Worship Service for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 1st Sunday in Lent, landing on February 26, 2023! There is snow in the forecast so I would imagine this page would have a lot more views than on a Sunday without snow in the forecast. I do hope that you all stay safe and warm, as from the sounds of it, this is going to be a big one.

The bulletin for this service can be found here. With the changing of the season, we are moving into a new setting for worship. We’ll be using Setting 3 out of the ELW for Lent as we normally do. We will also be singing a new hymn out of the ACS book, but the tune is very familiar so the music won’t be in the bulletin. So that means the bulletin will just have the order of worship, the words and responses of the liturgy, just the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW and ACS, and the sermon. And as always, all the words that you need to know (even the ones not in the bulletin) will be on your screen, and the sermon is on this page after the worship video.

To enhance your worship experience at home, you are invited to light a candle in your space to signify our connection to God and each other through the Spirit, and then extinguish the candle after the sending hymn along with the candles on the altar as you’ll see in the video, to represent our worship and prayers going up to God. And if you wish to participate in communion, you may do so by having something small to eat and drink prepared for the appropriate time in the service, and further instruction will be given then.

May God’s grace and love shine into your very core, that it might be reflected out onto all people through your actions and relationships, now and always!

O Lord, may your Word be our daily bread, leading us by your Spirit along your ways of truth, life, and love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

There is this somewhat popular mobile game that my kids have been playing on and off for years.  Maybe you’ve heard of it, come across it, or even played it or one of its knock off imitations.  It’s called “Akinator” and all it does is guess whatever character, object, or animal that you’re thinking about by asking you a series of yes or no questions.  It claims to be able to read your mind, when really it’s just a pretty good algorithm that narrows down your character through it’s questioning.  But I’ll have to admit, it’s pretty darn accurate. 

We’ve tried to stump it with really random and obscure people, lesser known characters from different shows and movies, specific and less popular Youtubers, and it even guessed the king of spades from a deck of cards.  Sometimes it takes like a hundred questions before the algorithm succeeds, and we do succeed in stumping it maybe once every 30 times we play, but the funniest experience had to be this last week when we were playing it.

I wanted to see how quickly it could guess something, so I decided that I will just answer “yes” to every question it asks regardless of what its asking.  After I think it was around 10 questions, it guessed “Ashley WSFD.”  We laughed at the result but we had no idea who Ashley WSFD was.  So we did what any sane human being would do, we asked Alexa who she is.  Alexa, of course, being Amazon’s smart home/virtual assistant AI/vocal search engine when we’re too lazy to pick up our phones.  And the answer Alexa gave us was, “a weird girl who pops up on Akinator when you press only yes.”

These developers think of everything.

So I’m pretty amazed at how it knows how to ask the right questions, narrow down the answers, and ascertain who it is that we’re thinking about.  It’s pretty cool how its database of answers just keeps growing with everyone who uses it and it just improves its accuracy.  And even if it doesn’t get specific names for people who don’t have their own Wikipedia page, but it will have answers like, your dad, your younger sister, or even your pastor (if you answer honestly enough).

But that begs the question, are we that predictable as to who we are, that pretty much anyone can be named through the means of creative coding, AI algorithms, 1s and 0s, and a series yes’s and no’s?  Are our traits, attributes, and histories enough to determine who we actually are?  Can we be defined by what we do, what we’ve done, and what we’re known for?  Is our identity really that easily identifiable?

While we might want to say no, I think the world tells us different.  While we might want to have a degree of unpredictability and perhaps spontaneity to our lives, the world would rather keep us in a nice neat box of statistics and demographics.  While we might want to have more than one facet to who we are, the world seems to want to pigeon hole us into labels, categories, and very narrowminded classes in order that we might be organized, controlled, and maybe even manipulated to be exactly what the powers that be preordained as the correct order of things.

