I’ve become convinced that the real “crisis” if you want to call it that in American Christianity is the dismissal of the calls of the spiritual life. Even the church seems to have a very utilitarian view of the faith. It “sells” faith as something that will be good for you. It will make you healthier, wealthier and maybe wise. The trouble is that The Faith makes none of those claims. It doesn’t necessarily rule them out, but the norm would be the life of Christ, which is a life of trial. What the Faith does claim is truth. Christ is Lord. He bids us follow him. Hence the real test, do we follow?
This particular sermon was composed to take part in a specific liturgical situation. We had a baptism at the start of service. It was also helped by one of the great hymns of the Faith – I Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716).
There is always a bit of a frisson when I have a text with Satan in it. Giving Satan a voice from the pulpit always feels like crossing a boundary. There is a bit of that in here. But the main contemplative point is how Law and Gospel are connected with an “and”. In this world you don’t get one without the other, although that is always the temptation. Satan’s temptations are to break the relationships that bind and order our existence. Sometimes that temptation is straight up to our sinful nature. Sometimes that testing is to the power of the ring. But however they express themselves, they are always a rebellion against both the grace and the order of God. He has a way that He desires us to walk. When we tell the Spirit, sorry, I don’t like that desert or those 40 days, we’ve gone off the path. This sermon meditates on how Jesus walked it for us (hence the closing hymn), and bids us to follow.
We are continuing through our Epiphany series which might be subtitled “seeing God”. The normal ways of seeing God that the Epiphany texts help us to see are Word and Sacrament. This text is no different in that, except this text asks the next question: what does seeing God mean for the one who sees? And Epiphany is always also a test. Do we believe? Do we trust the promises given in the Word of God and the sacraments, or do we demand what we take as greater signs? This sermon ponders Jesus’ reception in his hometown, and parallels that reception among those who have been made his family by baptism.
It is the first Sunday in Lent, hence the purple colors on the graphic. The traditional text is one of the temptation of Jesus texts. When we think of those we probably think of Matthew and Luke’s stylized accounts with three temptations and three snappy comebacks. Mark’s version isn’t so stylized. His is all of about two verses. But in those two verses he emphasizes four things. 1) It is the Spirit that leads Jesus to the wilderness with Satan and the wild animals. God is not tame. 2) The encounter is presented as a continuing act. He was in the wilderness for 40 days; the entire time under trial or testing. 3) The Angels ministering were also present the entire time. 4) The result of the trial is the proclamation of the gospel – the reign of God.
Temptation is a perfectly fine word, but I prefer the word trial or testing. I think when we hear temptation with do two things. First we minimize the truth. We equate temptation with eating too much chocolate, we dismiss it, or we think it is only a narrow category of experience. Second we think of it as an instantaneous thing. But when we say a test or a trial, since we still have those in the secular world, we take them seriously. The time of trial is a serious thing. What this sermon does is consider the time of trial and the Christian’s response. It also considers how to view testing as an instance of the gospel. I don’t think I trivialize the subject, and hopefully give some comfort for those times of testing.
I have left in a hymn before the sermon, LSB 716, We Walk in Danger All the Way. This Hymn is one of the true gems of the church and should be much better known. It also does some of the preparation or even heavy lifting for the sermon. I also left in a piece of music after the sermon that I normally don’t – the offertory. My youngest son (8yo) is the one bowing his way through the hymn – On My Heart Imprint Your Image – which we use as the Lenten offertory.
The texts for the first week of Lent in year B are distinctive and rough and play on each other in my reading. The central concern is testing. This sermon, following James, attempts to create a distinction between temptation and testing. It then looks at the testing of Jesus and the testing of Abraham as examples of standing under testing. The parallel is OT Israel who strayed under their testing in the wilderness. The application section then looks at a couple of example of modern day testing at the hands of ISIS. It ends by making a comparison between a spirituality that survives the Winter vs. the seemingly sunnier spirituality that ultimately fails in the cold winds.
The opening hymn is Christ the Life of All the Living (LSB 420) which is a classic Lenten hymn emphasizing exactly our wintery reliance on Christ alone. The choir echoes after the OT lesson with teach me your ways Lord. I didn’t get recorded, but after the sermon we sang one of my favorite hymns that captures this wintery Spirituality, Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You (LSB 668). Our effort is not to moral perfection but to prayer. Of course part of the greatness is the chance to sing the hymn tune Wachet Auf.
Biblical Text: Matthew 4:1-11 Full Draft of Sermon
We had a technical mishap, so I’ll re-record the sermon probably tomorrow.
Sermon Uploaded, although no hymn or biblical text preceding, so you might want to read the biblical text on the temptation of Christ.
I’m not sure there is a bigger divide between the orthodox faith and modernity than on the direction of the good life. Modernity in its many forms points you inward to finding your best and authentic self. In this sermon I pick on Maslow’s hierarchy and the idea of self-actualization, but there are other theories that say similar things. The faith has always said roughly three things: 1) your natural self is deceived or blind and couldn’t know what the good life is, 2) the good life revealed in Jesus is directed not toward self-actualization but toward God and neighbor, and 3) we are given eyes to see through the work of Jesus and the Spirit primarily through the revelation of the Word. The temptation of Jesus, as this sermon will proclaim, is part of the defeat of the devil for us, and a revelation of the road we also must face and walk.
Testing vs. Temptation, By the Power of the Spirit
I don’t mention it in the podcast, but the Ash Wednesday hymn, Savior When in Dust to Thee (LSB 419), (which by the way is one of the few false steps in the hymnal replacing the tune Spanish Chant which we stubbornly refuse to leave with the unpronounceable and not at all memorable tune Aberystwyth) but back to the point that him is a great example of the things enabled by the Spirit. The words of the hymn are a litany of sorts (another feature of Ash Wednesday), by thy helpless infant years, by thy life of want and tears, etc…. That litany is the very thing that was enabled by the Spirit. Jesus’ saving work is the work of God. The Father’s will, Jesus’ work and the Spirit’s power.
The first Sunday in Lent. All the texts are about testing or temptation. And If you are listening it is hard to read the testing of Abraham and then read James right after it. There would seem to be a contradiction, and its about something as important as the nature of God. Does God test/tempt? James says don’t say that God does. Abraham is told by God to take Isaac. Jesus is thrown into the desert by the Spirit. Luther, he of calling James an epistle of straw, sides with James in the Catechism. “God tempts no one.”
I think that is something that gets held in tension. Its something we probably don’t see clearly right now. And the overwhelming feeling felt in the texts and often in out lives is of being alone or being abandoned. We might have to live in the tension in the difference between the words testing and temptation, or that awful dodge God allows but doesn’t cause, but the feeling of being alone can be resolved. God has been abundant in his mercy so that you are never alone. The specifics on that are in the sermon…