A sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Luke 4:1-13
We begin Lent out in the wilderness with Christ. Christ has just been baptized, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, he has been recognized and named by God, and the Spirit leads him out into the wilderness to prepare for what is to come. He fasts. He prays. And, then he is tempted by the devil. This set of temptations is as much about Christ recognizing the holiness that is within himself, as it is a person of mortal flesh turning down the things that we crave: food, power, safety & security. Here is Christ, experiencing our reality of creation, experiencing the wants, needs, desires, temptations that are part of being flesh, and turning them down to embrace a higher calling, to embrace his true identity, an identity that he will continue to grapple with throughout his ministry, but an identity that will leave for us a path, a way to live a life of faith.
In turning down the devil three times, Christ uses his knowledge of scripture to combat against the temptations before him. Christ uses his knowledge and trust in his faith to find comfort, to find strength in turning against all those things that our flesh constantly calls out for, that we constantly concern ourselves with. Each of these statements by Christ serve as a way to rebuke the devil, but also to encapsulate much of what we are called to live into when we look to Christ to show the way of love.
“One does not live by bread alone.”
Many of us have the privilege of having much much more than bread alone to feed us, and yet, for many of us, a hunger remains. The devil tempts us with the false satisfaction found in feeding on excess, of consuming more and more and more, of consuming disproportionally more than anyone else. But that does not feed our hunger, because we hunger for something else. We continue to hunger, and to not have that hunger met through bread alone, because we long for the filling of our spiritual hunger. We long for the filling of our hunger to find connection to one another. We long for the filling of our hunger of education about the realities of our world, realities that scare us, that we don’t want to face, and yet, in turning away from, only cause us to try and fill our hunger through anger, through hatred, through distancing ourselves by claiming knowledge and authority where none exists.
This week the City of Longview failed its residents by putting the (supposed) commercial needs of a few above the actual lives of many. For those who are unaware, the City of Longview set aside funding for severe weather shelters operating in the City of Longview for the 2019 budget. $9,000 isn’t a lot, it isn’t going to solve the affordable housing crisis, the access to adequate mental illness care, the access to services that can help those on the extreme margins, but it can help the one agency in town that operates a severe weather shelter in need of funding, provide a warm place for those with no other place to go and lay their head and not die from exposure. Unfortunately, the City of Longview has decided that even after making Love Overwhelming jump through a number of hoops that were never in place before (and I know this because we are the only other permitted severe weather shelter in town and our process was nothing like what has been asked of LO), they still will not release funding to protect those most vulnerable members of our community. The City is declaring that these vulnerable members of our community can live by bread alone. They will get food and that’s good enough. The City has declared that their need for shelter, but not just shelter, for human connection, for seeing that others in this community care about them and are willing to go above and beyond to see that they are loved, and that they know they are loved, the City has declared that this need is not worthy of a line in our budget that was specifically set aside for this exact purpose. This is what the devil is tempting today. This is the devil tempting us to see that only one very specific need of the flesh is met, while ignoring that our very souls are at stake, and as Christ says, our souls cannot live by bread alone.
This temptation gives way to the second temptation before Christ today, and the response of Christ that we are called to “worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” We are good, or at least decent, at the worship part of this line, but when put in tandem with serving, only, we tend to falter a bit. We are tempted, constantly, to serve the minor gods that our society and culture have put before us, the minor gods that have darkened the hearts of our City government as they see our siblings in Christ who are sleeping on the streets as a business problem, as an issue, as a statistic, missing or even dismissing the fact that these are very real beloved children of God. These gods of financial success, of public status, of unending consumerism, of power, of being “right.” And, we are often tempted into serving our own selves, of serving the temptations within ourselves that we unknowingly give into, of serving the temptations within ourselves that shroud the reality of the true impacts of our decisions in this world and how they impact others that we touch in this world. It is impossible to dismiss our siblings in God when we are only serving God. It is impossible to forget our siblings in God when we are worshipping the Lord our God. It is impossible to mistake our place in this creation when we place our worship and service on God alone.
The last rebuke by Christ can feel harder to relate to in our time. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” How do we put God to the test? How do we challenge God to intervene in our lives? To save us from ourselves?
God experiences grief and sorrow with us. This is part of the lasting gift of Christ’s death on the cross, in that moment, God connected to the great grief and sorrow of loss that we experience in this world. And in experiencing that grief and sorrow with us, God holds us, as we cry out in pain and anger. God holds us, weeps with us, when we hurt. God holds us, knows our pain, when we lash out against each other, when we lash out against God. Knowing this, accepting this, what does this tell us about how we engage in our practice of faith? Do we practice our faith out of a place of gratitude, of thankfulness for the grace and forgiveness and presence that God gives to us, constantly, without fail? Or do we practice our faith out of a place of pride in knowledge and status with God? We put God to the test when we practice a faith that dismisses the grace and forgiveness that is before us in favor of the material goods we claim as reward for our faith. We put God to the test when we store up treasures on earth where moth and rust consume, rather than in heaven where neither rust nor moth can consume.
God is weeping with us, God is feeling our pain and frustration at the lack of empathy being expressed in this town and this community for our siblings who have nothing else and no one else to connect with them, to show them that love of God that surpasses all understanding, to bring light into their life. Thankfully, it looks like tonight will be the last night below freezing for a while. This gives us time to figure out what we can do to respond to what surely has been a community that has been accepting the temptations of the devil, unknowingly or not.
Part of being your rector in this diocese is establishing a yearly mutual ministry agreement that calls the rector, the vestry, and the parish to a unified goal for each year of our mutual ministry, that implements the diocesan vision statement: “The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, part of the Jesus Movement, bears witness to God’s redemptive reign and acts out God’s inclusive love, peace, and justice, uniquely living out this call within our specific local communities.” Your vestry has worked diligently together with myself to identify how we can do this for 2019. Our goal is:
Strengthening and Growing our Homeless Ministries
- Rector: Representative in community, Liaison, coordination with outside groups/agencies
- Vestry: Support as representatives on ministry committees, local organization boards, stepping up into leadership opportunities, being knowledgeable of ministries and needs in order to share with congregation
- Parish: Donations, volunteer support, marketing: internal and external, identifying talents and skills that can be used for these ministries
- Bearing Witness:
- Exploring opportunities for evangelism with population being served
- Knowing and articulating the “why” when people (internal and external) ask about our ministries
This is a challenging goal. This is a necessary goal in this community, at this time. And, I am honored to be the rector that leads our church in reaching this goal. We already do this work, but what will it look like to strengthen and grow that work? We could do worse than start here today with Jesus in the wilderness. We could do worse than turning down the devil’s temptations to give into the mortal needs and desires of our flesh. We could do worse than embodying what Christ tells the devil today:
“One does not live by bread alone.”
“Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
If we are willing to embody these statements in our practice of faith, we will bring about real change in our community. We will find solutions, even if resources and avenues are continually taken away. We will achieve our goal, because we do it in and through Christ, serving God, giving all of the glory to God, and knowing that we do this not because we have to or are compelled to, but because we want to and because we know that it is our call to fulfill with this one life we have to live.