March 10, 2019 1st Sunday in Lent
When you read my sermon title today, what did you think of? Did any of you start humming “My Girl” or “Just My Imagination (running away with me)? I typed in the title and that's kindof what happened to me—Julie was in her sewing room and heard me singing “It's just My Imagination” and she called back, “No it's not!”
But the singing group was not what I was thinking of when I typed in the temptations, it was the three temptations Jesus faced in today's gospel reading. By the way, let me know when you get tired of my Israel stories but we stopped at a roadside stand in Jericho...Julie bought some dates there. We looked across the valley at the hills and were shown a specific spot and told, “That's where the devil tempted Jesus.” I can't imagine how anyone would claim to know that, it was wilderness and Jesus is big business in Israel so it pays to identify such a site. In fact, we see just a glimpse of desire to profit from knowing Jesus in the second temptation.
Two weeks ago I heard Amy preach on this passage at Ecumen. I want to quote what she said about these temptations, “It is important to keep in mind that Jesus was capable of doing all of those things. But he didn’t, because he understood God’s plan for the world. And I don’t want to be dismissive (of) the needs of the hungry, in making stone into bread, or the needs of the oppressed by installing leaders that are compassionate and righteous, nor do I want to be dismissive of trust that we have in God to provide and protect us in our daily lives.”
Jesus did not give in the these temptations because he was committed to obedience to God, the Father. The things the devil asked of him were not sinful, the results would have been good, at least in the short term. But Jesus was determined to follow God's plan and that was about relationship, not physical comfort or power-either political or power in the church.
I read of a little 3 year old who learned about this passage in Sunday school. Later that day he asked his mother, “Hey mom, what do you know about the devil?”
A little caught off guard, she turned the question back on him: “What do you know about the devil?”
“Well,” be began, “the devil talked to Jesus and the devil was mean.”
Then, leaning in close to her, he dropped his voice to a loud whisper, “If we were at a store, and you and dad were in one aisle, and I was in another aisle, and there was candy the devil would say, ‘You should take some.’”
Impressed that her little boy seemed to understand so many points about the story she asked him: “Honey, if we were at a store, and Dad and I were in one aisle, and you were in another aisle, and there was candy, and the devil said, ‘You should take some!’
What would you say back to the devil?”
A genuine grin lit up the boy’s entire face and without hesitation he replied, “Oh! I would say 'thank you!'”
It’s not surprising that a 3-year-old missed the point, but I believe most of us miss the point most of the time, do we not? We think of temptations as things we need to say “no” to in order to be holy. Temptations are anything that lead us away from God and God's will for our lives. A temptation you may be facing could be something very good... bread from stones when you are hungry or candy for your sweet tooth... it could be something good done in Jesus' name but for our own benefit. If it does not serve God's purposes, then in the end it is wrong.
Some of my biggest temptations come when I’m choosing between two good things; trying to decide which God would have me choose. No that's not right, I usually know which one God would have me choose, but the temptation is to choose for my own will. It came up last weekend. We had volunteered to babysit some grandkids. I was looking forward to it. Then I got a call, someone needed my help, only two hours but it would be while the grandkids were there. Two good things—spending time with our babies or helping someone who was stuck. I knew what I should do, but I did spend 15 minutes trying to convince myself that being with the kids would be a good excuse.
This temptation doesn't align with any of those we read about. But I can feel a bit of connection with the God who came to earth and faced the things we face; hunger, thirst, selfishness, pride. Maybe we can say that this passage is not only about facing our temptations, it is about how we make all our choices in life. Jesus consciously made the choice to follow God's plan for his life. How do we do that? By studying how Jesus did it and copying him.
First and foremost, Jesus relied on time with God in prayer. We read time and again in the gospels things like, “Jesus withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” (Matthew 14: 13) and “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6: 15) Solitary time with God was critical to the obedience Jesus showed in his walk here on earth. How are we doing at this? It is very hard to follow the will of God without time spent away by yourself with God. Can we learn this lesson from Jesus, to know God's will we need to be with God.
Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, Jesus knew his scriptures. His scriptures were what we call the Old Testament, but it was the only scripture he had. When thoughts of the self-serving kind came to him, he was able to refer to former learning. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' If your exposure to the scripture is limited to what is shared on any particular Sunday morning, you probably won't have this resource to fall back on. I know I sound like a broken record, but the only way we have to connect with what Jesus and the epistle writers taught is through this book. I encourage you to join us in our bible studies. I know everyone can't make Tuesday mornings, but if you talk to those who do, you'll find that we learn together many truths that are not self-evident in a cursory reading or hearing. Sunday mornings we meet at 9. It would mean getting up earlier, but Judy leads us as we look at the scripture readings of the day. It deepens our understanding of the sermon and we share insights with each other.
This passage can also serve as a warning to us on how we use scripture. Even the devil sought to use scripture to serve his purpose. Again from Amy, “ People used scripture to justify slavery, abusive treatment of women, children, foreigners. Used it to justify stealing people’s money in the name of God, for manipulating people’s behavior... Scripture’s proper use is teaching and instructing, so that God’s will for restoration and redemption can unfold in our day to day living. It is not to be used to manipulate with fear, oppress others, or hoard earthly possessions.” Most of us have had some exposure to people who use scripture for their own agenda.
Another take on how we misuse our knowledge of scripture comes from Christian Century's Adam Thomas, “When we get backed into corners, when we feel threatened by different interpretations of our religion, we tend to fling the shrapnel of our twisted bits of scripture at each other. Instead of looking to scripture for guidance, we look to it for munitions.” Let's work at gaining insight into the teaching and instruction of the scriptures and use our understanding to promote the justice, mercy, grace, love that Jesus taught.
I have talked about getting away by yourself with God, about learning scripture to help follow God's ways. One more component to this faith journey, worship together. And I realize I am preaching to the choir here... but the Christian journey was not meant to be a solo journey. Jesus always came back down from that mountain to interact with his disciples and with the people. We gather and are strengthened to face those tough decisions we may face. We bless each other for our journeys in word and in presence. We should never come to church simply to earn brownie points or to impress others, we don't prove our faithfulness by attendance but by service and love. Jesus didn't have to prove himself to God, the people or the devil. Neither do we. But as Max Lucado tells us, “Satan is going to tell you otherwise. In church of all places, he will urge you to do the tricks, impress others with your service, make a show of your faith, call attention to your good deeds. He loves to turn church into Las Vegas presentations where people show off their abilities rather than boast in God's”
Temptations come in many forms with many different effects. Our message today is to choose wisely; to choose the path that God would have us follow. Jesus was not tempted to do evil there in the desert; he was tempted to detour from God's plan. By taking time apart with Jesus, by learning our scriptures and by gathering in fellowship in the name of the Lord, we will be better equipped to choose rightly. Amen.
Take Time to be Holy 392 HLC