On Ash Wednesday, we were invited into Lent with these words:
"As disciples of Jesus, we are called to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from God and neighbor." This is, so to speak, a re-enlistment or a renewal in our call to renounce and reject the devil, the world and the flesh, those powers that lead us away from trust in and love for God and love for neighbor. We have joined the resistance, but it will help us immensely if remember what has happened before we entered the struggle.
The Gospel reading for the first week in Lent (Matthew 4:1-11) assumes we know that somewhere in our past things went terribly wrong between humans and their creator God (see Genesis 2-3). Now, Jesus has come to set us free from the power of sin, death and the devil (the deceiver and accuser who has driven the wedge of sin between us and God). Now Jesus has appeared to engage the forces of evil in battle and to triumph over those powers by his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle Paul (Romans 5:12-19), gives us a way of seeing this battle as a battle between Jesus as the new humanity, the new Adam, whose obedience and faithfulness to God rescues all of humanity from the powers of the deceiver who had enslaved Adam and Eve and all their children.
When we see what’s going on and what’s at stake in the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we start to understand the true depth and power of Jesus’ ministry.
First: This story of Jesus' temptation by the devil describes an event, but that events also points to an ongoing struggle in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness to God and God’s mission continues throughout his life and reaches it climax at the cross.
Second: The temptations described in this story -- stones to bread, a leap of faith from the pinnacle of the temple, power to dominate and rule the whole world (always a deal with the devil) -- give us an outline of three types of temptations that subtly erode or, in the case of the lust for power, utterly destroy, our love for and trust in God. The temptation and trials described in this story continue to plague the followers of Jesus to this day. Turn on the news or listen to the scoffing of friends who are still blind to God's presence in the world, and we will feel these temptations deep in our soul.
Third: Jesus overcomes the devil with trust, love and obedience not only to God's Word and promise, but to God's own way of fulfilling the promise of that Word. In the vindication of Easter: Jesus receives from the Father, all that he trusted the Father to give: a life-giving, resurrecting Word of God; an exaltation and glorification of the Son after a death-deal fall from the pinnacle of religion; and the throne prepared at the right of the Father. Jesus has already triumphed in this battle. By Jesus’ method of spiritual warfare we have a way to learn our own manner of faithful obedience to word of the Father, a way that kindly invites us to unlearn then relearn what it means for us to be a human being.
And that now is the challenge of the way of repentance and redemption we embarked on just a few days ago. By his obedience and death, even death on a cross, and his glorious resurrection from the dead, we have been set free to be what God created us to be, children of God. A new life, however, means learning to live in freedom, and watching Jesus engage in this battle gives us strength and way for us to live in Christ. In a glorious and grace-filled twist, the battle isn't a battle at all, but challenge of learning how to live as free people, ruled and governed by the God who created us, redeemed us and sustains us in an eternal life. To live by that story. The story we tell in our creed means learning to live all over again. So, where do you start?
Jesus outlines a few ways to contend against evil and resist all that leads us from love of God and love of neighbor. It involves letting go of the old, dying to it, and picking up the new, living for it throughout these 40 days and then on into forever as a new habit. What is God asking you to give up, and what can you do instead?
So, how will you learn to exercise your freedom this Lent? What are you letting go of ... and what are you doing instead? Make a commitment to give something up so you can learn a new habit. Let this community and your pastor be a source love and support!
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