Luke 4:1-6 Listen
Praying your way
February 17, 2013 Lent 1
Roy W. Howard
I could say that I am bringing you a finely polished sermon this morning but that would be lying. And the pastor lying to the congregation on the first Sunday of Lent is not really a good thing. (Well, actually it’s not a good thing on any Sunday.) Anyway …
Let’s begin with the obvious: you (as in you all) are not Jesus, neither am I. That’s Good News! There is only one Jesus compelled by the Spirit into the vast wilderness, who, for us and for our salvation, confronted the powers of evil alone. There is only one Jesus who suffered 40 days without food facing down the devil in the power of the Spirit, resisting every temptation to power and prestige and self promotion. The kitchen magnet famous among the families of pastors is correct: there is only one Messiah and its not you. I say all of this because during the season of Lent in which we take on various practices, from dropping chocolate to fasting from Facebook to studying prayer, it is easy to think of Christianity as a moral program for becoming a good person and reduce Jesus to a fine moral example of someone who succeeded in being a really great guy because he was so obedient. And you too can do the same, in 40 days or less.
This danger of reducing Christianity to just another religion is what caused the reformers to reject the whole Lenten model of focusing on the extra-ordinary things that humans can do to improve ourselves in God’s sight. For Luther and Calvin, the accent was altogether in the wrong place: on our ability to imitate Jesus rather than our dependence on God alone and God’s astonishing grace given in Jesus Christ who conquered sin and death on our behalf and in whom we are free. For them, and for us, the danger of Lent is the eradication of Grace, which sets us free from all attempts to prove ourselves worthy of God’s astonishing love for us in Jesus Christ.
That’s why I begin with the obvious: you are not Jesus, neither am I. There is only one Jesus compelled by the Spirit into the vast wilderness, who, for us and for our salvation, confronted the powers of evil alone.
There is something else though may not be as obvious: Jesus is like us. In fact, he became one with us – God-in-flesh – that we might be one with God. That difficult journey that he traveled in the wilderness under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he traveled fully human, enduring all things in his own body, the same as yours and mine. He was not superman or superhero; he was fully human. As the creed says, for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and became truly human.
The one who became truly human actually faced temptations that you and I face. This is not about confronting a dude in a red jump suit with a pitchfork and pointy ears. This is about the One whom we believe to be God-in-flesh enduring the various temptations to be to be self-serving, making life about amassing great wealth, and depending upon one’s own strength alone to do justice. Jesus who became truly human for us and our salvation knows in his own body the temptation to take your eyes off the prize, to buckle under the allure of this world’s goods and promises, to forsake your calling and ignore your purpose. If it hasn’t fully dawned on you yet, this too is Good News!
Perhaps this is obvious too: the journey of Lent is not about proving ourselves before God; it is about embracing more deeply the One who has embraced us.
The reason we adopt practices during this season is that we may be drawn more deeply into the astonishing communion we share with Jesus Christ and the community gathered in him. He was tempted, as we are tempted and did not fail in the end, as we do. By our communion with Christ in prayer we find the grace to resist the subtle lures bring misery. By our communion with Christ in prayer, we discern the next right step not knowing what the next step will be only that God will guide all our steps.
Finally, we should note that though Jesus refused the invitation to turns stones into bread he did give the bread of life to all who hunger.
Though he refused all political power, he proclaimed the reign of God’s justice and peace for all people.
Though he refused the spectacular feat of leaping off the temple into the arms of angels, he did go to the cross in the obedient faith that God’s power defeats the power of sin and death.
It is this One who walks with us into every wilderness and in his life we find life.
This is our prayer. Here at this Table we are given food and drink for the journey.