Tag Archives: connection

Temptation: Setting the Terms of the Debate [First Sunday in Lent] – Luke 4:1-13

**sermon art: The Temptations of Christ, 12th century mosaic at St Mark s Basilica, Venice

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 10, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 4:1-13 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

[sermon begins]

How do you know that you’re losing an argument?  Perhaps you’re blood pressure goes up.  Maybe you start to cry.  Or yelling happens.  Or you go quiet, seething on the inside.  Or shut down and tune out.  There’s a lot of reactions to arguing but it’s rare that one person says to the other, “You know you’re right…it’s so clear to me now!”  If temptation could show up like an argument we wouldn’t have a problem with it. We could just say, “Sorry old chum, take your temptations and carry on.”  Except.  Except…temptation is like an argument.  Someone or something else sets the terms of the temptation debate, whether explicitly set or not, and there are factors that affect the argument such as hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue.[1]

Jesus, for instance, was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit after his baptism at the Jordan River.  He fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and was all by himself.  We can guess that he was likely some combination of hungry, lonely, and tired.  The questions being posed by the devil were about solving those very problems.  Hungry?  Turn stones to bread.  Lonely?  Have all the kingdoms of the world. Tired? Let the angels protect you.  Three easy steps to solve all Jesus’ problems. All three of these solutions for the price of worshiping something other than God.  The three temptations can be summed up as things, power, and safety.  There may be a better summary but let’s go with those for now…Jesus was offered things, power, and safety.  But Jesus, being Jesus of course, didn’t take the bait. Not only did he avoid the bait, he hardly entered the argument.  His response would suggest that he rejected the argument outright and reset the terms of the debate.  Being the Son of God and all might have helped just a tad.

Here’s what I’ve been wondering about.  I’ve been wondering how it is that temptation presents itself to ordinary, non-Son-of-God humans.  I’m not talking about sweet treats or extra pairs of shoes we say that we’re tempted by.  I’m talking about honest to God temptation that draws us away from who God calls us to be into something else entirely.  Make no mistake, we ARE free to be honest about those things. As I said on Ash Wednesday, those ashes remind us at the beginning of Lent that God loves us “so much that we are free to wonder about our motivations and our actions without worrying about the love freely given to us.”[2]  No time like the first Sunday in Lent to take that promise out for test drive.

At the very least, we’re most susceptible to our temptations when we’re hungry, lonely, and tired.  The more isolated we become, the more lost-in-the-wilderness we can feel.  People who are recovered from the despair of addiction often describe their experience like, “I felt so lost and alone that I didn’t care who got hurt.”  This could be said by people lost in all sorts of addiction – alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, and food, to name a few.  Perhaps you’ve heard a friend or family member say this very thing.  Perhaps it’s a confession you yourself have made or know that you need to make.  Whatever your point of reference, the Anonymous groups are onto something essential for all of us.

Our recovered friends in the pews learn to reframe the debate using 12 steps that include looking beyond themselves to a higher power in addition to being in community with other people in recovery.[3]   The road is not traveled alone.  The isolation and loneliness that add fuel to the fire of temptation and addiction are thwarted by connection with God and other people.

In Adult Sunday School last week, I gave everyone a slip of paper and asked them to jot down responses to why they worship.  Before people started writing, I let them know that the papers would be gathered and redistributed so that they could be read out loud and anonymity of the writers guaranteed.  (Basically protecting the introverts who can occasionally get protective of their thoughts.)  There were a variety of answers as well as multiple answers per piece of paper. What struck me at the time, and then again while reading them as I wrote this sermon, is that the majority of people in class listed being connected with a community of faith as one of their reasons for being in worship.  This Lent there are extra opportunities to be together that are open to anyone who wants to come. One is the Lenten retreat led by the pastors here at Augustana this coming Saturday and the others are here on Wednesday evenings for soup supper and worship.[4]

Last Sunday Pastor Ann preached about how countercultural worship is “in a world that encourages us to worship things, power, money, and ourselves.”  I would add that it’s one of the few places in our society where we voluntarily get together over time and across a variety of differences like age, income level, and gender, to be reminded of our primary identity that reframes the debate against temptation – baptized child of God.

