First Sunday in Lent
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11;Psalm 91:1-2,9-16;Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
Today I will pull a thread through all four readings.
The first is Deuteronomy. Here we find the first creed of the Bible. When you approached the priest in the temple, you were to proclaim –
A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord have given me.
This creed concluded with the graciousness of God. The people responded with thanksgiving and with the first fruits of the harvest.
Second, Psalm. All the psalms are written as reflections, poems, and ponderings of the heart. Think of the shepherd boy David, minding the sheep in all kinds of weather and circumstances. Of course, he treasured “green pastures” and “still waters”. In Psalm 91 the author wrote that in difficult circumstances God would provide “refuge”, a “shelter”, with angels keeping you safe from “the young lion and the serpent”.
Third, Romans. St. Paul was a letter writer. Many of us have handwritten letters. Old-fashioned letters require some thought, some reflection, some well-chosen words, some pauses, and perhaps even some rewrites. In this letter to the Romans, St. Paul was writing to a community of faith he had not yet visited. In an introductory letter, he was more exacting than in his other letters. In today’s passage, he used the word “saved” three times. The last time was “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. In some traditions “to be saved” is a key theological point, repeated week after week. In the Episcopal tradition, not so much. Yet it is important to know the meaning of “to be saved”. We are saved through Jesus Christ from the distractions that would pull us away from God. To be saved is to focus our lives around Jesus as The Way, Jesus as The Truth, Jesus as The Life. St. Paul wrote to the Romans that nothing could separate them from God’s love, and encouraged them to live into that reality. He wrote, paused, pondered in his heart, and wrote some more.
Before I get to today’s Gospel reading, let’s remember Mary, the mother of Jesus. Remember how the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was “favored by God”, and that “God was with her”. St. Luke noted that she was “much perplexed by these words and pondered them in her heart”. “Pondered” is an interesting word. The Greek behind “pondered in her heart” could also be translated “wondered” or “tried to make sense of”. After Gabriel’s visit, Mary left home for three months, visiting her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Tradition has it that this visit was an extended time of soul searching, reflection, trying to figure out what was before her, of “pondering in her heart”.
Now our fourth reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke. Jesus spent forty days and forty nights following his baptism in the wilderness. The text stated that “he was tempted”. It seems to me that Jesus was doing the same thing as his mother, trying to figure out what the voice from heaven meant when he heard, “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased”. St. Luke noted that there were three temptations, and I suspect that there were many, many more. All temptations are distractions from the graciousness of God, from the gifts of God that we have received, and from our responding with thanksgiving.
Let me state that again. All temptations are attempts to distract us from the gracious love of God, and from our responding with thanksgiving.
This Lent, ponder anew in your heart, make sense of your life again, about how God would have you live your life.
At your baptism, you were “sealed by the Holy Spirit …and marked as Christ’s own forever”. What a precious gift! Rejoice and give thanks! Today you will receive into your hands “The Gifts of God for the People of God”, and “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven”. What a precious gift! Rejoice and give thanks!