THE 1ST SUNDAY IN LENT AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I."  He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."  So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.  On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.  Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you."  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.  And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"  Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.  But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I."  He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."  And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the name of that place, "The Lord will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided."
 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven  and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,  and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,  and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
As soon as the news broke about the school shooting in the states people were saying that the politicians’ thoughts and prayers were useless - it was time to start doing something. How sad, when coming alongside someone in their time of sorrow by saying that your thoughts are with them is deemed useless. How sadder still though, when the prayers of our leaders are dismissed as a waste of time. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Yes, if they are just empty word, without any real thought or prayer behind them then they don’t mean much. But if they do care and are calling on the name of the Lord, then these are the most powerful things that can be said and done in the face of such tragedy and grief.
Of course there are all kinds of ideas of what could be done instead of responding with compassion and prayer. Calls for gun control are among the first things out of the mouths of many. While I must admit to my own conflicted thoughts over people’s need for automatic or semiautomatic assault weapons, the truth is that such firearms are a gift of God for the protection of society. When the police respond to such situations, I’m thankful that they have these weapons in hand. I’m also thankful that our military has such tools at their disposal to exercise their vocation. It is true that people kill people not guns. Would the tragedy have been any less tragic if the young man had killed fewer people with a less lethal weapon? Or even if it had been only one child with his bare hands?
Along with comments about gun control there is talk about school security. I must admit that I didn’t hear all the reporting, but I heard that in this case there was excellent security and planning for just such an event, but apparently the young man, as a former student, knew how it all worked. Furthermore, it was reported that billions are being spent in the US each year on school security already. Other than sending children to school in kevlar vests with their own assault rifles, I’m not sure what more could be done. It’s not my vocation to oversee such things but I’m doubtful that you could ever spend enough to keep such tragedies from happening.
There is also talk about mental health and how we need to do more about it. While it can’t be denied that there are some serious mental health issues in our society, many suffer terribly, I don’t know that we’ve ever talked about it more or addressed it more directly and openly than we have in our day. Certainly more could and needs to be done, but it does amaze me that whenever someone does something like this the first thought is that they must have been crazy, and yet, I’ve never heard the sanity of Dr. Henry Morganthaler questioned, even though he systematically killed far more children than this young man. I don’t know about the mental health of this shooter but there are many who still have taken their own lives or the lives of others while under the care of a psychiatrist.
Of course there’s another thought that is voiced by many when anything like this happens, one caught on a t-shirt, which has a student asking God why He allows such shootings to occur in schools to which God responds: “I’m sorry but I’m not allowed in schools.” Without question many if not most public schools have become places were God is not only not welcome but where He is openly attacked and actively undermined. Society is using school to indoctrinate our children in its Godless ways. But like it or not, God is everywhere, all things are present to Him and He is present in all places and no one can kick Him out, even if they want to, it’s simply impossible. To suggest that if schools still prayed the Lord’s prayer such things wouldn’t happen in them begs the question about the Churches were such tragedies have also happened, presumably they were praying and yet terrible things still happened.
Yes, beloved, the temptation ever remains the same, “Doubt God and find your own solution.” It’s the temptation that we gave into in the beginning at the base of the tree in the garden and so its the one we have faced and had to struggle with ever since. It’s behind every temptation that the Devil lays before Jesus. Doubt God and find your own solution. Turn these stones into bread. Put God to the test. Worship me. Here’s a way Jesus out of the cup that lies ahead of you, the cup you dread to drink. Doubt God that this is the right way to go. Take things out of His hands. Find your own way. Make your own way. Turn aside. Turn around.
But where Adam failed and so where we are ever failing Jesus does not. He knows there is only one way ahead - the way laid out by His Father, even if His human will dread’s to take it. His heart knows the heart of the Father and He will not turn aside. He will not doubt Him … question Him. He knows that the only true way is the Father’s way, which is the way of the cross. Where Adam faced Satan once and failed Jesus faces him three times over and will not be moved. Where Adam faced him satisfied in plenty and fell Jesus faces him hungry and in need and overcomes him. Faced with a life of blessing Adam doubts and turns away while Jesus faced with the bitter sufferings and death of the cross continues to trust and refuses to turn aside.
The only answer is the cross and out of love for us, with that high school and those seventeen kids and their families in mind … with the shooter and his family in mind … with each of you in mind … the Lord Jesus went through the wilderness to take it up - His heart unswerving in its trust - His face set on His Father’s way. With all the horror that sin has brought into this world including school shootings in view the Son of God went forward to take it all into Himself so that He could bear it all to the cross and suffer and die for it … so that He might overcome it all with His blood … so that we could have the hope of a new world … a new life without it.
Thoughts and prayers? Yes, beloved, this is a time for that … a time to be thinking about our sins and the sins of our society … a time to look at the horror of what’s happened and groan, “O God, what have we done?” and then breathe out a profound, “Lord, have mercy on us!” In the face of such horror the tempter is right there, in fact, he brings on such horror precisely to tempt us to doubt God and try to find our own solution. There are people whom God has charged with dealing with these troubles in our society but we’re sadly mistaken if we think we can solve them ourselves by doing x, y or z. The only answer is the cross of Christ which means that the only way forward for us is to put our trust in God and bear the cross.
This is difficult for poor sinners, which is why the Lord Jesus was driven out into the wilderness to face it for us. He fought the fight and won the struggle, so that in Him the likes of you and me could partake in His victory. The Lord is here to share that victory with us in His body and blood this morning, beloved. He resisted Satan to the point of shedding His blood and the giving up of His body and soul to death and overcame him. He shares that victory with you today to blot out all the times that you have failed to resist temptation, and so that you can stand in it when the devil comes calling. Jesus comes to you today so that you can learn to boldly say, “I’ve already faced you and beaten you in Jesus, Satan, try as you might you cannot and will not overcome me because I am in Christ and Christ is in me!”
Thoughts and prayers, yes, that’s what Lent is about, beloved, and with events like this past week’s school shooting, there’s no shortage of things for us to be thinking and praying about as we begin it this year. In these forty days and indeed throughout our life times, may the Holy Spirit keep us trusting in our heavenly Father as we bear the cross in this sinful world and keep us ever groaning with Him for it’s salvation. Amen.