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First Sunday in Lent February 25th 2007 Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia

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First Sunday in Lent February 25th 2007 Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia

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

 

Once again as already on Ash Wednesday, I would like to thank you all in the congregation for working so hard and doing so much to make my installation service here such a wonderful celebration. So thank you, thank you, thank you, and in a resounding voice let us say,  “Glory be to God, praise God’s holy name.” Amen!

Straw Man Temptations

My sermon title this morning on the first Sunday in Lent is “Straw Man Temptations.” The straw man fallacy in Critical Thinking presents someone else’s argument in such a way that you can easily refute it. And often we present temptations in ways in which they really do not tempt anybody.

     If you see a man with horns with a tail and carrying a pitchfork, you recognize the devil and you say, “I better watch out! That devil wants to do me harm and he stays up nights trying to figure out how to make a complete mess of my life.” So that devil is no real problem and you will never get tempted by a devil like that.

The devil comes disguised as an angel in light. He or she quotes scripture and seems to know the bible, seems to be very religious, but uses religion for getting what he or she wants: making it magical, for getting worldly power, and using God for the spectacular.

In the monasteries they would say, in what disguise could the devil best deceive you? Why, looking like Christ to fool you into destroying yourself. One thing is sure. The devil will always come to you making believe he is presenting you with the good choice and doing it in such a subtle way that you can rationalize it and believe it. Then down the road a way, you realize you slipped.

Your temptation happens because of a handsome man or beautiful woman, a little bit of money, or a trusted friend. It was none other than Peter tempting Christ, and right after he had made the great confession. If we are not inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts and letting the Word of God dwell in us richly, then we will not have much of a chance to overcome temptations when they come – and as the scripture says, the devil waits for “an opportune time.”

 Thus we have to be on guard, so we are not completely devoured by the prowling evil one. St. Peter writes: Be alert and discipline yourself. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1Peter 5:8).

     In the first temptation Jesus, declared the Son of God, is tempted to use his power for selfish magic, rather than faithful love. Now the devil tells Jesus “If you are the Son of God!” Jesus just heard God’s voice pronouncing him the beloved Son. What does the devil mean by “if”? That little word intends to break Jesus’ relationship with God just the slightest bit. If you are hungry, change these stones into bread. “Human beings do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God!” That punch gave Jesus the first round.

If you are the Son of God, then make it all revolve around you. Conquer a mighty empire, all you need to do is kiss my butt, and I’ll see to it that you get on top of a mighty empire that I will give you. Imagine, Jesus, how much good you could do if you ruled the world? You could take care of that hated Herod and those unclean Romans. Imagine how much good you could do, if you were in power? If power had been Jesus’ weakness, then the devil would have devoured him. “Worship the Lord you God and serve only him.” Jesus won round two.

Round three begins with the “if-word” again: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself from the top pinnacle of the temple and let God rescue you. Take the leap of faith.” The devil is not only quoting scripture, but also saying, “Take the leap of faith”, but to test God. See if God really loves you. The devil is being really spiritual.

     Often we think that the spiritual is good and the sexual is bad. But spirit means the whole person, mind, soul, and body oriented toward God and neighbor; while flesh means the whole person, not just the body, the mind and soul too, oriented away from God and the needs of the neighbor. To narrow down evil to the sexual comes from our Puritanical heritage. Sin only goes from the belly down. What a mistake that is! The spiritual is a far greater source of evil than even the political. Always having to be right is an incredible source of evil. Spiritual evil is far worse than sexual evil.

Luther taught that there were three levels of temptation, sexual, those concerning power and wealth, and the spiritual, which were by far the worst. We notice that Jesus’ temptations went from the gut to the heart to the head.

When the young have sexual temptations, a baby can arrive in the world and good hearts and a large dose of forgiveness, and the little one can be welcomed, loved, and cherished. The temptations that revolve around getting power and wealth are more destructive. They can start a war in which millions die, an army of cripples can result, and untold generations have to take the consequences.

Committing adultery, of course, is also evil. Homer writes about Paris running off with Helen, who was married to Menelaus, and that started the Trojan War. Some people have to deal with sexual temptations more than others. The devil always tries to get us where we are the weakest and in round two, he gets others where they are the strongest.

The greatest source of evil, however, is spiritual. Bigotry and prejudice can lynch thousands of poor victims. Patriotism distorted into militarism can cost millions of lives. A false prophet can make over nine hundred people commit suicide and if they refuse, shoot them. Let’s not forget that Jimmy Jones was a spiritual leader. Religions can instigate bloody crusades.  We can do a crusade for democracy as much as Islamists can crusade for their old empire. Some Christians believe an Armageddon is inevitable in the Middle East, the way they used to say the world would end in a nuclear holocaust, because the bible said that the end of the world would come by fire.

The devil is alive and well and having a field day among Christians. That does not mean he can’t be throwing a party in Islam and Judaism at the same time. Christ is fighting to save the world while the devil wants to blow this world up in God’s face and say, “See, you should have listened to me. Didn’t I tell you people were not worth loving and dying for? Didn’t I tell you that the whole creation was a mistake?” Thankfully, our Lord was not taken in. He also out-punched the devil in round three.

So we thank God that Jesus won the victory. There was many another round in the match between Jesus and Satan, but Jesus knew the devil was tempting him with what God had already given him and he would not allow the devil to drive a wedge between him and God.

The devil always wants us to forget that we are sexual beings, that we have power, and that we are spiritual so he can package it and sell it back to us as if we needed it from him. So when are sex, power and wealth, and spirituality sources of evil? When our hearts are not right with God and when they are not resting in the marvelous love of God; when unbelief and mistrust breaks our relationship and we take them from God with a false heart instead of receiving them thankfully as gifts. 

Now the German, but an English translation follows:

Man muss merken dass Jesus voll des Hl. Geistes die Versuchungen in der Wüste besteht hat. Wir können auch unmöglich die Versuchungen unseres Lebens ohne dem Hl. Geist bestehen. Mit dem Hl. Geist bekommen wir die Gesinnung und Gemüt von Christus und durch seine Kraft und seine Liebe erhalten wir den Sieg und werden die Krone des Lebens nicht verlieren. Christus in uns trägt weg die Meisterschaft über den toten Teufel. Wir werden trotzdem immer wieder erfahren obwohl Jesus am Kreuz sieghaft war, wie der Teufel immer wieder dazwischen nochmal sein Unfug treibt. Daher, besonders für die Zukunft unserer Kirche und Gemeinde Aufbau, heisst es Beten, inbrünstig Beten, denn der Teufel wird alles versuchen um es unmöglich zu machen. Auf Gottes Segen ist alles gelegen.

Wenn wir die Gemeinde weltlich aufbauen wurden, dann werden wir schnell gelingen und der Teufel würde uns gleich unseren Erfolg zeigen. Aber von Gott würden wir scheiden müssen und dann würde alles vergeblich sein. Die Mächte die gegen uns kämpfen sind viel stärke als wir, und daher brauchen wir den Hl. Geist und die nahe Gegenwart Christi um die Versuchungen zu überwinden.

Wir sind alle Fleisch und Blut, schwache, sündhafte Menschen, aber mit Christus sind wir Kinder Gottes voll von der Macht der liebe Gottes. Der Glaube ist Gottes Macht in uns und sie wirkt in uns eine innere Festung der Liebe. Welch ein geistliches Abenteuer wird uns begegnen! Wie unmöglich die Aussicht! Aber getrost vorwärts. Immer heiter Gott hilft weiter. Wie eine Losungen der vorrigen Woche sagte: „Singt, bet, und geh auf Gottes Wegen, verricht das Deine nur getreu und trau des Himmels reichen Segen, so wird es bei dir werden neu. Denn welcher seine Zuversicht auf Gott setzt, den verlässt er nicht.[1]  Amen.

Translation: one should notice that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when he overcame the temptations in the wilderness. It is impossible for us to withstand temptations in our life without the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit we receive the mind and heart of Christ and through his strength and his love we receive the victory and will not forfeit the crown of life. We do not live but Christ lives in us and Christ in us wins the trophy of victory over the moribund devil. We will inevitably experience, however, that although Christ won the victory over the devil on the cross, nonetheless, the devil always tries to throw a monkey wrench into the works, when they concern the cause of Christ. Therefore, especially for the future of our church and the building up of our congregation, [our only hope and our only chance] comes by prayer. We need fervent and unceasing prayer, because the devil will try anything to stop us. Everything depends on God’s blessings.

If we would compromise with the world, for example, join the market, then we would enjoy speedy success, and the devil would show us our growth. But that would separate us from God and make our whole endeavor in vain. The powers and principalities that we are up against are far more powerful than we are, and that is why we need the Holy Spirit and the intimate presence of Christ in order to endure and overcome the ordeals of these temptations.

We are all made out of flesh and blood. We are weak and sinful people, but with Christ we are the children of God full of the power of God’s love. Faith is the power of God in us and builds a stronghold of love inside us. What a spiritual adventure lies before us! How impossible are our chances! But let us set out full of trust ever onwards. We come this far by faith and cheerfully we realize God will not desert us. A verse for a day last week said: “Sing, pray and go on God’s way, just do your part faithfully and trust in the rich blessings of heaven, then everything around you will become new. Because whoever trusts in God, God will in no wise forsake.”  [PS: What about Christ? “My God why have you forsaken me?” But the point where we think and feel God the farthest away is the point where God is nearest to us. The suffering goes without saying.]


[1] Georg Neumark in Die Losungen der Brüdergemeinde 2007, Die 277. Ausgabe, (Herrenhut: Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag), Seite 26.

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Written by peterkrey

March 5, 2007 at 3:28 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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