Each week we pray together the Lord's Prayer and ask: "Lead us not into temptation." On the first Sunday in Lent we come face to face with temptation in the story of the temptation of Jesus. Mark's version of the temptation, like all things Mark, is short and to the point. Jesus is baptized, the Spirit descends, and the heavenly voice is pleased. And then that same Spirit "immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild bests; and the angels waited on him."
Satan, the wild beasts and the angels. Mark's Gospel does not provide us with the details that Matthew and Luke do. We do not see the specific temptations that Jesus faces-the temptation to create food, the temptation to power, the temptation to immortality. We do not hear the dialogue between the devil and Jesus-the devil's attractive offers and clever retorts, and Jesus' responses. No, in the Gospel of Mark we are spared the details of the temptation. We are left with our own imagination-Satan, the wild beasts and the angels.
We have tended to trivialize temptation-to think of it as either sex or chocolate. Valentine's Day tends to bring that out in us. And each of us has particular things which make us vulnerable-whether it is habits, relationships, events from our past. In Lent many people choose to give up something as a kind of discipline. Maybe you have done that from time to time.
Temptation, the kind that Jesus faced, and the kind that we pray we may never have to face, is bigger than small vices that keep us from our diets, that interfere with our New Year's resolutions. Temptation is whatever draws us away from God. Part of the insidiousness of temptation is that it can look so good. In the longer versions of the temptation story the devil suggests that Jesus, who hasn't eaten for 40 days, turn stones into bread. And if he could satisfy his own hunger-why not the world's? Such a temptation -- to do good!
The same is true with the other temptations. The temptation to rule the world is not only a temptation for personal power, it is a temptation to replace a cruel and unjust reign with one of justice and peace. Yet another temptation...to do good! The temptation to defy death holds with it all sorts of possibilities, many of them good. Yet all these temptations draw away from God.
Lent is a time when we reflect on what the things are that draw us away from God. And we intentionally draw close to God, and reflect on what that means. "Lead us not into temptation." Amen.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Montana and Wyoming are among the states that still have the death penalty on the books. They join a minority of other states and a few of the most repressive and brutal regimes in the world in punishing people by killing them. China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and ISIS are the company we keep in maintaining that it is the right of the state to execute.
People of faith in both states are working to abolish the death penalty. The Wyoming Legislature recently defeated HB 97 (that would have abolished the death penalty) in a 5-4 vote in committee. In Montana the House Judiciary Committee will be hearing testimony on HB 370 (abolition of the death penalty and replacement with life imprisonment without possibility of parole) this Friday, February 13, at 8 AM. I will be there to testify, along with other representatives of MAC and the religious community.
Opposition to the death penalty is not a partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats support it. This year’s bill is sponsored by a Republican legislator. In the years that I have gone to the Legislature to testify in favor of abolition, more and more individuals and groups have spoken out against the death penalty. Religious groups, fiscal conservatives, law enforcement, families of victims, former members of the judiciary, human rights groups, death row inmates who were later exonerated, legal scholars—all testified in favor of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. Different groups bring different reasoning. For some it is a matter of cost—life without parole is cheaper than the death penalty with the lengthy appeals process. For some it is a matter of closure. For some it is a justice issue, and the somewhat arbitrary nature of who gets the death sentence and who does not.
For me, as a Christian, it is a moral issue. Based on prayer, reading and listening, I stand with the ELCA (see the Social Statement on “The Death Penalty”, adopted in 1991) and with other faith communities (see the MAC Position Paper on Capital
Punishment, adopted in 1980 at www.macmt.org ) in condemning the death penalty as barbaric
and unbecoming to a civilized nation. I have great sympathy for innocent victims of crime. (See
the Social Statement on “The Church and Criminal :Justice Hearing the Cries” at
www.elca.org.) But I do not believe that it honors their memory or heals their wounds for the
state to put a criminal, however heinous, to death.
In the ELCA and in the United States we are not of one mind on this issue. I respect that
there are people of faith and character who hold differing positions. I want to let you know
where I stand. As a Christian, and as a citizen, I oppose the death penalty. The Jesus whom I
follow, who guides my life, was executed by the Romans in a brutal act of violence that was
commonplace in those times. I can find no justification for the continuation of state-sponsored
executions. Following the risen Christ, for me, means saying “no” to violence and revenge, and
saying “yes” to life.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
In early January, French cartoonists were murdered by opponents who were offended by the cartoons their magazine (Charlie Hebdo) published. Defending the right to free expression and opposing violence, people around the world took up the claim, "Je Suis Charlie Hebdo." It was an affirmation solidarity, rejecting the sectarianism of "us" and "them." The funeral was a big tent funeral, where world leaders who normally avoided each other's company and made accusations against one another were seen together. "Je suis Charlie Hebdo."
"Je suis...the ELCA." Our church, with its 10,000 congregations and 4 million members, is not "them," it is "us." Our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, reminds us that we are all the church. Her 4 emphases say it:
1. We are church.
2. We are Lutheran.
3. We are church together.
4. We are church for the sake of the world.
Last week rostered leaders in the ELCA received an email from Bishop Eaton, inviting us all to engage in a study of what it means to be the church. Claimed, Gathered, Sent: A Guide for Conversation is a 5 week study on what it means to be the church. You are invited to participate. Your input is valuable. The study is available at ELCA.org.
The ELCA is a big tent. Our Lutheran theology has room for differences of opinion, differences in practice. We see it in the different ways our congregations have responded to the change in marriage laws in our states. We see it in the styles of worship that our congregations choose. We see it in the ways we are ecumenically engaged.
We learn from one another in our experiences of the Gospel. And we are richer for it. When I moved from Massachusetts to Montana, I experienced church in a whole different way. At first it felt a little strange. But I soon learned that despite the outward trappings we are all one
in Christ. We are all members of the same body, beloved by God, and in need of one another.
The ELCA represents not the just the merger 27 years ago of the American Lutheran
Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.
Each of those church bodies is a combination of merger after merger over the centuries, and in
some cases schisms. We have come together, claiming our Lutheran heritage, and our freedom
in the Gospel. And while we may feel strongly about our particular ethnic or cultural heritage, in
the end we know that the death and resurrection of Jesus frees us all from the things that
The ELCA is not Chicago, and it is not Great Falls. It is all of us, in our particular
locations with our particular passions, joined together in Christ, for the sake of the world. "Nous
sommes...the ELCA." Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA