Reading Ramblings – First Sunday in Lent

Date: First Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2022

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

Context: Context is so important! Before we can realistically take inventory of our sinfulness and confess and more importantly repent to God, we need to see how far we are from who we should be. We must be reminded our sin is not just the occasional slip-up in language or thought or deed but a fundamental disjunct in who we are. Sin requires not just a few touch-ups here and there but a core-level refashioning. Only God can accomplish this and it begins in repentance. The readings emphasize the perfect relationship we were intended for with God, a relationship that constantly recognizes and depends upon God first and foremost as the provider of all things (Deuteronomy 26), as the protector from all evil (Psalm 91), as the source of all salvation (Romans 10) and as the only one capable of resisting the allure of evil (Luke 4). We are dependent upon God for our existence, our sustenance, and our salvation. In this context we see the gulf that separates who we are from who God created us to be, and our aching need for a Savior to rescue us.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – God does not need your money. His Church usually does, but God does not. Tithing is commanded not so God has what resources He needs – He is the Creator of all things! Rather tithing is a reminder to us of who we are and what we have, and to remember God the Father as the source of both our identity and whatever worldly goods we possess. This passage interests me in the ritual aspects. First the declaration to the priest – God has fulfilled his promises to me. He has given me what He promised to, and therefore I am not only able and willing but glad to bring him the firstfruits, evidence of His gracious provision! This continues further, though. I am just one in a long line of those whom God has created and watched over and blessed. My blessings are not an anomaly in the history of creation (even my particular familial line within it) but simply a continuation of God’s great goodness. This all culminates not in grumbling but in celebration. What a blessing, to be able to return a small portion of the vast blessing God has poured into our lives!

How ought this context change our hearts in tithing? How might the Church today better communicate this context properly to people? I remember being shocked when making a home visit to a housebound member one time. She liked to reminisce about when she joined the Lutheran church decades ago after marrying because her husband was part of the denomination. The minister explained tithing using the analogy of the dues you pay at a country club. Although the intention was good and it resulted in a lifetime of faithful and generous giving, I cringed to hear such an analogy! Tithing is a joy and privilege, and the amount given is a secondary matter to the celebration that should precede and infuse and follow the giving!

Psalm 91:1-13 – We sometimes lament Adam and Eve’s Fall as though it were inevitable, as though it was just a matter of time until Satan wore down their resistance and they ate the Forbidden Fruit (similar to how C.S. Lewis imagines temptation on an unfallen world in the second book of his Space Trilogy, Perelandra).

But is that a fair assessment? Did Adam and Eve not have at their disposal the protection of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, had they only sought that protection rather than relying on their own reasoning (Genesis 3:6)? Both the psalm and the Gospel lesson show clearly temptation and evil can be resisted and protected against. Not perfectly now, not after the Fall disrupts things, of course. But the power and protection of God is something real to trust in and rely on not simply when all other resources are exhausted but as a primary and first line of defense. We must trust in God’s wisdom in the midst of our sinfulness and sinful creation, as clearly He does not always rescue those who place their trust in him from the devastation of personal sin or the sin of a fallen world (such as the terrible situation playing out in Ukraine at the moment). Yet his protection and promise do remain sure – whatever fate we may meet in this world can never separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:18ff).

Romans 10:8b-13 – In the midst of Paul’s exploration of the role of the Jews as God’s chosen people he affirms once again the nature of salvation in Jesus Christ is a matter of confession, not of lineage or personal effort. This is part of the error of the Jews – seeking by their own efforts of piety and holiness to either ascend or descend as they imagine God wishes them to. Rather, they need only trust and confess not what they do but what God has done in Jesus Christ – sending him from heaven (descending) as well as raising him from the dead and back to heaven (ascending). Everything is accomplished in Christ! Our reconciliation and justification with God the Father is complete and finished. While our life of faith remains to be lived out in a life of ongoing sanctification, this is only possible because of the actions of the Triune God first as well as moment by moment on our behalf.

Luke 4:1-13 – Like Adam and Eve, Jesus can rely on the Word of God to refute the temptations of the devil. He does not need to evaluate Satan’s claims or assertions on their own merit, but rather trust completely that what God has said is always and perfectly true and right. Any suggestion to the contrary can therefore be immediately dismissed from consideration. I believe these were indeed real temptations to Jesus, who most likely knew what lay in store for him at the end of his earthly ministry. Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33 demonstrate the reality of these temptations, as well as the real possibility that Jesus – according to his human nature – could succumb to them. But He does not. He does what Adam and Eve did not – focus not on the suggestions of Satan but on the Word of God alone. Satan recognizes his defeat and chooses not to prolong the engagement but rather find another moment when Jesus might be weaker and more susceptible to his suggestions. Apparently 40 days of fasting in the desert is not enough to deplete Jesus’ strength to the point He would choose to forsake the Word of God for the lies of Satan!

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