It seems there are as many takes on the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness as there are biblical commentators.  One that makes some sense connects Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness with his baptism.[5]  The Gospel reading from Luke reads, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan [River] and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil.”  The reading reminds us what just happened in the waters of the river Jordan when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus while a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”[6]  Good ole Martin Luther, when the temptation to despair overwhelmed him, used to yell at the darkness, “I am a child of God, I am baptized!”[7]  It’s as if Luther had read this very part of the Gospel of Luke.  Hmmm….

The point is that we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Besides being called a congregation, we are alternately called the Body of Christ, defined and formed by being “baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  In the waters of baptism, we are given the Holy Spirit as our strength and our guide through the temptation to get lost in the wilderness of a world that sets the terms of the debate as power, money, and things – isolating us in our own muddled minds.  Over and against that temptation, the Holy Spirit gives us company as we work out who God is calling us to be. The company of Jesus, by way of our baptism, through our daily journey. And the company of each other as traveling companions on the road.

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[1] Dana Max, Psy.D., personal conversation. H.A.L.T. rule for pressing pause on an argument when you’re “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Intoxicated” and setting a time to revisit the contentious topic.

[2] You can find that sermon (“Beginning at the End, Ash Wednesday”) in which I unpack this concept here: http://caitlintrussell.org/2019/03/06/beginning-at-the-end-ash-wednesday-matthew-61-6-16-21-2-corinthians-520b-610-isaiah-581-12/

[3] The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Service Material from the General Service Office. (Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing, 1953, 1954, 1981).

[4] Lasting Hope, A Lenten Retreat, Saturday, March 16, 9:30am-1:30pm; and Wednesday in Lent, Soup 6-7pm and Worship 7-7:30pm. Both the Saturday retreat and Lenten worship take place at Augustana.

[5] Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Commentary on Luke 4:1-13 for February 21, 2010. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=508

[6] Luke 3:2

[7] Wes Brendenhof, Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. “Luther: Baptizatus sum (I am baptized)” on January 26, 2017. https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/luther-baptizatus-sum-i-am-baptized/

Connection at the Cradle’s Edge [OR Two Women Preaching a Shared Vision] Luke 1:39-55

**sermon art:  The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2009, oil on canvas

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Advent 4, December 23, 2018

Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]  In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

[sermon begins]

Ohhhh, cat fight!  Well, not really.  Not at all actually.  Mary and Elizabeth are two women in it together.  Both have slightly different jobs that work toward the same vision.  After Mary’s surprise pregnancy, she makes haste to the hills to her relative Elizabeth who is already six months pregnant in her old age.  Later we learn her visit to Elizabeth lasted about three months.[1]  Perhaps Mary was there when John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah – helping her aging relative with a difficult labor and delivery and then heading home as her own belly grew heavy with pregnancy.  This is no small relationship between the two women.  In a world that often pits women against each other, imagining competition where there isn’t any, here we have one of many examples in which competition is simply not the case.  Not only was Mary welcomed by Elizabeth and the baby inside of her.  Mary was celebrated by them.  The baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Celebration, indeed.

The celebration continues after Elizabeth’s joyous welcome with Mary’s psalm in response.  Psalms are a form of song in the Bible. They aren’t necessarily a location in one book of the Bible.  Psalm songs in Luke lead us to up to and beyond cradle’s edge.  In addition to Elizabeth and Mary, the priest Zechariah sings of God’s faithfulness after the birth of his son who becomes John the Baptist, the angels sing to shepherds in a field of good news for all people, and the prophets Simeon and Anna praise God’s mercy for all people.[2] Their songs celebrate the faithfulness of God in the One soon to be cradled in a manger and his mother’s arms.  Song is a way to remember. Songs get trapped in our head differently and become available in our minds at times when other words fail us.  Songs of full of faith and Christmas promise can sustain our faith and remind us of what we easily forget in the day – that the world and our connection with other people is to be celebrated by way of God’s imagination not our own imagined state of competition.

