Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lent 1 - Matt 4

(wma audio download)

Jesus was led up by the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.

This text is not about how you can beat temptation. This story is not about how Jesus sets the model for defeating the devil in your life with all the right Bible verses and a little bit of fasting. This text, simply put, is not about you at all.

What? It’s not about me? How then can it be relevant to my life?

Simple. This text is about Jesus.

Check it out. When it comes to temptation, you are a failure. Admit it. It’s not that hard to swallow your pride. You’re a Christian after all. And so you can be honest with yourself at least on the inside. No one else here can hear your thoughts. It’s just you and God. So admit it. You straight up are horrible at facing temptation.

I mean, tell me, if you hadn’t eaten for forty days, and you had the power in your little finger to turn stones into bread, you wouldn’t even need the devil to come and put the idea in your head. You’d have made bread the first day, with a nice house salad and a night cap to boot! You wouldn’t last one evening on a fast in the desert, even if the Spirit of God demanded it of you.

But the Spirit hasn’t asked you to do such profound things. All he has asked of you is that you live moderately in faith, refraining from seeking pleasure in this world and it’s possessions, and instead spending your money, not on yourself or your kids, but on the poor, the widows and the orphans. The Spirit puts plenty of food on your table. All he asks is that you don’t keep it to yourself.

But let me ask you: when was the last time you gave money to the poor and didn’t skimp out on your 10% tithe to the Church? When was the last time you didn’t skimp out on your tithe to the Church? When was the last time you gave money to the poor – and by that I mean more than $20?

When was the last time you didn’t spend that extra five dollars on desert, not because of your waistline, but because of your neighbor’s need? When was the last time you didn’t give your children every thing they “needed,” not because it’s a bad idea to spoil them, but because there are plenty of kids in America that don’t even get a good breakfast, and you could feed them? Symbolically then was the last time you said “no” to the temptation of making your own bread, rather than trusting that God will give you bread in your time of need?

My hunch is, you can’t even remember the last time you didn’t fail that temptation. Right along with this pathetic country you’ve completely given yourself over to the satisfaction of your flesh – pleasure is all that really matters to you. You only care to satiate your belly. Anything that gets in the way of that – ha!

It’s not enough to receive eternal life, forgiveness and the promise of paradise in a little bread and wine, you want to like it too! And if you don’t like it, what good is it to you? If it doesn’t give you power or pleasure, what good is it to you? If your narcissistic vanity isn’t petted and patted and swooned and cheered on, what good is it to you? If your pastor stands in the pulpit and calls you, you, a selfish glutton who ought to be thrown out of this Church, what good is it to you? Wouldn’t you just as soon get up and leave as listen to that kind of preaching? There are plenty of churches that would love to have you as a member, and why shouldn’t go there? They’ve got more to offer – more pleasure, more friendliness, a pastor that doesn’t expect you to believe or learn anything.

If you really are a Christian, why not go somewhere with few fewer stones and a bit more bread?

You want to, don’t you? You’d love to give right into that temptation. To find the perfect, flesh-fulfilling spiritual experience. What do you need with Words which come from the mouth of the Living God right here, when you when you’ve got whatever you want whenever you want it right out there? So what if out there is killing you? So what if it’s got you so mad-hopping-crazy that you can’t even breath? So what if your kids are more tired than you are from it all? So what if by ditching out on the Word of God in order to eat a bit finer bread, you are segregating yourself from the only thing that really matters? You aren’t going to fight against all these temptations, because you already know you can’t win.

What you’re going to do instead, is pretend you can win, but lose as fast and as often as you possibly can. And let me tell you, I don’t care if you do get the kids in Church every single Sunday, if you don’t care to fight the temptations of this narcissistic, self-center, pleasure-and-entertainment-worshipping satanic culture, you can bet every last penny you’ve spent on their nice clothes and toys and pastimes that when the devil comes knockin’ on their door, they won’t know the difference between his lies and the cry of their own hearts.

So it’s a darn good thing that this Gospel text of Holy Scripture isn’t about you and how you can beat temptation. Because, if it was, the game would already be over. It’s a darned good thing this text of Scripture never even mentions you, because if it did, it would be as irrelevant to salvation as the next self-help book on Oprah’s list. It’s a darned good thing this text is about Jesus, because without him, we’re all doomed.

Jesus was led up by the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil, and he won! After fasting to the point of starvation, he looked the devil’s temptation to abuse his Godly power straight in the eye and said, “Forget that.” After being taken to the edge of life and limb, he looked the devil’s temptation to test God by experience straight in the eye and said, “um, no.” And after being shown all the power of the dark side, placed in his hands as a crown of glory, he looked the devil’s temptation to be anything other than the perfect Son of God straight in the eye and said, “Get out of my face, Enemy. For I am good, and you are evil. And that means, I get to win.”

And that he did. For in enduring this temptation, Jesus Christ proved himself the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets of God, the perfect heir of creation, who loved the Lord with all his heart and soul and mind, and who loved his neighbor more than himself, even enough to take this flesh and with it endure temptation in order to go beyond temptation straight into the hellish punishment of all the wrath of God against all the failures to beat temptation throughout the whole human history on this world thrown into several horrible hours on one late day in the week where nails through his wrists and thorns on his head still weren’t enough for the devil to convince the Christ to stop having utter faith in the steadfast love of God the Father.

It’s a good thing that today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus’ work to beat the temptation’s and deceptions of the devil in your place, for you. It’s a good thing that Jesus perfect enough to die on the cross as the Lamb without spot or blemish, because with this victory Lent would be nothing but bitter. But Lent is not bitter. It’s bitter-sweet. The cross of Jesus Christ is bitter-sweet.

Allelu-…Wait. Don’t smile. It’s only just begun.

In the Name…

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