The primary text is traditionally called the Temptation of Jesus. It takes place right after his baptism and continues the theme of Israel reduced to one. When Israel fails in the wilderness, Christ succeeds. But, this sermon is about something I think is an important distinction that often gets lost in the modern church. It was important to me to figure out because Luther makes a statement in the Small Catechism that always seemed to fly in the face of reality to me, at least reality if you take the scriptures and the universal experience of the faith as witnesses. And you wish to take ordination vows seriously. Luther says “God tempts no one.” And that honestly felt like this polyanna-ish statement completely foreign to the great man who was always “calling a thing what it is.” So, this sermon attempts to talk about the difference between temptation and testing. And how we can affirm that God tempts no one, even if the answer to that 6th petition of the Lord’s prayer isn’t always positive in the short term. But the will of God is not for this moment alone, but to give you the eternal victory in Christ.
The lesson for the first sunday of lent is an ancient choice, the temptation or testing of Jesus. For a long time it was taken as an excuse for preaching fasting. Jesus fasted, so should you. The problem with that is we aren’t Jesus and we are probably not lead by the Spirit into such a fast. It is not that there isn’t a “Jesus as our example” in this text. Jesus sustains the testing of Satan. In his example we have the full devil’s playbook. This sermon spends some time on that. But the gospel message of the sermon is Jesus won. Satan had never lost a testing until that day. He’s never really won one since. Christ sustained the test and remained faithful. And we can hide ourselves in him. Everyone who calls on Christ is victorious. The victory over Satan is given to them by faith in the work of Jesus. This sermon proclaims that victory.
This sermon is a reworking of one given by Luther in 1523. I took from that one its main points and the general outline. But the flesh of it I had to rework for 2022. I did this because I felt the main point was both one that we rarely hear in churches today and that it needs to be heard. That main point is the reality of testing in the life of the believer and why God brings that into our lives. The biblical basis is Mary’s losing the young Jesus. The second point is where our consolation is found in the midst of testing. Mary searches for Jesus: in the group, among relatives and acquaintances, around Jerusalem before finally coming to the temple. They say that Luther was against allegory, but he could use it well while preaching. This sermon updates his examples for all the places we look for God before going to where he has promised to be.
Recording note: I’m not sure of the complete quality. You might occasionally hear a dropped first syllable, especially after a pause. I think it’s time to replace the mic batteries. That is what tends to happen when they are starting to go. It takes a syllable to recognize line volume again. I only heard a couple, so it doesn’t ruin the recording.
The testing of Abraham is one of those texts that honestly a 21st century American preacher doesn’t feel qualified to preach. But there is so much in it that is for our good. The types of Christ are clear, but what I wanted to concentrate on in this sermon were two things: the trial or test and offering up a trial to God or drawing near to Him. The trial doesn’t tell God anything about us that he didn’t know. The trial tells us what God already knows about us. And it gives us the chance to draw near to God. This sermon, through Abraham’s experience, attempts to understand what that mean and how we can be prepared for the day of trial.
I’ve become convinced that the real “crisis” if you want to call it that in American Christianity is the dismissal of the calls of the spiritual life. Even the church seems to have a very utilitarian view of the faith. It “sells” faith as something that will be good for you. It will make you healthier, wealthier and maybe wise. The trouble is that The Faith makes none of those claims. It doesn’t necessarily rule them out, but the norm would be the life of Christ, which is a life of trial. What the Faith does claim is truth. Christ is Lord. He bids us follow him. Hence the real test, do we follow?
This particular sermon was composed to take part in a specific liturgical situation. We had a baptism at the start of service. It was also helped by one of the great hymns of the Faith – I Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716).
There is always a bit of a frisson when I have a text with Satan in it. Giving Satan a voice from the pulpit always feels like crossing a boundary. There is a bit of that in here. But the main contemplative point is how Law and Gospel are connected with an “and”. In this world you don’t get one without the other, although that is always the temptation. Satan’s temptations are to break the relationships that bind and order our existence. Sometimes that temptation is straight up to our sinful nature. Sometimes that testing is to the power of the ring. But however they express themselves, they are always a rebellion against both the grace and the order of God. He has a way that He desires us to walk. When we tell the Spirit, sorry, I don’t like that desert or those 40 days, we’ve gone off the path. This sermon meditates on how Jesus walked it for us (hence the closing hymn), and bids us to follow.
