The First Sunday in Lent, 10 March 2019

TheFirst Sunday in Lent, 10 March 2019

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Saint Luke 4:1-13

Background: Pilgrimage

Pope Benedict XVI described pilgrimage as a “means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where (God) has revealed (God)self, where (God’s) grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”[1]He goes on further to explain that pilgrimage is not just the prevue of Christian believers but of all people of faith or nonbelievers as well. In the first reading we see what might be considered a pilgrimage of convenience or even necessity as Israel moves out of slavery into freedom and the promises of a new land. As they continue this journey becomes a sacred journey. They will join a sacred crowd: Abraham and Sarah, Elijah, Hagar, Jacob and others. Jesus will begin his own journey to ministry from the waters of the Jordan, through the temptations, and on to Galilee. So many are taking the advantage of the Camino, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. At the Jacobskirche (Lutheran) in N├╝rnberg, Germany, one of many starting points of the Camino, the door handles of the church doors are pilgrim’s staffs – an indication of the holiness of being a pilgrim. 

First Reading: 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.

Here the Deuteronomist encapsulates the holy journey that Israel takes from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Levant. He notes that this wandering is almost genetic, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.”And thus, the story begins. In this particular chapters as well as in the chapters that precede it, the author gives the people clues as to how to live in the light of the freedom that God has given them. This particular chapter speaks about how to live a life of thanksgiving, and the author makes clear why there must be a thanksgiving, a return of the goodness that God has first given. Perhaps the lectionary links this reading with the Lenten discipline of almsgiving that is suggested to us. The ultimate theme, however, is that of salvation to a people who have been sore pressed either in Egypt, or in Babylon.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
  1. Where have you wandered with God?
  2. What has God led you out of?
  3. In your life’s journey what is worthy of thanksgiving?


Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 Qui habitat

1      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.

One scholar has characterized this psalm as an “amulet psalm”, which makes it appropriate as we begin our Lenten journey – our holy pilgrimage. Interestingly, there are three speakers in the poem, the poet himself (1, 3-13), the righteous person (2), and God (14-16). The poet describes what it is like to live and walk with the God of Israel. There is protection and deliverance. God stands by and the pilgrim expresses trust and confidence in the God who accompanies. Finally, God expresses the desire to rescue, satisfy, and honor. There are striking images: the mothering bird sheltering her young, the God who is present even in the threat of plague or warfare (see verse 7). In verse 10, our translation uses the word dwelling, but the Hebrew is more reflective of a nomadic existence (the journey and the pilgrimage) using the word for “tent”. A pilgrimage or journey might be troubled or obstructed by a stony path, but the psalmist sees it protected by angels. In fact, all the dangers of the wilderness are suppressed by the protections that God offers.

Breaking open Psalm 91:
  1. What do you think it’s like to live and walk with God?
  2. In what ways are you a righteous person?
  3. How has God rescued, satisfied, and honored you?


The Second Reading: 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.”

As we discovered in last week’s Second Lesson (II Corinthians 3:12-4:2) Paul is deeply troubled by the Jewish dismissal of the Gospel of Christ. Yet, in the midst of that despair, we sense an attitude of protection and concern – “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” It might profit you to take a moment and read through Romans 11, to get another view of Paul and his fellow Jews. It is a difficult journey. Paul wants his readers to see the graciousness of God and wants us to know that graciousness in Jesus. The generosity we need to leave to God.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. Why do you think there is so much antisemitism currently?
  2. What do you see as the Bible’s attitude over against Jews?
  3. What is your attitude?

The Gospel: 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.

Luke has a large section of his Gospel that prepares the reader to hear the Gospel, and that prepares Jesus to begin his ministry. From the baptism through the temptation we begin to know Jesus, for what follows the birth narrative is distinct in its agenda and focus. Here, Jesus as a pilgrim, is led by the Holy Spirit. I am always reminded of the Jesus in Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ, who is pursued in the wilderness by a God and Spirit that will not let him go. Jesus walks the path of Israel for forty days and nights. His rebuttal to Satan is from the heart of Israel’s journey, Deuteronomy 6-8. The temptation to assuage his hunger is answered by Deuteronomy 8:3, worship is cast aside by Deuteronomy 6:13, and the temptation to jump from the heights of the Temple by Deuteronomy 6:16. If a nation had ever been tested by God, it was Israel, and now Jesus steps into their journey and path and is himself tested.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. Where is your vulnerable place?
  2. Where is your safe place?
  3. In which place do you pray?

Central Idea:               A Journey Where?

First Notion:               A Journey in Thanksgiving (Where We’ve Been What We’ve Seen) (First Reading)

Second Notion:          A Journey Protected (Psalm 91)

Third Notion:             A Journey with All God’s People (Second Reading)

Fourth Notion:           A Journey with Israel (Gospel)

Destination:                God’s Presence

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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller


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