Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Raises Lazarus, John 11:1-44 (Psalm 104:27-30)
You can find resources for Lent, including a preaching/worship series called Sojourning based on the Gospel readings for the Revised Common Lectionary, and past series, candle lighting liturgies, and more here.
We begin Lent with a reminder from Moses in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. As part of his final discourse to the people, knowing he would not enter the land promised to them before his death, Moses called upon the people to take the first fruits of the land as an offering to God. Before the priests with their offerings, the people remembered that their ancestors, Sarah and Abraham, were wandering Aramaeans, a people without a home. God brought them to a new land, and then to Egypt, where they became a great nation. God is the one who brought them out of their oppression in Egypt with strength and power. Moses called the people to celebrate all God had accomplished, to celebrate with the priests as well as the foreign peoples among them God’s abundance and bounty.
While Psalm 91 is quoted by the devil in both Luke and Matthew as part of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, it is a psalm of blessing and protection for those who turn to God. Those who turn to God have the assurance that God will deliver them from their enemies and do not need to fear death or danger. Those who love God will know God’s deliverance and salvation.
Romans 10:8b-13 is a section often taken out of context. Paul was writing to the church in Rome, to show that both those of Jewish and those of Gentile backgrounds were one in Christ. God hears the prayers and confessions of all. It is faith that saves us in Christ Jesus, not heritage or tradition. This verse is often taken out of context and interpreted in a literal way by some Christians that this confession, by these words, is what is needed for salvation. Instead, Paul was explaining that it is faith that save us, faith in Christ, faith that God raised Jesus from the dead and there is nothing that God cannot do.
In Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in 4:1-13, the same three temptations are found in Matthew, but the last two are reversed. In Luke’s account, the final temptation is the one in which the devil quotes scripture, Psalm 91, back to Jesus, after Jesus answered the devil’s first two temptations with scripture. The devil twists the scripture to question and sow seeds of doubt into Jesus about whether he was the Son of God. The devil’s twisting of Psalm 91 ignores that the psalmist speaks of those who are faithful in love to God will not face harm. Instead, the devil tries to tempt Jesus into believing he has to prove who he is. There is no one else around, so one must assume that perhaps Jesus was facing some self-doubt. But Jesus is triumphant, quoting scripture back and knowing that it is not up to himself to prove who he is as the Son of God. God knows. Jesus knows and trusts in God the Creator. The devil departs him until an opportune time.
The Narrative Lectionary continues in John, focusing on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha in John 11. Lazarus fell ill, but Jesus was delayed in visiting him until after he’d already passed. The disciples warned him about going to Judea because they knew the leaders wanted to kill Jesus, but when Jesus finally insisted on going, Thomas boldly proclaimed that they should go to die with Jesus. This an interesting first encounter for readers with the one later known as “Doubting Thomas,” in his boldness of faith early on. When Jesus arrived, he first encountered Martha, who confronted him, saying her brother would not have died if he had been there. However, she also proclaimed her faith, that she knew God would give Jesus whatever he asked. Jesus asked her if she believed in the resurrection, and then told her that he was the resurrection and the life, and Martha declared her belief. Martha went back and called for her sister Mary. Mary, however, went to Jesus, knelt at his feet and wept, stating that if he had been there, her brother wouldn’t have died. She doesn’t make any declarations of faith. And Jesus begins to weep. It is by her grief that he also grieves, and is moved to order the others to roll back the stone and call Lazarus out from death.
These brief verses from Psalm 104:27-30 compliment the John passage in that God is the one whose spirit renews life after death. God holds life and death in all of creation.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation seems out of balance at first. We are more accustomed to Matthew, where the final temptation is the devil tempting Jesus to worship him and have the world. In Luke, the final temptation instead is self doubt. That one isn’t worthy of God’s love. Even Jesus wondered. Perhaps in his time in the wilderness, God was silent. The final temptation is to demand that God answer, to demand that God act in the way we want God to. Jesus prevails in trusting in God even in the silence. In the Narrative Lectionary, faith may have assured Martha and Jesus that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, but it was a very human emotion—grief—that moved Jesus to act right then and there. A reminder that God takes notice of us, as God did in Exodus 2:25 of the people crying out under their oppression. God hears us when we grieve, when we cry out against injustice, and is moved to act. Both of these lectionaries remind us that what we want isn’t necessarily what is best for us, but when we cry out in hopelessness, despair, crying out from oppression and injustice—God hears us. God knows. And God will act.
Call to Worship (from Isaiah 40:6-11)
A voice says, “Cry out!”
“What shall I cry?”
The grass withers, the flowers fade,
But the word of our God will stand forever.
Lift up your voice with strength,
Our God comes with power and might.
For God is our shepherd, carrying the lambs,
And God will carry us through.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we come to You in this season of Lent crying out to You. We cry out because of war and injustice. We cry out because of violence and oppression. We cry out because the world’s ways and the world’s leaders have failed us again. We cry out for You to save us, O God. We confess that we have been led astray by the world’s power and might. We confess that we have been led astray by worldly understandings of security and strength. We confess that we have sometimes been on the side of the oppressor, and at times have turned away from the cries of others. We confess we have failed to recognize Your children in the world, Your face in one another. Forgive us. Call us into accountability. Call us into the work of reparation and restoration. Guide us into the work of justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing. In the name of Christ, who went to the cross and laid down his life for us, we pray. Amen.
God will continue to lead us out of the wilderness of oppression into the place of hope and healing. God will continue to teach us the way of repentance and forgiveness, if we are open to God’s instruction. God’s wisdom is with us: in the scriptures, the sages of old, the lessons from the past, and in our hope for the future, if we believe it, if we cling to it. Live into God’s ways. Be slow to judge and quick to forgive. Know God’s forgiveness in your life, and go forth to help repair and restore the world. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.
Almighty God, You made this earth for all of Your children and Your creatures. You breathed life into all living things, and called human beings to care for it. We have failed time and again and resorted to violence instead of listening and healing. Our wilderness temptations are all around us and we fail all the time. O God, You still love us. You still create new life. You still work on us to forgive one another and pursue justice. O God, may it not be too late for us to change our ways. May it not be too late for humanity to resolve to do better, to repent of our power and greed and violence. May it not be too late for us. Be with us, O God, a flame fighting the wind and shadows. Burn bright in us, O God, and save us. Amen.