Repent

Luke 13:1-9

1 Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices. 2 He replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did. 4 What about those twelve people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

6 Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ 8 The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. 9 Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.'” (CEB)

Repent

Earlier this week I learned that one of my friends from seminary died of cancer. The news broke my heart. He leaves behind a wife, who also attended Duke with me, and three children. Tragedy always brings up the same deeply human questions in us. We often struggle to make sense of things, to find answers to questions of sin and suffering. We search for a cause to explain the effect.

In part, that’s what’s happening here in Luke 13.

Different veins of thought within the Scriptures offer varying ways of thinking about the problem of suffering and the questions we ask about it. Scripture does not speak with a united voice in the matter. In fact, some of its perspectives are contradictory.

Why do we suffer? People have wrestled with this question since ancient times because suffering doesn’t always make sense to us. We can take the question and apply it to even more senseless situations: Why do bad things happen to seemingly good people? And the most senseless of all: Why does tragedy strike even the innocent, even children?

Job’s friends tried to make sense of his situation for him. They couldn’t imagine that Job was actually innocent. One of the dominant strains of thought in the Scriptures—and still today—is Deuteronomic theology. It’s called that largely because of Deuteronomy 28, which lays out the blessings and curses of the covenant. If we obey God and observe all the commandments, then we’ll be overcome with blessings. If we disobey God and ignore the commandments, we’ll be cursed beyond imagination.

It’s a theology that links human suffering directly to sin because God is just. It’s a theology that says good things happen to good people. So if you’re healthy, wealthy, and wise to the world, it’s because you are righteous and God is smiling on you. If you’re sick or infirmed, broke as a joke, and make foolish decisions, it’s because you’re a sinner and God is punishing you.

Proverbs also takes up this theme. “When the tempest passes, the wicked are no more, but the righteous are established forever.” (Prov. 10:25, NRSV). Even the disciples thought this way. They came upon a man born blind and asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2, CEB). God is just, so someone must have done something for this bad thing to happen.

But the truth is that suffering cannot always be traced to sin. In fact, Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question was “Neither he nor his parents.” No one sinned to cause this.

Some people argue that suffering is the result of a lack of faith. If you have faith, God will heal you. Some of you know I have a rare form of type 2 diabetes. My endocrinologist called it Type-2 of the thin variety. I’m 6-foot, 173 pounds. Under 40 (for a few more months anyway). I don’t fit the profile for this disease. Am I diabetic because I lack faith in God or God’s power to heal? Somehow I don’t buy that argument.

Others argue that suffering isn’t a result of sin or faithlessness, but it’s a part of God’s bigger plan for the world. Bad things happen to good people because our suffering will eventually benefit us or other people. A tornado kills a family, but spares their neighbors. A driver, high on meth, goes the wrong way on I-69 and kills a pregnant woman, her unborn child, her best friend, injures another woman and kills her husband, but the driver on meth survives. Maybe I’m diabetic so I won’t eat too much sugar, which is bad for me anyway.

Is it really God’s will? Is it all a part of God’s plan to teach us something? Well-meaning people often say things like, God must have a reason.

I would argue it’s actually a lack of faith on our part that requires us to insist that God has a reason for everything that happens.

It is WE who require order.

It is WE who require things to make sense.

It is WE who require logic.

We require these things the same way people around Jesus demanded signs. We need the proof. We need sense and order. After all, If God doesn’t have a reason for this tragedy, then it makes no sense. If it doesn’t make sense, then God isn’t in control. But God is in control, therefore it must be part of God’s plan.

The problem is, faith does not require proof. Faith is not logical. Neither is a fallen world corrupted by sin where people make bad choices, where bodies fail, where disease strikes, where storms blow, where the earth shakes, and where waters rise.

Job is an incredibly complex book. In one sense, it suggests God allows Satan to cause suffering, and then rewards us for enduring it. But Job, his wife, and his friends all see Job’s suffering from different angles. Job insisted there was no justification for his suffering. Job’s friends tried to comfort him by explaining his situation to him rationally. They employed Deuteronomic theology, and did all they could to force Job’s situation to make sense.

