A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

“You’re So Vain…” Sermon on Matthew 4: 1-11 Lent 1A March 2, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 1, 2020.  The texts were:

Psalm 32
Romans 5: 12-19
Matthew 4: 1-11


Children’s sermon We heard a story today that makes us ask a lot of questions. Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit to the desert where the devil tempts him to do things that Jesus knows aren’t a good plan. Even though Jesus was tired and hungry, Jesus doesn’t do them. And then at the end, it says that angels came and cared for him. Now, it’s easy to focus on the devil and doing things that we shouldn’t, particularly in Lent, when you might have heard some adults talking about giving things up that are bad habits. But I think we miss in this story the last line of the angels coming and caring for Jesus. In the Bible, another name for angels are messengers, and really, it’s a better way to describe angels. What does a messenger do?  What do you think a messenger for God says? Yes, messengers for God will tell you how much God loves you! Do you think that there are messengers from God around you at school? At the playground? At soccer or wherever you might be? YES! God’s messengers are everywhere! Can YOU be a messenger for God? YES! You can! In your SS class you painted these rocks and now I want you to write words or messages about God’s love for people. You can place these rocks in your neighborhood for people to find and know that God loves them. The adults will do this in a couple of weeks as part of our Lenten worship, so I thought you all could show them how that works.  When we remember these messages of God’s love in our lives, it helps us to live together in love, serving and caring for each other which is what God wants. Let’s pray:

This text had me humming Carly Simon’s song “you’re so vain” all week. “You’re so vain…you probably think this Lent is about you.” It’s so easy to take a story like the one today in Matthew and immediately see myself in it. Oh that tempter, always trying to get me to do things that I don’t want to do or shouldn’t do. I just need to be strong like Jesus! And I need to know bible verses to quote to have the perfect comeback to the devil to prove how pious I am and how much I love Jesus. I need to resist all my bad habits like chips and salsa, or buying books (I might have a theology book problem), or not making my bed. I can take this text and make it all about me in about 3.2 seconds flat. I can make this about how disciplined I can be, how I can follow all the rules and then I will be a better person and never tempted like Jesus. And that can make ME feel pretty good…until I succumb to whatever temptation I have been trying to resist or I fall for the ego trip. When I make this text all about ME, how I can resist the tempter even when I’m at my lowest, how I can deny my human tendencies, it can leave me feeling inadequate, deflated and hopeless. I can’t pass up chips and salsa, even when I’m not hungry.

The good news is that this text isn’t about me, and yet it is most definitely for me, and it is for you and us all. This scene takes place immediately after Jesus is baptized, Jesus is claimed by God as God’s own son and beloved. Jesus is then led to the desert by the Holy Spirit, a place where there is no where to hide, no resources, there is sheer silence and no one around. Until the devil comes. We don’t talk much about the devil, much like hell, and there is much about the evil one that has been conjured up over time. Mostly, that the devil, Satan, the tempter, the accuser, the liar, is sinister or terrifying, is trying to harm us or worse, and is lurking in shadowy places. But here, the devil is in broad daylight. And no where does it say that the devil is frightening to look at or speaks with an other-worldly voice. Jesus doesn’t seem afraid at all. Mostly annoyed. The tempter doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything for him or her (we don’t know) per se, but the devil asks Jesus to do things for himself. There are no weird rituals, or pentagrams or sacrifices, just the devil trying to get Jesus to worry only about Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t fall for it, not for any of it. The devil even quotes scripture to Jesus, trying to twist the faith to justify the view that God is ok with Jesus being self-focused. It’s biblical, right?! Jesus also quotes scripture, not to get into an argument or a tit for tat conversation, but to point to God’s promise and presence not only for himself but for others. Jesus takes all of these temptations or tests, that happen to parallel the experiences of the ancient Israelites in the desert, and lays them bare, by revealing that all comes from God, all is God’s and all belong to God. Jesus’ encounter with the devil is not about how we should resist temptations, it’s not about resisting chocolate, or watching too much tv, or not exercising enough, or not shopping, or whatever. Jesus’ encounter with the devil shows us that the devil is a reality in life, the devil isn’t easily recognizable, the tempter won’t look or sound scary or like a bad horror movie. The devil will look and sound like our egos, our will, our voices in our heads that justify worrying only about ourselves and caring for ourselves first. Jesus’ encounter with the devil, reveals all the ways that we forget that God is God and we are not. Jesus trusts in the promises of his baptism, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and knows that God can’t be manipulated, God isn’t a cosmic slot machine where you can put in your requests and get out the answer you want. There are real consequences for our actions, particularly when are actions aren’t Spirit led. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert, to the real world, not to force rocks to be bread, or to jump off a building, or to worship another, but to encounter the real promises of God. The Spirit only leads to actions, God’s actions, that are life-giving and are life-giving for the care, provision and sustenance of all people and creation, not just for some or one. The Spirit led Jesus to the desert to be tempted, not because Jesus had to pass some sort of test, but because reality is that as baptized people the Holy Spirit will lead us out into the real world, we don’t stay holed up in a bubble. And out in the real world, the devil exists but so do God’s promises.

