Meeting Jesus In-Between

“Meeting Jesus In-Between”

Temptation of Jesus – Jesus MAFA

Mark 1:9-13 (1:13) – February 21, 2021

            How often do we experience several significant happenings in our lives, and yet feel very much in between things? On the virtual road through life, yet not arriving at any settled place and not staying there for a good long time? When young people pass between one grade and the next, or graduation from one school or course of study to another, that is a time of being in-between.

            This whole past year – 2020 – might be seen as an in-between time. Certainly not a normal year, by anyone’s understanding. Whether it’s a busy time for our families, a hectic time at work, or a stressful time in terms of health, we might be in-between things in one or more areas of our lives. This seems like a time that is especially full of a lonely, uninhabited wilderness for so many.

As we look at Mark’s Gospel reading today, we see big changes for Jesus. His baptism – a big event! Jesus driven into the wilderness – another significant event! And then, Satan coming to Jesus – a third, powerful event! All in the space of five short verses. These three significant events all come crashing into Jesus’s life in a very short time, and with Mark’s typical economy of language.

We talked more about the Baptism of Jesus several weeks ago. This was certainly a highlight in our Lord’s life, and sure sign of His Heavenly Father’s approval. Then, immediately (one of Mark’s favorite words!), Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus must have had major feelings concerning this sudden ushering away from all human habitation. To cap the wilderness experience, the devil and Jesus interacted, face to face. That must have been a sight to see! Imagine, Jesus on one side, and Satan on the other.   

            Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, all alone in that deserted region. In-between times, in a time that is not a big, wonderful event, but is separated at a distance both physically and in terms of thought and experience. An in-between time, a wilderness time of loneliness and quiet.

            I understand a number of nurses serving in hospitals and care centers are so weary of seeing patients so very sick. This time of pandemic is stressful for everyone, but especially for those who care for seriously ill patients. Since the pandemic has caused patients to be so lonely and isolated, seldom receiving even one relative as a visitor, some nurses have taken it upon themselves to come alongside of very sick patients. To sit with them, give an extra squeeze of the hand or a sentence or two of encouragement or comfort before going to the next room.

            Is there a possibility that hospitals and care centers might be another place of the wilderness in the present day? Perhaps not the actual semi-arid wilderness of Palestine, but certainly an isolated experience, away from other humans except for brief times during the day.

            All the same, this in-between time can also be a time that is hallowed by God’s presence. Sure, God can meet us in this space, this liminal place in between the big things that happen in our lives – in yours and mine.  

            Even though big events can happen in our lives, so much of the daily activities of our lives are not big. Not earthshaking. Are you in the wilderness in some way today? In between events, and wondering how everything is going to right itself, or even somehow manage to continue?

            Let me tell you some good news! It is a comfort and encouragement to know that God seeks us out when we are in those in-between times. True, those wilderness times in our lives can be discouraging and disorienting for each of us. When we are lost or wandering or angry or grieving, God finds us again and again. This is the bedrock of our Reformed faith, that God takes the initiative and comes to seek us out, no matter what

            Just as the Lord God proclaimed Jesus to be God’s Son at His baptism, just as the Lord God sent angels to attend Jesus in the wilderness after Satan left, the common thread in each of these significant events is the Lord God’s closeness to Jesus. We hear the heavenly voice meet Jesus at the threshold of something new and different, and proclaim Jesus as God’s beloved!

            Not only the big places and events are holy, but also the in-between places. All places become holy as our God comes into all of them, breathing new life and encouragement and comfort into every space and place.

Are you at the threshold of something new or different? Still in the wilderness? Or, just continuing to walk that road of day-to-day existence? We can all take heart! God names us all God’s beloved. Did you hear? Each of us is God’s beloved child, no matter what.

As commentator Denise Anderson says, God meets us where each one is. God approaches each of us to claim us, equip us, and send us to do God’s will – as God’s beloved children. Amen!       

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

I would like to thank the Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and former Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), for her contributions to the Lenten sermon guide Again & Again, from Sanctified Art. These Lenten sermons are based on that sermon guide.