His first friend insisted God wouldn’t have brought this calamity on Job if he were really innocent. “Think! What innocent person has ever perished? When have those who do the right thing been destroyed? As I’ve observed, those who plow sin and sow trouble will harvest it.” (Job 4:7-8, CEB).

You must have done something wrong, Job!

His next friend insisted God is just, so Job needs to act faithfully. “If you will search eagerly for God, plead with the Almighty. If you are pure and do the right thing, then surely he will become active on your behalf and reward your innocent dwelling.” (Job 8:5-6).

You just need the right kind of faith, Job! Then God will make all your troubles go away.

His third friend insisted Job look on the bright side. After all, it could be worse. “Know that God lets some of your sin be forgotten.” (Job 11:6b, CEB). In other words, Job isn’t getting punished nearly as badly as he deserves.

It could be worse, Job!

So when these people told Jesus about the Galilean pilgrims Pilate apparently murdered inside the Temple, letting their blood flow with the blood of the sacrificial animals, Jesus addressed it head on, but in a way that dismantled Deuteronomic theology.

“Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will all die just as they did. What about those twelve people who were killed with the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.” (Luke 13:1-5, CEB).

These things didn’t happen because the people were worse sinners than anyone else. They didn’t happen because of God’s punishment or monstrous educational plan. Accidents happen, and there aren’t always answers. Tragedy can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere, whether it’s an accident, an act of nature, or the result of someone’s violence or negligence. It adds a sense of urgency for our need to repent, in part because we might suffer tragedy at any moment and, in part, because when we live sinfully and selfishly, without mercy, hospitality, or generosity, we add to the brokenness of the world.

We need to repent because we are a part of the problem! We don’t want to admit it. We don’t even like the idea of thinking that way. If we had to judge ourselves we’d say we’re pretty good people. But that’s partly what the parable of the fig tree illustrates. We’re all sinners who fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). We’re all fig trees who fail to bear fruit. We all need to turn away from sin.

This particular fig tree was given time to produce, but didn’t. So the owner demanded it be cut down. After all, it’s wasting the soil that could be used for a productive tree. But the tree has an advocate in the gardener.

Let me take care of it. Let me try. I’ll prune some of its roots to force the tree into production. I’ll put manure around it to make sure it has everything it needs. Wait a little longer and see. If it still doesn’t bear fruit, then you can cut it down.

This is not a story about second chances where we just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and work harder. It’s a parable about the possibility of new life which God offers to us through grace. We can’t produce this fruit on our own. All we can do is turn our life away from sin and cooperate with God’s grace as it works in us.

It might make us feel uncomfortable to take an image of poop too far, but since Jesus used it I’ll roll with it.

We need Christ’s body and blood—God’s grace—to nourish us like a tree needs manure. We need the Holy Spirit to prune our roots so we can draw nourishment from the right source, keeping us from the peripheral things out there that get in the way. We need God in order to produce fruit. And God is patient enough to care for us and stave off the impatience of judgement for a while. We have an opportunity to repent and turn back to God in fresh ways. That’s what Lent is all about.

Let’s not waste our chance.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Abram’s Faith

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

1 After these events, the LORD’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”

2 But Abram said, “LORD God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” 3 He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”

4 The LORD’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” 5 Then he brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them. He continued, “This is how many children you will have.” 6 Abram trusted the LORD, and the LORD recognized Abram’s high moral character.

7 He said to Abram, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”

8 But Abram said, “LORD God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”

9 He said, “Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. 11 When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off. 12 After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A terrifying and deep darkness settled over him.

17 After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. 18 That day the LORD cut a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates. (CEB).

Abram’s Faith

Last Sunday was Saint Valentine’s Day. It was also the 20th anniversary of me answering my call to ministry. During the week leading up to February 14, 1996, God had been in my head. I mean, God had been pounding away at me, but I wasn’t quite sure why. Or, maybe I didn’t want to know. But, refusing to be ignored, God got through to me that day. I knew God wanted me to go into ministry of some kind, and I said “Yes.”

