Lent


“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.” God is God, and you are not. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not so bad being human.


“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.” This is the hardest thing to do. This is our weakness in being human—refusing the help that is offered, declining assistance, declaring our independence. We value these things. We call it strength and power. We refuse to let God be God.


But what is our behavior, really? It’s sin. Sin is being turned in on one’s self, focused inward, looking out only for what benefits you. Maybe it’s human nature, and maybe that’s original sin. We’re created this way. It’s a condition of being human.


Jesus shows us a different way.


On the first Sunday in Lent, we always read this story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Forty days without food, physically weak, Jesus embraces the challenges of being human. But Jesus did not spend all that time in the desert just to show off how strong he could be, how utterly unlike the rest of humanity he could be.


Avoiding sin, or avoiding temptation—if that’s even possible—is not a matter of personal willpower. No one, not even Jesus, can avoid temptation, and also like Jesus, no on faces temptation alone. When the tempter, the devil, entices Jesus with promises of personal comfort or personal power, Jesus responds with Scripture, with the Word of God.


“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.” This is the essence of the very first commandment, the beginning of the law given by God to the people chosen by God. Because Jesus took seriously his study of the Torah, his Scripture, the books of the Law, and because Jesus took seriously his time in prayer, he had the strength to respond when the tempter—the devil—showed up.


Martin Luther, fifteen hundred years later, picked up on the importance of knowing the Word of God. In his treatise on Christian liberty, titled “The Freedom of a Christian,” he writes this: “One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom.” [1] Oh really? One thing? Anyone care to guess what that one thing might be?


“That one thing,” Luther writes, “is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ. The soul can do without anything except the Word of God and…where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul.”


When Jesus needed help for his soul, he turned to Scripture. In Jesus’s weakest moment in his life up to that point, Jesus doesn’t engage the devil with a discussion, he doesn’t spend what little energy he has on teaching; he just speaks words from Scripture. We’ll hear Jesus doing the same thing again: quoting Scripture as he hangs on the cross.


“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.” Could these words be a compass for those of us who have lost our way? Could God’s Word be an anchor for the ship veering off course? Or, to put it in more current terms, could worshipping God be the thing that sustains us and builds up our hope even while that voice from the navigation system is telling us, “Recalculating… recalculating…”


Jesus knew the words of Scripture well enough that he was able to call on that ancient wisdom, that living Word, even in a swirl of confusion and hunger and weakness. Do you have a word like that? Is there a verse from the Bible that is so embedded in your heart that the words rise up when you need them most? In all things, give thanks.[2] Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.[3] We are saved by grace through faith, and this is not your own doing, but a gift from God.[4]


Or if words are too much to remember in a painful moment, maybe you can hold on to your identity as a child of God in baptism. Trace the cross on your forehead, invisible but indelible—it’s always there, and occasionally visible, as it was this past week on Ash Wednesday.


There’s a story about Martin Luther, that while he was living in hiding in Wartburg Castle and spending his days at his desk, translating the New Testament into German, one day felt particularly assailed by the devil. In a fit of anger, he threw his ink well at the wall of his room and shouted at the devil, “I have been baptized!” I’ve been told the ink stain is still there for tourists to see.


And the claims of baptism last even longer than ink stains on a wall. We have been indelibly marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. No matter what mess we are going through, no matter how confusing our world becomes, we always always always belong to God. And God is no stranger to the challenges we face as human beings. God sent Jesus to become human, to be God-with-us, to promise to be with us until the end of the age.


God isn’t trying to trick us or test us in our humanity. God gives us the freedom to choose our path, and when we choose faith, when we choose the more difficult path, God gives us the strength to continue, to make that journey. Being baptized does not make your life easier—in some ways, your life becomes more complicated because your life is no longer just your own. Your life is in Jesus Christ, and Christ is about healing the world.


That means you are connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ. That means you are part of the healing that God is accomplishing in the world. That means when you open the newspaper and when you hear the news, you’re hearing about people who are precious creations of God, you’re hearing about your brothers and sisters.


Over the next few weeks we are focusing on God’s promises and how we are “Full to the Brim” with God’s expansive love.


It probably doesn’t happen overnight, but healing is happening, little by little, faithful step by faithful step. Jesus went into the wilderness and overcame temptations, and by the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus turns each of those temptations into miracles to benefit other people. He trusts God to protect him all the way to the cross. He has taken his place at the right hand of God, and as Martin Luther says, the right hand of God is everywhere.


“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.” This is our challenge. This is our call. And answering this call, may it lead to our joy.


Amen.


Pastor Cheryl

[1] Martin Luther, Three Treatises, Fortress Press, Page 279. [2] 1 Thessalonians 5: 18 [3] Proverbs 3: 5 [4] Ephesians 2: 8


 


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