First Sunday in Lent
2008-02-04 by Susan Eastman

Observations on Matthew 4:1-11/ Romans 5:12-19

By Susan Eastman

Mt 4:1-11

Rom 5:12-19

Gen 2: 15-17, 3.1-7

Ps 32

 

    If last week’s gospel reading was a “mountain of a text,” this week’s gospel encompasses the whole world. It begins in the desert wilderness, progresses to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem, and thence to a very high mountain, whence all the kingdoms of the world are visible. Paradoxically, this globalizing “upward” movement is paralleled by Jesus’ resolute “downward” movement into total identification with the human situation. The pattern is parallel to, and continues the trajectory of, Jesus’ baptism in 3:13-17. There Jesus “fulfills all righteousness” by submitting to John’s baptism for repentance, even though he does not need to repent. The supreme paradox of the passage is that after this, the Spirit of God descends on him and the voice from heaven declares him God’s beloved Son. That is, it is precisely in and through his identification with sinful humanity that Jesus’ divine identity is revealed.

   Similarly, that very identity is under attack by the devil, in today’s passage: “If you are the Son of God,” prove it! Prove it by exercising your power and escaping from the frailty and dependency and weakness of the human condition. The testing and temptation take place immediately at the fundamental point of identity and calling. And the stakes are high; we will hear the same question and challenge at the very end of Jesus’ ministry, as he hangs on the cross: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40). It occurs to me that at one level, this is the kind of God we think we want; certainly the kind of hero we prefer. We want heroes who win over evil, not heroes who die, perhaps because we want the security of following a deliverer who will help us avoid suffering, not take us through it. Jesus never promises such an escape; in fact, his own time of testing is entirely God’s will, led by the Spirit.

    Jesus’ identification with humanity takes place on two levels in this story. In the first place, markers in the text remind us of Israel’s story. In his baptism, Jesus passed through the waters of the Jordan, recapitulating Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Like Israel, he is identified as God’s son. Like Israel, Jesus then goes into the wilderness, fasting forty days and forty nights, just as Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, being tested by God.  Like Israel, Jesus hungered. The closest parallel text from the Old Testament is Deut. 8:2-5. Jesus is recapitulating Israel’s story, carrying it forward.

    Jesus also in some ways recapitulates Moses, as we know from the story of the Transfiguration last Sunday. Moses also fasted forty days and forty nights when he went up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law (Deut. 9:9-11). The parallel reminds us that when Moses came down from the mountain, he discovered that even while he communed with God, Israel was sinning against the Lord (Deut. 9:12-21). God threatens to destroy the people and makes Moses alone great (Deut. 9:14), but instead Moses again fasts forty days and nights, interceding for the people (Deut. 9:18). All of these parallels suggest that Jesus is, like Moses, interceding for the sins of the people. And unlike the people of Israel, he does not yield to temptation. Hebrews 2:17-18 and 4:15 come to mind.

    The second level of Jesus’ identification with humanity is developed in today’s lessons from Genesis and Romans. Jesus joins with the situation of all the children of Adam and Eve, all of us who are heirs of Adam’s temptation and fall. Romans 5 gives us the glorious outcome of Jesus’ full entry into Adamic humanity. Identifying with Adam, but not yielding to the temptation to exploit his privileges (Phil. 2:6), Jesus undoes the damage done by the first Adam. Here everything is grace and free gift (Rom. 5:15, 16, 17, 20, 21), which exercise a power diametrically opposed to the conditional logic of the devil in the temptation story. There, the logic is “if. . .then”: “If you worship me, then I will give you the kingdoms of the world.” But here, a different logic reigns. Despite humanity’s total and abject failure, enslavement and condemnation, Jesus’ obedience means that we receive the gift of righteousness freely, without precondition, and thereby enter the kingdom of the Son where grace reigns (5:21).

    Greetings, everyone in the tub. I'm Susan Eastman, and I teach Bible and Christian Formation at Duke Divinity School. Previously, I pastored for about 20 years as an Episcopal priest, from New York to Alaska to Oregon. I look forward to hearing your comments!

           

              





Bill Carter and Sermon
2008-02-02 by David von Schlichten

Bill (and everyone else),

I posted my sermon at the Sermon Feedback Cafe, which you can find by going to Share It!

I look forward to feedback.

Not rooting for the Patriots,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator






2008-01-31 by Bill Carter

Thanks, David.  I'd love to hear your sermon!

I'd like to imagine a sermon that told this story from a perspective of awe, and didn't rush to find anything "helpful" in it. There is no human analog to this story, and a wise preacher won't try to find a lesson or a tip for tidy living. These days, I hear a story like this and I realize my weariness of cheerful sermons that try to close down holy moments and make them "useful." Bah, humbug! This is such a big, enormous text.

Do know what kind of sermons I think we ought to avoid this week? They reduce the Mystery and say things like, "We need to pay attention to those moments when we see things in a new way. Like when we observe the butterfly we never saw before. Or the children's smile. Or when we have a new thought that changes our perception." Ah, be quiet! Don't tell me about me or you or the butterflies. Speak to me of God. Tell me something that makes my jaw drop. Bend my knees in worship; and should I refuse, show me again all holy splendor.

I imagine a sermon where the issue is awe, and the sermon itself evokes awe. I want to hear about a God so holy that my eyebrows get singed during the sermon. I want to know about a Jesus for whom it is no big deal to bust down the divisions of time and space, so that he can talk with Moses and Elijah. I hunger for a kind of preaching that knocks me on my tail, precisely because it points to the Presence which I cannot manage, control, or even count on with any predictability. Is that too much to ask?

A final word from a Byzantine theologian about the celebration of the Transfiguration: "This feast is a source for endless writing and meditation, and is best approached in a spirit of prayer, and profound awe."  





Point to the Mystery
2008-01-30 by David von Schlichten

In light of the responses to my blog entry below, including from our guest blogger Bill Carter, I may preach in a way this Sunday that will help people to experience the enigmatic effulgence of the transfiguration. Then I may just shut-up and sit down.

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Festival of Homiletics: New Hotel
2008-01-29 by David Howell

With over 1200 pastors already registered, the hotel blocks are almost full. So we have added another. (Early conference registration deadline is January 31. Go to Homepage, scroll to the bottom and click on Festival of Homiletics to register.)

Embassy Suites, 800-362-2779, 612-333-3111, 6 blocks from churches, connected to Sky Way, 7-10  minute walk to churches, full American breakfast, manager's reception in evening, all rooms have microwaves, coffee makers, refigerators; hotel has: fitness center, business center, indoor pool, hot tubs, saunas; $139.00 (up to quad), $20 for overnight parking, 2 blocks from Lite Rail station, 2 blocks from Metrodome, reserve by April 19.

 





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