Temptations

“Temptations”

Jesus The-Temptation-of-Christ-Botticelli

Matthew 4:1-11, Genesis 3:1-7 – March 1, 2020

Different people are tempted by different kinds of things. I suppose most everyone here has been tempted at one time or another. Not necessarily with big stuff, or important things, but somewhere, sometime, there has been some kind of thing that has tempted you sorely. Maybe it was something as simple as a plate of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen counter. You knew that dinnertime was in only half an hour, but that plate of cookies looked so tempting. Or, perhaps cutting corners at work in order to save time, not quite following procedure. Or, maybe telling a little fib. You know, something that nobody else would know about. Except for you.

Of course, these are small kinds of temptations. Not quite the big, huge temptations we just heard about in our two Scripture readings this morning: the original temptation, with the special fruit and the snake from Genesis 3, and our Lord Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, tempted by Satan from Matthew 4.

This is the first Sunday of Lent, and we begin our journey with Jesus through these next weeks, until Holy Week, that time we remember the Passion of Christ. In these weeks of Lent we will look at different Scripture readings that hold the “Stories that Shape Us:” our Lenten series for this season. Today, we take a closer look at Temptations.

Are you and I tempted by the things we do, say, and think that really aren’t “too bad?” You know, all that stuff that the world tells us is okay? What about telling little fibs? Or, actions that seem like little speed bumps, or that we explain away by saying “everybody’s doing it—it’s okay! Isn’t it?” Aren’t those temptations, too?

Today we are going to zero in on our Lord Jesus, just after His baptism, as He withdraws into the wilderness to fast, pray and prepare for His years of ministry.

While Jesus is there, He’s tempted by Satan. That part is important, too. Just like the original temptation, of Eve and Adam at that special tree in the garden, so long ago.

Let’s look at Matthew’s take on the temptation. He doesn’t waste any time, but plunges right into the meat of the narrative. Verse 1: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Here is the ultimate faceoff, between the Son of God and Satan, the tempter, trying to make Jesus fall or trip up.

Again, in our second reading from Genesis, we find ourselves at the tree, with Eve and the serpent. This is Genesis explaining the origin of sin, true. But, isn’t it also a way of showing each of us how human we are? Sure, God showers many blessings upon each of us, every day. But, the serpent questions that blessing, that trustworthiness of God, even quoting God’s own words back to Eve with a sly smirk in its beady eyes.

Aren’t both Bible readings communicating similar narratives? There is a lack, a hole, a need for something in our lives. And, Satan—the devil—the serpent can give it to us. Or, show us where to get it.

Think about Madison Avenue, and advertising on television, in print media, and now, on the computer. More and more, advertising plays upon our emotions, showing us our supposed “needs” or “lacks,” and then quickly following up with just what we need to fill that hole!

Jesus must have been the most self-assured, self-possessed human being, ever. He wasn’t like the typical human, feeling alone, incomplete, having a hole inside our heart and spirit. Isn’t that what each of us typical humans feel like, at least some of the time? Maybe, even, a lot of the time? Yet, our Gospel reading today tells us that Jesus was, indeed, tempted by the devil.

The first temptation was hunger. Or rather, for Jesus to use His power to take care of His own needs, His own hunger. I can just hear Satan say: “Come on, Jesus! You’re miles from anywhere. No one will see You do it! C’mon, turn these stones into bread. After all, You’re human. You’re hungry. Feel those hunger pangs in Your stomach? You know You want to.”

Yet, as commentator Carolyn Brown said, Jesus had been led out into the wilderness to learn something important. He wanted to be obedient to God and do as God asked, even if it meant being hungry in the wilderness. [1] And what was Jesus’ response? ““It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The second temptation was Satan encouraging Jesus to use His power in stunts, almost like a circus performer, to get attention and show everyone how important He was. Satan even added the heavenly icing on top of this temptation: saying that angels would come catch Jesus if He threw Himself off the top of the temple. What was Jesus’s response? “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, Carolyn Brown tells us that God did not want the human Jesus to show off in such a flashy way, or prove how powerful and mighty God is. Instead, Jesus was sent to love and forgive people, have caring relationships, and be a visual example of what God was all about. [2]

Satan’s last temptation must have been tempting, indeed. Sure, lots of kings and rulers had tried to rule large parts of the world, but they were all fallible humans, with sins and shortcomings and all kinds of flaws all over the place. When Satan offered Jesus the opportunity to be King over the whole world, it must have been some temptation. Since Jesus was the perfect human, He would have been the absolute best King of the world. Oh, yeah. Plus, Jesus needed to bow down and worship Satan in order to become an instant King.

But, this wasn’t in God’s timetable. And, Jesus knew that.

What was Jesus’ response?  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

We can see how Eve and Adam were persuaded by the serpent to give in to temptation, and eat the apple. We can see how Jesus defeated Satan, the tempter. Jesus trusted and obeyed God His heavenly Father. This struggle, this faceoff with Satan was the important thing. He showed that to Satan by responding directly and clearly, quoting Scripture passages with which all believers in Israel were familiar. [3] And after the tempter left Him, Matthew lets us know that Jesus was ministered to by angels. Like a boxer, after a hard-won fight in the ring.

For us, today, temptation is a regular part of our lives. “I’m only human!” some say. Our lives as Christians do not eliminate doubt, lacks, needs, or a sense of incompleteness. Satan will zero in on those so often! However, we can embrace our relationship with God as that place where our needs are indeed met, where our lives and very selves are made complete.

Sure, we are descendants of Adam and Eve, and as such we can be needy and lacking, searching for that God-shaped filler for the hole inside each of us. Thanks be to God that Jesus has come into our lives. We can trust Him to pick us up when we fall short from temptations’ snares. We can confess our failings and sins, and trust through the crucified and risen Jesus we indeed have the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. Amen!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(I would like to thank the Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from his article http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1488  “Into Temptation,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.  Thanks so much!)

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-first-sunday-in-lent-march-13-2011.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2007-03-01

“Jesus Put to the Test,” Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2007.

Tempted by the Evil One

“Tempted by the Evil One”

Luke 4-2 devil tempted

Luke 4:1-13 (4:1-2) – March 10, 2019

Have you ever heard of H.A.L.T.? Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These four factors in life are abbreviated to the acronym H.A.L.T. and has been used to great effect by recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and other, similar self-care and mindfulness methods.

Whenever you or I find ourselves hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we are that much more susceptible to negative thoughts, behaviors, or both. “It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors including relapse. Fortunately, hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are easy to address and serve as a warning system before things reach a breaking point.” [1]

In our Gospel reading today, we find our Lord Jesus in the wilderness for quite a long time. The Gospel of Luke mentions He was there for forty days, and had little to eat. Yes, Jesus was fasting and observing an extended time of prayer and spiritual preparation before God. However, I want us to focus on one specific facet of this Gospel reading today: our Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil. Luke says so, right in verse 2.

What is temptation, anyhow? We know that our Gospel writer Luke said the devil came to Jesus and tempted Him. But—we were not there. We don’t know if the temptation was internal, in Jesus’s head, or external, where the figure of Satan in a red suit with horns and a pointy tail appeared to Jesus. It could be either, both, or something we cannot even imagine, in our limited, earthly minds. But—this we do know. Jesus was tempted—tried—tested exceedingly—by the power of absolute evil, personified. As the devil tried to get Jesus to go his way, away from God and God’s way, we need to pay close attention.

This is serious business indeed, and we ought to sit up and take notice of what Jesus said and did. But first, I would like for us to consider the Lord’s Prayer. Yes, we will be looking at a line from the Lord’s Prayer each week in Lent. What line is more appropriate to this Gospel reading today than “Lead us not into temptation?”

Let us return to Jesus, at the end of His forty-day period of prayer and spiritual preparation for His time of public ministry. He is definitely hungry and tired, and most probably lonely, as well. Definitely two of these strong physical, psychological and spiritual triggers that serve as a warning system for us humans, and probably all three of these triggers. We would expect Jesus to be very hungry, lonely and tired.

At such a physical, psychological and spiritual low point for Jesus, the devil suspected He might be susceptible to temptation. Wouldn’t you suspect it, if you were totally evil?

What were Jesus’s responses to these tests or trials? First, the devil tempted Jesus physically, with food. This bread was a perfectly reasonable thing for Jesus to desire! Except—not in the way the devil was presenting it. Hear, again, the first temptation: “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’”

Ah, the devil keeps using the old tried-and-true deception. “IF you are the Son of God…then…” Trying to plant doubt in people’s minds, and put them on the defensive! “IF this is so…then…” But, Jesus does not take the bait. He answers with the Word of God from Deuteronomy: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” No discussion, no wiggle-room, just the Word of God.

