Sermon preached by the Reverend John E. Kitagawa at the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist with the Great Litany on Sunday, 13 March 2011 (The First Sunday of Lent), at St. Philip’s In the Hills Parish, Tucson, Arizona
I am sure you have heard about the
earthquake and tsunami that hit
All this stirs memories of the 1995
earthquake and subsequent destruction in the city of
Cousin Kristen, a daughter of this parish, lives
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe ... (Hebrews -29; her italics).
These verses from
the Epistle to the Hebrews give me needed perspective on the events in
The question that should be put to us all at the beginning of Lent is not “What shall we do [or not do]?” The right question is the one to which the answer is, “I am in love with God!” … how you feel about saying “I am in love with God?” I suspect if you were to utter these words quietly it would not be long before you became aware of voices from within contradicting and ridiculing you. “The hell you are! You’re not in love with God. How dare you be so pretentious? … Fine lover you are!” These voices have a certain ring of truth. Even the greatest saints are overwhelmed … with the sense that they haven’t even begun to love. The trouble is these voices insist on being the only ones to have a say. They drown out the other voice from a deep place within us that, in spite of everything, is ready to return the love of God.
At a deeper level, Lent is about struggling with those persistent voices, with the inertia, the forgetfulness, the self-deceptions and fears we allow to prevail over our desire for a loving relationship with God. Lent is about the struggle to listen to the “still small voice” (I Kings ) that speaks of our longing to be in love with God, and our yearning for God’s love.
Today’s story of Christ’s temptations reminds us that Jesus struggled with demons too.
[The tempter came and said to [Jesus], `If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. (Matthew 4: 2-3).
of our problem is that we live in a culture fixated on “things that can be
shaken,” things that are not permanent.
All too often, we fall prey to our hungers for instant
gratifications. Like it or not,
something deep within us readily responds in the affirmative to the tempter who
would lure us from our relationship with God with the gratification of our
bodily and psychic hungers. Deep within
us there is a narcissism that worships at the altar of our own comfort. When narcissism dominates, we become like
Adam and Eve who succumbed to the tempter who told them they could “be like
God” (Genesis 3: 5). It was
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians -20).
If narcissism is a barrier to a loving relationship with God, so is our desire for power and control, for success and honors. Our society lifts up the “self-made man or woman”. Listen to that language and realize how far it is from a Christian theology of creation. I suspect that Martin Smith is on to something when he writes:
We are afraid that we are empty inside and that at the end of our lives there will be nothing to show for our striving.
The irony is, of course, that when we learn to empty ourselves of ambition and the lust for power, we discover that we can be filled with the power of the Spirit, and the things that cannot be shaken. Filled with the Spirit, we can “do the works Christ did, and in fact, to do greater works than these (John ). In Christ, we can be fruitful when we learn to die unto ourselves in order to experience the power of the resurrection.
Again, the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4: 8-9).
The tempter wants us to abdicate our authority and give it over to someone else. Martin Smith exposes this spiritual trap for what it is:
… what a thrill and a relief it is to no longer have to bear the burden of responsibility! The sheer exhilaration of no longer having to live creatively … and wrest meaning from the confusion of life! What a charge you get from belonging to a group that conspires to hand over all authority to a guru and leader! How good it feels simply to obey, parrot, submit and proselytize!”.
In contrast, Jesus gives us his power and his authority. Gregory of Nyssa once said this about baptism,
God has made us not simply spectators of the power of God, but also participants in God’s very nature.
This morning we have been called to the observance of a holy Lent. The Gospel has warned us of the clear and present dangers of the tempter lurking around to keep us from deepening the loving relationship we so desire to have with God. The Lenten exhortation lists many things to do. But, mostly, Lent is about struggling with and quieting the demons which keep us from listening to the “still small voice” that persists, however meekly, to seek the One who seeks us.
Christ is the incarnation, the enfleshment, of God’s abiding love for us. Christ is Emmanuel—God with us—yesterday, today, and tomorrow. You do not have to settle for instant gratification, illusions of power & control, or the easy ways of life. For in love, God made us. In love, God accepts us, just as we are. And, in love, God transforms us that we might live more abundantly (John ) than we dare to ask or imagine. Enveloped in Christ’s love, we cannot be shaken, and we need not fear anything, “for we are conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans ).