1st Sunday in Lent
Sermon Series on our mission statement: Saved by God's Grace
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who saves us by grace. Amen
We hear in our gospel for today
that after he is baptized
the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness
where for forty days he is tempted by the devil.
This seems like an odd thing for the Holy Spirit to do,
but in a way it is a particularly human experience for Jesus,
I’m not aware of any other creature
that intentionally goes to live in a way
where it is harder for them to survive,
but humans have a long history of this,
of going away from the safety of other humans
and fasting from the very things that we need the most,
food and water,
and doing this just to test ourselves or seek a spiritual experience.
Lately I’ve been watching a lot of this tv show called “Alone”
it’s a reality show where ten people are taken to a remote place with only a few tools
and they have to survive for as long as possible
and when they’re done or they’ve reached their limit
they can pull themselves out,
or they can be removed by the show for medical reasons,
and the last person left, the one who goes the longest wins $500,000
and of course since it’s a tv show, they have to document their experience with cameras,
and it’s fascinating to watch,
because the people come in with all kinds of motivations,
for some it’s about the money,
others want to test their survival skills,
others want time to connect with the land,
and everyone has a different breaking point or reason for pulling out,
I think the shortest time was only a few hours,
a guy was all excited and then when he was dropped off
he hiked around a bit, saw a bear, and was like “I’ve made a mistake, come get me”
other people are drawn back by family, or injury,
and some last a really long time,
and that long time is always marked by hunger
and when they’re hungry,
food is all they can think about,
they talk about dreaming about food.
When we don’t have it food it’s all we humans think about,
so it’s no surprise that that’s the temptation the devil starts with
when Jesus is famished at the end of his extended stay in the wilderness,
and yet Jesus resists,
so the devil moves on to another strong desire of humans,
we all need to have at least a little power in our lives,
usually the ability to make a least a few decisions for ourselves fills this need
we see this in toddlers starting to assert their independence
in determining what they will wear (or not)
or the foods they will eat,
usually even a little autonomy satisfies the need,
but lack of power in one area
can quickly turn into an abuse of power in others,
we’ve all met people who let even a little power go to their heads,
and left unchecked the desire for power has catastrophic consequences,
abuse, oppression, war.
We talk about people making deals with the devil for power,
and that’s what the devil offers Jesus,
authority over all the kingdoms of the earth,
if he will bow down and worship him.
Jesus, resists this temptation
and so the devil moves on to the last classic weakness of humans,
the desire to put God to the test,
sometimes it’s as simple as saying
God if you’re there then fill in the blank will happen,
for some it’s to try and see if God will keep the promises God makes,
which is why the devil cites scripture
as he tells Jesus to put God to the test.
But Jesus cites scripture right back
and finding himself beaten
the devil leaves, but only for a moment.
And Jesus leaves the wilderness
and only then does his public ministry begin.
Sometimes we have to go through some things,
whether it’s something we choose
or something imposed on us
before we can become fully who we were meant to be,
as Paul observes in Romans, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us”
this is particularly and especially true
for those of us joined to Christ
“because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
because of Christ’s actions
“we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”
Jesus, who resisted temptation all the way to the cross,
did so for us,
so that we who give into temptation all the time
might still be in full relationship with God,
and this justification,
is given to us freely as a gift,
and our only role is to have faith,
trust in the promise of God.
This is grace.
We are saved by grace through faith,
we are saved not because of what we have done
but because of what God has done.
saved by God’s grace.
This is the beginning of our mission statement,
this Lent we will be practicing the discipline of self-examination
during our sermon time on Sundays
by revisiting our mission statement,
and we start with the grace of God
because this belief is at the very core of who we
are as a church and a community.
We acknowledge that we are gathered together,
not because we are better than everyone else,
or because we are trying to be
but because God has gathered us together,
as unworthy as we are,
to proclaim to us that we are loved by God.
This is good news,
good news we need to hear over and over again,
good news we need to share with others
because they need to hear it,
particularly since we live in a world
that tells us to measure our worth by what we do,
a message that has even seeped into some forms of Christianity.
At the weekly text study I attend
one person shared a recent experience he’d had with the rest of us,
he is serving a congregation at the same time he is going to school to become a pastor
and he is currently doing CPE,
the intensive time of chaplaincy and reflection,
and he talked about meeting with a man near the end of their life
who was having a really difficult time
and when asked what he was worried about- he was Christian-
he said he was worried that he was not worthy enough to go to heaven.
Again and again this man he repeated that he wasn’t worthy.
Along the way he’d been taught
or gotten the impression
that his entrance into heaven
depended on how good he was
and now at the end of his life
he was facing the consequences of not being good enough,
and it scared him.
Now my colleague said his instinct was to assure this man
that he was worthy,
and indeed it sounds like others in the room said something to this effect,
but a moment like this
is precisely a moment for proclaiming the gift of God’s grace,
because the truth of the matter is,
none of us are worthy.
If our salvation depended on our own works
we would be lost
because we’re just not good enough,
no matter how hard we try,
and so instead of reassuring the man that he was worthy
my colleague looked at him and said
‘you’re right, you’re not worthy,
on your own, but you’re not on your own,
you are joined to Christ in the waters of baptism,
and for the sake of Christ,
God loves you and promises that life everlasting with God is yours.’
We can’t do anything to save ourselves,
some upon hearing this might feel powerless,
you mean there’s nothing we can do?
but it’s not powerlessness,
and that is something very different
because if there’s nothing to do for ourselves,
if we no longer need to worry about being perfect
we are freed to turn our attention and efforts to others
and out of thankfulness for this gift
try to live lives that are in turn good and grace filled,
returning again and again to the grace of God when tempted
offering forgiveness to ourselves and others when we fall short,
because that is what God has first done for us.
Saved us by grace. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.