First Sunday in Lent, Feb. 14, 2016; Year C
Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-29-16; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who became obedient to the point of death, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A number of years ago I was driving south of Lincoln, Nebraska. I hit “scan” hoping to find a good song on the radio and proceeded to hear 20-30 second clips from various stations. As the dial stopped on one particular station I heard a man saying, “Test God … send me money and God will bless you. Test God to see if blessings will come true in your life if you call in and pledge money right now.”
I hit stop on the scan button to continue listening to what I considered to be ridiculous. The man just kept saying, “Send me money … test God.” I could feel my feistiness well up inside me as verse 12 from our Gospel reading kept going through my head: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
“Doesn’t this radio preacher even read the Scriptures?” I thought. Then the guy repeated the phone number in which people could call in to pledge their money to keep this guy on the radio.
I have never done this before, but I was cranky enough that I got my phone out and dialed the number to the station.
“Hello,” a woman answered.
“Yes, hi,” I said. “I’ve never listened to your radio station until just now …”
“Oh great, Darlin’” she said. “Would you like to make a pledge today?”
“Actually I’m calling in to tell you that Jesus says in Luke that we are not to test God, so I think someone should inform your preacher of this before he keeps inviting people to put God to the test.”
The woman was clearly angry with what I had to “contribute” and hung up on me.
There is a prevalent message in our culture pretending to be Christianity that says:
“Give me money and God will bless you with even more money.”
“If you are in God’s favor, you will be successful and live in a mansion.”
“If you can appear to love Jesus, but not love your neighbor, or condemn others, or not care for the poor, some how you can still be considered a “good Christian.”
All of these ways of thinking are against everything Jesus stood for and tried to teach. They focus on self-gain, self-preservation, and earning God’s blessings.
They lead us to think that somehow we can control or manipulate the God who created all things; they lead us to think that we can preserve our life by having enough money or being at the top of the social ladder.
When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil attempted to get him to focus on himself rather than on his purpose on earth to give up his life for the sake of the world.
Theologian Paul Walters writes: “Jesus does not here feed himself, but later feeds more than five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. He does not worship Satan to gain power over the world, but in the cross Jesus gives his life for the sake of the world … Jesus does not leap from the highest height … but stays faithful to God the Father to the very end (Sundays and Seasons: Preaching, Year C 2016, p.92).”
I imagine our experiences are varied with the devil or evil or whatever we want to call the forces that are against God. Perhaps some of us know all too well the reality of temptation, evil, and what some may call Satan. This is scary stuff and is very real for people.
For others of us here, we may be at a point in our lives in which we don’t know what to think about the devil or flat out don’t believe he exists.
Wherever we find ourselves on the spectrum of this, or however we hear our Gospel reading today, we cannot deny evil’s existence and power in the world, this force that only brings death and destruction to our lives and our communities.
We think of war, hunger, disease, polluted waters, drugs, hate, greed … these forces defy God and God’s will for the renewal and redemption of all things. These forces try their hardest to convince us that evil is stronger and more real than God.
And yet, what we know is that Jesus outsmarts the devil in our Gospel reading. He breaks the chains of possession when he encounters people in his ministry who have been suffering from bondage. What we know is that when Jesus was hanging on the cross and breathes his last the devil thinks he has won.
He thinks it was the “opportune time,” but he was wrong. In fact, it was God’s opportune time to defeat the powers of evil in this world, and defeat death itself. Instead of coming down from the cross and saving himself, Jesus thinks of you and thinks of me in order that we might be free of evil and death forever.
Martin Luther, the man the Lutheran church is named after, had many encounters with the devil and wrote quite a lot about it. He called those long nights, anfechtung. This is a German word and it means, deep struggle, challenge, dark night of the soul.
When Luther read the words in Ephesians chapter 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God …” his whole life changed. He read Romans often, hearing things like: “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.”
He no longer felt the devil could convince him that he was not worthy of the love of Christ. He still knew that he was a sinner, but he believed Jesus’ love for him and the world was stronger than anything else, even the devil.
So, he started clinging to his baptism, to Scripture, to Jesus, and started telling the devil off. The most silly thing I have read that Luther said is: “But I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away (ConradAskland.com).” Luther wan and interesting guy to say the least.
Luther also said very serious things on which is faith rested, things like:
“One does not gain much ground against the devil with a lengthy disputation but with brief words and replies, such as, “I am a Christian, of the same flesh and blood as is my Lord Christ, the Son of God. Settle your account with him.” Then the devil does not stay long.” (http://www.issuesetcarchive.org/issues_site/resource/journals/luther.htm)
Even in our baptismal and confirmation services we ask these questions and say these words:
“Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
I renounce them!
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
I renounce them!
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them!”
To “renounce” is to reject or refuse all that would work against God in the world, all that would hurt yourself or anyone else, all that would convince yourself that you or anyone else is not worth the love of God.
As we pray, “lead us not into temptation,” in the Lord’s prayer, we pray for strength for Jesus to help us overcome temptation. The ultimate way to renounce the devil as Jesus did in the wilderness, is to trust God. God is trustworthy.
The good news is that Jesus has picked a fight with the devil and has won. We can draw on his strength, his life and love, his death and resurrection, in our own struggles and times of trial.
So, back to the radio preacher. My big beef with him, besides going directly against what Jesus said and also using people for their money, was that he made people think that they needed to do something to earn God’s blessings rather than encouraging people to look around and see the gifts God has already given them.
Included in these gifts is the Word, the Word that is near you, on your lips and in your heart to be with you always.