Reading Ramblings – February 17, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

February
17, 2013

Date: February 17, 2013, First
Sunday in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm
91:1-13; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

Context: We are now in
the liturgical season of Lent. The liturgical color for this season
is purple, and the season lasts for 40 days. However, Sundays do not
count as part of the season of Lent. So while this is the first
Sunday in Lent, the day itself is not part of Lent. This is because
Sundays are always Easter – always the proclamation of the victory
of the Resurrected Son of God.

The readings for today set the tone of
our Lenten journey. Though faced with temptation, we rely on the
strength of God who is always sufficient for our needs. We are
constantly tempted to rely on our own strength or the strength of
those around us, but these can and will fail. The only one who can
truly save us is the one who has – our God!

Deuteronomy 26:1-11: One
of our greatest temptations is to rely on ourselves. We are
constantly tempted to view what we have accomplished or earned or
saved as our own achievement rather than a blessing from God. This
is not exactly a new temptation! Moses speaks to the people of
Israel as they stand on the edge of the promised land, knowing full
well that when God gives them the land, their impulse will be to
believe that their military prowess or virtue is what earned them the
land.

Our tithes and offerings are a reminder
that all that we have belongs to God. He is not entitled to some
percentage of it, but rather is the sole source of all of it. God
requests them from us as a reminder of the source of our bounty, and
we should give generously in thanksgiving for all He has already
given.

Psalm 91: This psalm
expresses confidence in the providence and protection of God. He
watches over his own, and we are shaded by his presence by the
harshness of life. The psalmist employs the imagery of a bird that
is being sought by the hunter. God becomes the mother bird that
shelters her offspring. Then the image changes to that of a battle,
and the one who is in the battle takes strength and confidence that
God is capable of sparing them from any harm. They fight valiantly
and boldly rather than cowering in fear, knowing that nobody can harm
them against the will of God.

We may be quick to point out that
plenty of Christians suffer and even are killed without God
intervening. The Psalm does not indicate that God will never allow
his children to suffer or die, but rather emphasizes the power of God
to protect whom He will. We live our lives knowing that God holds
our lives at all times. If we live, we give glory and praise to him.
And if we die, we go to be with him. Fear has no place in our
hearts! Who is it that can counter the power of God? Nobody!

Romans 10:8b-13: This
short reading joins together the psalm and the Old Testament reading.
Our faith is in God who declares us righteous through faith in Jesus
Christ. We have been given his Word that assures us of this, and so
we needn’t look to ourselves to provide our salvation – God has
already done that. Our proclamation of faith receives what God has
already offered and provided in Jesus Christ. Again, we have nothing
to fear, regardless of our backgrounds. The forgiveness of God
extends to all who call upon him and place their trust in him. As
such, we are already richly blessed, because we are assured of our
place with God by faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of
God, Jesus Christ.

Luke 4:1-13: We jump
back to the beginning of Luke 4, which we skipped several weeks ago.
Jesus has just been baptized and designated as the Son of God (Luke
3:21-22). If Adam was the First Man, through whom all fell into sin
and the power of Satan, Jesus is the Second Adam, free from the curse
of original sin and therefore not under the power of Satan. As such,
Satan comes to tempt Jesus to see if he can bring him under his sway.

Satan’s temptations all focus on Jesus
exerting his own will as a means of satisfying his needs or desires,
rather than trusting in his heavenly Father to provide. Is Jesus
hungry? Then create his own food. Does Jesus wish a shortcut to his
role as Lord of All? Then just trust in Satan to hand him the world
rather than allowing his obedience to God the Father to accomplish
this. Does Jesus wish all people to believe in him? Then show his
power and divine nature to everyone by testing the Word of God. In
each situation, Satan seeks a hold on Jesus’ desires or fears,
seeking to drive a wedge between the will of Jesus and the will of
God.

It is tempting (pun intended) to see
this as a blueprint for you and I. Jesus resisted temptation, we
should resist temptation. This is true, but we also must recognize a
major difference: we are still stained with original sin and
therefore are obedient to God only imperfectly. Jesus is without
sin, and therefore is capable of truly making a free decision whether
to obey or disobey. Many people believe that they have the power to
choose between good and evil equally. But Scripture shows us that
this isn’t true. None of us are moral free agents! We either are
under the power of sin and Satan or we are under the power of grace
in Christ. Even within that grace, our obedience is halting and
imperfect.

Some would use this as an excuse to
treat sin lightly, but this is a wrong turn as well. Sin is deadly.
It is not deadly to the Christian because we are forgiven. However
it can become deadly to the Christian because it might lead
one away from faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore we have to treat sin
seriously. Playing chicken with ourselves in terms of sin is a
losing proposition and one we need to strive to avoid.

As such, Jesus’ resistance to Satan in
Luke 4 is prescriptive. What Jesus relies upon is the Word of God,
the same Word that St. Paul has reiterated is already near us. Jesus
doesn’t call upon his divinity or hosts of angels to defeat the
temptations of Satan. Rather, He relies on the Word of God as the
source of truth to refute the devil’s suggestions, and the source of
strength to remain obedient to what God calls him to do.

We have this same Word available to us.
We will not always call upon it, but it is always available to us.
When we call upon it, we can rely upon it to deliver us from
temptation if we are willing to allow it to do so. We can call upon
the Word half-heartedly, not really seeking to hear it or obey it,
and in those times we will fall prey to sin. The Word is not a
talisman or magic formula, but it is the transforming power of God.
If we will trust it and follow it, we will find that it transforms us
day by day and moment by moment, ultimately promising to transform us
completely into new, perfect creations.

How blessed we are with this good news
– and how desperately our world needs to hear (or be reminded) of
this Good news!

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