Lent 1, Year C, March 20, 2019
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Chinook and Naselle Lutheran Churches, WA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ever since paganism died out in the West, most Christians have not really paid attention to the First Commandment, “you shall have no other gods besides me.” After all, there aren’t exactly any temples to Ba’al or Zeus or whoever around. If you’re going to worship, the main choice is which branch of Christianity you’re going to follow. But Martin Luther didn’t think that first commandment was obsolete. On the contrary, Martin Luther saw idolatry everywhere. Luther put it this way: whatever you say on Sunday morning during worship, your true God is the thing in which you put your trust. The thing you rely on to keep things going well, the thing you look to to get you out of any problems. And for a lot of people, even for devout Christians, we may say we trust God, but we don’t necessarily actually do that. We put our trust in ourselves, our money, our political ideology, our leaders, in a lot of things, but not in God. We focus so hard on the things we are doing, the things we can affect, that we don’t always see the other things around us that go into making our efforts possible.
Say you have a group of people go to play Monopoly together. And one of them—decided at random—has different rules than the rest. Rules that make the game much easier. They start with more money and collect twice as much money when passing Go, for example, and get out of jail freely every time. Chances are, they’re going to win. Not because they’re such awesome players, but because the rules are slanted in their favor. But if you ask them why they won, what factors contributed, nine times out of ten they start talking about what a great player they are: how they made sure to buy up all the real estate they could get their hands on, for example, and managed to avoid having to mortgage anything. Even when it’s perfectly obvious that they won because the rules were slanted in their favor, they won’t notice it, trusting instead in their own abilities and talents.
Which is why, in our lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Israelites to remember just where their harvest comes from every year. First of all, the land is not theirs. The land—all of creation—belongs to God. God lets them use it, but it’s God’s land. Their ancestors were nomads, people with no land and few possessions. Then they became slaves in Egypt, which was pretty horrible. The only reason they escaped was because God heard their cry and freed them. And then God brought them to a land where they could live and farm and become prosperous. I’m sure that especially after the first generation or so, when there was nobody left who remembered anything other than living in the Promised Land, it was tempting to believe that they had that land because they had earned it, because they were strong enough to defend it from other tribes, because they deserved it. I’m sure it was tempting to believe that the crops they grew and the wealth they amassed were because of their own hard work, because they were good farmers. I bet it was hard to remember that without the seed and sun and rain, their hard work would be absolutely useless. I bet it was even harder to remember that the only reason they were able to do that hard work in the first place was because God gave them healthy bodies.
And that’s why they had a whole litany to remind them just where all the good things came from, and how much they depended on God’s good gifts. Even when they had nothing, they had God. When they were slaves, used and abused so that others might grow wealthy, God was with them. It was God who saved them, it was God who brought them to their new homeland, and in their new prosperity there, it was still God who gave them every good thing they had. Their lives, their health, their land, the sun and rain—everything was a gift from God. Their own hard work mattered, but it was only a tiny part of the reason for the good things in their lives. But that’s hard to remember when everything’s going well. We blame God when things go wrong, but seldom give credit when they go right. I don’t believe that God causes all the things that go wrong—for example, there’s no hint that the Israelites time of slavery was any sort of punishment; in the Bible, it’s not something God wanted, it happened because of Pharaoh’s fears and greed. And even though everything was going wrong the Israelites were terribly oppressed, God was with them and God heard their cry and freed them. God didn’t cause the evil that befell them, but God saved them from it and brought them to a place where they could grow and prosper and gave them every good thing they had. They needed to remember that. They needed to put their trust in God, rather than in themselves or their kings or their land or anything else.
Then we come to our Gospel reading. When I was a kid, the story of Jesus’ temptation confused me. Not the temptations to power in exchange for worshipping the Devil; the bit about food. Because God wants people to be fed! God spends a lot of time, in the Old and New Testaments, providing food for people through various miracles! We as Christians are supposed to feed hungry people as part of our ministry. That’s why we have food pantries and things, that’s why there are so many Christian ministries that provide food. Jesus was hungry, and God doesn’t want people to go hungry. So what would have been the problem with turning those stones into bread?
But the problem is, who was asking Jesus to do that? The devil. If Jesus had done it, he would not have been trusting God to provide for his needs. He would have been listening to the voice that says “well, you know, the consequences of doing something wrong won’t be that bad. After all, your goal is a good one, and what can it hurt? Jesus would have been putting his trust in that voice, and not in his Father who was with him, supporting him and providing for him in good times and bad. And we do that too, you know? We have something we need, or that we think we need, and the only way we think we can get it, well, it’s not what we should be doing, but it’s not that bad, is it? And so we do things that we think are small, but the whole point is that we’re not trusting God. We’re not trusting God to provide, and both as individuals and as communities we go for expediency, the easy way, instead of doing the right thing. Instead of doing the right thing and trusting that God will be with us even if there are consequences, we do things we shouldn’t—or we don’t do the things we should, because we put our faith in our own abilities instead. Or we put our trust in our money, in our political parties, or in our leaders and bosses, or anywhere other than where it should be.
Where do we put our trust? What is our god? Is our trust in the Lord our God whom we come here to worship on Sunday? Or is our trust in ourselves, or in our money, or in all the other things in the world that come to us and say “hey, I can solve all your problems, if you’ll just put me first.”
May we always put our trust and hope in the Lord where it belongs.