Church Sure Feels Different Today… A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent 2020

On the first Sunday of each month at St Andrew’s, we work to make our worship accessible for all our members young and less young. We do this through an intergenerational sermon and opportunities for children and youth to take on leadership roles.

This sermon was preached from the center aisle, without a transcript.  The sermon is built around the readings for he First Sunday in Lent in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

Here is a recording of the sermon delivered at the 10:30 service on March 1, 2020

 

Here is a transcript of the recording:

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

Please be seated.

Church looks pretty different today, doesn’t it?  I don’t know about you, but the first thing I noticed when I came in here this morning is that there were no flowers up front.  All of the beautiful color that’s usually right there at the top of the steps missing today… well, except for the purple.  For the last couple of months, we’ve had a short green super frontal across the front of the altar, but today we have this great big beautiful purple linen hanging off the front.  And we have this purple cloth up here on the cross.  And then, as if that wasn’t different enough… we started out with a parade this morning! We came up the center island back down the side and back up the center…  It was like a big figure eight here in the room.  Church is very different today, isn’t it?

That’s because this is the first Sunday in the season of Lent.  And this is a season where we remind ourselves that we might not have been doing all that we can, to walk in the path that Jesus walked before us. We spend the season thinking about the ways that we may have hurt other people, the ways that we may have hurt ourselves, and the ways that we may even have hurt God; by the things that we’ve done, and the things that we haven’t done.  And the point of all of that is to be better at doing the very thing that Jesus came to do.  Jesus came here and walked among us as one of us to show us how much God loves us, and to teach us how to love God back, and how to love one another, even how to love all of creation, the world around us. So in this season of Lent, we look for ways when we might not have been doing the things Jesus taught us as well as we might have.  And this purple cloth, The purple cloth on the cross, the flowers missing, that great parade we had at the beginning… we do those on the first Sunday of Lent every year.

But there’s another thing that we do on the first Sunday of Lent every year.  Every year on this Sunday, we hear the story of Jesus in the wilderness.  So, let’s just put that story in its place in the narrative.

Jesus goes to the river Jordan where he’s baptized by John the Baptist.  And in Matthew’s gospel, the one we’re reading now, there is a voice from heaven that says “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus knows beyond a doubt who he is, and then all of a sudden, he goes out into the wilderness, to figure out how to be God’s beloved, the one with whom God is well pleased.  Jesus knows that it’s his job to show us how much God loves us, and to help us love God it in return in the same way; and to help us to love one another, and the world around us in the same way that God loves us.  And so, he goes out into the wilderness to figure out how to do that.

The gospel tells us that he didn’t eat or drink anything at all for 40 days. Can you imagine how weak you would be, how tired, how desperate you would be for something to eat or something to drink?  That’s the moment when temptation comes along.  Matthew tells us that the devil shows up and says “If you are the son of God… if you are the person that that voice from heaven just proclaimed you to be, turn these stones into bread.”  Now Jesus is here to help us to love God the same way that God loves us, and I think in reality, even though Jesus is really hungry and this may feel like it’s about him, Jesus knows that the devil is tempting him to feed all of us with the stones around us, to win us over by providing the things that we need, by meeting our every need.  In essence, to buy our allegiance.  But Jesus knows that love that is bought isn’t true love. You can give people gifts.  You can give people presents.  You can give them everything they want, and they might follow you around for a while because that and of a nice thing.  But that’s not the way to get someone to really love you.  So, Jesus tells the devil “no, go away.”

devil is not finished yet.  The devil comes and tries again, and takes Jesus up to the highest tower of the temple in Jerusalem, and says if you are the son of God, throw yourself off.  Because Scriptures say that the angels will catch you before you hit the ground.  And when that happens, and people see they’ll know who you are. It would be silly not to believe you.  They’ll get in line and they’ll do whatever you say.  But that’s not what Jesus wants.  Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him because it’s logical.  Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him because it makes sense.  Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him because it would be foolish not to.  Jesus wants us to love him.  Jesus wants us to love God.  Jesus wants us to love one another and the world around us.  And so Jesus knows that proving can never lead to love.  Arguing, proof texting, showing the facts, logic, that’s not going to lead to what Jesus wants; the ability to love one another and to love God.  So, again, Jesus tells the devil to go away.

Devil says, I’ve got one more card up my sleeve, takes Jesus up to the highest mountain and says, if you will fall down and worship me, I will put you in charge. You will be the master of all you can see, everyone will obey you, obey you.  That’s about as far from love as you can get.  You can’t force someone to love you.  You might be able to force people to do what you want.  But when you do that it’s not very likely that they’re going to love you in the process, and you don’t learn how to love other people, or God, or the creation that God made, if you’re being forced to do that.  So, once again, Jesus sends the devil away, and at that moment the Angels came to take care of him there in the desert.

During this season of Lent, we are working, we’re trying to understand the ways that we have failed to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we’re working to see the ways that we’ve failed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  And I think that we hear this lesson every year on the first Sunday of Lent because Jesus gives us the model. How do we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?  By loving others the way that God loved us; not by buying their allegiance, not by proving that we are right, not by forcing them to follow us. But by engaging in acts of self-giving and sacrifice, recognizing that love is built through trust and ongoing relationship, and commitment to holding one another up.  That love comes through being together and recognizing another person’s needs and agenda as equal to our own, and by making sure that the least among us have what they need to thrive and flourish.

Here in this season of Lent, we learn something very important about our God. Our God wants more than anything for us to love God and to love our neighbors and to love ourselves.  And God loves us so much that, even if in the end it might be good for us, God will make us do what God longs for us to do.  And even though sometimes it might make us feel better about life, God won’t meet our every need; turning stones into bread when we need bread.  Because God can’t afford to buy our love.  Because that’s no love at all.  And even though it would be nice, maybe, if we had a clear set of standards and beliefs, and some solid evidence that God is who God says God is, and that Jesus is who Jesus says he is; what really makes us human, and what makes us like Jesus, is our ability to love and to believe despite the evidence to the contrary.

God doesn’t want automatons. God doesn’t want blind followers.  God doesn’t want people who are following because they had their fill of the bread on the other side of the lake.  God wants us to follow God because we are so deeply in love that we can’t bear to be out of God’s presence; that we can’t bear to live our lives in ways that are outside of God’s vision and dream for all of creation; and all we want in our hearts is to step more fully into that relationship, leaving behind the things that distract us or drag us down.

Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, we take away the flowers.  We change the frontal.  We hang a purple drape on the cross to remember, or to remind us of Jesus’s sacrifice, we listen to this story about the true love of the one who makes, creates, redeems and sustains us, and who gives us a clear path for walking in God’s light footsteps.

Welcome to the season of Lent.

Amen

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