We are continuing through our Epiphany series which might be subtitled “seeing God”. The normal ways of seeing God that the Epiphany texts help us to see are Word and Sacrament. This text is no different in that, except this text asks the next question: what does seeing God mean for the one who sees? And Epiphany is always also a test. Do we believe? Do we trust the promises given in the Word of God and the sacraments, or do we demand what we take as greater signs? This sermon ponders Jesus’ reception in his hometown, and parallels that reception among those who have been made his family by baptism.
It is the first Sunday in Lent, hence the purple colors on the graphic. The traditional text is one of the temptation of Jesus texts. When we think of those we probably think of Matthew and Luke’s stylized accounts with three temptations and three snappy comebacks. Mark’s version isn’t so stylized. His is all of about two verses. But in those two verses he emphasizes four things. 1) It is the Spirit that leads Jesus to the wilderness with Satan and the wild animals. God is not tame. 2) The encounter is presented as a continuing act. He was in the wilderness for 40 days; the entire time under trial or testing. 3) The Angels ministering were also present the entire time. 4) The result of the trial is the proclamation of the gospel – the reign of God.
Temptation is a perfectly fine word, but I prefer the word trial or testing. I think when we hear temptation with do two things. First we minimize the truth. We equate temptation with eating too much chocolate, we dismiss it, or we think it is only a narrow category of experience. Second we think of it as an instantaneous thing. But when we say a test or a trial, since we still have those in the secular world, we take them seriously. The time of trial is a serious thing. What this sermon does is consider the time of trial and the Christian’s response. It also considers how to view testing as an instance of the gospel. I don’t think I trivialize the subject, and hopefully give some comfort for those times of testing.
I have left in a hymn before the sermon, LSB 716, We Walk in Danger All the Way. This Hymn is one of the true gems of the church and should be much better known. It also does some of the preparation or even heavy lifting for the sermon. I also left in a piece of music after the sermon that I normally don’t – the offertory. My youngest son (8yo) is the one bowing his way through the hymn – On My Heart Imprint Your Image – which we use as the Lenten offertory.
The texts for the first week of Lent in year B are distinctive and rough and play on each other in my reading. The central concern is testing. This sermon, following James, attempts to create a distinction between temptation and testing. It then looks at the testing of Jesus and the testing of Abraham as examples of standing under testing. The parallel is OT Israel who strayed under their testing in the wilderness. The application section then looks at a couple of example of modern day testing at the hands of ISIS. It ends by making a comparison between a spirituality that survives the Winter vs. the seemingly sunnier spirituality that ultimately fails in the cold winds.
The opening hymn is Christ the Life of All the Living (LSB 420) which is a classic Lenten hymn emphasizing exactly our wintery reliance on Christ alone. The choir echoes after the OT lesson with teach me your ways Lord. I didn’t get recorded, but after the sermon we sang one of my favorite hymns that captures this wintery Spirituality, Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You (LSB 668). Our effort is not to moral perfection but to prayer. Of course part of the greatness is the chance to sing the hymn tune Wachet Auf.
Biblical Text: Matthew 4:1-11 Full Draft of Sermon
We had a technical mishap, so I’ll re-record the sermon probably tomorrow.
Sermon Uploaded, although no hymn or biblical text preceding, so you might want to read the biblical text on the temptation of Christ.
I’m not sure there is a bigger divide between the orthodox faith and modernity than on the direction of the good life. Modernity in its many forms points you inward to finding your best and authentic self. In this sermon I pick on Maslow’s hierarchy and the idea of self-actualization, but there are other theories that say similar things. The faith has always said roughly three things: 1) your natural self is deceived or blind and couldn’t know what the good life is, 2) the good life revealed in Jesus is directed not toward self-actualization but toward God and neighbor, and 3) we are given eyes to see through the work of Jesus and the Spirit primarily through the revelation of the Word. The temptation of Jesus, as this sermon will proclaim, is part of the defeat of the devil for us, and a revelation of the road we also must face and walk.