I know, this might sound kind of conspiracy theory like, but that’s not the point.  The point is that no matter what the reasons might be, whether they be innocent or more malicious, whether they are intentional or just happen to be that way, whether it is natural or forced somehow, it still seems that we are all put into some kind of predetermined division or league where and only where we can enjoy the rights and privileges of said division or league.  We are all subject to these labels and prejudices that fit us into what the world decides what those labels and prejudices mean and look like.  We are all given these identities and are told to play our part in them lest we go against the flow, upset the boat, and throw the whole system in for a loop.  And sadly to say, it seems like we, more often than not, give in to these demands and maintain that status quo.

And that is what the readings today tell us that the adversary wants, regardless of what our preconceived notions of what the devil is about might be.  But the devil as described in these passages doesn’t just want us to be bad and do bad things, but rather to maintain the status quo, to follow along with the systems of the world, to fall into line be only what the world expects us to be according to the label that we’ve been categorized in. 

“If you are the Son of God…” we’re told the tempter would start with Jesus.  I mean, I guess in those days anyone who’s anyone would know what the Son of God would be like, right?  Don’t need some fancy AI like Akinator to tell you that.  The Son of God is a wise, influential, powerful, reigning miracle worker, right?  Why else would he incite so much joy in downcast, so much peace in the troubled, so much hope in the hopeless?  For the good of all, Jesus, show the world what you can do and put an end to the tyranny, the oppression, and while you’re at it, maybe do something about this snow?

I mean, you can do that, Jesus, that is… if you’re the Son of God.  See the temptation isn’t just on Jesus here to prove to everyone who he is, but it’s also on us to want him to do it.  We’re like, c’mon Jesus, fix the weather, let me win the lottery, help me find a parking spot.  Or maybe even more real, we might expect Jesus to end hunger, stop war, and maybe heal our loved ones.

C’mon Jesus, do what you said you’ll do, be what we want you to be, fit into the box that we’ve created for you so we can predict what will come next for us and how we can better fit in our role here in this system of predictable status quo and elite oppression.

This is the temptation that the world faces when trying to organise itself by drawing lines and creating for itself a system of power and prestige and importance apart from the ways of God’s righteousness.

This is the temptation that we face day after day as people in this world trying to figure out who we are as defined by what we know and believe. 

This is the temptation that Jesus faced right after his baptism when he was declared God’s beloved Son.

The good news is that Jesus remembered who he is and was able to rise above the temptations and live in the ways of God’s righteousness.

And while we might think that the point of these stories is to give us an example to follow, especially throughout this season of Lent, I actually think it’s something else.  I think the point of these stories isn’t to teach us how to resist temptation, how to quote scripture at the appropriate times, or even how to recognise temptation in our lives.  Rather, I think the point is to remind us that being a child of God doesn’t protect us from the world.  It isn’t some magical force field that blocks all harm from us.  It isn’t some kind of pass that allows us to walk through the world unscathed.

Instead, it is to tell us that we are, as Jesus is, identified as a child of God.  That doesn’t mean that we are perfect and fit into a box of telling us what a “good Christian” should look like, or that we must follow a set of rules in order to keep our “Jesus cards”, or that we need to maintain some good order and status quo.  Rather, being a beloved child of God mean that we are imperfect but redeemed, we are sinners but determined to be saints, we are who we are and God loves us for it anyway.  The identity isn’t something we aspire to or try earn, but it was is graciously given to us through the mercy of cross, unable to be changed or redefined by anything the world might throw at it.

See, Jesus was declared God’s Son with whom God is well pleased, and he faced these temptations.  We too, are declared as beloved children of God, and we will face these temptations.  But facing them doesn’t change who we are.  Falling for them doesn’t change whose we are.  Not even our failure to recognise these temptations in our lives doesn’t change our identity as God’s people in this world.

So in this season of Lent and beyond, may we be constantly reminded of our unchanging identity in God’s love, that our temptations to believe that we can be redefined by the world are replaced with confident righteousness and service to God and all those around us, by the power of the life and teaching of Jesus our Lord.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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