Sunday, February 14, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for 14Feb16 and class notice

REMINDER!  Father Riley will be leading Episcopal informational classes designed for long-term and new Episcopalians to learn more about who we are as Episcopalians.
Starting 9am Sunday February 21 in our Parish Hall.

LENT I - C - 16                                                                                  LUKE 4. 1-13

The gospel for the First Sunday of Lent takes us back to what happened to Jesus immediately following his baptism by John in the Jordan. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness where Jesus prepared for his earthly ministry by prayer and fasting. It was after he ended his 40 day fast that the devil tempted him.
I have never thought that Jesus expected to be tempted when he was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert in preparation for his earthly ministry, but he was prepared, after his period of fasting and prayer to counter the enemy’s challenge by relying solely on God’s Holy Word.
The Church designates two days out of the year as fast days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Anyone who has done their best on purpose to abstain from all food for 24 hours as part of their spiritual discipline knows how hungry one gets. And how easy it is to give in to one’s physical cravings? Our good intentions are too easily swept aside in order to meet our own physical needs.
Jesus had fasted for 40 days! He must have been starving. Satan’s presence never left him. The devil’s first attempt at getting Jesus to surrender his will to him was for Jesus to turn the stones that must have literally covered the ground, into bread to satisfy his physical need. In other words:  to get Jesus to use his divine powers to feed himself. But he didn’t do it.
I have always found this first temptation of Jesus interesting in light of the fact that Christ’s very first miracle at Cana was the turning of water into wine, not for his own benefit, but in order to meet the desires of others.
Temptations are often camouflaged as blessings which offer the unsuspecting an exit when there seems to be no way out. The most dangerous are in the guise of goodness when the person is down for the count. Such was that of the temptations of Jesus.
Such are the temptations we too encounter as we strive to live the new life to which we have been called in Christ Jesus. Being marked with the sign of the cross at the font of life following our baptism does not make us immune to temptation.
On the contrary, since we have promised to follow and obey Jesus as our Lord, we should expect them and prepare ourselves to counter them in the same manner as he did, by prayer, and in some cases fasting, and always by relying on the Word of God. In other words, with God’s help.
At the heart of temptation is the tiny word “if.” If you really are the Son of God, Satan said to Jesus. It was Satan’s attempt to place doubt into Christ’s mind as well as challenging him to subordinate his humanity by displaying his divinity. That’s what the tiny word “if” does to our human mind, it brings up the cloud of doubt that causes us to question who God really is and who we are in relation to Him.
We often play into Satan’s hands when we doubt and challenge God by our “if there really is a God,” which we are prone to say in times of anguish when we want what we want to be done for us and we want it right now. That “if” is the evil among us. No wonder Jesus taught us to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus endured three temptations in the wilderness. Thankfully he resisted all three on our behalf. The final two seem intertwined. One addresses political power and the human tendency to dominate and control other people; the other religious power, as it puts to the test the extent to which religion seeks control over God. If Jesus was vulnerable to all three how much more are we?
There is no escaping the wilderness. It guards every promise and surrounds all successes. The wilderness is teeming with temptation. It is the enemy’s domain. True Satan departed the wilderness after Jesus defeated him. But he would return to tempt Christ again at those low points in his earthly life - the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross.
How many times in the course of a single day are we tempted to doubt and challenge God? To use what earthly powers we possess in status and wealth to dominate and control other people? How often does the enemy tempt us with that tiny word “if”?  “If you are a Christian…” Do we really think that we can withstand the assault of the enemy without God’s help?
Our baptismal covenant begins with our renouncing Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God; followed by a renunciation of evil and all sinful desires that draw us from the Love of God. We cannot serve two masters. We have to renounce our dark side in order to follow the Lord and giver of Life.
But we are not perfect. God is not the only one who knows our weaknesses. The enemy knows them as well and tempts us at the low points in our lives and in our times of anguish and doubt. Thus our baptismal covenant acknowledges that we are vulnerable to sin and evil and calls us to repentance and a return to the Lord when we have fallen into the enemy’s hand and realize it. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Our fallen nature can only be cleansed by turning to the One “who was in every way tempted as we are, yet did not sin; by whose grace we are able to triumph over every evil, and to live no longer to ourselves, but unto him who died for us and rose again…” (The Proper Preface for Lent)-- Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer. AMEN+


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