Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, you led your people through
the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide us now, so
that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of
this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our
Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, now and forever. Amen.
So, Lent has begun! We've spent the last several weeks talking about the beginning of Jesus' ministry, and now, thanks to Christmas and Easter being so close together, we're going to be skipping to the end soon. (To hear about the middle, come to church during 'Ordinary Time' in the summer!) We have put away the word "Alleluia" during worship, many of us now have midweek Lenten services to attend, and the services take on a new emotional tone, because we need to explore the darkness of Lent in order to be able to truly understand the celebration coming at Easter.
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,
you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’
When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God,
you shall make this response before the Lord
your God: ‘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, by imposing hard labour 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.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.
Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
Sometimes it's easy to forget, but we know that everything that we have, came from God and belongs to God. Intentionally giving some back to God is one way of recognizing that in our lives. There are many texts about tithing (that is, giving a tenth of our income to God- often to support your church) but this passage has a slightly different spin. Here, the emphasis is put on giving to God first. Often, even if we've pledged a certain amount of our income to our congregation, denomination and various charities, we find ourselves giving them the last ten percent. First we pay our bills, then we take care of other necessary things, then we have some fun, and finally we hope to have not accidentally overspent so we can still give the amount we've promised to the church.
Of course I recognize that these are difficult economic times for everyone. And because of that, I suggest that what ever person and family truly needs is a carefully thought out budget, written down somewhere. And one of those line items, for those of us of the Christian faith, will be a certain amount to give to our congregation.
And for that line item I have two suggestions. First- I suggest calculating it as some percentage of your total income. If you're not used to tithing (or for that matter giving a certain pre-decided amount) starting at 10% would be quite a shock- so don't. Start at two or three percent, or whatever amount feels financially comfortable for you- the idea is to turn this into a habit that will continue. Divide that amount into monthly or weekly amounts, and you have your regular giving amount. And if you miss a Sunday, don't forget to make up for it- or look into Simply Giving if you're Lutheran and never miss a week. Then each year you can increase it by half a percent or so until you reach 10%.
My second suggestion is to keep that amount separate from another line item for other charities you may give to. That's simply a matter of being detailed in your budgeting, and will help you keep track of exactly where your money is going. And then set these percentages aside right away, first thing, as your first fruits.
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
This Psalm ties in nicely with the Gospel reading for this week, in what may be a way that will surprise you. I especially appreciate the first line of this- while many people think of being under the shadow of God's wings as God's looking out for us, I prefer to think of a more literal shadow. As pointed out by our first reading, everything that is ours was God's first, and we also know that everything that is, exists because God caused it to be. So any actual shadow you actually stand in? Is God's shadow. When you stand in the warmth of the sunshine? That's the warmth of God's love for us, to make a place where we can live. Think about that long enough, and suddenly it's really hard to complain about your ice cream melting.
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your
heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
So, the first two readings point out that everything that is, belongs to the Lord, and this reading reminds us that we are part of that list. God has put our faith on our lips and in our hearts (that is, we speak of it and believe it) no matter our background. Paul brings up the "no distinction between Jew and Greek" because that was a major question in his day- in order to be Christian, did you have to be Jewish first? He and Peter (Jesus' best-known disciple) disagreed on this, but Christians eventually accepted that Paul was right. All Christians who confess "Jesus is Lord" are equal in the eyes of God, and to this day that is the only commonly-accepted requirement for being considered a Christian. We are all God's children, we can and do call on God, and there is no difference between us that matters to God.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all
during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
And the devil
said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority;
for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil
took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from
for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Jesus has fasted for forty days (hey, that's how long Lent is! what a shock...) and at the end, after forty days of constant temptation, the devil tempts him three more times. First, with a basic human need- hunger. (If you've ever wondered why people give things up during Lent, and why it's so often food, this is where it comes from.) Second, with something that tempts so many of us- power. (Though it does seem odd that the devil would choose that particular method with Jesus, seeing as Jesus is God and therefore already has power over all that anyway.)
And the third temptation? That one isn't really something we talk about a lot, is it- testing God. The devil has been trying to get Jesus to admit a lack of trust in God (in himself) this whole time. You can turn these stones into bread if you want, why suffer? You can *use* the power you have over these people, why be humble? But one of the points of God becoming one of us and coming to us as Jesus was to be like us- to suffer as we would, to experience humility from our end. Jesus could have flown right off the top of that temple if he'd wanted. But he was here as one of us, and the only times he used his power while he was here was to show the love of God for us in his miracles. What the devil suggested wouldn't have done that. Jesus has no need to test God, and neither do we.
And did the devil really just quote Scripture? Yes. We don't say this often enough- anyone can say the words of the Bible, and the Bible is a long enough book that it's words can be used to say nearly anything, if you pick the right sentence here and there. Which is why we read the Bible regularly, to get a sense for it as a whole, to understand who Jesus was and what he worked for and stood for, so that when people take these phrases out of context, we can say "I don't think that word means what you think it means." Because we have come to understand God's love for us, shown through Jesus Christ, and throughout the Bible.
Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!