In her psalm, Mary praises God for humbling the proud, bringing down the powerful, lifting the lowly, and feeding the hungry.  One reaction to Mary’s psalm might be vengeful if you’re exhausted by oppression and survival. Another reaction to her psalm might be dread if you hear you’re about to lose something.  In a world that often pits people against each other, inciting competition, categorizing winners and losers, Mary’s psalm can be heard as either/or categories – either you’re the powerful at the top waiting to be toppled or you’re the lowly at the bottom waiting for your turn to be at the top.  For God’s sake, we know what happens to that cradled baby Jesus who grows into the ministry celebrated by his mother’s psalm.  The competition perceived by the political and religious powers took Jesus to trial and death on a cross.  But let’s remember for a moment, that the cross was good news both for the criminal who hung next to Jesus and for the Roman centurion nearby who praised God and confessed truth.[3]  Not either/or categories – both/and – all!

Okay, I’ve dabbled at the cross long enough. Let’s return to the cradle’s edge, shall we?  Pregnant expectation is where we’re at with Mary and Elizabeth.  Even the baby in Elizabeth’s belly is jumping for joy.  The women are joyous and hopeful as they greet each other.  Their psalms preach hope and promise, a vision jump-started by the Holy Spirit.  Two women, both preaching, both celebrating new life in the form of a baby but not yet a baby born.  Another word for this is hope.

Hope is my word for the church year. I chose it at the end of November before Advent began.  I chose the word hope as an antidote to the seemingly endless messages of despair.  With a word chosen to focus faith, I have a better shot at seeing life through the lens of God’s imagination and promise rather than human frustration and despair.  I have a better shot at living and sharing the hope that is within us by the power of faith.  Elizabeth and Mary’s moment is a case in point.  Mary left town in a hurry to go see Elizabeth.  She had a lot to fear in town.  Betrothed but not yet married to Joseph, young and pregnant, facing potential backlash from her community, she walks through Zechariah’s front door into safety and celebration with Elizabeth.  I imagine Mary showing up at Elizabeth’s home with the fatigue and nausea common to the first trimester of pregnancy and perhaps with some worry about the future.  Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit welcome is like a fresh breeze that smooths Mary’s furrowed brow and blows the dust off of her traveling feet and inspires Mary’s response in the Magnificat.

If Mary’s response is anything, it’s a word of hope. So much more than greeting card worthy, the Magnificat is bold, rebellious, and full of joy.  It’s hope-filled because, as we’ll hear in a few days, this is good news of great joy for ALL people.[4]  Which means that the mighty cast down and the lowly brought up stand together with each other by the power of Jesus.  It’s not about putting the lowly in the mighty category and the mighty in the low to simply repeat the same bad news.  Mary’s psalm births the possibility that the baby growing inside of her will lead us into love that connects rather than competes.  Not sentimental love where we pat each other on the head and wish each other good luck.  Rather, it’s a love that means seeing each other as human relatives, celebrating each other as Mary and Elizabeth did.  Sometimes it’s a compassionate love that soothes and consoles us within the cradle of Christ’s presence.  Sometimes it’s a convicting love that helps us understand when we are in the wrong from the courage gained by Christ’s cross.  Mary’s psalm afflicts those of us who are comfortable while comforting those of us who are afflicted.  The cradle and the cross reveal a lot about us.

But mostly the cradle and the cross reveal the Christ.  From cradle through cross to new life, Jesus is grace that tells the truth about ourselves and each other, bending fear into courage and transforming hatred into love so that we live as people with hope.

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[1] Luke 1:56

[2] David Lose, Senior Pastor, Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN. Commentary on Luke 1:39-55 for December 20, 2009. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=515

[3] Luke 23:39-47

[4] Luke 2:10-12 But the angel said to [shepherds], “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”