Actually, it was more like an exasperated, “Alright, God, I’ll do it!” But it meant the same thing. I started the ordination candidacy process, and underwent all of the stuff that requires. I had psychological evaluations done, because anyone going into ministry must be crazy. I moved to Durham, North Carolina so I could attend seminary and get my required master’s degree, which made great financial sense. I could have started at about $80,000 a year with my bachelor’s degree. Instead, I started at $27,500 with my master’s degree.

I went where I was assigned for my first ministry appointment. After two years, I was moved to my second ministry appointment. Three years later, I moved to my third ministry appointment. Three years after that, I moved to my fourth ministry appointment. Four years later, I moved here.

But it wasn’t only me. My family moved with me. Kara is now ten years old, in her fifth home. She’s in 5th grade in her fourth school, in her 3rd school district. My wife had to give up starting her master’s degree twice. The first one would have been free from Indiana State. The second one would have been at IPFW up in Fort Wayne. My family and I have given up a lot for the sake of serving the church; not all of it willingly. Some of it, downright grudgingly.

My relationship with God has been fairly straightforward. God called me to ministry, so I went into ministry. The church provided an appointment for ministry, so we went. Again. And again. And again. And again.

And there were times I asked God what in the world was happening. Why was I put at a church with a pastor who bullied people and almost drove me out of the ministry? Why was I put at a church where some people in the congregation seemed to find enjoyment in complaining against and beating up their pastor over Every Little Thing?

Why did we have to move away from a place we loved, a place we considered home, a place where we thought all three of our kids would graduate from high school, a place where we were essentially promised a long-term appointment? (I know United Methodist pastors are appointed for one year at a time, but that’s how they sold it to us).

Through all of those events, I could only hope that God would take care of us and meet our needs despite the cost to our hearts, our sanity, and our souls. We tried to be faithful. And yet, all of these things, all of these attempts to follow faithfully, led to what I thought was a crisis of faith. It’s ironic, don’t you think, that following God could lead to questioning God? That’s what we usually define as faithlessness, isn’t it?

I guess I had forgotten about Abram and Sarai.

Abram’s relationship with God was also straightforward. God spoke, Abram listened. God told him to get up, leave his home in Haran, and go. So Abram went and settled in Canaan. At the Oaks of Moreh, God promised to give Abram and his children land. So Abram built an altar to God. He believed God and began to worship, invoking the name of the Lord. And he travelled on, making his way to Egypt and back up to the Negeb and to Bethel.

Again, God promised Abram, telling him to look up. All the land Abram saw, God would give to his offspring. God would make his offspring like the dust of the earth. If a person could count the dust of the earth, then they could count Abram’s offspring. He was told to get up and walk through the land God promised to give. So Abram got up and walked.

Abram rescued his nephew, Lot, and received a blessing from Melchizedek—the king of Salem and priest of God Most High—and Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils.

Then, we arrive at our text. After these events, the LORD’s word came to Abram in a vision, ‘Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.’” (CEB).

But this time, Abram has questions. His response to God can no longer be silent obedience. He’s done everything prior to this moment without hesitation. But there’s still a serious flaw in the promise that Abram can no longer ignore. So he asks God, “…what can you possibly give me since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer of Damascus. Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”

It’s as if Abram is asking, God, what’s the point of making this promise? You keep promising me descendants and land where they’ll live, but I’ve got nothing.

God’s response is an invitation to go stargazing. “Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child… Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them… This is how many children you will have.” (CEB). According to NASA, there are around one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. That’s a 1, followed by 21 zeros. It’s a lot of stars. And that corresponds to a lot of offspring. Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

But what in the world does that mean? The Hebrew word we translate as believed can also mean trusted. The word righteousness has to do with acting appropriately in our relationship with God. Then, the term reckoned means that something has been declared correct, like a sacrifice that is properly offered in an acceptable manner. Essentially, God declared Abram’s trust to be appropriate and acceptable.

Then God says, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” (CEB). This might have been one line too much. I laughed because in my head I imagined some shady salesman saying, Hey, it’s me. I’m the guy who sold you that perfect vacation package to beautiful downtown Detroit. Jimmy Hoffa liked it so much he took up permanent residence. Trust me. You’re gonna have a kid. I guarantee it.

