Are you ready? That was the question from the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, to members of The Brick Presbyterian Church last weekend. The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) preached at the New York City church on the first Sunday in Lent, focusing on Matthew 4: 1–11 and the temptation of Christ in the wilderness following his baptism.
“The text is a warning to the church that in the midst of all that we are grounded in and challenges that follow us, we will be faced with the presence of evil even in our own households sometimes,” he said. “There is something about a grounding in faith that allows us to know that we don’t stand alone. We are accompanied by a presence that calls us to move beyond and become the community of faith we ought to be.”
The scripture details efforts by Satan to tempt Christ as he fasted for forty days and nights in the wilderness. Nelson says the passage is a reminder that all people are caught between doing what is right versus doing what is wrong.
“Even in our culture today, we have found easier ways to be wrong and not own up to it. We have found ways to be mean and cruel and yet justify them,” he said. “It plays out every day in television, places of business, and even in the church. We struggle between what it means to be God’s child and yet at the same time, edge our way to a place of cruelty in order to justify that as being fair.”
Nelson reminded the church that Lent is the beginning of challenging the good parts of people’s soul and spirit.
“This is the time in which we come to the spiritual core of who we are and recognize we are really spiritual people, called to live in a different way on earth, and called to forgive even when others, in our view, don’t seem to deserve it,” he said. “We are called to walk by faith and not by sight, over and over again to usher words of joy and gladness even when there is nothing to smile about.”
The Stated Clerk described Lent as a “check-up time” to determine commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ and to stand firm in good as well as bad times.
“Lent is a time of growing up in grace and recognizing the grace we see in ourselves. We recognize we are not here because we deserve it, we are here because God has blessed us with another day of life,” he said. “This is a time of taking off all the extras of our lives and focusing on Jesus Christ, who paid the ultimate price for us. He reminds us that as long as we walk on this side of heaven, there will be troubled times, but we will not stand alone.”
Nelson concluded by adding that God gives people an opportunity every day to make a difference.
“Are you ready?” he asked. “What you are being asked to do might be a surprise.”