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
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
This past Sunday afternoon, my friend and colleague, the Rev. Ruth Paulus, and I met at St. Christopher’s Church in Fairborn with seven young people who are preparing for confirmation when the bishop visits St. Mark’s three months from today. While we were helping ourselves to some pizza and getting ready to begin our session, our teens began talking about making their curriculum choices for next school year. They attend five different schools. The students in some of those schools are making their class selections now, while others will wait another couple of months.
There are, of course, certain classes that everyone has to take; they are mandated by the state. But beyond them, there are some choices to be made. We, as parents, are necessarily part of that process. Among the factors driving our criteria for making those decisions is our focus on helping our children to develop to their fullest potential. We want to make sure, as far as we are able, that they make the best use of their school years. For that matter, we want to make sure that in their entire life, in school or outside of it, they develop to the best of their abilities and come to live full and happy lives.
Parents are not alone in that. That is exactly what God wants for all of us: to live lives as full and complete human beings, to live up to our God-given potential. Focusing on God’s intent for us, and on the most effective ways that we can live up to that intent, is what Lent is all about.
Lent begins, as our readings today do, with God’s gifts to us. Our first reading served, among other things, as an ancient creed: an ancient statement of what God had done for Israel and given Israel throughout its history and of what God continues to give to God’s people, both collectively and individually. In its eleven verses, this passage uses some form of the word “give” 6 times. Everything is a gift from God, and the hearer of these words is invited to respond to God’s many gifts in a positive way by giving of herself or himself as well.
God calls us to give, not because God needs something from us, but because we need something further from God. We need to come to share in God’s life by being, each in our own small way, a bit like God: giving to others as God has given to us. N.T. Wright describes it as “bearing and reflecting God’s image.”
Our giving is not just about money, although that is an essential part of it, too. Our giving includes our whole self: whatever abilities we have, whatever time we have, whatever capacity for love and service we have. But our giving to others needs to be something that we do, not just because it makes us feel good – it’s not all about us! Our giving to others needs to be something that we do because others are in need.
Ultimately, our giving is the way that we respond to God’s many gifts by building up the kingdom of God, by doing whatever we can to remake the world to be what God intends it to be. That kingdom was central to Jesus’ entire life and teachings. Contrary to the way that many so-called “religious” people approach it, the kingdom of God is not just about so-called “spiritual” things. It includes ensuring that all of God’s children, no matter who they are, have those things that all people need: food, clothing, and shelter, of course, but also things such as a sense of acceptance and dignity and respect and hope in their lives.
Ideally, that is what we, as followers of Jesus, strive to bring to others. But often, we fall short of that ideal. That “falling short” is what sin is all about.
The Greek word that biblical authors use for “sin” comes from a verb that means literally “to miss the target.” Sin doesn’t consist necessarily in a complete rejection of God or of the ways of God. Instead, it consists in falling short of our intended, of our ideal, goal.
In today’s gospel reading, the three things that the devil tempts Jesus to do are not completely bad things. There’s a lot that could be said in their favor. Turning stones into bread could feed a lot of hungry people. Having Jesus in control of all the kingdoms of the world would be a tremendous improvement over the way things are now. And being miraculously rescued in the sight of crowds of people would certainly have brought countless others to follow Jesus. These wouldn’t have been choices that were inherently evil; but they would have been choices that missed the target. They would have been choices for something less than what God called Jesus to do in life. And Jesus chose to do much better. Jesus chose to live up to his God-given potential and to do the work of the kingdom. And Jesus calls us to do the same.
The 16th-century, Spanish mystic, John of the Cross, once asked pointedly: “What does it profit you to give God one thing if [God] asks of you another? Consider what it is that God wants, and then do it. You will, as a result, better satisfy your own heart than with that toward which you yourself are inclined.”
As we begin the season of Lent, we might modify that question to ask: “What does it profit you to tell God that you are going to give up candy for Lent, when God is asking you to go out and feed the hungry? What does it profit you to promise to skip a favorite TV show, when God is asking you to use your time volunteering to help people learn to read or serving at a retirement community or nursing home? Sometimes, our approach to Lent is almost like a shell game, in which God asks one thing of us but we try to make a quick switch in an attempt to distract God with something else: something that’s a lot less costly and lot easier for us to do. And when we do that, we fail to live up to our God-given potential.
But Lent is a time to change that. Especially during Lent, God challenges us to live up to our potential, to live more and more as Jesus lived. And God calls us to do that for our benefit, because God knows that it is only in living as Jesus lived and giving of ourselves as Jesus did that we can come to live a full and complete human life. As Jesus taught over and over, it is only by giving of ourselves to build up the kingdom of God that we ourselves come to live in that kingdom. Or, as St. Francis famously put it: “It is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”