The devil tries another tack, and tempts Jesus psychologically. The devil tests Jesus with ultimate power and authority even before the very beginning of His ministry, instead of waiting three years until after Jesus’s death on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead. (Again, I have no idea whether the devil actually took Jesus to a high place, like a real mountain, or whether this was a projection in their heads, sort of like virtual reality.) The culmination for this second test was if Jesus considered all the kingdoms of the world, then He needed to bow down and worship the devil. Which, was not happening! Jesus responds again from Deuteronomy, and says ““It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The third temptation was a spiritual one, where the devil dared—even, double-dog-dared—Jesus to throw Himself down from the roof of the Temple. (Which was the first-century equivalent of a high-rise.) For the third time, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, and says, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This is an excellent reason to memorize Scripture, by the way. Just so we can respond to the devil when we are confronted by a temptation that seems overpowering! God’s Word is truly “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,” as Hebrews 4:12 tells us. We can see that Jesus used this two-edged sword freely, to defend against temptation of the devil. We can always turn to the Lord’s Prayer, too, where we ask God to please keep us away from situations where we might be tempted by the devil.

The Lord’s Prayer is direct quoting of Scripture, too, from Matthew 6. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount gives us the template of a great prayer we can always pray to God, in countless varieties of situations. Like, in this one, where we ask God to “lead us not into temptation.”

That quoting-Scripture-stuff is all very well, but how do Jesus and the devil being on top of the Temple connect with my life and experience? Well, we can go back to some temptations we are able to relate to. Temptations that are almost irresistible for many people, temptations the children and I talked about today. Remember? What about a plate of cookies left on the kitchen counter—with no one else around? What about an extra-cool smart phone left unattended in a very public place, like an empty table in the food court at the mall? Or, what about a set of test answers in such plain view that you can hardly help but see them on the desk of the student next to you? Or, next to your kid, or your grandchild?

All of those things are SO tempting! And, for most of us, we will see the situation, and automatically do the right thing. But, sometimes—maybe even with you or someone you know—the temptation is SO real to do the wrong thing, to steal a cookie or three, or to pocket the smart phone, or to take a quick photo of the test answers with your phone.

It is in those pesky situations where any of us can feel weak and susceptible that we can pray “lead us not into temptation” and really mean it, with all our hearts! Or, even better, we can put those Bible words into our own words, and internalize this concept into our hearts. “Something like ‘God, help me know what is right and wrong and be able to do what is right without even thinking about it.’” [2]

Let us pray to God so that we all may follow God more nearly, and love God more dearly, each day more and more, throughout Lent and beyond. Please God, may it be so.

[1] https://bradfordhealth.com/halt-hunger-anger-loneliness-tiredness/ Accessed March 9, 2019.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-first-sunday-in-lent-february-14.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

Love and Testing, in the Wilderness

“Love and Testing, in the Wilderness”

heart - conversation, be mine

Luke 4:1-13 – February 14, 2016

Today is Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, cards, chocolates, romantic meals, all the things! Almost anywhere you go this weekend, many stores, restaurants, and other public places are full of reminders that love is in the air. My husband and I went out for lunch yesterday at a small diner, and had a wonderful time. Good food, and excellent company. I also received a dozen pink roses from my sweetheart. Sound familiar? The giving and receiving of gifts, of hearts, and of love.

At first glance, we might consider today’s Gospel reading to be considerably off-topic. No mention of hearts and love at all. Luke 4 opens with our Lord Jesus, fresh from His baptism at the very beginning of His public ministry. We are told that the Holy Spirit leads Him into the wilderness, where Jesus fasts and prays for forty days.

We will come back to the topic of love, and how it ties into Jesus and the temptation. But first, Luke says Jesus went into the wilderness. Willingly! He was led there, and chose to go there. Not dragged unwillingly or half-heartedly.

The Gospels don’t tell us so, but other religious leaders went away to prepare themselves, to get ready for leadership. I suggest that that is exactly why Jesus withdrew to a private, far-away place. Just like several other situations, and other people in the Bible. I am thinking especially of Moses, on the mountain, when he received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. He, too, fasted. And, prepared himself for leadership of the people of Israel. I suggest that Jesus is doing the same.

This period of preparation involved fasting. Luke does not mention prayer here, but I cannot imagine Jesus going for days, much less weeks, without praying to His Heavenly Father. I’ve fasted a number of times, and fasting often sharpens the spiritual ears and sensitivities.