Immediately after God reckons Abram’s trust as righteousness, Abram asks another question. Yeah, about that. How do I know that I will actually possess it?

This is a person of faith—God confirmed faith—asking this question. It’s a curious thing because we would normally assume a person who questions God like this to be an example of a person who lacks faith. When we have questions for God, when we feel doubt and anxiety, when we have misgivings and uncertainty, when we’re troubled by frustration and disappointment we call it a faith crisis, meaning we think our faith is faltering.

We think of faith in terms of unquestioning obedience. Perfect submission. Silent acceptance. Humble acquiescence. After all, that’s the way Abram had acted up until this point. He did everything God asked of him. He went everywhere God told him to Go.

And yet, ironically, it’s his constant attempts at faithfulness that drive him to ask questions that seem less than faithful. But I think we can learn from Abram even here. I think his questions are properly defined as faithfulness. We’re the ones who have redefined faithfulness improperly.

Sometimes faithfulness means we struggle with God. In fact, I believe our faith requires the struggle. God gave Jacob the name Israel for a reason. Do you recall what Israel means? One who struggles with God. It can also mean God struggles. It’s as if God knew the very foundation of this relationship between humans and God would be one of unease. Faithfulness is a struggle: God’s struggle with putting up with us, and our struggle with following the sometimes strange ways of God.

Read any part of the Old Testament, and you’ll find people—even models of faithfulness—asking questions of God, seeking more information, just like Abram. Or read the Psalms. How many of us have never asked God the simple questions, Why or How? Sometimes that’s what faithfulness looks like.

When Abram asked God, “How will I know that I’ll possess it?” he wasn’t doubting God. Abram asked because he truly believed God could do exactly what God promised. Abram believed God, but he couldn’t see how God would accomplish it. So he questions God about the matter.

Lent gives us an opportunity to think about the meaning of God’s claim upon us, God’s offer of grace, forgiveness, and abundant life, and our response to God. Following isn’t always easy. Faithfulness isn’t always laying down to die unquestioningly on someone else’s altar. Abram’s faithfulness—and God’s confirmation of Abram’s belief and righteousness—reminds us that we’re allowed to struggle.

We’re allowed to ask God questions. We’re allowed to seek answers to the issues we cannot keep silent within our hearts. What kind of relationship would we have with God if we couldn’t speak honestly of our struggles?

The thing is, our attempts at faithfulness will inevitably lead to struggle and questions. But I believe it’s through the struggle with God that we grow.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Temptations

Luke 4:1-13

1 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. 2 There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. 3 The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”

5 Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world.  6 The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. 7 Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

9 The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” 12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”

13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity. (CEB)

Temptations

The temptation of Jesus is a familiar story to most of us. It’s most often interpreted as a story that tells us how Jesus was tempted in every way, just like we are tempted each day. But Luke closely connects the temptation of Jesus with Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Luke has already identified Jesus as such. Even before Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel told Mary that her son “will be called God’s Son.” (Lk 1:35, CEB).

The three temptation scenes each give a different interpretation of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. They each show us the meaning and nature of being the Son of God: the kind of Son that Jesus is in contrast to the kind of child Israel turned out to be.

The temptations also show us the meaning and nature of being God’s adopted children in this called-community named the church. Each temptation Jesus experienced teaches us something significant about the Christian Life and how it is to be lived.

For each temptation scene, we need to explore the Old Testament context of each of Jesus’ responses in order to make sense of what is being said.

In the first temptation, the devil suggests to a very hungry Jesus that he make bread from one of the stones lying around him. This act would be perfectly harmless. No one would be hurt. At the same time, it would supply Jesus’ need for food, satisfying his intense hunger after a forty-day fast. Why should Jesus not use his divine power for this? It appears to be a win-win solution. No harm, no foul.

Jesus’ response, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone’” makes little sense without remembering the biblical context from which it comes.

1 You must carefully perform all of the commandment that I am commanding you right now so you can live and multiply and enter and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors.  2 Remember the long road on which the LORD your God led you during these forty years in the desert so he could humble you, testing you to find out what was in your heart: whether you would keep his commandments or not.  3 He humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you the manna that neither you nor your ancestors had ever experienced, so he could teach you that people don’t live on bread alone. No, they live based on whatever the LORD says. (Deuteronomy 8:1-3, CEB).

