Monday, February 15, 2016

My First Sermon

Dr. Caroline Carson 1
First Sunday in Lent
Year C
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

First, HERE is the audio file!

This is my first sermon and I haven't yet studied Homiletics gentle in thy critique.

Don’t worry everyone, I’m not going to sing this sermon, tempting though that may be! ;-)

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

In these powerful words, Jesus tells us that we will need some help when (and not IF, but when) we are tempted or tested. The scene in today’s Gospel account was recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but not John. (Jackson) Luke’s Gospel reads: “After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”

Now, wait just a moment…Led by the Spirit… Jesus was not there by accident? Why? Doesn’t it disturb us that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted? Maybe a little, but perhaps no more so than the fact that Christ was sent into the world to die. (Jackson).

We are all led at one time or another, by a series of decisions and consequences, by a gut feeling, on a recommendation, and yes, even by God himself, into our own wildernesses. In a mix of our own actions and maybe some consequences beyond our control, in a way, we are set up to be tempted. Certain situations make us as fragile as little pieces of kindling, ready to be struck by a match we didn’t intend, only to spread fire and destroy the entire forest.

Why was Jesus led into the wilderness to be tempted? Did God want to test his own son? Right after Jesus’ Baptism and the holy moments of his father speaking “This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased” ?… Did Jesus choose this, knowing he would be setting an example for the future of humankind? Was God trying to see if his son was becoming spiritually arrogant…over confident in what must surely have been the security of being divine? As Fr. Rob said two weeks ago “Believing in yourself is an act of faith.” Isn’t it a fine line? A fine line between being confident enough and being haughtily over-confident. Are we tempted sometimes to fool ourselves into believing our answers or our actions sometimes, even if they’re not exactly truths?

Was Jesus there to grow? To prepare? Aren’t we also led down wild forest paths and through dark valleys in preparation with the outcome of personal growth? Like all good preparation, this scene is grounded in the aura of God. Jesus had just been baptized and was marked for all to see as God’s son. Perhaps Jesus was not expecting to be tempted, but he was ready.

How often do we let God or his word into our preparations? For me it’s often after the fact, when I know I’ve messed things up and need God’s help and/or support while I walk with him through another dark vale. Wherever I fit on the sliding scale of including God in all aspects of my life, I’m quite sure I could infuse my life with a greater portion!

Lucky for us, Jesus’ examples enable us to meet our tests head on.
Test 1 – “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus says “NOPE”.
It’s true, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It’s still not as simple as it sounds. In Jesus’ time, bread was THE biggest item in one’s diet. Bread was like maize to early cultures, like kingcake to Mardi gras, like ten pots coffee for me on a Monday. That said, there was a time and a place for miracles and this was neither. If he could go 40 days in fast, then another few minutes to an hour was inconsequential – besides - there was no audience to see about rocks becoming stones out in the forest. If he had performed a miracle, it would have looked impatient and as if he did not trust his father and his father’s will for him.

Test 2 - Jesus says “NOPE” in response to worshipping Satan and ruling the kingdoms of the world. Well guess what – it wasn’t the devil’s to give. Aaand – again, it wasn’t necessarily the time to be showy about using the power God gave him. Later, he showed his power over sickness, hunger, and even death. This was for a different purpose and for a different kingdom, an eternal one. Why would Jesus be tempted by this false offer of power? Wasn’t the devil smart enough to come up with something a wee bit more enticing? Think deeper, if Jesus had ruled over the nations, this would have included Rome….which was basically known at the time for tossing dirt in Israel’s face. A bunch of others: Syrians, Assyrians, and Babylonians all dominated and brought ruin to Israel at one time or another. so Jesus actually would have had the power to show revenge on behalf of his own people. That’s a little better Satan, but Christ shows he isn’t like that. He may have turned over some tables in his time, but he is capable of some restraint.

Test 3 - "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.” And with this we have the final “NOPE” from Jesus and it was an easy one, taking only the confidence in his knowledge that God should not be tested.

