Where Do We Start? (Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the First Sunday in Lent. The gospel text was Luke 4:1-13. I also refer to the First Reading, Deuteronomy 26:1-11.

You know, it’s funny. The theme of this sermon is about beginnings. I’m calling it, “Where do we start?” What’s funny is I had so much trouble figuring out where to start this sermon.

I thought maybe I’d start by talking about Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church’s 50th anniversary, talk about how one of the things we want to do in this fiftieth anniversary year is dream and plan for the next fifty years. And I think a big question there is “where do we start?” Things are so different here than they were just three years ago. Do we start by trying to rebuild what we’ve lost during the pandemic, or we start by going in a new direction? It’s a good question.

Or I thought maybe I’d start by talking about where we are in the pandemic, because there are some really good signs that it might be ending right now. And I think a lot of us have been feeling like we have the chance to do things we haven’t done in years. But what do we do? How quickly do we change? What do we do first? Where do we start?

Or I thought maybe I’d start by talking about the tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine. The war, the suffering. The sadness and fear that are rippling throughout Europe, and around the world. The helplessness that many of feel as we see the images and hear the words on the news. We want to do something. But what? Where do we start?

Or I thought maybe I’d start by talking about the Israelites in today’s first reading, because today’s first reading is an answer to the question, “Where do we start.” I have to explain that a little bit. You see, the Israelites were standing on the banks of the Jordan River, about to enter the Holy Land for the first time. They had been journeying for forty years from slavery in Egypt to the promised land. Along the way, God fed them with manna. God gave them guidance and instruction at Mt. Sinai. God gave them leaders like Moses. But now they were at the beginning of something new. They were about to receive two things: the land God had promised them, the blessing to be a light to all the nations, to lead all people to the living God. As they stood on the shores, as their whole identity was about to change, they wondered, “Where do we start?”

Well, Moses told them. He said:

This will be like a new birth for you. I will not be with you. The manna will stop, and you will raise your own food. And here is what you will do. You will take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground. You will take some of the first of your grain, and your livestock, and your fruit, and whatever else you raise. Put it in a basket, and take it to the Lord. Give it to the priest, who will bless it, and then you and the priest and everyone else will enjoy it together.

But I have to wonder. If that story really happened, I bet a lot of those people were thinking, “Why go to all that trouble? If we’re just going to enjoy that food anyway, why add all that time and effort to take it to the priest first? We have too many other things to focus on. We don’t have time to start there.”

The answer Moses gave them was, “Start with God.” But the people probably thought that was too obvious, not practical enough. And easy to just ignore, because really, what difference would it make? They’d still eat the same food, whether the priest blessed it or not.

What difference would it make?

Well, those are the different places I thought I might start this sermon. But then I remembered something. I remembered something every kid knows when they come up for story time. If the pastor asks you a question, the answer is probably “Jesus.” So maybe that’s the answer. Maybe that’s where to start.

Jesus stood at the Jordan River, much like the Israelites centuries before him. He stood there just like them, at the verge of beginning a new phase in his life.

And there at the Jordan River, he was baptized by John, and in that moment he was proclaimed the Beloved Child of God, who was sent to a blessing to all people, to bring light to all nations, just like the Israelites before him. And the Holy Spirit came upon him like a dove and led him to the place where he would start.

And where did Jesus start?

The Spirit led him to the wilderness. The Spirit led him to the wilderness where he would be alone and hungry for forty days. And where he was tempted.

And they were interesting temptations. Here’s why. Each of these temptations was to do something that he was going to do anyway.

First, he was tempted to miraculously create bread miraculously, which is something he would do later, when he fed five thousand people with bread. And when he fed even us with the bread that is his own body.

Then he was tempted to become the ruler of all the kingdoms of the world, which is also something that would happen later. As Christians we proclaim that Christ is the lord of all creation.

And finally, he was tempted to go to Jerusalem and throw himself down from the temple mount, so God might save him, and prove that he was the Messiah. Well this is basically a poetic way of describing his death, and his resurrection. He would die just outside Jerusalem, and God would indeed raise him from the dead.

So, Jesus actually did all the things he was tempted to do in the wilderness. But not the way he was tempted to. And not yet. Instead, in the wilderness he started by turning to God.

He quoted scripture. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

And only then, only after starting by turning to God, did Jesus return from the wilderness and begin his ministry of healing and teaching, of nourishing and forgiving, of redemption and salvation for us all.

Even Jesus began by turning to God.

I invite you to do the same.

First, turn to God. When faced with a decision, big or small, turn to God and spend time with God, seeking guidance. When faced with a tragedy, big or small, turn to God and spend time with God, seeking hope and comfort. When faced with good news, big or small, turn to God and spend time with God, offering thanks and praise.

It’s not complicated. But it’s so easy to ignore. Spend time with God. How? By worshiping, like this. And by praying. And by serving. And by just resting in God’s love.

God is with you. Always. Always ready to spend time with you. Turn to God. Dwell with God. Just say in your heart, “God, be with me.” And God will be. Spend some time there. Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. Start there.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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