Posted on Wed, Feb 17, 2016
February 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent
Gospel Text: Luke 4:1-13 – “There is NO Shame in Being Faithful!”
The Temptation of Jesus
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ 4 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’ 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ 8 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,” 11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’12 Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
I want to begin by thanking everyone who attended our Ash Wednesday worship. It was a very meaningful evening. We had a wonderful guest choir, “Voices of Aloha” who shared their talent and joy of singing with us. Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday worship are very meaningful and beautiful services to attend to as we get to move around and almost act out our worship service.
Ash Wednesday has also evolved into a time that is important to our school staff. In the morning I will always have a few teachers waiting to receive their ashes at the beginning of the day. The eventual smudge on their foreheads becomes a real object lesson in helping people start talking about what the ashes mean.
I also like telling people to be sure to stop somewhere on the way home, like Zippy’s, Longs, or someplace so people can see the big black cross on your forehead and give you that wondering-look like, “what the heck does that big black cross on their forehead mean?” It’s fun just seeing people’s reactions. You bet I did it! I stopped at Longs in Hawaii Kai where all the employees know me as “Pastor Tim” and they saw the smudge. A few gave me, “The look,” and I was able to remind them that today was Ash Wednesday. Most of them would wrinkle their faces and say, “Oh, yea, I forgot!” It is easy to forget, we need a calendar, iPhone alerts, post its, and effort to remember… I require all of these things.
When I got home I was looking at Facebook, and I noticed on a special page we have for ELCA clergy, that so many pastors were talking about how meaningful and spiritual their Ash Wednesday services were, and it was clear many of my colleagues around the country were really touched by this special worship service at this time of year… then there was one very wise pastor who questioned everyone… (There is always one of those wise ones around to point out what we all miss…) She wasn't criticizing but she asked, “in light of that Sunday’s Gospel text, isn’t hypocritical to go out in public flashing our ash covered foreheads in public,” especially when we just read in the Ash Wednesday Gospel, Matthew 6:5-6, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
I have to admit, her comment really caught my attention and I began to wonder, more than a sooty smudge on my forehead, announcing to the world that I attended Ash Wednesday worship and they didn't, how easy or difficult is it for people to tell that I am a Christian? Without the big black cross on my forehead for two hours, can people tell by my words, actions and attitude I am really trying to live according to the grace that has been showered on me? Do I live a life so that people can see, hear, or experience a spirit of faith and thankfulness in my life? And it isn’t that I am “trying” to live my faith, the question is, I shouldn't have to ‘try’ at all. There should be no thought to living in thankfulness to the unimaginable grace that has been showered upon us… Does my life reflect Jesus or not? Or, am I just a loud and noisy gong, which says one thing and disregards the meaning of the Christ’s calling in an instant depending on the context?
It is a tough question, but Lent is a time to ask ourselves these kinds of questions… it is not a time to clobber ourselves with guilt, we are all guilty, but we do need to be honest with ourselves. Lent is an opportunity to go to a quiet place and ask ourselves, “What are the daily events that we face each and everyday that become temptations to put our faith in our pockets, or close our mouths to speaking words of kindness, joy or justice?”
In today’s text, Jesus is being tempted by the devil, evil, or whatever you want to call it, so that Jesus would demonstrate that He is not who God has called Him out to be. How do we know Jesus is who He is? It was through His baptism when God spoke from the clouds so that the people could hear exactly who this Jesus of Nazareth was, “This is My Son, with whom I am well pleased, Listen to Him!” In the temptation stories, Jesus was tempted with food when he was hungry, political power when offered all the kingdoms of the earth, and spiritual power when the devil wanted to put God and the angels to the test.
Some of the Bible writers have the devil beginning each temptation with, “If you are the Son of Man…” as if Jesus’ real identity was in question, but we already know Jesus’ true identity because we read it in scripture, Jesus’ real identity had already been made known to the world in Jesus’ baptism.
In our baptism, we are now called “Child of God,” if that was an illegal title, would we be guilty as charged?
I am not talking about “works-righteousness” and earning your way to God’s acceptance, our salvation and righteousness has been fulfilled through the Cross of Christ, which we now hold up as a banner of love, hope and justice.
It is more of a personal question. In light of this text, and the fact that we have been called, “lights unto the world,” we need to examine our lives and think about what we say, what we do, how we think so that our very lives become the Bible for people to see and experience. I love that expression, “Be the Bible for people to read,” or, “Proclaim the Gospel; Use words only when necessary.”
I bring this up because I truly believe we have a message that people are longing to hear, but are certainly not hearing it during their normal daily experience because of so many worries, distractions and challenges. When I talk to people I hear so many people say they just want someone to talk to, someone to accept them the way they are and not judge them; they are looking for people who will simply acknowledge that they exist and are not just cogs in a social machine that only values them if they are making money for someone else, or at least not causing trouble to the status quo.
God has created us to live and truly be the people we were created to be. It is sad that we no longer hear the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember being asked that question and with no hesitation or fear answer, a pilot, a doctor, a missionary, or maybe an astronaut! I was allowed and encouraged to dream and dream big. But now, things have changed. Rather that ‘what do you want to be?’ from a very early age the question has become a very dry and practical, “what college do want to get accepted to so that you get ‘a good job’”? And the question seems to be asked of kids even in their early years of elementary school… stifling all hope of being creative.
For many people, their entire understanding of ‘human value’ in our society is reduced to nothing more than our role in making our market work, or making someone else a profit. All the time working people are not able to afford simple housing, health insurance or even food. In this context I truly believe our Church has a very key and important message to share about the real worth and potential of people and I believe the church, in proclaiming a message that all people are loved and cherished by God has an important role in making change happen in our society.
People seem to just get up, race to work just to stand still in traffic, sit or work all day, come home exhausted yet are expected to be the soccer coach, homework tutor, adult care-giver, good spouse, home-repair expert, tax-preparer, night school student, AND with all this we must be sure to “take care of yourself!”
But this cycle of life has been accepted as, “just the way life is.” Surely our church has a message of love and mercy the people in our society long to hear. I’ve told you before, that I am not a musician, but the highest point of the week for me is playing guitar with everyone singing with such enthusiasm and joy, and then after confession hearing that I am forgiven! I have so many experiences to be thankful for, but these to moments in the week are the easiest highlights I can name. Especially when I allow myself to let myself relish the Truth that God loves me just the way I am, and it is okay to rejoice in the gift of my faith!!!
There is a reason this beautiful building is called a “sanctuary.” Surely we can find ways to invite people to be refreshed and find hope in such a beautiful place as this… but more than the building, it is your identity as Children of God, given to you through your baptism, that makes this a special and holy place. Each one of us has gone through our dark valleys, breaking points, times of regret and shame, but here gathered around the Cross of Christ and the table that holds the Lamb of God as our feast, we find healing, acceptance and our true identity! In this place, we are not cogs, we are the object of God’s complete and unconditional love!
We are all tempted, I am easily tempted by chicken wings or a nap… but that moment when I connect to God through Praise, and hear that I am forgiven and loved just the way I am, those temptations don’t have so much power anymore. And with just a little help of the Holy Spirit, a kinder word, a freer hug, a listening ear even in me, a more compassionate heart will bubble up to the surface.
Thanks be to God, because that is all we can do!
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