Here, Moses reminds the people of their sojourn in the wilderness—and specifically—of God’s gift of manna. The people’s hunger and God’s gift of manna occurred because, “people don’t live on bread alone. No, they live based on whatever the LORD says.” (Deut. 8:3, CEB).

The people’s need for bread was secondary to Israel’s need to understand that God alone provides bread. The need for physical sustenance was not as important as their understanding that God is their sole provider of physical sustenance. Because Jesus understands that the Lord alone provides bread, he can resist the temptation to take matters into his own hands.

Oh, that we had such understanding! That we understood that God is our provider, and our need for sustenance and the things of the world is secondary to our need to understand that God has gifted to us everything. Maybe, then, we would be more willing to give back to God all that God requires of us.

In the second temptation, Jesus is offered political power. Who among us, after all, has not said to themselves at one time or another, “If only I were in charge…” And really, what better person to have in charge of the world’s politics than Jesus? Especially in light of the field of candidates for President. All Jesus has to do is bow down and worship the devil, and he’ll receive dominion over all the nations of the earth. As the devil said, “It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want.” (CEB).

Yet, in the context of Israel’s history, certain concerns about power are at play here. Israel always acted like the jealous little neighbor kid. Israel always wanted to be like its neighbors: to worship their neighbor’s gods, to have kings like their neighbor’s kings, to have clout and power like their neighbors. The only reason the people of Israel had a king at all is because they rejected the Lord as their king in the first place. That’s the accusation God laid against them when they asked for a king.

“So all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” 6 It seemed very bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the LORD. 7 The LORD answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request–everything they ask of you–because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. 8 They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshiping other gods.” (1 Samuel 8:4-8, CEB).

Israel wanted to be a political power like their neighbors, the wanted to have a king like their neighbors, more than they wanted to be a faithful people with the Lord as their king.

Jesus’ response is from Deuteronomy 6:13, “Revere the LORD your God, serve him, and take your oaths in his name!” (CEB). This response rejects the devil’s demand for worship. In doing so, Jesus insists that real power only comes from God. After all, the devil had said himself that authority over the world had been “entrusted” to him. The devil had no authority apart from what had been given to him. God gave the devil authority over the earth before the devil rebelled and misused his power. The Lord is the only source of power in heaven and earth. Any time we think otherwise we’re deluding ourselves.

The third temptation is the climax of the three temptation scenes, and it’s centered on the Jerusalem Temple. This time, when the devil speaks, he uses the Holy Scripture itself in order to reinforce his suggestion. I’d wager that the devil knows what the Bible says better than most Christians.

If Jesus is God’s Son, then he can force God to prove it and protect him, just as Psalm 91 suggests. “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it’s written [in Psalm 91]: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.’” (CEB).

Jesus again responds with words from Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 6:16, Moses warns the people that God should not be put to the test as they had tested him at Massah when Moses struck the rock at Horeb and water came forth from the rock. While God’s promises are true, we are not allowed to try and force God’s hand to fulfill promises according to the ways we think those promises ought to be fulfilled. God is not our servant; we are servants of God. It’s when we attempt to reverse those roles and make God our servant that we put God to the test.

At the end of the three temptations, Luke tells us “the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.” (CEB). That next opportunity was the crucifixion of Jesus. So here at the beginning of Lent we already look forward to suffering and death on the cross.

These temptations tell us something about Jesus as God’s Son. We can see that Jesus is a different kind of child of God than the people of Israel proved to be, and even – often enough – than we Christians prove to be. Israel thought it needed bread alone to live. Israel gave in to the temptation of idolatry. Israel tested God by trying to make God do their bidding.

Jesus’ resistance to the temptations of the devil proves that he is not that kind of Son. Jesus understands that the Lord is God alone. He never once turned aside from that understanding. God alone is God.

