Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Ash Wednesday, as we began the season of Lent, I invited the congregation to meditate on the treasure we have been given in the sacraments of baptism and communion. Certainly Lent can be a time of repentance, self-denial and abstinence. For some, the forty days of Lent may be a time to give up something they enjoy. Giving something up can be a helpful discipline for you for every time you are inclined to enjoy or imbibe you will be reminded of what Jesus has done for you. Of course, there are some who have merely chosen to give up their New Year’s Resolutions. And others still, who are considering giving up church for Lent. Though, beware, that can be a bit embarrassing.
I am reminded of the toddler who attended the baptism of his baby brother in the local church, with his not so frequent church-going parents. After the service, the boy sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. The boy’s father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That pastor said he wanted us be brought up in a good, Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.” That was not any parent’s finest hour.
Lent, however, doesn’t have to be marked by a dreary focus on repentance. Historically, Lent was a time of reflection and renewal in preparation for baptism at Easter. And that is the intent of this series of Lenten meditations.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, we are taught that the sacrament of holy baptism “brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.” These are wonderful promises which should be celebrated, but how should we experience this joy in Lent? Truthfully, I don’t think it happens by denying yourself a chocolate or two on Valentine’s Day- just because you have chosen yet again this year to give up chocolate. Though that may serve another purpose. No, I believe that Lent is a time for renewing your commitment to God by remembering your baptism.
For generations, the story of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness has been interpreted as a Lenten call to withstanding temptation. After all, regardless of their age, all of God’s children are tempted. When children are small, we teach them that the devil tempts them with cheating, stealing and lying. When our children become teenagers, we teach them that the temptations of the devil are coming home late, waking up late, and turning in home work late. And for adults, there are the more spectacular temptations that tear apart caring and loving families.
Certainly abstaining from earthly pleasures is a part of this morning’s gospel as well. Jesus ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over he was famished. There is, however, another biblical tradition. Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness was an intentional period of renewing his faith and exploring the promises of God. In the Old Testament, the wilderness was not a simply a desolate place, but it was a sacred place that prophets went to meet God. Unfortunately, the devil had chosen to sojourn out to the wilderness as well.
Now at first glance, the devil seemed to be tempting the famished and hungry Jesus with power, riches and greed, or in this instance, bread, power and strength. But I don’t think that this story is really about specific temptations. No, I believe the story is about the nature of our own human temptation, and the devil’s longing to seduce us. Professor David Lose has suggested that temptation isn’t simply about being drawn towards something that you shouldn’t have or something you desire which is forbidden to you. There are countless earthly pleasures that do not tempt me what so ever. No, these are not the temptations we should fear. No, the greatest temptations are what we are being drawn away from – the things which should be important and integral to our lives and our identity- the love and care for family and friends, and our relationship to God.
Jesus understood the devil’s words, which is why when the devil offered him bread, Jesus responded with a statement of his assurance that he could trust in God’s word. The devil then offered Jesus treasure and power which would draw him away from God’s loyalty. Finally, the devil challenged God’s very integrity, by tempting Jesus into testing the relationship of Father and Son and jumping from the temple. To all these temptations, Jesus refused.
Power, riches and greed perhaps; or for you it may be influence, affluence and opulence. Whatever the names of your temptations, they are the devil’s way to draw you and your confidence away from God. He knows your possibilities and potential. That is why it is so important for you to renew your faith in God, to build up your defense, and to remember your baptism.
Of course, it’s not just the devil and all his empty promises which are testing us. Day after day we are surrounded by the commercial world of advertising which tries to wean us away from God as well. The majority of the times, the ads are to create within us a sense inadequacy that can be overcome with a new loyalty and allegiance. In this political year, consider how many uncivil messages are being produced to create within us a sense of anger, greed and mistrust. All you need to do is redirect your allegiance in the ballot box. Vote for the candidate who will give you what you think you need. Tempting, isn’t it? Remember your baptism.
We live in a world, where it is easy to forgot about baptism, and the promises that we have made both as parents and in our words at our rite of confirmation to live in the covenant of baptism. The devil is not tempting you to do something. No, he is tempting you away from relationship of trust with God. And he is subtle.
A young boy named Martin arrived at Sunday School late one Sunday morning. Miss Walter, his teacher, knew that Martin was usually very punctual so she asked him if anything was wrong. Martin replied nothing. He had been planning on going fishing but his dad told him that he needed to go to church. Miss Walter was very impressed and asked the lad if his dad had explained to him why it was more important to go to church than to go fishing? Martin replied, “Yes he did. Dad said he didn’t have enough bait for both of us.” The devil’s temptation to draw you away begins in subtle ways. “Don’t worry. Your life is in order. Nobody else takes faith so seriously these days. What is baptism? It’s just water and words.”
My friends, God has given the sacrament of holy baptism as a means of grace to help you renew your confidence and trust that there is a loving Father who watches over you and will provide all that you need from day to day. In fact, he will provide so much that you can dare to share with others. In the sacrament of holy baptism, you are reminded of a heavenly Father, who loves you more than you love yourself. And he loves your neighbors as well, so that he can dare to invite you to call them your brothers and sisters. This heavenly Father is the one who gives you your true identity as a child of God. In the sacrament of holy baptism God has given you the assurance that there is nothing in all of creation, not even the devil and all his empty promises, that can separate you from his love. So do not be anxious or be afraid. God will walk with you with his Spirit all your days. That is why we should remember our baptisms and celebrate our own true encounter with the water and God’s word.
Years ago, there was a man in my congregation who was a strong and devout leader. I had always known him as an example of decency and helpfulness. His wise faith gave guidance to our whole church, and his courageous commitments gave leadership. But, by his own admission, he had not always been that way. He told me that as a young man, he was always looking for trouble. But then he met his wife. She was kind, sweet and moral. She loved him me no matter how great a scoundrel he was. And little by little, because he wanted to live up to her love, he became less and less of his old self. Finally when they were married, he decided to spend his whole life trying to make her as happy as she made him. He said, his wife loved into being loving and loveable. That is how you are invited to remember your baptism. In the waters of baptism, God pours out his unconditional love and mercy upon you so that you can be the child he longs for you to be. Remember your baptism.
There are many statements attributed to Martin Luther that he never uttered or wrote. Supposedly, Luther said that every day when you wash your face you should remember your baptism. Despite it sounding “like Luther,” it doesn’t really match 16th-century practice of hygiene where the notion of washing your face wasn’t necessarily a daily chore. He did, however, write that “Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps. … In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.”
My friends, we are tempted daily in so many ways to abandon our faith in God and our confidence in ourselves. So instead of denying yourself from something this First Sunday in Lent, choose instead, to invest yourself in the people you love and reach out and embrace them. Touch the waters in the baptismal font. And remember your baptism and the promises God has given to you his beloved child. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.