First Presbyterian Church

Sunday Sermon Lent 1

The Sunday Sermon for February 14,2016 was not recorded; however, here it is in written form.

“Navigating the Wilderness”

Luke 4: 1-13 

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.  (NRSV)


The Rev. Dr. David Lose says this in his blog, “…in the Meantime”, regarding the temptation passage in Luke 4, “I would argue that temptation is not so often temptation toward something – usually portrayed as doing something you shouldn’t – but rather is usually the temptation away from something – namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship.”

Remember that this trip into the wilderness for Jesus is beginning soon after his baptism. A baptism in which Luke describes the Heavens opening and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And, in Luke’s account Jesus’ baptism is followed by proclaiming his genealogy beginning with “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph” and ending with this heritage…” the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the Son of God.” Luke proclaims the identity God gives Jesus at his baptism, that identity as the Beloved Son and then the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert “where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil” (NRSV)

As we read through the scripture this morning, listen to how the Tempter is trying to draw Jesus away from this relationship with God and trying to test whether or not Jesus can remain true to that identity of God’s Beloved – even in the presence of hunger, power struggles and personal safety. Hear the word of the Lord …..Re-Read scripture here… Luke 4: 1-13…

It is hard to think when you are hungry and tired. It is even harder to remember who you are when things are not going as planned. It is hard to think that God cares about us when there is nothing to eat. It is hard to think that God really cares, when those around us exert power over us that belittles and oppresses us.   We cry out to God, show me! Show me that you are really there and I will believe in you! There are many of us who have been there and there are many of us who have cried out to God, why?! There are many of us, possibly all of us who have cried out, show yourself and I will believe you are the God you say you are.   There is a difference in believing in God and believing God. We are called to believe GOD. God asks us to hear and listen to God’s voice even when we are trying to navigate through the wilderness of this life. Even when we are tired and weary and think no one cares or sees or knows, we are called to remember that God is near.

Lent calls us to lean into our doubts and fears. As we enter into a season of reflection and introspection, it is time to remember the call of the prophet Joel to “return to the Lord your God”. It is a welcome time to rest after the glorious celebrations and festivities of Christmas, New Years and yes, even the Super Bowl – all those things that add extra hype and stimulation to the world around us. We look forward to the celebration of Easter but we also look inward. We heed the call to return to God, to examine whether or not our inner selves and our outward actions are reflecting our calling as Easter people.

We face those same kinds of temptations that Jesus faced. We wander in the wilderness looking for food and the Tempter offers us what seems to satisfy for the moment but Jesus offers us what we need for a lifetime. The Tempter offers us what we want, Jesus reminds us of what we need. Our wants often draw us away from what we really need and move us into a stupor of satisfaction that blots out our desire for God. Jesus’ response to Satan helps us to remember what it is that nourishes us more fully than even food.

And just like Satan offered Jesus power and authority; this world offers us power over so much. It is overwhelming to see and to hear the offers of ownership that seem to give us authority. If you only have this car, this house, this latest gadget, this wardrobe, then you will have control over your life and others will be impressed and amazed at your authority. The tempter takes what is good and makes it an idol and promises us everything if we will only worship something else instead of God. Again we are drawn away from the heart of the God who loves us. Jesus reminds us that our identity is governed by what we trust and worship. We are called to worship God and God alone.

And then the tempter says, “so if you really are this Beloved child of God; let God prove it. Throw yourself off this mountain and let God catch you as he promises!” Even in the Psalm we read this morning God promises,

“For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

Do we believe that literally or do we believe that God’s promise is that God is faithful in all areas of our life? Do we trust that God will remain faithful because God says God will even when the world and the life we sometimes experience seems to say otherwise? Do we want God to prove God’s self over and over again or do we trust that the grace displayed in sending his Beloved Son is enough? Does Satan draw us away from the heart of God by making us question God’s faithfulness?

In the Lenten book we are studying on Monday nights, there is a beautiful introduction by Mary Luti that talks about how we often think about giving up something for Lent – “like chocolate or Facebook or beer.” (Luti) More recently the church has focused on the practice of taking up a new spiritual discipline – like intentional prayer time or Bible study, during the 40 days of Lent. But Luti asks, “What if this Lent you invited God to speak not so much to your behaviors as to your heart? And what if in that conversation you discovered that God wants you not to be better so much as to be enraptured, not to be good so much as to be lost? Lost in the beauty of God’s mercy, God’s justice, God’s passions. Lost as the hymn says, ‘in wonder, love and praise’.” I think that is the invitation in the Joel reading of Ash Wednesday, I think that is the invitation of Lent, and of Easter. I think that is the invitation as we read of the temptations of Jesus and think about the temptations in our own lives; the invitation is to return to the heart of God, as Luti says to be enraptured within the heart of God. To lose ourselves and to gain a heart of wonder, love and praise! That is how we resist the temptations that would draw us away from the heart of God.

So how might we enter into Lent on this the first Sunday? How might we navigate these forty days of wilderness and strengthen our identity as God’s Beloved? If you have already given up something or taken on a new discipline – Go for it! And know that God is pleased with your effort and will strengthen you as you try to uphold that action in these 40 days. But if you are not yet certain on how to approach Lent and are looking for a way – try coming back to the heart of God. And like Mary Luti says, “What if you didn’t ask for help in becoming a better person and prayed instead for the grace to stop being the subject of your own little life project. What if this year you give yourself up…” Give yourself up to becoming enraptured by returning to the heart of God.

In so doing may you recognize the truth in what Pastor Marquart offers: “Just as the temptation is not theoretical and just as the temptations we face are not hypothetical, so also the strength of God to resist temptation is not hypothetical, the strength of God is not imaginary, the resources of God are not illusionary. God does empower us with the Holy Spirit, the divine words living inside of us, and the Indwelling Presence, so that we too can resist the real temptations in our lives as well.   (

God will strengthen you! God will be near to you and you will be able to enter into Easter with a renewed heart, mind, strength and soul! May it be so for all of us! Amen!