March 10, 2019

2019 March10

 

First Sunday in Lent - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger
 
έν – the short, two-letter word in New Testament or Koine Greek is made up of epsilon and nu. It is a cognate with English and, in general, means “in”. The first verse of the Gospel has 2 occurrences of έν – the first is translated as “by”, and the second as “in”. Ἰησοῦς ἤϒετο ἐν Πνεύματι έν τῇ ἐρήμῳ - Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.

 

Most versions of the Bible render the second έν as “into” – Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Some clergy and I were talking about this passage when I noticed that the NRSV renders it “in”. “Why would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness when we say in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Do not lead us into temptation’?” one surmised, equating the wilderness with temptation. I replied that it isn’t written “into”, it’s “in”. So, I started thinking and researching.

 

Strong’s Definition – an early scholar on the English translation from the Greek – is:

 

έν; a primary preposition denoting (fixed) position (in place, time or state), and (by implication) instrumentality (medially or constructively). Often used in compounds, with substantially the same import; rarely with verbs of motion, and then not to indicate direction, except by a separate (and different) preposition.

 

That last part makes me think that the Holy Spirit did not lead Jesus into the wilderness and therefore into temptation.

 

The Holy Spirit led Jesus while
He was in the wilderness.

 

Of my commentaries, one single scholar supports this, which just happens to be the one I trust the most.

 

We don’t tend to talk or preach much on the Holy Spirit outside of Pentecost or Trinity Sunday. Though, every Sunday we recite the Creed:

 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

 

I’m not going to get into the Filioque Clause, other than to say 3 things: In the Eastern Church, the “and the Son” is not included in the Creed. It has been a point of contention since the 6C. In 2017, members of the Anglican Oriental-Orthodox International Commission agreed that Anglicans will move away from the Clause, and it will be removed in future revisions to the Book of Common Prayer.

 

What all Christians agree on is that the Holy Spirit has always been a part of the Godhead. In Genesis 1:2, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” the wind is believed to be the Holy Spirit because every other use of the Hebrew word references the Spirit. In the Gospels, the Spirit is with Jesus at His Baptism and at the Temptation. In John’s Gospel, the Spirit is presented in a more Trinitarian fashion:

 

  • instrumental in the Incarnation,
  • the Son promises to ask the Father to send the Spirit to the Disciples so that they can continue to spread the Good New of Jesus,
  • if Jesus does not go to the Father, the Spirit cannot come to His followers.

 

One can conclude, as 20C German Lutheran Theologian Wolfhart Panneberg does, that the Spirit is understood to be given to the Son by the Father, which empowers His work, and which enables us to spread the Gospel.

 

The nature and role of the Spirit was a Reformation issue, as you can imagine. Locale was important, with Rome placing the Spirit’s action within the institutional church, and the Reformers placed the Spirit within or with the individual. As Episcopalians, we can see and feel the Spirit at work in both the institutional Church and within God’s people. The Catechism describes the Spirit as:

 

  • the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now.
  • revealed in the Old Covenant as the giver of life, the One who spoke through the prophets.
  • revealed as the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.
  • recognized when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.
  • recognized in truths taught by the Holy Spirit when they are in accord with the Scriptures.

 

So, what does this have to do with the First Sunday in Lent? The Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness has been used as the model for Lent as early as the 5C, before there was even a Lectionary or the development of the practice of Lent as we know it today. Next year we will have the account in Matthew, which is only 2 sentences, and in which the Greek word έν is more clearly “into”. In 2021, we will hear the Temptation from Mark, which is similar to Luke, and which uses a different Greek word, which clearly translates as “into”. But I’m going to stick with the Holy Spirit not leading Jesus into the Wilderness, but leading Jesus while He was in the Wilderness.

 

We use this story of Jesus to illustrate that God had become human in order to be tempted as we are, but who did not succumb to that temptation because He is perfect and without sin. The Holy Spirit doesn’t lead Jesus into that temptation, but is with Jesus for the duration of the temptation. As we enter into our Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, we need to remember that this is not just an exercise in will power.

 

Lent is an exercise in deepening
our relationship with God,
and we need the Holy Spirit to do that.

 

The three temptations which confront Jesus were encouraging Him to put His God-given mission of servanthood aside. The Devil knew that Jesus is the Divine Son, and tempted Jesus to use His power and authority for His own glory rather than for God’s people. Jesus resisted these temptations, and the Holy Spirit was with Him in that.

 

If Jesus needs the Holy Spirit to resist temptation, then why wouldn’t we need the Holy Spirit? Your Lenten Discipline of fasting, almsgiving and prayer is not about testing your will power. It’s about deepening your relationship with God, and you need the Holy Spirit to do that.

 

The overall temptations which Jesus faced point to leading a self-centered and self-justified life instead of living of life in service to God and God’s people: entrenched individualism rather than being the Body of Christ. But, God called us to be in community with others:

 

“Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”

 

The story of the Temptation is early-on in the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It established that Jesus is the Son and Servant of God and a model of how humanity is to behave and should be faithful – the New Adam. Jesus modeled this by overcoming the powers of evil aided by the Holy Spirit and with obedient faith. We, too, are to accept the guidance of the Holy Spirt and, through faith, work to overcome the evil that is presented to us. That evil came to Jesus and to us in the form of selfishness and individualism at the expense of others.

 

So, how do we get the Holy Spirit so we can attempt to lead ourselves away from temptation? <Does anyone have any ideas?> Just a few verses before Jesus’ Temptation is Jesus’ Baptism. Luke 3:21-22:

 

“…when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.”

 

The Spirit was given to Jesus at His baptism. WE receive the Holy Spirit at our Baptism:

 

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

So, we already have the Holy
Spirit within us, on our side,
available to us.

 

We ask every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” or “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil”. The Holy Spirit is not leading us into temptation. When we are in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit is there.

 

Friedrich Schleiermacher, another German theologian, suggests that the Spirit is intertwined with our religiosity, and whether in our own thoughts or in Divine Reality, the transcendent quality of the Spirit has been lost, and it is within the individual where we find the Spirit – the locus of the Spirit is within us.

 

As I stated earlier, Anglicans take a bit of both transcendence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Imbued with the Holy Spirit, we can combat evil; but it is the Holy Spirit who is outwith our souls and bodies who saves us. If the Holy Spirit is only within us, then the Holy Spirit could not empower the institutional Church. The Church, it is the people, yes. But to confine the Holy Spirit as dwelling within the people means that the Holy Spirit cannot exist without us, and that is the temptation of self-centeredness for which we need the Spirit in order to avoid.

 

The Church, like individuals, has relied on its own power and authority as the source of importance, justification and salvation, which has resulted in irreparable damage to itself and to other people. As individuals and as an institution, we fall prey to the temptations of the Devil. When Jesus isn’t around, we can do whatever we want. But the Ascension wasn’t Mom & Dad leaving you home alone on a teacher training day while they go to work! Well, maybe it was, but a couple of days later, the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost. Maybe another name for the Holy Paraclete is the Holy Babysitter! We sure need one!

 

The Holy Spirit does not lead us into the wilderness; we are perfectly capable of stumbling upon it ourselves.

 

The Holy Spirit, though, both
dwells within each of us and
guides us from “on high”.

 

When we are tempted into self-centeredness, self-idolization, individualism and self-justification, we call upon the Holy Spirit to deliver us from evil, and to guide us back to our journey of faith. As Paul cites in Romans, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

 

This Lent, forget about will power. Be led by the Holy Spirit to the Land of Milk & Honey, out of your entrenched individualism, and into a community of faithful people who worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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