February 26: The First Sunday of Lent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for February 26, 2023 was preached in response to Matthew 4:1-11 based on the manuscript below.

On this first Sunday in Lent,
we hear what we always hear:
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
The preface we’ll hear in the eucharistic prayer
goes, “who was tempted in every way as we are,
yet did not sin.”
Today the lectionary and the church
are trying to illustrate that for us.

Who among us hasn’t
been on a 40 day fast in the desert
and approached by someone,
Rumplestiltskin like,
challenging us to turn stones into bread?
And as a part of that experience
actively choosing not to,
though we we have the power to?
Who among us, then,
hasn’t been teleported or apparated
to the top of a building of religious and civic importance
then challenged to throw ourselves off
trusting that angels will just catch us?
Finally, who among us
hasn’t been offered to be the king of the world
as we’re standing at the top of a high mountain
or the bow of a ship?
Jesus is just like us.

Jesus’ being led to the desert,
driven by the spirit to the wilderness to be tested
is not just like what we experience.
It’s not, at least,
in the particulars and specifics.
Given that none of us is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
it’s not likely that we’ll be led or driven to the desert
to be put through our paces,
to have our wills and dedication tried
to see if we’re worthy of our titles.
This temptation by the accuser,
by the tempter,
is part of God’s plan to see if Jesus
will trust God to be God
who has a plan for Jesus
to redeem all of humanity.

While we don’t face temptations
exactly like Jesus faces here,
we are tempted nonetheless.
For some of us a few days into our Lenten fasts
we’ve broken them.
We may be tempted to fully count ourselves failures
or tempted to just shrug it off
as not having mattered anyway.
While the lectionary fails spectacularly
at showing Jesus being tempted
in every way that we were,
it nonetheless shows
that Jesus faced temptations.
The mundane, real-life, day-to-day temptations
that we give in to or resist,
Jesus faced too.

Douglas R.A. Hare summarizes,
“we are constantly tempted
to mistrust God’s readiness
to empower us to face our trials…
we are frequently tempted
to question God’s helpfulness
when things go awry…
Pagan idolatry
is no more a temptation for us
than it was for Jesus,
but compromise with the ways of the world
is a continuing seduction.”

Thinking about the temptations we do face
it’s helpful to think not just about our Lenten fasts,
but the things we’ve already repented of this week.
So often we think about sin either as
grave and mortal danger to our souls or
just the big idea of sin
without being able to put our finger
on what that actually means.
Wednesday we all confessed
our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives;
our self-indulgent appetites and ways,
and our exploitation of other people;
our anger at our own frustration,
and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves;
our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts,
and our dishonesty in daily life and work;
our negligence in prayer and worship,
and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

Notice how earthy and real those are.
The impatience of our lives;
our self-indulgent appetites and ways,
our exploitation of other people;
our anger at our own frustration,
our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts.
The Southwell Litany,
frequently used at renewals of ordination vows
offers us more to consider.
It asks for salvation from weakness of judgment,
from the indecision that can make no choice
and from the irresolution that carries no choice into act.
It prays for salvation from
self-conceit, vanity, and boasting,
and from delight in supposed success and superiority.
It prays for salvation from
affectation and untruth, conscious or unconscious,
from pretense and hypocrisy,
from impulsive self-adaptation to the moment
to please persons or make circumstances easy.
It prays for salvation from
love of flattery,
from over-ready belief in praise,
from dislike of criticism;
and from the comfort of self-deception
in persuading ourselves
that others think better of us than we are.

While we may not face the exact temptations Jesus faced,
he undoubtedly faced all these temptations
that we face hourly, daily, weekly.
Yet he did not sin.
And in the specific temptations he faced,
he answered the tempter with not just words of Scripture
but with words of promise and assurance
that we can use too.
The exact words Jesus used
pointed himself and all of us
to the promise and fact
that God is God
and God will provide.
Words that point toward what Paul is told in prayer,
“My grace is sufficient for you.”

As we progress through our Lenten journey
turning back to God
evaluating our failures
and planning to celebrate their washing away
at the baptismal font
that’s God’s promise to us.
“My grace is sufficient for you.”
We don’t live by bread alone
but through every word from God,
through God’s will as God provides for us.
We don’t live by bread alone
but through every word from God,
as God wraps us in God’s tender embrace
forgiving us all those things done and left undone
inviting us into a life where grace abounds.

We hear Paul say to the Romans today,
“For if the many died through the one man’s trespass,
much more surely have the grace of God
and the free gift in the grace of the one man,
Jesus Christ,
abounded for the many.”
I pray that you’ll mark your calendars now
for the Great Vigil of Easter,
when we observe the first service
of Christ’s defeat of death
and when we join people to Christ’s death and resurrection
sharing God’s grace with them
through the waters of the font.
We may not be tempted in the ways Jesus was,
but he was tempted in every way that we are
yet did not sin.
His answer to the tempter
is his promise to us as we face our own temptations.
“My grace is sufficient for you,
and my grace abounds for all.”

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