A Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy (26:1-11)
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
(Psalm refrain to be sung by George John and repeated by all)
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 He shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust.”
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,
10 There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (10:8b-13)
“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (4:1-13)
After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Each year on this First Sunday in Lent, we hear one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness: Mark’s very brief, bare-bones account or Matthew’s or Luke’s more extensive “three-temptations approach.” Yet, as familiar as these narratives are, I think we often fail to appreciate the depth of what they describe.
Many people’s impression is that Jesus is being tempted to do three negative things; but that is just not the case. Like most temptations that we face, the devil’s three suggestions to Jesus look pretty positive. There is a lot that we could say in their favor. Turning stones into bread? — what a great potential for feeding the starving people of the world! Gaining possession of and control over all the nations and wealth of the world? — just think about how much good Jesus could do for everybody if he were in charge! Throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple and having God rescue him at the last minute? — It would be hard for anybody not to believe in him after that! The temptations are powerful precisely because of all the good that could come of them.
But as the tempter presents them to Jesus and as Luke presents them to us, the danger is not that Jesus is being tempted to do something evil. Instead, the real danger is that he is being tempted not to do something good, in particular, the central, good thing that God has called him to do: the work for which God chose him and for which God filled him with the gift of the Spirit. Put succinctly, Jesus was being tempted not to fulfill his mission.
That sense that Jesus was being tempted not to fulfill his mission might just be a good place to look in trying to determine what this gospel story means for us. In general, the real temptations that we face in life bear at least some similarities to those that Jesus faced. They aren’t invitations to do things that are evil. We’re probably not going to go out of here and rob any banks this week – but that’s not the real question. The real question is “Are we going to do any good this week?” Are we going to do anything to bring the Good News of God to people who need to hear that Good News? Are we going to do anything to help transform the world, even a little bit, to resemble more closely the reign of God? These questions essentially come down to the question of whether or not we are going to live up to our baptismal commitments.
Avoiding evil is usually fairly easy for us. Doing good is where we tend to fail. And so that is the area of life that needs our attention. Martin Luther King once proclaimed, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” And Edmund Burke famously observed, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing.”
Evil can triumph on its own; it doesn’t need our help. In the gospel story, the tempter offers Jesus all the kingdoms and wealth of the world “for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t argue the point. Much of the power and wealth of the world was already controlled by the forces of evil. Jesus’ role was not one of simply accepting the status quo and not causing any problems. The status quo was the problem, one that Jesus was sent to change. And so are we.
Too often, we Christians act as though our job in the world is simply to keep quiet, keep to ourselves, and not do anything wrong. If that were all that God wanted, God would probably have gone looking for disciples not in a church but in a cemetery. The residents of a cemetery are great at keeping quiet, keeping to themselves, and not doing anything wrong. We Christians are not dead; but sometimes when it comes to doing the work that God has sent us to do, we might just as well be. God has called us, not just to avoid things, but to do things: to do the work of the kingdom.
But isn’t that just an add-on to our primary responsibility? Isn’t our first responsibility one of listening to and embracing the story told in the gospels: the great story of God’s works of love for the human race and for the rest of God’s creation? If so, how does our active role in helping to change the way things are in the world fit in with our hearing of and our affirming of that great story told in the scriptures? Today’s first reading can help point the way.
In that reading, God, speaking through Moses, is giving instructions to the Israelites on what they are to do when they finally enter into the Promised Land. It is in response to all that God has done for them that they are first to tell the story, affirming God’s many blessings that they have received. Then, in response to that story, they are to give back to God the first fruits of everything they have. That offering, in turn, will serve to feed those who are in need, both the Levites, their fellow Israelites, and the aliens who are among them (no green cards or proof of citizenship required here!). God’s charge to them is not something negative, but the positive role of going out and doing for others what God has done for them. And they are to do that, not as a nice add-on to their faith, but precisely because of their faith. Unless their faith is put into action, their faith is empty and useless. And so is ours.
Christians often approach the season of Lent from the perspective of what they are not doing: maybe from the point of view of what they are giving up. But that just might be an attempt at taking the easy way out. It is a lot easier to give up some small thing that we enjoy than it is to face up to our responsibility of going out and serving those who are in need. It is a lot easier to avoid doing something than it is actively to find ways to invite others to join with us in listening to the gospel message and maybe in participating with us in doing the work of the church.
This season of Lent, which we have just begun, will continue for the next six weeks. When it is complete, we and our fellow Christians throughout the world will join in celebrating Jesus’ resurrection as we and they gather for the Great Vigil of Easter. A central part of that Vigil is the renewal of our baptismal promises.
As we prepare to do that, maybe we should take another look at what we have solemnly promised God and God’s church that we will do. Those baptismal promises, embodying what being followers of Jesus is all about, do not focus on what we are going to avoid doing. They focus instead on what we will do: continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers; taking an active role in resisting evil in our world, proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons; and striving for justice and peace while respecting the dignity of every human being. That is our mission in the world, and it is an active one.
Like Jesus, we are sometimes tempted to neglect that mission in order to do something else, something that is easier, something of our own choosing. But like Jesus, we have received the gift of God’s Spirit, enabling us to fulfill that mission, to be faithful to those promises, and, in God’s name, to help make a positive difference in God’s world.