Sunday, February 18, 2018

Father Riley's sermon for February 18, 2018

LENT I - B - 18                  MARK 1. 9-15

Last week’s gospel ended the Epiphany season with St. Mark’s account of the Transfiguration, an event in the life of Jesus that occurred on the holy mountain as he prepared to enter Jerusalem for the last time. Peter, James and John were privy to the event and heard the voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s beloved and with the admonition, listen to him. The events of Holy Week would soon follow. The cross loomed in the distance.

Today’s gospel, on the first Sunday of Lent, turns back the hands of the clock to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. He is anointed by the Holy Spirit and confirmed in his mission by a voice from heaven that only Jesus hears, “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.”

And with that, he is immediately driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he spends forty days preparing for the road that lay ahead - including the cross. Without going into detail, Mark simply tells us that Jesus was tempted by Satan while he was preparing for his mission. However, he was not alone. The wild beasts were there, and the angels ministered to him.

If we want the details of Jesus’ temptations, we have to go to Matthew and Luke’s accounts. They all boil down to allegiance, devotion, and loyalty. Jesus won that round, but the battle was not over. Satan would return to Jesus at a later date to try again to derail his mission by tempting Jesus to use his divine powers to escape his human situation.

What Satan attempted to do was to get Jesus to rely on his divine powers to overcome his physical and spiritual struggles, first in the wilderness, and later as he neared the completion of his mission. The opportune time would come in the garden at Gethsemane as Christ prayed that the cup might pass him by and most notably on the cross when Satan challenged Jesus to prove his true identity by coming down from the cross.

However, Jesus refused. Instead, he stood with us. His humanity was able to overcome and dispel the enemy. How did he do it? If we look closely at Matthew and Luke’s accounts, we see that Jesus used scripture to defeat Satan’s temptations. Being grounded in the word of God is our strongest tool to fight the enemy. However, there was more, much more.

Mark’s account tells us that the holy angels were there, not to prevent Jesus from being tempted, but to remind him of the Father’s love. Jesus relied on God the Father to Love him through it. The Father had said at his baptism that he was His beloved. Thus, Jesus went into the wilderness knowing that the Father loved him.

The love of God gives life. Jesus proved it in the desert and by doing so set the example for all of us to follow. If we are grounded in the knowledge of the Word of God and know that we are loved by God for all eternity we have what we need to pass through this present wilderness, even though we are surrounded by wild beasts of all kinds, and tempted by Satan in all manner of ways.

In our Epistle for today St. Paul reminds us that we have been saved through the waters of Holy Baptism just as Noah and his family was saved through the waters of the great flood. However, our salvation comes not from being washed clean, but through our faith and belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

Have you ever thought about the fact that Satan did not want Jesus to be crucified? He wanted Jesus to come down from the cross and give his allegiance to him. It was Satan speaking though the mouths of the chief priests, scribes and elders who mocked him on Calvary.

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God let God deliver him now…” And it was Satan who spoke through the mouth of the one thief hanging next to him who reviled him in the same way.

For Satan knew that if Christ died, he would rise again. His victory over sin and death would be complete and His kingdom would come, and that of Satan’s would end. As we strive to live the new life to which we have been called in Christ Jesus, know that the enemy will work harder at trying to tempt us in the wrong direction.

Baptism marks us as belonging to Christ forever. However, it does not make us immune to temptation and sin. Having been buried with Christ and raised to life in him through the waters of holy baptism only serves to make us a greater target for the enemy. Satan’s desire is to cause us to doubt our true identity and to whom we ultimately belong thus shaking our allegiance, our loyalty and our devotion to God.

Thus in the invitation to the observance to a holy Lent on Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our continual need of repentance. Today’s collect serves to strengthen that reminder. We are in need of God’s help as we are continually being assaulted by manifold temptations. The enemy knows very well where we are the weakest and that is where he will always strike.

C.S. Lewis, the great Anglican lay-theologian, put it in terms we can all understand in his classic “The Screwtape Letters” It is an engaging account of temptation and triumph over it. The subject of the book is a newly minted Christian. In his book, via a series of letters, he describes how Satan uses various methods to undermined faith and promote sin.

Temptation covers all areas and experiences of life such as pain, sorrow, disappointment, solicitation to sin, and conflict of duties, pride and prejudice and let us not forget the sin of self-righteousness. Incitement to evil may come from without, but the real struggle always takes place within.

To continue the journey to God unimpeded and undeterred we need not rely on our own strength and resources, but on God’s holy Word written and living coupled with the knowledge that we are not alone. God is with us. His holy angels watch over us. In addition, God has given us the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love.

These gifts of grace will strengthen us as we struggle to make our way to God through this present wilderness. Our proper response to God’s gifts of grace is to give Him our total allegiance, our unquestioned loyalty, and above all, our undying devotion and then let God Love us through it to the Glory of His name. AMEN+

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