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Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent, Year A1 9 March 2014

Emmanuel Church, Greenwood Parish (The Rev.) Christopher Garcia

Ambush Do you know how to survive an ambush? I spent the summer of 1980 at the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Ranger School is an intensive leadership laboratory, and it reinforces basic infantry tactics, basic soldiering, by making candidates repeat them again and again and again, under increasingly demanding conditions. So we practiced ambushes – both how to spring them, and how to react when we were being ambushed. You’ve probably seen the basic scenario on TV or in a movie. The enemy lies in wait, hidden in the brush, or under cover of darkness, typically along a path or roadway that they know will be used by the other side. They sight in their weapons and plan their fields of fire, waiting for an unsuspecting patrol to walk or drive by. When that unsuspecting target walks or drives into the kill zone, the enemy attacks. And then what happens? Do you know how to survive an ambush? Believe it or not, most men in combat, especially men that are not well trained or experienced, simply freeze. Terror takes over and they do nothing. They forget to fire their weapon and they cower in fear. This is the natural reaction, and if this is your approach in an ambush, you’re probably going to die. The next most likely response is to try to run away. Running away is the basic animal response to a threat. You’ve seen in dogs and cats, and in spooky movies when the characters say, “let’s get out of here,” and they run. But this approach in an ambush is almost as fatal as doing nothing. Think about. You have presented your back to the enemy – a nice big target. And since you’re running away, you’re not shooting back. The enemy is free to take his time, take aim, and bring you down. In an ambush, running away is almost always fatal. As counterintuitive as it seems, your best chance of surviving an ambush is to attack. When the enemy opens fire, you fire back. You don’t just sit there, you attack. You charge the enemy’s position and try to break through it. Only then can you mix it up, in something approaching an even fight.


Lent 1A, Revised Common Lectionary. Genesis 2: 15-17, 3: 1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4: 1-11. “Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

2 Standing here on Sunday morning, this sounds academically easy. But it is tremendously hard to do. Every fiber of your being says, “run away.” So soldiers train, and train, and train, and train until they can control the instinct to flee, so they can be calm under fire, and so the move to counterattack is second nature. Adam and Eve were ambushed. Adam and Eve didn’t even know they were under attack. The serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal. The serpent got his ambush ready. He was lying in wait where he knew Adam and Eve would come along – in the middle of the Garden. And the serpent attacked. The serpent started nitpicking with Eve about what God said, and got Eve all confused, and tricks Eve into disobeying God’s simple instruction. Adam freezes – he does nothing. Look at the text of Genesis – it says that he was with her, and yet Adam isn’t having any part of this discussion. He freezes. And we know what happens in an ambush when you freeze. The enemy wins. Adam joins Eve in disobedience, and God’s plan for humankind is fundamentally disrupted. We’re only in the first couple chapters of Genesis, and it’s already not looking good for the home team. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans, our second reading today, goes to school on this ambush on Adam and Eve. Paul points out that through this one ambush, death and sin come into the world. Paul then goes on to contrast this first man, Adam, with the new first Man, Jesus. Disobedience, versus obedience. Death, versus life. Our Gospel reading today tells us about another ambush. After Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan, God leads him into the wilderness for a long period of preparation and testing. Jesus has been fasting and praying for days on end. He is famished and exhausted. And it’s then that the Enemy attacks. The Attacker comes to him and says, “You think you are the Son of God? Turn these stones into bread.” “Throw yourself down from this high place.” And then the final, ultimate, universal temptation – “Worship me instead of God.” What does Jesus do? He fights back. He quotes the law of God, given in Deuteronomy, back at the Attacker. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Ambush foiled. Attacked defeated. Then the devil left him, the new first Man. Obedience, rather than disobedience. Life, rather than death. God’s will, rather than his own. Now you might think that all of this is nothing more than quaint old stories. Satan? Angels? Demons? Adam and Eve? Temptations? The serpent? The names may have changed, but the enemy still attacks. The ambushes are still there. We give them new names now, but just ask anyone who has fought with alcoholism or any other addictions if demons are real, if spiritual attacks still happen.

3 You turn on the internet to check the weather and e-mail, and somehow you end up at those websites, again, even when you told yourself you would never go back. Ambushed. Your primary relationships aren’t giving you what you want, or they’re demanding more than you’re willing to give, so you run away and try to take refuge in your job. We decide that, by golly, we can turn stones into bread. We can find a safe way to dance on the pinnacle of the temple. We decide that it will be OK to worship God on Sunday, but to worship security, and prestige, and power, on Monday through Friday. Ambushed. This past Wednesday, I invited you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. . Lent is a good time to try to discern and name those temptations and attackers and demons that you face. Lent is a good time to examine your life to see what ambushes are lying in wait for you. Lent is a good time, too, to take stock of what you bring to the battle. Who is on your side? Do you have friend that will be honest with you, pray for you, pray with you? Lent is a good time, too, to take stock of your relationship with God. Jesus was able to defeat his Attacker because he was armed with a deep and abiding relationship with God. Jesus was able to defeat his Attacker because he was immersed in Scripture, and knew it intimately. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting in the wilderness in obedience to God’s Holy Spirit. I invite you to follow our Lord’s example and spend these forty days of Lent working on your relationship with God. If we give ourselves over to that relationship, we will not be afraid to attack any ambush, any obstacle that confronts us, for we are not alone – God is with us.