We, on the other hand, are very often very much like the people of Israel. We try to take matters into our own hands and selfishly use our time, energy, and possessions for our own benefit rather than for the benefit of the world. We’re guilty of seeking earthly power, authority, or prestige for ourselves. In fact, our culture calls the gaining of these things virtuous.

We’ve turned away from the Lord in order to worship the false gods which our culture props up. We’ve put the Lord our God to the test. We want God to prove to us that God exists or that God really cares. Until God does so, we’ll continue to pursue these other false deities. God has already revealed to us everything we need to know. God has revealed to us who God is, and what God expects of us. Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God to humanity.

So what does the temptation of Jesus mean for us who are called to live as God’s children? Being a child of God means that we don’t take matters into our own hands, nor do we work only for our own benefit. Instead, we rely on God to give us what we need for our every day.

Being a child of God means that we don’t seek power for ourselves, but recognize that the Lord is the true and only source of power and authority in the world.

Being a child of God means that we don’t put God to the test by trying to force God to prove to us that God is God, or by trying to make God our servant.

For Christians, being a child of God means living as a disciple of Jesus Christ. It means resisting the temptations of the devil by allowing the Lord our God to be the king of our lives.

During this time of Lent, let’s refocus. Let’s refocus our lives on the God who provides, the God who upholds, the God who reveals. Lent has always given Christian people an opportunity to be serious about turning away from sin. It gives us a chance to make amends in our lives; to turn back to Lord.

Even Jesus was subject to temptation, as Luke reminds us in his Gospel. This Lent, we’re invited to rededicate ourselves to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, the study of Holy Scripture, fasting, worship, service, and generosity.

John Wesley called the spiritual disciplines means of grace. They’re the means by which we receive grace and connection to God’s presence. It is only by God’s grace that we will persevere through the daily moments of temptation and trial. Only by God’s grace – and our choice to seek it – can we live as God intends us to live.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Luke 9:28-36

28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. 33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–but he didn’t know what he was saying. 34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe. 35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” 36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen. (CEB)

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord. Every Sunday during the season after the Epiphany on January 6 we read texts from Scripture that deal with the revealing or manifesting of God. The Transfiguration of the Lord is the crowning point of the season right before we head into Lent. The ancient Christians revered this day, as we revere it today, because the passages we read in Holy Scripture, for the second and last time, reveal fully and completely Jesus as God, and God as Three-in-One. Jesus revealed himself as God only twice in his life: at his baptism, and at his Transfiguration.

This revelation of Jesus leads us inevitably into Christology and Trinitarian theology: theology about Jesus Christ, and theology about the Christian God in whom we believe. Regarding Jesus, we Christians believe that he has two natures: Jesus is at the same time fully God and fully human. At the Transfiguration the three apostles, Peter, James, and John, saw Jesus resplendent in his divine glory in the presence of two great witnesses who had seen this same glory in the time of the Old Covenant.

The appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes radiated with whiteness. This light is the light of Jesus’ divinity shining through his person. It is uncreated light rather than created light. The difference is this: God created light. He created the sun, which is our earthly source of light. He created all matter, and it is the transformation of matter which is the source of all known forms of energy and light. The source of light is always matter, such as excited gas particles, or wood, oil, coal, or even the filament of a light bulb that is burned. Incandescence, fluorescence, chemiluminescence, bioluminescence and all other sources of the electromagnetic radiation we call light have their source in matter. It is created light.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, light of light, true God of true God was not created. He is begotten of the Father. He shines upon the mountain with a light which was uncreated. The source of this divine light is God. For a moment upon the mountain the three apostles saw Jesus illumined by a divine Light that shone through his human body. This divine light was transmitted even to earthly matter. The Gospels record that even his clothes became glistening, intensely white, as no one could bleach them.

Moses appears with Jesus personifying the Law, while Elijah comes in the name of the Prophets. Jesus is he who fulfills the Law and the prophets. It is interesting that in Luke we actually get to hear the topic of conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. They speak with Jesus about his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the departure is an obvious reference to Jesus’ death. But, the Greek word translated into English as departure is exodus. Just as in the Exodus from Egypt Moses stretched out his arms and led the people of God through the parted waters of the red sea, enabling them to come out alive on the other side and pass from slavery to freedom; so too Jesus, stretched out his arms on the cross and passed through the gates of death, enabling us to come out alive on the other side so that we might pass from slavery to sin and death to life eternal.

