February 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer
Sisters and brothers in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen
Last week I had the pleasure of joining Katie LeClair, a few parents, and a bunch of our 7th graders on a confirmation retreat. It was a pleasure because the location was lovely, because Katie plans a fantastic retreat, and because 7th graders are really very funny, smart, engaging people.
One of the activities Katie planned was a skit that six of them performed for the rest of us. It was about a young girl named Julie, who grew up facing challenges and sorrows, and who started listening to Satan’s promises to make her happy.
Sam Hovda played the part of the Devil, and let me tell you, he was hysterical. “Julie,” he’d sing, “I have a toy for you….” And he kept talking Julie into accepting one more toy from his bag of tricks, toys like resentment, anger, jealousy, promiscuity, bitterness, isolation. Satan convinced Julie that she could deal with the troubles she faced by hurting others around her, by blaming those closest to her, by resisting their attempts to love her.
Julie grew older and more aware of her situation, and we kept hoping she’d get a break, but scene after scene, the Devil kept sneaking out from back stage and calling out, “Julie, I have another toy for you…” until her resistance eroded, and all of her relationships were destroyed..
For the rest of the weekend, all any of us had to do was say, “Julie” to make the rest of us burst out laughing. The kids really did a great job of telling the story, and of engaging in many important discussions along the way. They were honest and vulnerable, and wonderfully open to the process.
While we wonder and laugh at a personified devil, I suspect that even for 7th graders the power of temptation and brokenness are never really a joke. Every year the church begins Lent with this story of Jesus in the wilderness. We read of Jesus being tempted to exploit God’s claim on him for personal comfort, for recognition and admiration from others, or for a twisted sense of security or well-being.
As was true in the skit the 7th graders performed, the tempter makes each of the “toys’ offered to Jesus sound easy and perfectly fitting, sometimes even using scripture to help sell the deal. Did you hear how Satan used Psalm 91? “The angels will protect you!”
The bait of bread, or power, or security isn’t exactly the same items as Sam used to tempt Julie in our 7th graders’ skit, but the underlying temptation is the same. Both were being lured not so much toward power or anger or bread, but away from their relationship with God, away from the identity and worth God gave them.
This gospel story starts with the reminder that Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit. It comes just after his baptism in the Jordan, when he has heard the voice from heaven claiming him as God’s beloved child, with whom God is well pleased. But perhaps that voice becomes harder to hear after 40 days of hunger and loneliness.
What pulls us away from the truth about our identity as a loved and valued child of God? We don’t have to fast for 40 days in the wilderness to come to believe that we don’t have enough. In fact, most of us can be persuaded to believe we’re empty, without ever facing any kind of physical hunger at all.
We watch TV or go online and are bombarded with messages convincing us we’re not enough. We don’t have the shiniest, fastest car; we don’t hang out with the right friends; we don’t wear the best clothes; we don’t live in the trendiest neighborhood. My kitchen doesn’t look anything like those houses on HGTV.
Our bodies don’t measure up. Our skin isn’t clear enough; our hair isn’t shiny or thick enough. We’re not thin enough or beautiful enough. We’re not fit enough or talented enough. We don’t have what it takes, and we’re losing out.
This political campaign is full of messages causing us to become fearful and apprehensive. Even though nearly every standard ranks our country first in military power, first economic strength, and first in access to and consumption of resources, politicians on both sides of the spectrum build a sense of foreboding and fear within us. Though we have more than we need, we’re constantly taught to feel insecure, unstable, undesirable, and imperfect, to condemn others for making our lives miserable, and to demand someone to make things better for us.
While Valentine’s Day is supposed to remind us of love and sweetness, I predict that many people will end today feeling let down by relationships that aren’t perfect, or will feel discouraged of ever finding the love they wish for.
Sorry, Sam, we don’t need a personified Tempter to jump out from behind the scenes to provoke us because we’re already surrounded by all kinds of toys that hurt us, by messages that we’re inadequate or ill-equipped, and a growing suspicion that we’re probably unlovable anyway. It’s not just 40 days in the wilderness; it feels that we spend our entire lives in a wasteland.
Sisters and brothers, it’s time to unplug. Out Lenten theme this year at Gloria Dei reinterprets the ancient call to fasting, and bids us to carry it in a new way. We’re inviting one another to unplug our devices and so called “smart” phones, and to listen to a more fundamental voice telling us the truth instead, “You are my child, my chosen one.”
It’s time to unplug as a symbol of caring for the world’s resources, of re-imagining our use of the creation, of considering ways we can better steward the earth so that our neighbors have access to God’s gifts. It’s time to disengage from the messages that cause us to fear and worry and become distracted, and listen to a voice that is nearer to us than our own lips – who knows our names, that knows our faults and our worries, our insecurities and our shame, our potential and our hopes, and who loves us more than we could ever know.
It’s time to unplug and listen to the acoustic voice of the Holy Spirit whispering a Valentine’s Day message into our hearts, “My child, my beloved and dearest one, you are enough. You are so enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.”
Can you do this? Can you take even just 3 minutes each day of this season and let that voice claim you? Can you unplug from all those disturbances and preoccupations? Can you shut down the tablets and turn off the monitors, ignore the worries and the suspicions, the fears and the insults, and sit in the holy, life-giving, empowering presence of God?
That’s what Julie did. By the end of our 7th graders’ skit, God’s voice proved to be louder than the Devil’s. She was reminded that God loved her, and that nothing could separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
It is the message we most want our children to hear. That no matter what, they are loved and prized by the God that created them, that they are filled by the Holy Spirit of the God who delights in them, that their futures are bright with promise and potential, and that nothing can separate them from the promises God has given them.
I suspect it’s the message that those students most want the rest of us to know, too. That we are loved, that we are enough, and that the busy-natured ways we distract ourselves only keep us from relating to God, to one another, and to the creation God means for all people to enjoy.
In the first reading we heard from Deuteronomy today, the people of God are instructed in the way to observe a season of renewal. They are told to give an offering, and to remember their history. They are to repeat their story to the priest, about how God claimed their ancestors and brought them to freedom, about how God heard their cries and delivered them into a home, about how God called them to rejoice over their abundance, and to share it with the sojourners and immigrants who lived in their midst.
It’s a fitting way for us to start this season, too. To unplug from those things that pull us away from God and rest instead in the story of God’s grace. It’s fitting for us to be refreshed by the story of God coming once again here to us, delivering us from our isolation and anger, rescuing us from our bitterness and blame. It’s fitting for us to be reminded in this supper that God hears our cries, and feeds us once again with forgiveness and grace. It’s fitting for us to be amazed once again, that God delights in us still, inviting us to share joy and abundance with our neighbors.
It’s Lent. It’s time. Thanks be to God. Amen
Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 19: 1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
I drew from the following sources for this sermon: