Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Living Our Baptismal Calling: Renounce" - Sermon, March 5, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
March 5, 2017
“Living Our Baptismal Calling: Renounce”
Pastor Andrew Davis
Matthew 4: 1-11

       Welcome to the journey of Lent!  We come to a new season in the church year which has oftentimes been characterized as a time of giving something up, a time of penitence or changing our hearts from sinful ways and behaviors, and let’s be real, Lent is sometimes characterized as a rather somber time.  I first learned about Lent when I was in fourth grade when my Sunday School teacher Tracy taught us about it.  Being the precocious preteen that I was, I interjected “isn’t that the stuff you get out of the dryer?” But in thinking about that moment twenty-something years later, Lent can be seen as a time of removing the lint from our lives just as the dryer catches the lint from our clothes.  Lent is a good time to trim away the stuff that brings us down; a bad habit, an addiction, a love-affair with food, complaining, or other types of negative behavior.  But at the same time, we replace the things that bring us down with things that build us up, things that bring us the same joy and hope that Easter will bring at the end of this journey.  We also have a chance to add spiritual practices such as extra time for devotion, extra reading in various spiritual books, extra time in prayer, or even time for meditation or physical exercise. 
        As I get older, I realize that Lent is a great time of personal reflection, of wiping the slate clean, and dying to old ways of life so that we can live more fully and feel like we have new life in Spring and at Easter, much in the same way that Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem and to the cross, only to conquer the grave.  I know right now in our mountain valley, it’s still winter, but we have a brilliant Spring to look forward to and are already seeing some signs out there, including more daylight.  Yet, I find even with the extra daylight and signs of Spring, that Lent is a time to look inside of ourselves and become closer with God.  Last year on a whim, I decided to join my seminary roommate, Josh on a modified Daniel Fast, which may sound a little extreme, but was so rewarding.  This fast basically involves fasting and abstaining from meats (although we made an exception for fish), dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and leavened breads.  It was VERY difficult for me the first few days and some of my friends around the dorm had to put up with me being a little grouchy for a couple days as my body adjusted, but as the Lenten journey continued, I found myself focused more on God and desiring God more than the pleasurable things that I enjoyed.  Plus, the health benefits were nice in losing twenty pounds and having a new sense of energy.  But I also added some extra reading during that time, including Rev. Eric Elnes’ Gifts of the Dark Wood, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, and Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints.  What kind of practices are you doing during Lent?  It’s not too late to start!! 
        As we begin our journey through the season of Lent and walking with Jesus through the wilderness, then to Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross, we are also thinking about what it means to live our baptismal calling.  In some ways, this is a case of ‘what’s old is new again,’ as Lent was historically a time of preparation for baptism, which would happen at the crack of dawn on Easter morning.  But this Lenten journey is also a time for us to revisit the vows that each of us who are already baptized made or were made for us if we were baptized as infants.  And for anyone who hasn’t been baptized yet, this is a good time of preparation and I would also love to talk more about it if you are interested in baptism!!  Each of the teachings in this series focuses on the vows we make at baptism. Also piggybacking off of our last series, “The Great Invitation,” we are now invited to go deeper in our spirituality and discipleship during Lent through checking in with our neighbors during the week and through these formation groups on Monday at 10am or Wednesday at 7pm to start, and others that can be formed at other times of the week. 
As we encounter our text this morning that we read together, what does it mean to renounce the forces of evil and wickedness in our world?  This is one of the first questions that is asked in our baptismal vows, but we also see in the text how Jesus is put to the test by the devil, or Satan and how Jesus has to renounce the spiritual forces of evil and wickedness around him.  Now before I get too into the text, anytime I hear the name Satan, I can't help but think of Dana Carvey’s character, The Church Lady from Saturday Night Live who would ask regularly, ‘could it be…SATAN?’ Well, a lot of times when we are faced with temptations or any kind of spiritual force of evil or wickedness, which we are called to renounce through our baptismal vows, I always think, ‘could it be…SATAN?’
In our text, it sure is Satan.  Even more interesting is that it’s the Holy Spirit that takes Jesus into the desert where he eats or drinks nothing for forty days and nights, in which Satan (or the tempter, or the Devil depending on the biblical translation) takes full advantage of Jesus’s famished state, figuring that Jesus won’t be able to resist such temptations.  But like one of those epic video games, operas, or novels or films, the good always wins out over evil, as Jesus resists each temptation that is before him and uses scripture (primarily Deuteronomy) to challenge the devil and make the devil retreat.  Nevertheless, the forty days and nights of fasting has “strengthened and prepared Jesus for the encounter with Satan” even if “it has also left him hungry” where we see Jesus showing his human side.[i]  Even amidst the temptations of “turning stones into bread” when hungry, saving himself by being dared to jump off the roof of the temple, or having power over every kingdom, Jesus passes the test by renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil, and tells Satan to take a hike!!  Instead of succumbing to temptations, “the power of God in Christ is stronger than the power of Satan.  The power of good always triumphs over the power of evil, and the power of life – of resurrection – trumps the power of death and destruction every time.”[ii]
So, what are some of the spiritual forces of evil and wickedness in our own lives?  What are the temptations out there that may test us in our faith journey or prevent us from fully immersing ourselves in this journey?  And, what are the things that bring us down that keep us from living life to the fullest?  Sin is something we don’t talk about enough, yet all of us sin, no matter how hard we try not to.  Yet, the season of Lent gives us the opportunity to repent, or turn around, to strengthen and prepare ourselves to fight those temptations and renounce those evil forces that may be around us just as Jesus’s fasting prepared him to outwit the Devil.  However, it’s not just a time to do such by ourselves, but as a community of faith together. 
In his book, The Word Before Powers: An Ethic of Preaching, “Charles Campbell portrays Jesus as a person whose entire ministry is about renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejecting the evil powers of this world, and repenting of our sinful behavior, both individual and [as a community].”[iii] As a community, we can repent for the sins of humanity, while also rejecting the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil that are present in the world around us today.[iv] For example, these last two years our California-Nevada Annual Conference has been working towards repentance with our Native American brothers and sisters for the ways that they were historically treated, or in Jim and Jean Strathdee’s “Mass for the Healing of the Earth,” the “Kyrie” movement is a call to repentance for the way we as humans hurt our earth and environment.  Or as we prepare our hearts to take Holy Communion shortly, we always begin with a confession of our communal sins and in a way, a reminder to continue renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil in our world when we confess. 
This journey that we are embarking on during Lent in living our baptismal calling is a reminder that “renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejecting the evil powers of this world, and repenting of our sins is ongoing work for each one of us [myself included].  It isn’t one time.  We have to continually resist the temptations of this world.  We have to return to our baptismal roots again and again to remember what is at stake.”[v] While Jesus had God on his side and was able to pass the test against the Devil, we need to remember that we need each other to sustain each other and hold each other accountable on this journey and beyond. 
This same baptismal calling that we are living into “is a covenant between an individual, Christ, and a community of faith, to live together as disciples and to give our whole lives over to being incorporated into the body of Christ” and “make a commitment to hold one another accountable as disciples of Jesus Christ.”[vi] There may be temptations and spiritual forces of evil and wickedness before us as a community, but it is our calling to renounce those forces together, allowing the love and light of Jesus Christ to shine through each of us. To paraphrase a quote by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is greater than darkness.”[vii]  That’s the good news, as good will always come in the end when we resist and renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil in the world and tell Satan to take a hike.  Our Lenten journey is only beginning, but “as we move through the season, let us recommit ourselves to joining with Jesus in living out God’s mission [to resist temptations and the spiritual powers of evil around us] and [other things around us] that seek to [weigh us down].”[viii]

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

As part of our Lenten journey, we are going to be having a very short period after the sermon these next five weeks of living the call.  In your bulletin are two pieces of paper and if you need a pencil, there should be some in the pews.  On both squares of paper, I want to invite you to identify one spiritual force of wickedness that you have renounced or pledge to renounce, one evil power of this world you reject and pledge to continue to reject, and one sinful pattern in your life you commit to turn from.  If you are comfortable doing so, you’re invited to pass your square of paper to a neighbor in your immediate area and check in with each other during the week and encourage and pray for each other.  If you’re not comfortable sharing your sheet of paper, put it somewhere in your house where you will see it each day, a bathroom mirror, or tack it to the fridge so you can reflect and pray on what you have written down throughout the week.  I also encourage you to journal about this during the week, writing down times you’ve succeeded or failed in living the call, and don’t be afraid to ask for support and encouragement during the week too.  Elsie will play some soft music during this time, and try to do this silently, so that you and others can pray or reflect before we join in singing “Jesus Tempted in the Desert,” verses 1 and 4 in 2105 of The Faith we Sing. 

[i] The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 163. 
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘First Sunday in Lent | Renounce — Preaching Notes’. 2009. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[iii] Qtd. In Ministries, Discipleship. ‘First Sunday in Lent | Renounce — Preaching Notes’. 2009. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Attributed to Archbishop Desmund Tutu
[viii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘First Sunday in Lent | Renounce — Preaching Notes’. 2009. Accessed March 2, 2017.

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