March 6 Sermon

Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, March 6, 2022

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

The other day a good friend of mine said he had sworn off martinis, but still intended to go home and have one that evening. The world had done worn him down to a nubbin, he maintained. Now he needed a drink for purposes of relaxation.

I responded by asking this friend, if he gave up martinis, as part of a Lenten practice. Had he, in fact, succumbed to temptation? “No,” he responded.  “Eschewing martinis is not part of my Lenten discipline, so we are theologically safe. Among the things I have given up in penance for Lent is the compulsion to cut people up with chainsaws because they drive me crazy, run totally amok, are addicted to drama, pathologically paranoid, would dive over Niagara Falls to try to grab a falling dime, alienate business associates, and threaten to cost me in ways material and otherwise.” Obviously, humor permeated our discussion of Lenten observance.

Several observations might be offered about the modern Christian attitude toward Lent. First, many Christians know nothing about Lent and never observe the season at all. I remember another good friend of mine many years ago who worked in an office with a woman who attended Ash Wednesday services at a Roman Catholic church. When she arrived at work with a smudge of ashes on her forehead, he found a damp cloth and attempted to wipe it off. He thought she had forgotten to wash that morning. He had no idea about this symbol Lent and its meaning.

On the other hand, I have heard numerous conversations involving people discussing what they intended to give up for Lent. Some said they would give up candy, while others said beer or smoking was their choice. You probably have heard people say something similar.

It might be good for us to set the record straight on Lent, by reading again the Lenten exhortation. We read: “God created us to experience joy in communion with him, to love all humanity, and to live in harmony with all creation. But sin separates us from God, our neighbors and creation, so we do not enjoy the life our Creator intended for us. Also, by our sin we grieve our Father, who does not desire us to come to judgement, but to turn to him and live.”

“As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and neighbor. Repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love-the discipline of Lent-help us wage our spiritual warfare.” We are invited, therefore, to commit ourselves to this struggle and confess our sins, asking God our Father for strength to persevere in our Lenten discipline.

There you have it. That is what Lent is supposed to be about. This practice of Lent derives from our Gospel for this Sunday. We read Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was fasted for forty days. He was famished at the end of that time. Well, who comes along but the devil? He sees Jesus has been weakened by fasting and says to him. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus replies, “one does not love by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The devil, however, will not let things be and ups the ante, so to speak. He takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. Jesus replies that we ought not to put the Lord our God to the test.”

Finally, the devil stands with Jesus on a high mountain and shows him the kingdoms of the world and their wealth. He says: “All these I will give, if you will fall down and worship me. But Jesus says, “Away with you, Satan. For it is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve only him” The devil leaves, but the Gospel of Luke adds this comment, “He departed from him until an opportune time.” I always note that comment “until an opportune time.” The devil has no intentions of giving up easily or prematurely but waits for a more opportune time. He will be back, when his chance of succeeding is better.

Most people interpret the encounter between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness, as a story about temptation. Temptation, however, has acquired a different nuance today and lost its edge. For example, I did some research and found there is a temptation vacation resort, along with a temptation perfume, candy, movie, dress, jewelry and shoe collections. The word temptation has become almost synonymous with desirable and alluring. Temptation is not what we resist, but what attracts us. I am reminded of our first lesson.

The book of Genesis offers us a different way to think about this issue. Here we read about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God commands them not to eat of the tree of good and evil or they will die. Along comes the serpent who tells them they will not die if they eat of the forbidden fruit. Instead, he suggests the fruit to be delicious and good food. Plus, their eyes will be opened, and they will be like God knowing good and evil. The devil should have had a degree in marketing. He knew how to sell his product. Adam and Eve take the bait and bite. The rest is history, and it is not a happy ending.

The point to be made is that Adam and Eve had a choice to make. They could choose to listen to what God told them or they could follow the devil. Think, therefore, about the temptation of Jesus being about choices we make.

Recently, I heard a program that helps felons released from prison begin a new and more productive life. Prisons don’t do a very good job of helping felons change their lives. Often as many as 90% of criminals released from prison return to jail after committing crime again. They keep making the same bad choices. The program I listened to spoke about the need to provide an environment and mentors to help former convicts make the right choices. Punishment and the fear of punishment doesn’t make a bad person good. People must learn to understand the difference between good and bad and be sufficiently disciplined to make the right choices.

The intention of Lent is to help us understand we face choices that can enhance our life or be self-destructive. Remember the communion liturgy says God intends us to experience joy in communion with him, to love all humanity and live in harmony with creation. That is what we intend to accomplish as Christians, what Lent ought to lead us to do. Lent is a time to reinforce our self-discipline, when it comes to making the right decisions.  May you use this Lenten season to reflect on the choices you must make. May Christ empower you to make life enhancing decisions that reflect God’s good intentions for you. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your minds and heart in Christ Jesus.