” is provided for. The wandering includes Abraham’s movement from Mesopotamia through the Levant and into Egypt. There is a going in and there is a coming out. It is interesting to note that Egypt itself would become a temptation, when in the desert; the tribes would remember abundant food in the midst of slavery. What we also see here is the transition of a people from being wanderers to farmers, nomads to a settled people. Thus the Deuteronomist can recite about the first fruits that are due, and the subsequent verses will preach to us about the tithe. These remembrances, however, reflect a future time (when it was most likely written) in which there was a more complex society that involved not only people and Levites (and a Temple) but also “the aliens who reside among you”. All are bidden to celebrate the salvation that God has offered.

Breaking open Deuteronomy
  1. Where have you wandered in your life?
  2. How has God accompanied you?
  3. What kind of abundance has God given  you?

Psalm 91 Qui habitat

     He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
2      He shall say to the Lord,
"You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust."
9      Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,
10    There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11    For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.
12    They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13    You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
14    Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15    He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16    With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.

Oddly enough, one commentator describes this psalm as an “amulet psalm” in that it describes the protection that God offers to those who follow God. We have three people talking to us in this psalm. In verse 1, and verses 3-13, we hear from the psalmist, who describes the situation that will be explored theologically, “He who dwells in the shelter…abides under the shadow.” Unfortunately, some of these verses are not included in the liturgical selection, so you may want to read the entire psalm. Verse 2 is the words of the one who trusts in God, “You are my refuge and my stronghold…” Finally, God has a say in verses 14-16. The main theme can be seen in verse 10, “There shall no evil happen to you,” and verse 11 is used as a proof text by Satan in the Gospel reading for this morning. If we assign these words and connections only to the tempted Jesus, then we will miss out on the promises that are made to us as well, as we live amongst the world’s temptations and difficulties.

Breaking open Psalm 91
  1. What do you do or wear to protect yourself?
  2. How does that work for your?
  3. How is prayer like an amulet?

Romans 10:8b-13

"The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart"

(That is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

If the efforts of Luke and the other evangelists are to connect Jesus to the stuff and difficulties of our own lives, which I think is the case, and then we need to carefully heed Paul’s words of inclusion as well. What follows on a section of Roman’s that deals with God’s Election of Israel, (9-11) is a thought that embraces all of humanity, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” There are complementary ideas is Galatians (3:28). The quote is from Deuteronomy, “The word is near you…” and the sentiments are known in Jeremiah as well – that both word and faith exist on and in our hearts. Paul notes that this faith can be witness with our lips and with our heart, an external and internal extension of confession and witness. Like the psalm above, we have here a sense of a protective God, who monitors our progress and our failings – to lift us up. Paul urges us to call upon the name (see Joel 2:32), something that Jesus does not do, for all the right reasons.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. How is Jesus’ life like your life?
  2. How is it not?
  3. How do you confess Jesus?

St. Luke 4:1-13

After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 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. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 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. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written,

'Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.'"

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, for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,'

'On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

We step back in liturgical time. Over the last Sundays the Spirit has impelled Jesus, and we who have been following him in the liturgical readings, into the world in ministry, to reconcile, to heal, to confront, and to receive those who were easily forget. Now the lectionary sends us back to see that we have been journeying with someone who was “tempted in every way as we are.” The forty days are here (hmmm. Lent as forty days of temptation), redolent of Israel’s wanderings, the days of the flood, and so on. But then aren’t all of these moments of testing and probation. Certainly it was for both Israel and Noah; and certainly it is for us as well. What does Jesus come out of this with – a father’s approval? There is more here, I think, than meets the eye and ear. At the baptism we heard the voice announcing approval, and last Sunday we heard the same thing. Here the issue is, “what is my business – what is my intent”, questions that haunt the brooding Jesus as he thinks through was has happened following the Baptist and Jordan’s water. The problems are ones of humanity, authority, power, and relationship. Hunger and wealth we deal with on a daily basis, but how often do we think through our relationship with God. We know that Jesus wrestles with this – at least in the Garden of Gethsemane. What shall we do then, during these forty days? How shall we be tempted?

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you think of when you hear the word, “temptation”?
  2. In ways have you tempted others?
  3. What do you think of Jesus’ methodology?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller


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