Lent 1, 2022 – Sermon

First Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2022. St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Regina. 

We thank God for his protection, enabling us to enter safely into the season of Lent. In Lent we preach and learn about certain preparations for the upcoming season of Easter because we havecompleted witnessing great signs of the inbreaking and revelation of the kingdom of God into human history during the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

While the focus in our Anglican liturgical and preaching calendar is Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God whose birth, ministry, death and resurrection reconcile humanity with God, Lent particularly zooms into the description about how our life should emulate Jesus Christ and his suffering for others, thereby giving us a glimpse into Christ’s life and ministry as the benchmark of Christian teaching on discipline and discipleship. We will talk about discipline today.

Christian discipline is a thoughtful process of spiritual training, correction and practice that results in transformation of heart and behaviour and enables us learn about how we shouldinteract with and understand God.

Because discipline is a training and we cannot achieve it alone or in isolation, the introduction to the Gospel reading today that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Lk 4:1) is significant. Jesus is never alone at critical moments of his earthly ministry, such as the baptism,the temptation in the reading today, where Jesus is tempted by the devil, and later during the passion week at the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is battling the thought of his death in the hands of human powers, the transfiguration that we read last Sunday, and on the cross.

Our first aspect of discipline is trusting the presence of God, acknowledging that despite distractions from the world, our God is with us and protects us. This point is supported by the reality that the devil can tempt us any time and the only time we overcome the devil is when the God is with us and we are in constant prayer to maintain our relationship with God.

What do your allegiances and trust lie? Psalmist explains the reward of trusting in the LORD: “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone … (Ps. 91:9-13). Interestingly, this is the same Scripture the devil has quoted for Jesus during the temptation. However, because Jesus is the greatest teacher and interpreter of Scriptures, He shames the devil by pointing out the motive of the devil’s misquoting of the Scriptures, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12).

The conclusion hints to the fact that the devil “departed from him (Jesus) until an opportune time” (Lk. 4:13) to indicate that even when we overcome the devil through God’s presence, the liar and tempter does not go away from us for forever. He waits for a different time when we may prioritize human desires to live a life without God. At such a time of preoccupation with body weight, marital problems, threats of world war … our hearts are filled with wickedness and corruption. We lose heart and forget the Lord’s discipline is for our benefit.

The conclusion also indicates the earthly ministry of Jesus is a contest with the devil. This calls for Christian discipline through prayer and fasting. Therefore, the teaching that Jesus was hungry is not only about physical food. It also directs our attention to the discipline of constant prayer, reading the Scriptures, and interacting with other believers in the church and in the community in the manner that represents the love of God for humanity.

The second aspect of Christian discipline, that is, interaction with the Scriptures, is evident in the reference of the forty days and the wilderness. For forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, God provided food and water to the Israelites. Does the devil think Almighty God is absent in the life of his only begotten and beloved Son, and cannot provide him food? What a liar! 

Forty days of self-discipline are required for us as we enter the season of Lent because like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are susceptible to disobedience. We need discipline through self-denial that is easily achieved when we interact with the Scriptures and remember the experience of Christ for temptation and his persistence in trusting God. Christ who has been tempted is with us and knows our experience of pain, and will lead the way to resurrection.

In our Old Testament reading, the giver is reminded about the relationship with God in the wilderness, abundant provision for food, and the land to settle in. “When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name” (Deut. 26:1, 2).

The entire exercise of offering is a discipline of obedience to God for his deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, his provision of food in the wilderness, his protection from the enemies,and his generosity for giving Israelites land from the people who had insulted and abused God.The books of Joshua and Judges make numerous claims that God gave the land of the Canaanites to the Israelites because the Canaanite nations had abused God’s provision by worshipping other gods and idols and they no longer deserved discipline but judgement. 

Offering is the third aspect of discipline. We remember God’s provision for us and participate in almsgiving and service to the poor, the underprivileged and the marginalized—the least of the Christ’s body (Matt. 25:40, 45). The goal is a liturgical discipline through an ascent to the mountain and dwelling of God. When we read the declaration, “You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us’” (Deut. 26:3), we must understand the priest in this aspect of discipline is not a representative of God who should listen to your problems and sins, and pardons you because the priest represents God for the giver.

The priest is only in the church, the “place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name” (Deut. 26: 2), before the giver to indicate the discipline of both the priest and the giver is grounded in the witness to the covenant with God. The priest has to be present in the church because the gathering of Christians is mediated through the sharing of the Body and Blood ofChrist, the first gift for our ascent to the Father. The giver presents his offering in the church because the giver is giving back to God in God’s chosen place. The church is symbolic of the mountain of Moriah where God provides the ram in place of Isaac (Gen.22:14), whose sacrifice foretells the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world.

The discipline of almsgiving is our participation in the celebration of the Holy Communion for the preservation of the soul and body into eternal life. Consequently, the above instruction in Deut. 26:1-2 helps us understand the history of almsgiving, tithing and offering in worship. The conclusion, “you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house” (Deut. 26:11), explains the reason for sharing the fruits dedicated to the LORD with the Levites, aliens, orphans and widows is to instil equality before God. “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him” (Rom. 10:12).

What comes to your mind when you see Paula, Claude, Nathaniel, or Bishop Helen when she comes to St. Mary on March 27, 2022, moves up the chancel to the altar, raises hands higher up in praise and prayer, turns the back to the congregation, faces the ascension window above, and recites the Lord’s Prayer alone at the beginning of the Holy Communion? Book of Common Prayer is structured through a Levitical biblical theology of priesthood and atonement.  

Atonement is the greatest hope against the sin and distractions of the world. We confess our sins in hope of deliverance from every day situations that make us suffer, like the current war in Ukraine, and in hope of salvation in the life to come when Christ gathers all to the Father. Some of the parish members have great connections to Ukraine and are in pain. I would like take a moment to acknowledge them and their loved ones and friends in prayers. We can support them through prayers, and also through donations, as appropriate. Thinking about those in suffering show we are following Christ’s teaching and interaction with those in need.

This confession is our discipline of salvation. Paul teaches that “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Some churches take salvation to be a simple YES or NO response to Christ, but salvation is a process that involves discipline of the mind and thought. 

What we believe either brings us closer to God when it aligns with the will of God or takes usaway from God when it is not the will of God. Then we accept the call and become the messenger of God by words and prayers. Then we embark on the mission to proclaim the message of salvation that we have received and in which we believe to other people. Then wecreate the opportunities that allow us and others to hear the message of Christ. Finally, webelieve our message and the one who send us. The following questions capture this discipline of salvation: “how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15).

May God Almighty gives us the discipline to live according to his will during the Lent. Amen.