Peter was so astonished to see the glory of God shining through Jesus, and Moses and Elijah standing talking with him that he wanted to prolong the moment. Peter asks to stay forever on the mountain, suggesting that they build tents in order to retain the vision of God for all eternity.

While Peter was busy suggesting that they put God in a bottle, a cloud came and overshadowed them on the mountain; and the disciples were terrified when they entered the cloud. They knew that the cloud represented the presence of God. When God spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai a cloud descended and covered the mountain. When Solomon finished building the Temple in Jerusalem and the ark of the covenant was brought into the Holy of Holies, a cloud filled the room, “And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:10-11).

The cloud is the Holy Spirit who envelopes and protects the apostles, for without the presence and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we pitiful human beings cannot contemplate the glory of God. Out of the cloud came the voice of God directed at the three apostles, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” In this way the Trinity is manifested: “The Father speaks, the Son shines in splendor, the Spirit covers with a luminous cloud.”

It is through the Person of Christ that we come to the knowledge of God in three Persons. Jesus Christ is the radiance of the Father, and through him the Holy Spirit acts in the world. When we pray to Christ, he leads us to his Father through the Holy Spirit.

The importance of knowing God as Three-in-One rests in the fact that we are a people created in the image of God. Therefore, until we know the God who created us we will find it difficult to discover true meaning or purpose in life. It’s through this God that we are able to possess life-eternal, for eternal life is to reside at the heart of the Trinity.

One of my favorite stories about the light of God comes from the Russian Orthodox Church (please forgive me if you’ve heard it before). It is a story about a monk named St. Seraphim, and it was recorded by his friend Motovilov. Together these two men were walking through the snow having a discussion about the Christian Faith. When Motovilov asked him about the purpose of the Christian life, the monk St. Seraphim answered that it is the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” Not satisfied with the answer, Motovilov persisted, “But what does this mean?” “Look at me,” Seraphim said to him. Then Motovilov turned and saw his friend standing in the snow with his face shining like the sun.

When Moses came down from God’s presence on the mountain of God, which was covered in a cloud, his face glowed with holy brightness. On the mountain of Transfiguration, Christ’s body and garments were radiant with light. The Holy Spirit changes, transfigures, and transforms that which it touches. One day, all of created matter, the whole universe, will be transfigured by the Holy Spirit.

Coal is a black and opaque material. If it is left as it is it cannot become transparent. Yet, if it is exposed to the right conditions it will turn into a diamond. If it is touched by fire, it produces brightness and heat. Yet, the divine fire is infinitely more powerful than this material fire which is merely a pale reflection of the power from on high. What is of the earth remains earthly, and when fire consumes matter it turns to dust and ashes. But the divine fire neither consumes nor destroys. Do you remember the story where Moses kneeled before the burning bush, yet the bush was not consumed by the fire? This fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit, will kindle the whole world. At the last day the entire creation will be permeated and transfigured by divine rays.

If you go into a great cathedral early in the morning you will only see dark and colorless windows. But if you wait patiently for the sun to rise you will look with wonder as the stained glass windows gradually radiate with fire; each one assumes a particular color, just as each one of us will possess a unique brightness (1 Cor. 15:35-58). We are like those stained glass windows: the light which we need in order to acquire our true nature and to give full scope to our personality is the Holy Spirit, who offers Himself constantly to illumine us.

Our task is to make ourselves transparent to this grace, this light; to allow God to work in us and overcome our opaqueness, which is our sinfulness, so that our sinfulness no longer hinders the passage of divine Light into us and through us. Saint John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3).

The answer to the question, “Who is God?” is taken up during the season after Epiphany, and finally answered on this, the last Sunday, the Transfiguration of the Lord. The answer to this unfathomable and divine mystery is that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Divine Trinity, Three-in-One, the Light which enlightens everything. The Light of God is always shining. The question we must ask ourselves is this: “Are we allowing the Light of God to shine through us in ways that transform the world?”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!