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February 25, 2007 (First Sunday in Lent)
Intern Pastor Derek Fossey
Webmaster’s Note: Derek Fossey currently serves as intern pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Kailua. With the sudden resignation of their pastor last fall, Steve Jensen, LCH’s Interim pastor, became his supervising pastor.
Grace to you and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ and your brothers and sisters at St. John Lutheran Church.
I would like to thank all of you and Pastor Steve for giving me the opportunity to preach here this morning. For those of you who don’t know, I am currently the intern pastor over at St. John over in Kailua. I’m originally from Minnesota, then went to school at Pepperdine University in California, back to Minnesota for seminary, out here for internship,and then in August I must go back to Minnesota to finish up at Luther Seminary. It reminds me of when I was a child in the winter and I would run from the hot tub into the snow and back and forth. I do know your last intern Josh, and he sends his love. I was told when I arrived in Hawaii that Josh left some pretty big shoes to fill, but as long as I don’t total my car in the first week I will be fine.
And I would like to thank you for allowing Pastor Steve to take over as my supervisor this year. I know that you keep him busy, but he has been a true blessing in my life by sacrificing what little time he does have to help me from getting bogged down by the weight of ministry.
One way that Pastor Steve has helped me during this year, even before my last supervisor resigned, is by connecting me with several Navy Chaplains. Naval Chaplaincy is an area of ministry I am currently discerning in my life, and this last weekend I was given the opportunity to board the USS Port Royal, a guided missal cruiser, and shadow Chaplain Mark Tanis, a Lutheran Chaplain on the Port Royal’s crew. It was an incredible experience, even though the furthest we got was across the bay to refuel. After that, problems occurred so we were unable to get underway. But I am thankful for that since it freed some time for the crew members to talk with their Chaplain. The Chaplaincy is great because you get such a mix of backgrounds, theology, and characters.
I was able to talk with Chaplain Tanis to one young evangelical Christian who loved to share his faith. He began to tell me about how his life used to be full of drunken debauchery, fights, and horrible things. He could not hold a steady position, he was always getting into trouble, and nothing in life would turn out. He was in a low valley in his life, surrounded by darkness. Then he found Jesus. All of a sudden, his life turned around. Everything became easy. He found a job, found a wife, found a new life. He then said something that took me by surprise. “I was saved on January 29, 2003. I let Jesus into my heart and since then, everything has been great.” He then looked at me and asked, “When were you saved?” I don’t think that I have ever been asked that question. I looked at him and replied, “Well, I guess I was saved that day Christ died on the cross.” He looked at me kind of funny and then asked, “Well, hasn’t there been a point in your life you were lost? Can’t you remember a time that you found Jesus and He changed everything?” All I could say was, “Yeah. That happens every day.”
We come together here to celebrate the first Sunday in Lent. But can we really call it celebrating? I mean, man, what a bummer of a season, huh? Forty days of remembering the darkness in life. It is a time of repentance, penitence, fasting, and prayer. We kick this season off with a service in which ashes are put on our foreheads, and where we are reminded that “From dust we were created, and to dust we shall return.” Who wants to hear that? And now we hear about the devil tempting our God? How can the devil tempt God? This is a story about weakness, not strength. To think that our God could ever be hungry, ever be fed up with people, ever be temptedÉ. Well, that would make HimÉthat would make HimÉjust like us, right? Who wants a God just like me? I’m the first to admit, my life is no pleasure cruise. Things are tough. Things don’t go the way I always want them to. I like hearing about the Virgin Birth and the angels from heaven. I like stories of Transfiguration and God speaking in a cloud. I like hearing about my God performing miracles, curing the sick, walking on water, especially changing water into wine. Why can’t we just skip to the most remarkable story of Christ’s Resurrection? Now that’s a God!
But here in Lent we don’t find those stories. We hear stories of temptation. We hear stories of valleys and darkness. We hear stories of a man of flesh and bone, a man who is nailed to a cross and killed.
Too often in life do we think that once we find Jesus, nothing bad can happen to us. I picked up a copy of Letters to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris in Barnes and Noble. Sam Harris is an atheist who believes that religion is bad for America. In the section that I read, he used a story that said somewhere a young girl is going to bed, and her family and she believe that God is protecting them from all harm. That same girl is going to get abducted tonight, taken from her window. All their faith did was disillusion them to the dangers that are out there. NO! In life there are bad things that happen, evil that occurs, and Scripture repeats this over and over again.
Let us look at our text this morning. It begins, “Jesus full of the Holy Spirit....” Here Jesus has been baptized and is full of the Holy Spirit. But life immediately after Jesus’ baptism or being filled with the Spirit was not so pleasant and wonderful. It was a difficult time of battling the temptations of Satan. Is that also the way for us?