That is where it is good news that this story isn’t about me or us but is all about Jesus for us. Jesus doesn’t use God’s power for himself and for his own wants, Jesus only uses God’s power for others: to heal, feed, care, and love those whom no one else does. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the real world where it is hard and then angels, God’s messengers, cared for him. The good news is that this is true for us as well. The Holy Spirit leads us, is always out ahead of us pulling us to places that we might not want to go and encountering experiences that will be difficult for us to keep our focus on what matters. But God will also send messengers, angels, to encourage us, bolster us and reorient us to God’s vision and mission when we need it.

This story may not be about you, but God is all about you. God sends Jesus to reveal who God is, how much God loves us and wants to be with us and how God places us community, with one another for these promises of love, grace and mercy to abound. You are led this Lent by the calling of the Holy Spirit, to see Jesus’ love and power for you and to hear the messages of God’s promises for you again and again. Amen.


This Day! Luke 2:1-20 Christmas Eve 2015 Year C December 26, 2015

“In those days.” We hear those words and it conjures up the beginning of a story from the past. Many of our personal and family stories could begin that way. In those days, grandma and grandpa were still here and grandma always made us special cookies. In those days, we were so poor that we got fruit one year in our stockings. In those days, we had energy and could go to a Christmas party a night and not tire. In those days, we didn’t worry about aging, global warming, terrorism, church decline or any of the other modern chaos. In those days, we didn’t have the medical technology that would have kept grandma healthier longer. In those days, we didn’t have nearly all of the luxuries that we do today. In those days, the economy was bad, or in those days the economy was good. In those days, we had less fear. In those days we had less anxiety. In those days, those were the days.

We can get stuck in the past. We can hang on to the nostalgia of what used to be and compare it to how it is this day. This day never seems quite as shiny or satisfying as “in those days.” It seems that this day has only has fear, uncertainty and anxiety. In those days, we knew what was what. We could count on social security, family, health, or wherever we found our certainty. In those days.

Our story of the birth of Jesus begins with the words, “in those days” and we can let those words lead us to believe that this story is about what happened a long time ago and life was different, life was simpler, life was predictable. In those days, when that decree went out from Emperor Augustus and we had to go to Bethlehem even though I was 9 months pregnant? Remember how we traveled? Remember those days? It’s easy to romanticize this story of Jesus’ birth in a particular place and time and it’s easy to chalk it up to something that happened two thousand years ago but doesn’t have any relevance for us today. It’s nice story for us to hear about a new baby, young parents and peaceful, silent night. It is a story about an event that happened “in those days,” but it also so much more.

The story that opens with “in those days,” quickly moves to what is happening on “this day.” On “this day” the angel said, a savior is born. The long awaited messiah has arrived. This is the day! Whatever happened “in those days” is now transformed because of this day! This day God has come to us. This day God walks among us. This day your salvation has come. This day, this story, this baby, is not about the past at all but the present and the future. This day, God’s promises for forgiveness, grace and hope are real among us. God promises to break into the world in unlikely places each and every day-not just one time in the past, “in those days,” but today-right here right now where we are least looking!

The first to hear this good news were shepherds, lowly stinky shepherds, who were out in their fields with the sheep because they didn’t even rank high enough to be counted in the census. No one cared if they were included in kingdom or not. But to God, they counted. On this day, God proclaimed that no one is too lowly or unimportant for God’s kingdom. On this day, all people and all creation counts in God’s kingdom. On this day, God revealed where love had entered into the world. This day God gave a sign that “in those days” were gone and there is only “this day” of love, grace and hope from “this day” forward.

The shepherds were the first to discover that this is a different kind of king and a different kind of kingdom. Instead of a palace, a barn. Instead of a throne or fancy bassinet, a manger where animals ate. Instead of a parade or a coronation, angels with music to a few outsiders. Instead of family with useful gifts, the shepherds who only brought with them their story of what God was doing in the world. This new kingdom that arrived on this day, proclaimed that what the world knew of power, authority and community was being made new. Power now looked like a new baby, authority now looked like love, and community now looked like all people-shepherds, teenage mothers, carpenters, refugees, innkeepers, you and me.

This king came to serve, love and gather all to the source of not just this day, but all of our days. This day a savior has been born, and this day points us to the cross and the empty tomb with the promise of God declaring power over death. This day Jesus comes to us in the bread and in the wine to declare God’s promise to over and over offer grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope to all people.

This day two thousand years ago, transforms this day, here and now. God takes all of in those days, and proclaims “Don’t miss what I am doing this day! Don’t get stuck in the past!” This day we don’t have to fear because God is with us. This day we know that God walks with us in our grief and sorrow. This day we know that God rejoices with us. This day we celebrate that no matter what we say or do this day, God promises to transform our hearts, minds and souls for tomorrow so that when “this day” arrives again, we get another day of living and sharing in the love and peace of Jesus Christ. With the angels and the shepherds we tell the whole world what we have heard, the good news of what God is doing this day to all who can hear, for this day, and every day now and forever, God lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry, and brings peace, love and hope through Jesus Christ. This day is the day that the whole world is waiting to hear: a savior is born. Amen.