March 1, 2020 1st Sunday in Lent
If you drive around town, any town in central Minnesota, what do you see in most every window; especially fast food establishments? Help Wanted or Now Hiring! There is a shortage of workers for so many fields. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top six jobs in demand right now are : 1. Personal care aide. 2. Fast Food preparation and serving worker. 3. Registered Nurse. 4. Home Health aide. 5. Restaurant Cook, 6. Applications software developer.
Only two of these jobs pays over $25,000 per year. The top 4 skilled job openings, 1. Truck Driver. 2. Carpenter. 3. Electrician. 4. Plumber; and all range between 45-55,000 dollars.
Why am I sharing this information? My inspiration for the sermon this week came from Amy Ziettlow in The Christian Century. She explained how a job review system works, call the skill/will matrix
And she then looked at how that compared with the experience Jesus had in the wilderness in today's gospel reading.
The skill/will matrix measures the intersection of the employee's skills and abilities with their will, their motivation for the job at hand. She wrote that the skill portion of the equation was relatively easy to fix, they could always give more training to the employee. But the will part, the employee's motivation is trickier. An employee could have all the skill in the world, but if they were unmotivated there was little the employer can do other than replace them.
What does this have to do with Jesus in the wilderness? The temptations that Jesus faced can be looked at with this matrix. First, the devil challenged the skill of Jesus; his ability to perform the miracle changing stones into bread. “If you are the Son of God...” Jesus could do that; he knew he could, we know he could, the devil knew he could. So the question became not about the skill, but about the will.
So why wasn't Jesus motivated to do this task. He was certainly hungry, he'd been fasting a long time. Have you ever thought about what state he would be in after such a fast? I just finished reading the book “Thirty Pieces of Silver” by Carolyn McCray . The title deals with the price Judas received for betraying Jesus but the book was a Dan Brown sort of dissection of the gospel stories. I want to share paragraph describing Jesus returning from his fast. It hit me as I'd never really considered what kind of shape Jesus would be in after this experience. Hungry yes, but to what level? “In the distance, a slim figure stumbled in their direction. Without a word, both men hurried into the desert as Jesus fell to his knees, then onto his side. When they reached him, Judas could feel his friend's very bones, and his skin was like a reed after a drought. Yet somehow, Jesus had survived. If it was not a miracle of God's grace, then it was a testament to his friend's faith.” So weak and hungry; wouldn't Jesus be highly motivated to turn stones into bread?
The other temptations were, briefly, to test his will to trust God's protection and to test his willingness to follow through with God's plan. The temptations were not about God's ability to provide for and care for Jesus, the temptations were to change course, to change his will from God's way to an easier way.
Jesus had just been baptized and commissioned for his mission. He'd spent forty days preparing for his mission. The mission was laid out and the question was if Jesus was willing to stick to the plan. The skill was there, the will was being tested.
After this, Jesus went into the world, he chose his twelve disciples, he worked on carrying out the plan. It appears that the disciples ranked high on the willingness scale; they dropped their nets, their tax records, their jobs and followed immediately. But the skill to be an apostle took some time. They had to hear God's word through the mouth of God's Messiah. They had to witness God's power for themselves through the works of Jesus. They had to test their own skills when Jesus sent them out on missionary trips. They were tested, and failed, at the time of the Passion of Jesus. But in the end, their skills caught up to their willingness and the world came to know the love of God through their words and work.
So what about your skill /will matrix? How are you doing at your job as ambassador for Christ, as a loving child of the heavenly Father, as a disciple living out the great commandment? We face daily challenges or temptations; not as obvious or direct as the ones Jesus faced. 1) But we have times when we want or expect God to take care of our daily needs - turn our stones into bread. 2)There are times when we want God to prove by a miracle that we are loved and protected, we say, “if you are God, fix this, heal this...prove you are God.” We want proof of the Psalm the devil quoted, “On their hands (God's angels) will bear you up.” 3)And there are times when we want the easy way out--”worship me, Satan, and I will give you the desires of your heart.” And so, like Jesus, our will—our trust and faith are in question. But remember this, it is not our skill that saves but the power of the loving grace of Jesus. We are sufficiently skilled for any challenge through the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. Our devotional yesterday quoted the often misused verse, Philippians 4: 13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The skill is from God; a gift. It is the will which we need to wrestle under control. And the will is challenged in the temptations we face. We grow up with simple challenges; “there's a candy bar on the shelf, no one is watching, I want it; why don't I just take it?” Our skill in denying those kinds of temptations grows through the influences in our lives and the Holy Spirit working. But the temptations grow in scope and seriousness. “My friend has cancer. God, you have the power to fix it. Fix it or I choose to no longer believe.” We have the will for the healing, but not the skill. As in the desert with Jesus, God has the skill, the power to do this. But the will is about God's eternal plan. We are not privy to understand the whys of life's issues. And so it is by an act of the will that we choose to trust God's will in this world. Is it easy? Was it easy for Jesus to deny his hunger and stay true to the plan? No. And for us, trusting God in the toughest moments of life will not always be easy. And so our “skill” in trusting grows as we nurture our faith in the good times, in the fellowship we share here, in studying God's word, in following the Lord in the good and the bad.
The strength that Jesus gained through his experience in the desert played out in his mission in the world. He refused to turn the stones into bread for his own benefit, but later he will feed thousands in the wilderness with a few loaves and fishes; and he will teach us all to pray for our daily bread.
Jesus refused to test God by hurling himself from the heights, but ended up trusting God's power to save when he is raised up on the cross.
He refused the political advantages in the kingdoms of this world offered by the devil. But through his resurrection he offers us the eternal kingdom of heaven by grace.
We face a lot of challenges in this life. The simple challenge of aging and the gradual loss of skills like memory and getting up out a chair can cause concern. The world situation with our own political environment and the corona-virus situation can be frightening. Even faith can be challenging; we don't always get the answer to prayer we hope for. Loved ones get sick and die. Churches face scandals, face the loss of membership, and face unsure futures. Loneliness, financial concerns, hunger.... But understand that Jesus has the skill and the will to walk with us through anything. One thing this story of the temptations in the wilderness can teach us, we will not face any desolate place or any challenging situation where Jesus has not been or that Jesus has not faced himself. He shows us that we can face anything in the power of the Lord. It may not be easy, but it is what life is made of; challenges, fears, worries, troubles. Jesus never said he came to remove these things, but he is here to help us face those things.
There is an interesting sentence in our reading from Romans that can encourage us that in Christ, we do have the skills to face the troubles and trials we face. “much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” I take dominion here to mean victory in the trials that life brings us. The Greek is sousin which means reign. Jesus Christ is the source of our victory over sin and death. We receive that promise to reign over the power of sin here and now and and forever in glory. God's kingdom is not just a future in the sweet by and by. God's kingdom is here and now. May we turn to God in a focused way this Lent. Lent is not about what we give up or what we do; it is about Jesus and making room for Jesus in our daily routine. Refusing temptations is not about following the rules, it is about growing closer to God in Christ. Last week Mariah shared a story about the commandments, “God rules are (God's) gift to us. God wants you to rely on Jesus' record, not yours-- because Jesus has already done everything the rules required.” That's the skill we need: rely on Jesus. May our will bring us to lean on Jesus for our strength when we are weak.
And our skill, the prayer for that is expressed in our next hymn: may our skill come as Jesus guides our feet, holds our hand, and stands by us while we run the race of life as part of the kingdom of God. Amen.
Hymn: Guide My Feet 354 PH