Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

So today is actually a special day for me.  So special today is, in fact, that I didn’t even realise that today was today until late last night when I was looking over my finished sermon and deciding then that it is worth a rewrite.  It turns out that it was 11 years ago today that I had my first Sunday here at Grace Lutheran Church as your pastor.

I know, time flies, huh?  But what makes it even more exciting about today, not only was my first Sunday here March 1st, 2009, but it was also the First Sunday in Lent.  This is pretty rare as you may know, as Lent moves around with Easter in the calendar year, so for it to start on the same date as it did 11 years ago when I started here at Grace, well it isn’t exactly a common thing.

So I thought the best way commemorate this momentous occasion is to preach that very first sermon I preached here all those years ago, right?  Wouldn’t that be special?  Well, no.  I looked over that first sermon and it was pretty bad.  So I won’t put you through that again. 

However, somewhere in the middle of that sermon, I mentioned the fear of being a new pastor, the fear of not delivering a half decent sermon, the fear of not being good enough.  And I thought it was funny because 11 years ago that totally made sense.  I was this complete noob with very little idea on how to do this thing on my own without my professors and supervisors.  But somehow now, 11 years after I wrote that, it still resonates.  I still have that fear, that insecurity, that disbelief that I can be good enough to be your pastor.

I know, crazy talk.  I mean you haven’t fired me yet, so that should say something, right?  But it is something that I think about often over these past 4,018 days, not because I’m hoping you all would shower me with compliments after each and every Sunday, but because I’m human and I’m sometimes, actually often, tempted to trust sources other than God to give me a sense of value and worth.

And just reading today’s texts, it would appear that I’m not the only one.  Adam and Eve were tempted by the tree of knowledge, the allure of being as smart as God and knowing the difference between right and wrong was just so attractive to them.  And we see Jesus in the very famous temptation story where he battles the adversary during his time in the wilderness. 

We know both of these stories.  We’ve heard them time and again.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, we often dismiss them because they’re so familiar and really not all that relatable to us today.  I mean, on the surface these temptations are like jokes.  If God were to tell me very clearly and audibly, hey don’t eat from this tree right here, and then some snake who by very definition shouldn’t be trusted says to me, hey, go eat that fruit, I think I could probably very easily refuse.  And if I have adversarial voice telling me to turn a rock into bread?  I’m pretty sure I could pass on that.  Jump off a building?  Hard no.  Bow down to a demon looking thing?  Yeah I don’t think so.

These temptations are easy to overcome because they’re obvious.  If the talking snake doesn’t tip you off, probably doing things physically impossible for people like you and me would totally clench it.  We look at them and brush them off because there is no way no how that we’d ever fall for them. 

But the thing is, these temptation point to something more sinister and perhaps subtle.  They suggest something larger, something deeper, something easier for us to fall into.  If the serpent only said to Adam and Eve “eat the fruit” then they probably wouldn’t have, but the serpent said more than that.  The serpent had to coax, dangle an idea, really get into their heads that not only did they want to eat the fruit, but they needed to eat that fruit.  They would be incomplete without the fruit.  In not eating that forbidden fruit, they would just simply be not enough.

Jesus’ temptations were along the same lines.  The adversary keeps throwing in “if you’re the Son of God” like there ever could be a question like that.  I mean, Jesus probably wasn’t even thinking that but since this adversary planted the idea in his head, maybe he did start to wonder.  I know I would.  I know I do.  Questioning myself is like second nature to me.  So while I sit here and wonder if I can be a good enough pastor, I know for sure I wouldn’t be a good at all Jesus.

But you see what I mean, these temptations Jesus and Adam and Eve faced respectively are basically the same temptation.  And that is the temptation to doubt yourself in terms of your worth.  The temptation to believe the lies of the world that you aren’t good enough or can’t be good enough unless you buy the right thing, look the right way, appear to be the right age, work in the right field, or live in the right area.  The temptation to think that we are anything but beloved children of God, blessed and forgiven, welcomed and included, lifted up and redeemed.

And don’t we fall for those lies and question our own identity like all the time?  Don’t we question the identity of Jesus when we live the way we do, gaining power and knowledge not to better ourselves but just to better fit in?  Don’t we sometimes act as our own worst adversary, bullying ourselves to do things, say things, and think things that we know we probably shouldn’t?

These past 11 years I’ve often questioned myself as a pastor, but not just that.  I’ve questioned myself as a father and as a husband.  I’ve questioned myself as just a decent human being whenever I had half the chance. 

But in all that questioning and doubt, I am constantly reminded, by God’s grace, like maybe every 7 days or so, that even if I am a bad pastor, a bad father and husband, or a bad person, I am still loved by God and given value and worth beyond my own comprehension.  I am still declared a child of God and welcomed as a citizen of God’s kingdom.  I am still forgiven by God, not because I was able to earn it in some way, but because God loves me, and all of you, just that much.  This is why we meet as a congregation, this is why we have these services every week, this is why we worship: to be reminded of this again and again because you and I know we can forget so often.

We are in the season of Lent, a season in which we quietly contemplate ourselves, confess our weaknesses and shortcomings, and repent from all the things that might keep us from seeing God active in our lives.  And I find it so appropriate that this season of mostly contemplation and questioning is sandwiched between two seasons that remind us so much of who we are and whose we are. 

If you remember we just finished the season after the Epiphany, one that started with Jesus’ baptism at which he was declared God’s beloved child with whom God is well pleased, and it ended last week with the Transfiguration at which Jesus is declared God’s beloved child with whom God is well pleased.  And at the end of Lent we get Easter, a season when we see what God does just to show us how much we are loved and how pleased God truly is with us. 

So while we go through this season of Lent, may we remember the season that led us here and the season that will take us out.  May we remember that our identity, just as Jesus’ was, has also been declared by God as God’s children, the beloved.  May we remember just as we saw at the Transfiguration, that we too have been made beautiful and worthy, with whom God is well pleased.  May we remember that the time of resurrection is coming, a time that solidifies that identity in us, marking it with the cross and lifting us up out of shame and guilt and forgiving us back into community.

This identity as God’s beloved children with whom God is well pleased will not, shall not, and cannot ever change.

This Lent, let us find the strength to stand up to the lies that the world tells us, and lean on God’s most unwavering love and promises.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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