In this story of Christ wandering through the wilderness and being tempted by Satan, we find Jesus connecting with us in a most profound way. Temptation is a universal human experience. Had Jesus not been tempted, he would not really have been human. The wonder is not that Jesus was incapable of sinning but that he was able to avoid sinning although he was tempted. How many here know what it is like to be tempted. I’m sure all of us do.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that I was the only one!’” There are people in our lives that we connect to because we have had similar experiences. Look at anyone in the military. They form lasting bonds with those around them because they know what it is like to be in their shoes. Look at anyone who has been on a team together. They have shared the wins and the losses. Look at those struggling with addictions. They go to group meetings such as AA because it is much easier to seek help with someone rather than on our own. Christ knows what we are going through. He knows the temptation and the struggle it takes to work through those temptations. He understands what it means to be who you are.
How many of you parents have ever heard from your teenager, or how many of you have maybe ever said to your parent, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me,” when in actuality you remember what it’s like to be a teenage as if it were yesterday. You remember the hard times, the struggles, the temptations.
Satan wants you to think that your temptations are unique. He wants you to think that you are alone, that God is nothing but a being, judging you for your sins, having no idea what it is like to be in your situation. But He does. He does through Christ. Just like you parents know some of the hardships your children may be going through, God knows our struggle. Some parents may never admit to knowing the struggles. They might say, “I was a perfect child.”
The reason they try to hide their faults is the same reason we all try to hide our faults. It is pride. We want others to think we have everything under control. But we must humble ourselves, just as God humbled Himself completely in Jesus Christ. Do not let pride prevent you from turning to help—help from friends in your life, but most importantly, help from a God who knows your pain, who knows your trials, who knows your temptations.
Christ knows what temptation is like, and probably more so than any of us. Not just from His time in the wilderness, but from His time on the cross when the people were chanting, “If you really are the Son of God why don’t you call your angels to be bring you down from there?”
But as we read this story, the problem for people today is that it seems unreal, far removed from our experience. The devil does not appear to us and transport us from place to place. The temptations we experience are often not so clearly recognizable. The choice is not between good and bad but between bad and worse or good and better.
We deal in “gray areas” and do not have the choice of rejecting that which is in-between. We feel as if there are no guiding words of Scripture for the difficult questions in life. Perhaps during a hard time in your life you may have taken the Bible and let the pages fall open, thinking that it will fall open to an inspiring message that addresses your issue perfectly. I know I have, and more often than not, I get a page in Leviticus telling me dietary laws.
Or maybe you have prayed a prayer in which you said to God, I’ll believe in you if you do this. This is exactly what Satan wants us to do. Satan wants us to turn the promises of God around to try and manipulate God. Rather than living by the Word of God, we seek to have God act according to our words.
So how do we know the Lord is among us? How do we know that He understands what we are going through? By believing God’s Word that God promises to be with us.
Although the temptation story does not offer ethical instructions that cover every eventuality, it does describe the perennial ethical challenges that Christians face: the temptations to forget one’s baptismal identity, to attempt to use one’s religion for personal gain, to try to be successful rather than faithful, to be dazzled by the riches of the world, to make compromises where one is called to stand firm, and to avoid the path of sacrifice and suffering. These are the temptations that Christ overcame, and they are the same temptations that we face.
You may notice that the devil’s temptations were not anything evil. The devil—or Greek diabolos which means slanderer, or in the Hebrew Satan, which literally means adversary or one with the will to undo—does not entice Christ to do what is evil. What’s wrong with turning stones into bread? Christ later turns a couple of fish and five loaves of bread into a feast. What’s wrong with the King of kings controlling the world? That is what will happen when He comes again. What’s wrong from being caught by angels? He walks on water doesn’t He? The point is that they are not from God. In life we, too, face situations in which me might not be torn between whether they are good or evil, but whether or not they are God’s Word for us. Are we doing something with Christ in mind, or simply ourselves?
Lent is full of times of silence. Those silent times are not only for us to talk to God, but for also for us to listen. We are to listen to God’s Word to us. Even Christ when tempted by the devil would quote Scripture. Christ knew God’s Word for Him and for all, and He promises over and over again that He is with us, even in those times in our lives where we would swear He is not; those times of temptation and sin. Those times we find ourselves in darkness. Christ is right there beside us, wandering through the wilderness that our lives often seem to have become.
I feel badly for those who can tell me the date that they “found” Jesus, because before that they must have felt utterly and completely alone. They must have felt as if they were wandering aimlessly throughout life blind. What I have to wonder is this: Where do they see God in their times of temptation and struggle now? When things are going poorly in life, when things are not going in a way they would like them to go, where is God? Is it that He has abandoned them again?
This Scripture tells us no. This story of Christ wandering through the desolate valleys and facing the devil toe to toe tells us that He is with us. He knows what life can be like. The devil makes the claim that to him all the glory and authority of the earth have been given. And although the devil is a master at lies, there are times we feel as if this is true. Life can distract us with a lot of noise.
Over and over again the culture wants us to listen to them, not to God. Lent is a time for us to listen. Listen to God’s Word for you. Not just in times when things are going the way you would like them to go, but also in times when things are not going that way.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we come to the sixth petition and say, “And lead us not into temptation.” If we remember our Small Catechism, we remember that God tempts no one to sin, but we ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted, we may still win the final victory. We are assured of that final victory because Christ has already fought it for you and for me.
Copyright © 2007 Derek Fossey
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