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.
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 brings the temptation of Jesus as the text. The text is usually turned into a moral lesson about knowing your bible. And there is some of that here. But as I worked through the text and the various inputs this week, that fit less and less easily. Especially given Luke’s text. The temptations come in a slightly different order here, and the Devil and Jesus flip-flop words. Jesus goes from “it is written” to “it is said” when the devil picks up quoting scripture. This is no sword drill bible quoting one-up-man-ship.
The postmodern world tells us that everything is interpretation. There are authoritative interpretations made so by power. There are deviant or subversive interpretations. But, there are no facts; there is no truth. In the first two temptations Jesus clearly refutes that as he both takes as true and binding the Word of God and refutes a power and authority’s ability to assert interpretation against fact. In the third temptation Jesus turns to the opposite problem. Instead of thinking that everything is interpretation, its opposite is often a too great a certainty. When the devil starts quoting scripture the temptation is to put a very precise interpretation on a poetic verse.
Applied to the modern church or would you have both the church that has abandoned the law because they hunger after the approval of the world, and you have the church that is uncomfortable with faith and hope and mystery. The narrow way lies between the two ditches. Letting the secret things be God’s, but claiming surely those things that have been revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29
This is an attempt to preach the text by connecting roots of post-modernism with how we see it playing out in events today. As such, as David Foster Wallace would once quip, I’m attempting to point out the water to the fish (what’s water?). It is preaching directly at a space that is probably never in questioned. As such it might have zoomed right past.