Soooo, back to this bit about preparation… Have you ever noticed the stones in your life that you wish could be bread instead….and if you JUST had it, “it would fix everything”?
Maybe your stones, like mine, are financial. Perhaps they are situational. If you just didn’t have to go through with that root canal, that house sale, to tell your children their beloved pet has died, or to tell your child, or yourself, you can’t do something you REALLY want to do. As he pleads later… “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” (Luke 22:42) Is Jesus not led here in preparation for a greater cause?

What if you had the best job, the highest salary, the most influential position? What if X politician wants to show he/she can do more good than Y politician? Consider that true power is shown in words found later in Luke’s gospel (12:48) “to whom much is given, much is expected.” WE hold the box of matches and with God’s help in our dry, thirsty tempted selves, we try to avoid striking them. Don’t play with matches, especially in a dry forest.

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

“Man does not live by bread alone”. WHAT IF your temptations are more spiritual in nature? Do you ever doubt? If you didn’t I’d be worried. Faith isn’t faith unless stained by the colorful glass and tribulations of our doubt. Humanity is curious. We ask questions when we want to know about things. We ask questions also when we need reassurance. Will so-and-so remember to take care of ________? If I take a day off, will the office be able to run without me?

“and lead us not into the temptation...of doubt…”

One of my best friends up in NYC, who is a priest, wrote once that another priest had come to him in confidence. This colleague trusted him enough to share the depths of his struggles, saying to him in great fear that he wasn’t sure he believed: in God, in Christ, in anything anymore. Imagine experiencing that. Imagine a point in your life at which you have felt the lowest or have been in utter despair. What a stone – this is well past hunger. Instead of berating him, ostracizing him, judging him, or trying to convince him otherwise, my friend simply told him “Then, I, and others, we will believe for you right now”. What a response! What beauty of God’s grace shown to him in that moment!

I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet that most of us are faced with this kind of spiritual doubt at some point in our lives. I found great solace in my friend’s story, but also in Michael Ramsey’s words in his book The Christian Priest Today. This short little book is one I will read over and over for Ramsey’s wisdom and advice. He writes “You put yourself with God, empty perhaps, but hungry and thirsty for him; and if in sincerity you cannot say that you want God you can perhaps tell him that you want to want him; and if you cannot say even that, perhaps you can say that you want to want to want him!” (Ramsey) Now that is hope and THAT is provision from God and fills deeper than any mortal bread.

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

I am reminded of Jesus’ words according to John (John 14:1): “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” I bring it up to remind us all of the last line in today’s Gospel “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Why is this left open-ended? Was Luke trying to tell us something? Or, is it perhaps that it is for us to finish the story in our own lives?

“None, however holy, are exempt from temptations.” (Emerson) We can expect challenges to appear over our lives, in fact, it’s part of being human. We can expect that since we tend to live in patterns, some of the same challenges may appear repeatedly. Consider that our answers and the ways which we face these temptations may change over time! Again, it is by Jesus’ examples that we have hope of overcoming our wildernesses. In our dark forests, Christ is our light.

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” and in so being delivered, remember that “only you can prevent forest fires”.

1. The Christian Courier - - Jason Jackson
2. - Matt Emerson
3. The Christian Priest Today, Michael Ramsey
4. The Gospel of Luke

I think the first service was a bit rough in my delivery so I deleted that recording. I think the second service had most folks engaged and while I may have spoken rather rapidly, it wasn't "too fast" in my own opinion. I'm sure some will disagree. As a Postulant for the priesthood and looking at seminaries, I am quite honored to have this chance to deliver a sermon! I am indebted to my fabulous rector, Fr. Rob Courtney, for the experience, advice, and support!
Image by Caroline Carson


  1. aww, man. I was looking forward to hearing you speak. Betsy heard it and liked it.
    I'm 'bout to read it

  2. Wait. Duh, just found the audio file also. COOL!