Sunday, February 21, 2010

1st Sunday in Lent: God has blessed us, Sinners tho' we be

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10-8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, just like all of us, was tempted. He was tempted to selfishly use his God-given power to relieve his own hunger and break his fast, rather than keeping to the discipline he had set for himself. He was tempted to grab earthly power and let his all too human ego take first place, tempted to become the earthly ruler that the Jews expected to come and rescue them from the Romans. He was even tempted to show off supernatural powers by seeming to take flight, and calling the angels to set him down gently on the hallowed ground outside the temple. Though it isn’t mentioned in the scriptures, I imagine that like any other thirty-year-old man, one who is torn by thoughts of being selfish, powerful and egotistical, he was also tempted by lust.

Does that sound sacrilegious to you? It’s important that we remember that while Jesus was fully divine, he was also fully human. He fully experienced every human emotion and trial that we experience, tempted and torn by the actions of others as well as his own inner feelings and desires, just like us. And yet, we are told that he was without sin. He chose God, and his relationship with God rather than succumbing to temptation. Would that we were like him!

However, we are not. We all fall short of the glory that he exemplified in his life here on Earth. We are tempted daily, whether by envy, or sloth, gluttony or selfishness, impatience, right on up to uncontrolled anger, and yes, lust, perhaps even adultery. Blaming others for our own mistakes, even if only in our thoughts. Being self-righteous and thinking we are better than other people. Not having a heart of forgiveness when others hurt us.

Our headlines for this week show us good examples of how temptation to sin can get out of control. Tiger Woods said it perfectly. He had worked so hard all his life to be the best, that he felt he deserved to enjoy all the temptations of life. And they are so easy to find. I am sure he never meant to hurt anyone…but he didn’t think, and he forgot God and his vows, and he hurt a lot of people, including himself.

Joe Stack appeared to be a normal, regular everyday sort of guy according to his acquaintances. But he held grudges he never mentioned to anyone, until it all boiled out of control on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. We don’t yet know, but I think perhaps he had deep-seated mental problems, rather than simply being tempted into sin. However, that’s how his illness played itself out: he sinned against hundreds of people, most especially the one he killed and those he injured and traumatized, as well as those he supposedly loved, his family.

Those are big, headline types of sin, but our scriptures tell us that sin is sin, and shouldn’t be graded according to how dramatic or well known it is. Sin is quite simply anything, thought or action, that separates us from God: anything that takes us away or removes us from relationship with God. If you are like me, you experience sin in your life on a daily basis. I know I am frequently aware that I have done or said something that has turned my back to God, and I must turn around again, for that’s what the word “repentance” means, to “turn around” and live moving toward God. It is a like being a soldier on guard, trying to be aware of every movement away from Him. There is no way to accomplish it, for we simply are not capable of being perfect.

And yet we are so blessed, in that God sent Jesus to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to Him. In our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we hear the glorious news that our sins no longer condemn us: "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because 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.”

No matter how tough the times are for you right now, whether you’ve lost your job or your household is in chaos, there is no question that we are blessed. We have been given an amazing heritage through our faith, and through the lives of our ancestors, those who went before us and brought us to this country where we can worship and live in freedom. Our immigrant members know first hand how supremely blessed even the poorest of the poor are here in the U.S. How wonderful it is to live in a place where there is relative peace in our neighborhoods, and we have the ability to work and have shelter, food, and medical care. It truly is a land of milk and honey that we have inherited.

In our lesson from Deuteronomy today, we are told one of the ways we are to honor God and to thank Him for our blessings. We are to bring the first fruits of our labors to Him. Now I sincerely hope you don’t want to string me up for mentioning this subject again, but the scriptures brought it up: I’m merely following the lectionary. Among the things that blesses us most is our church community. We are extended family, and care for one another, and for the larger community around us. We come together to worship, and to learn about God, and to further his kingdom on Earth.

How are we to do that if St. Paul’s has to close its doors? Where will we meet if we can’t pay the electric bill? We’ve done some pretty amazing things in the last few years, mainly because we were able to find grant money, and a few people who were willing to help us anonymously so that we could build the new additions to our church. Those people and foundations who helped us were not members of this church, but they had faith in us that we were doing good work for God and his people. But now we’ve got a problem: quite a few of our members are not financially supporting us.

God asks each of us to give of our time, our talents and our money to further the work of the church. The church needs and expects all of those things from its members. If you have not turned in a pledge card, do so. And don’t leave the money part blank. Determine that you will find $5 or $10 dollars a week to give St. Paul’s, even if it means skipping a meal…you remember that fasting thing? It won’t disturb you greatly to try that out every once in a while. Depend on God to protect and guide you. And as the Psalmist wrote, “you shall say to the Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.’ Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the most high your habitation…He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”

All of us are sinners, but we have been given an Advocate with the Father, His only Son, and he has sent the Holy Spirit, to guide and guard our ways. Let us praise God with all our being, giving ourselves and all our lives to Him in awesome gratitude for all He has given us! Amen.