Monday, February 8, 2016

The School of Wilderness – 14 February 2016 – First Sunday in Lent

The season of Lent begins in the wilderness. Always. Where else do we go to be stripped of pretensions and distractions? The dry places, the tough times, teach us to let go of our own false powers.

Faithfulness is not a striving for distant spiritual accomplishments but living, with trust and devotion, with a God near at hand—not something distant and doubtful, to be tested, but someone near and trustworthy, even in the wilderness times of our lives. Headed into the wilderness with Jesus this Lent, we enter into his story and the exodus story. And the fearful landscapes of our own lives are transfigured, our wildernesses consecrated—no longer times and places of lost wandering but of the Holy Spirit's leading. – Paul Bieber

Luke 4:1-13

Make no mistake about it: the devil presents Jesus with three excellent offers. Each is loaded with possibility; they are ministry opportunities. There's not a hint of sin in any one of them. No temptation lacking positive appeal and promise is worth calling a temptation. Jesus is, after all, the Son of God. And so his temptations are to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular: first, to deal with the hunger for food, then the matter of power and glory, and finally the wish to be proven and vindicated.

These are not temptations to fall, but temptations to rise—as in the garden: the serpent didn't say, “Wouldn't you like to be like me?” he said, “Wouldn't you like to be like God?” Each temptation posed to Jesus by the devil is a proposal to take something good and use it in the wrong way—at the wrong time. Bread, the reign over the kingdoms of this world, God's protection—all are quite appropriate for Jesus, but could become evil if used in the wrong way. Many things (here's the high point of the sermon)—for instance sex—are good in themselves and become evil only when misused. – Paul Bieber

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Gratitude for deliverance is key to this command to remember that all we have is from God who guided our ancestor, the “wandering Aramean.” We are to bring to the “priest who is in office at that time” (not waiting for a priest who exhibits our own personality preferences) a declaration along with our offering. The declaration is a positive statement that says I know who has made my life possible: “I have come…” into what God has given. This is the essence of thanksgiving which is the foundation of using God’s gifts for good rather than self-serving evil.

. . .  [A]ll that is essential for Israelite faith is found here: a personal relationship between the man and his God; the promise of the Land and the election of Israel to be God's own people, the deliverance from oppression, and the commandment to use one's sacrifices and offerings in order to celebrate with all people, Israelite and foreigner alike (v 11). We should not then, imagine that this “sacrificial” discipline is primarily focused on death and blood, on loss and courageous self-denial. Rather, this original sacrifice is focused on thankfulness, blessing the Lord, rejoicing in abundance, and a nearly profligate sharing with all of one's neighbors. ­– Jeffrey VanderWilt

Romans 10:8b-13

Paul . . . [contrasts] the belief and practices of Israel to the belief and practices of the Christian. The key term here is “righteousness”. . .  [which] Paul envisioned . . . in the Jewish context as the maintenance of a status. He envisioned “righteousness” in the Christian context as a “transfer term,” where by faith one is transferred into the community of the saved.

. . . Paul writes, we need only believe and have faith in Christ who . . . is the Word that God has placed “on our lips and in our hearts” (v. 8). – Jeffrey VanderWilt

Paul Bieber is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, San Diego, California.  

Jeffery VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003) teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California.

Homily Service 40, no. 3 (2007): 54-64.

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