Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Journey with Jesus: Tempting Times (Day 5)

Journey with Jesus: Tempting Times
March 13, 2011
Text: Matthew 4.1-11

Lent has officially begun – our journey with Jesus for forty days & nights. We gathered here on Wednesday to hear the scriptures that proclaim our need for God & we were marked with the sign of ashes upon our foreheads – an outward sign of our mortality & penitence. And, so as we move forward in this season, we will encounter Jesus in different places & situations, as walk with him on his journey towards Jerusalem. And, today we find Jesus in the wilderness, after having fasted for forty days & nights, facing temptations from the adversary.

When we think of temptation, our minds often drift towards the pushing of the snooze button, seeing a yummy pastry in front of us, drinking one more cup of coffee, speeding around a slow car in an effort to get there faster. For some, temptation comes in the form of seeking power, a drive for more wealth, desire for another person, even if they are already in a relationship. Temptation is strong in our society – it surrounds us each day, from the time we wake until our heads hit the pillow at night. We are bombarded with images of what we should buy next - what will make us rich or more beautiful or stronger. It is nearly impossible to go through the day without being faced with some sort of tempting situation. And, we are almost immune to it all – it seems like a normal part of life.

And, so in these tempting times we live in, we can be easily swept up into it all, & then we look up, only to find ourselves in the midst of the wilderness of competing voices. We have lost our center, our balance, & our way out. How do we recapture our center? How do we regain our balance? How do we find our way out of the wilderness?

I believe the key is found in the experiences of Jesus with the adversary. Jesus faces three temptations, but they all have a similar theme – the allure of power. In the first scene, the adversary tells Jesus to turn stone into bread. While Jesus is pretty hungry, following a forty day fast, he does not give in. Instead, he quotes a familiar line from the book of Deuteronomy, “one does not live by bread alone.” While bread does sustain us & would nourish a very hungry Jesus, it is not worth giving into this temptation. God is the ultimate nourishment – the one who gives us our daily bread. God holds the power here, not the adversary’s temptation.

In scene two, the adversary takes Jesus up to a high place, where they were able to see out across a vista of the world. All Jesus would need to do is to worship the adversary, rather than God, & it would all be his – all the glory, authority, & power. For some of us, this would be a strong temptation – we see this playing out in various nations across the globe. There are many who seek the power & the glory, no matter the cost to other people or other countries. The temptation is just too great. But, it is not too great for Jesus. Again, he quotes scripture as his response – “it is written, ‘worship the Lord your God, & serve only him.” We are all called to worship God alone, not the world & not the allure of power.

Finally, we get to the third & final scene. Jesus is taken up to the high pinnacle of the temple & told to just jump – jump off & if he truly was the Son of God, he would not suffer any injury. I am not sure if we would do this one – just jump without any reassurance of safety. The adversary even goes as far as quoting scripture himself from the book of Isaiah, “he will command his angels concerning you, to protect you” & “on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” It seems the adversary has caught onto what Jesus was doing, thus trying to convince him with the words of scripture. I must admit, this was a pretty good argument for falling into the temptation – words of scripture & faith that God will protect. However, once again, Jesus is not willing to do it. He says, “do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Even though, God helps us in our times of trouble, we are not to test God. God is already there, there is no real need to test that.

So, the adversary is done. Jesus resisted all of the temptations placed before him. And, the key to it all was relying on the Word of God. It is about trusting in God’s presence with us & that our relationship with God will keep us centered. Temptations occur & we can easily give into them. And, we do sometimes. But, this is the time – this Lenten season – to truly take stock of where we are, what wilderness we find ourselves in, what temptations we are confronted with - & to re-center & find our balance again. This happens when we fully rely on God & not on the allures of power, wealth, or happiness in the world. Those are only fleeting moments, but ultimately leave us right where we are – in the midst of the wilderness.

Even though, we live in the midst of these tempting times, we can trust in the power of God, not the power of the world. And, so as we move through this Lenten season, may you find the Word of God a comforting place to go in times of distress & times of temptation. May you take the time to examine where you are & the time to re-center your lives back on God. In the words of poet Ted Loder, this prayer is one I offer you today –

Eternal One,
Silence from whom my come;
Questioner from whom my questions arise;
Lover from whom all my loves are hints;
Disturber in whom alone I find my rest;
Mystery in whose depths I find healing & myself;
Enfold me now in your presence;
Restore to me your peace;
Renew me through your power;
And ground me in your grace.


*Prayer from Guerrillas of Grace, by Ted Loder

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