Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lent 1 2008

These are the notes from the sermon preached Lent 1a.

The Great Litany, the long prayer we prayed/will pray at the beginning of the 10 am service, is one of the most ancient prayers we have in our church. It dates from 1544, which means it is about five years older than the first English Book of Common Prayer. It is regal in its language, and all encompassing in its content. I would challenge you to find a condition of life, or need the great Litany doesn’t address, or a means of sin the Great Litany doesn’t reference. That is certainly the point of the Church’s ancient tradition of doing the Litany on the first Sunday of Lent.

We are meant to be put in mind of our need for repentance and our need for God’s aid.

Our need for repentance and help is more ancient, than our expressions of that need. The scriptures assigned to this day speak to this reality. We begin Lent looking back to tale of our first disobedience in the Genesis account of the Fall of Creation. St. Paul reminds us of the implications of the Fall, and the pervasiveness of sin. Matthew points to Jesus, who faces the temptation to sin. Most of us would prefer to avoid the topic of sin, but this season of Lent will not accommodate our desire for avoidance.

One cannot grasp the heart of the Christian message of redemption and salvation, until the problem is recognized. Historically, we have displayed an enormous capacity for self-deception. We have become overly-optimisitc about our nature, technology and progress. WWI was also known as the war to end all wars. It was followed by incredible economic and technological expansion. A kind of, we can accomplish anything attitude, prevailed. Then comes the stock market crash and the Depression, followed by WWII and the Holocaust. We were forced to admit that the world was not so different than before, and neither were we. We want to believe that we can save ourselves, and we fall prey to that desire, time and time again.

In the Gospel, Jesus is dealing with this head on. The temptations offered him are from Israel’s history. When you hear 40 days, you are supposed to be reminded of the forty years Israel spent wandering the desert, after the Exodus. That time was a major disappointment for God. Israel is finally free, and 15 minutes later the whining starts. They want bread and are given it by God, yet their craving continues. Moses spends his forty days on top of Sinai, only to return and find the people worshipping a golden calf. It went on and on.

Jesus’ forty days is different, because he is different. Facing temptation he reverses the historical failure of Israel. Jesus does it, not by quoting the law, but by being the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is the obedient child that God has always wanted.

Jesus resists temptation in the simplest of ways possible. He refuses to exercise the power he possess as a quick means of satisfaction. He places his trust in God.

Isn’t this one of the pieces that makes Jesus so different. He doesn’t fall prey to the quick fix, and the temptation to box the air. Jesus recognizes what is his and entrusts what is not to God.

We will never be free from sin in this life, but Jesus takes first step on our behalf toward freedom. He shows us a better way to be in the world. The good news is that God can be trusted, even when we cannot.


Country Parson said...

The Social Gospel movement and its cognates were pretty much destroyed by the events of the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps that is one of the forces behind the popularity of a certain brand of conservative evangelical and fundamentalist denominations who profess that, except for the bare minimum, society should not, because it cannot, improve itself. I wonder if there might be a more gospel driven balance that would lead toward a little more of the "Already but Not Yet" becoming already? Where do our doctrines of sin and repentance fit into such a possibility? Could it be explained in 15 minutes of sermon? What do you think?

Chris+ said...
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Chris+ said...


I am with you. I think already/not yet, sin/redemption/justification are inextricable. It can certainly be done in a single sermon of manageable length. 

The question is, for me, is that the core point of the text? On the one hand, the biblical text is always directed to us. But on the other, is it always about us? I felt that the readings set up contrast between the failure of humans and the triumph of the Christ. I chose to stick with the contrast and emphasize the Gospel there. 

This time, I wasn't struck by an explicit action step, like I often am. I suppose my implicit point is that God can be trusted, trust God. I considered an aside about our difficulty to trust, coming from our human experience of having our trust trampled. We are not good at trust, because our trust is so often violated.

My preaching prejudice is to do one thing. So, I am always coming to the text looking for what seems to be the main point. My other prejudice is going to the Gospel first and using that as the lens for the rest of the readings. There are scholarly problems with that approach, I know, but I am just a preacher.

Thx for the thoughts. Are you still on the beach?


Country Parson said...

I'd like to read more of your thinking. And, yes, we are still on Maui. Back in our valley on the edge of the Blue Mountains about March 1.