At the end of the fasting time, Jesus was hungry. The Gospel account says so! And, who shows up at that precise time? The Devil.

A pertinent illustration from a pastor? “In confirmation classes … at Grace Lutheran Church, [the pastor] teaches the students to take the letter, d, off the word, “devil,” and you get the word, “evil.” Evil is part of our lives and we face evil every day.” [1]

You might ask whether this really is a physical Devil, or whether it was a spiritual manifestation of evil. My answer? I do not know for sure.

However, I tend to stick with the actual physical Devil. The word used here, diabolos, implies the chief of the fallen angels. According to a well-respected commentary, “Luke consistently uses diabolos while Matthew mingles “Satan” and “devil” in his version of the story. Evil was conceived as a personal will actively hostile to God. (see Luke 13:16). The devil was in conflict with God’s purpose of salvation; he is the concern of Jesus’ saving activity.” [2]

I am going to go with the actual, physical Devil, the ruler of this fallen world. At the time that Jesus is physically very weak, the Devil shows up. And, he tempts Jesus, big time!

What on earth does this Gospel reading have to do with Valentine’s Day? What does it have to do with hearts, and with love? Stay tuned.

Here in my hands is a heart. A Valentine’s Day heart. I mentioned that my husband gave me a dozen lovely pink roses yesterday. I gave him a Valentine card that mentioned my heart. It said my heart belonged to my husband, my sweetheart.

Let’s go back to Jesus, and the Devil. The Devil was tempting Jesus in several important ways! First, he mentions Jesus’s hunger. How much more obvious could you get? “Come on, Son of God. You’re so hungry. You can do it. No one will ever see—You can turn these stones to bread. With just a snap of Your fingers or a wave of Your hand. You know You want to…”

What did the Devil want Jesus to do? To put His stomach first! Not God first, but Jesus’s own needs, wants and desires. The Devil was tempting Jesus with hunger.

What was Jesus’s response? He did not even waver: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus was in the wilderness to prepare for leadership, and to do the will of God—not to be selfish and self-centered.

I suspect the Devil did not leave Jesus alone for a minute. Immediately after tempting Him with bread (or the possibility of bread), the Devil turns to another seductive temptation. Reading, starting at verse 5: “The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Jesus, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.”

Wow! Such a temptation! Jesus could take a big, huge short-cut. He could be king of the world immediately! He didn’t have to go through any unpleasant, uncomfortable pain and anguish. No unpleasantness, for years. No tramping through Israel, followed by a rag-tag bunch of disciples. Plus, Jesus knew He would make an absolutely wonderful King. How tempting!

But, no. No! Jesus knew that He would be forcing people to do things against their will. Jesus knew that many, many people would either be slaves or robots to Him. “I – love – you – because – I – am – programmed – to say – I – love – you.” No! Jesus didn’t want us to be slaves. He wanted our love – freely!

And, more, besides. How did Jesus answer the Devil? “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

The last temptation? “The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (With the understanding that God’s angels would save Jesus at the last second.)

Whoa! What a spectacle! What a publicity stunt that would be! Can you imagine? Except with Jesus, it would be for real. His answer to the Devil? Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This Valentine I’m holding represents Jesus’s heart. What did the Devil want Him to do, in all three of these temptations? The Devil wanted Jesus to put His heart somewhere else. Wanted Jesus to give His heart not to God the Father, but instead to stuff. To the cheers of the crowd. To food and satisfying His stomach. But, Jesus knew where His heart belonged. Jesus knew that His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, just like His love. .

As for us today, the Devil and the power of evil still keeps trying to pull us away from God. Evil wants to destroy us! Destroy our faith in God, our love for each other, and the goodness of God living in our hearts. But, if evil can cause us to be miserable and unhappy, if evil can make us forget God, that is the next best thing.

The Devil wants us to take our hearts away from God, and instead just give them to him. Or his minions. Or, to power, or money, or things. Just as long as our hearts and love are not directed to God! That is the Devil’s worst nightmare.

While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

 

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_the_tempation_GA.htm Rev. Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church Des Moines, Washington 98198

[2] Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Study Hardback edition. London: Geoffrey Chapman 1995

I’d like to give a big thank you to Carolyn C. Brown for her wonderful worship ideas from Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!