Sermon for 3/1/20 Matthew 4:1-11; Lent 1

It is the first Sunday of Lent and the scripture readings are NOT MESSING AROUND. I mean, we are talking about temptation right away. This is the heart of the matter, right? It’s as if the committee that chooses these readings sat back and said “nah, let’s not go easy on them. Let’s start right in on temptation.” Sure, I mean, why not? I’m also a fan of holding Weight Watchers meetings at Golden Corral. So, let’s clear up a real quick misconception about this piece of scripture. The temptation (pun intended) is to read this scripture and think “I am tempted sometimes by things, maybe even by people, certainly by Satan. Jesus was tempted by Satan with bread and power and his identity was challenged. Jesus persevered and overcame his temptations. Therefore, I should be able to overcome and persevere my temptations. End of story.” 

Wrong. That’s not how it works. Beloved, any time we may try and compare ourselves to Christ we’re going to come out looking not so great because we aren’t Christ. Jesus was, is, and will always be better at resisting and overcoming temptation than us. That’s because he is the son of God, literally. I also think sometimes we may not always know what to do with this scripture because we don’t know what to do with Satan. He’s not the most popular sermon topic. But, I assure you he is very real. The temptations he offers are very real. The sooner we start to put a name on evil and all the forces that defy God, the sooner we can renounce them and call him the liar he is. Get behind me Satan. Lastly, these temptations aren’t just about sneaking chocolate. This isn’t about minor indiscretions. I think Satan only comes for us when our souls are hungry for what we think can satisfy us and we go looking other places than God. We’re craving, we’re hungry, we get in desert moments, we start traveling with our eyes or hearts and don’t you know who’s going to show up every single time dangling shiny carrots in front of us but Satan? Here’s what scripture may not say today: if we take what Satan is offering, it’ll never be enough. Hear that again: if we take what Satan is offering, IT’LL NEVER BE ENOUGH. 

We cave to temptation as individuals but how about as a church? You don’t think Satan would love to put a notch in his win column by recruiting an entire church? Now, if you don’t think that’s possible, I wish you could eavesdrop on conversations I hear or am a part of. It’s an interesting cycle of fear, abundance and/or scarcity, mixed with tradition and modernity. And at the center of the cycle, in charge of the three ring circus (it should come as no surprise) is Satan himself. So the conversations usually sound something like this “we need more of ‘these’ type of people in our church.” Now, “these” types of people can vary, depending on your situation. Sometimes it’s young people, families, people of color, LGBTQ people or whatever you’d like to fill in the blank with. This desire usually arises out of the abundance of something needing to be done (people to take over those jobs that have been done by the same people for the last 65 years) or scarcity (if we don’t get them in the doors, we’re going to have to close). In order to get these people in the doors of the church, we might have to change a bit (thanks, modernity) to accommodate like with a new worship time, some flexible seating, ooh! A band! But then what about the organ, our liturgy, and our traditions. And at the center of these conversations is Satan, spinning the rings of temptation, flashing the ways we can be just like the newest, biggest, most awesomest church down the street instead of staying steadfast in who we are and who God called us to be. That shiny carrot looks awfully tempting. 

  At the root of temptation is the question of identity. Are you, are we, willing to put aside our core identity for whatever Satan is offering? It’s not just with the church example I gave, it’s with every temptation. Satan dangles something, someone, we could be right in front of us. We could be that. We could make more money, but at what cost to our personal health? We could have a different job but at what cost to our relationships? We could have a relationship, but at what cost to our morals? Jesus knew his identity; we were just told it last week: beloved son. We are that too: beloved children of God. Do we trust in that identity enough to turn away from the temptations and rest assured in who God created us to be? And look, I get it. Giving into certain temptations can feel good…temporarily. Because remember, whatever Satan is offering will never be enough. We will never and can never be satisfied with whatever Satan is offering. 

Maybe what Jesus is trying to communicate with us and the disciples today is this: you are enough. We are enough. Just as we are, we are enough. You are created in God’s image. We were all created in God’s image. And it’s enough. Sure, it’s totally fine and very normal to want to shine brighter, be better, bolder, whatever. And there are ways to do that with the help of God. But remember, the “brighter” that Satan offers fades, and quickly. The “faster” that Satan offers eventually slows down. The “bigger” that Satan offers isn’t always better. What you are is enough. What we have is enough. We come from God and we will return to God. Maybe this Lent if you are tempted, it will be by this: to allow yourself to be loved, just as you are; to claim your identity as a child of God without apology; to receive grace without flinching; to rest knowing you don’t have to do it all (and really, you can’t); to come to the table with a hunger for justice and righteousness; and to remember your baptismal promises that you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, forever. Remember that if you are tempted, you will not be alone. Christ is with you. The company of angels surround you. The Holy Spirit will guide you. Satan hasn’t won yet. You are enough. We are enough. Get behind me, Satan. 

Sermon for 3/10/19 Luke 4:1-13

Did you know that we get this story every first Sunday in Lent? The story of the temptation of Jesus. So, it might be easy, maybe even tempting for us, to hear this reading and immediately think of our own temptations. After all, don’t some people give things up for Lent so that they can learn the power of temptations? At the risk of sounding cruel, this reading is not about us. We should not hear this and immediately apply it to our own lives. After all, the temptations that Jesus faces, are nowhere near or like the temptations we face. Now, I know what you might be wondering. If this is not a text about temptation, then what is this story about? Our reading today as a story about identity. It is a story about Christ and his identity to and in God. It has a story about Christ and his identity to us. And, it is a story about our identity to and in Christ. The story is all about how Jesus is going to live into his identity as the son of God, and how we might follow as children of God and followers of Christ.

We are told that this encounter is spirit driven literally the text says that Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit. He is full of the Holy Spirit. So, he is not alone while being tempted. As a side note, this makes me wonder how much of this is Jesus trusting in the Holy Spirit and how much of this encounter is him trusting in his identity. How strong might we be if we put more faith in our identity and the Holy Spirit? But I digress. The temptations from Satan all start out the same “if you are…” Believe it or not, this is actually better translated as “since you are.” “Since you are the son of God” and then the temptations follow. This is not a question of Jesus’ identity but more of a challenge of how he will live into that identity. Satan is not questioning whether or not he is the son of God. But because he is the son of God how will he move about in this world? Perhaps we could post the same question to ourselves. Because we are called, claimed, and beloved children of God, how will we move about and encounter and interact with this world?

Before this encounter, in scripture we actually heard about the baptism of Jesus. Therefore, we heard about his identity in God. After Jesus is baptized, a voice comes from the clouds declaring “you are my Son, the Beloved” (Lk 3:22b).  So, perhaps, for Satan this is less about temptation and more of a challenge. You are the son of God, you are the Messiah, you are surrounded, filled, driven by the Holy Spirit. So Jesus, what will that look like? Once again my beloved I wonder what happens when we ask the same of ourselves. We are children of God we are the beloved of the Messiah, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit. What does the world look like when we take on that identity?

The first temptation that Satan gives Jesus is to turn rocks into loaves of bread. We know that Jesus is hungry. After all, he has been fasting for 40 days. You can imagine then, the hunger is real. I mean, I know how I feel when I have gone for hours without eating. Let alone, 40 days. Once again however, this is not about Jesus necessarily. This temptation is about how Jesus will interact with the world and claim his identity. Let us not forget that so much of Jesus’s ministry is feeding people literally. Jesus feed hungry people. Can you imagine how easy that might be if Jesus was able to turn any and all stones into bread with a snap of his fingers? But Jesus refuses this temptation. He tells the devil that one does not live by bread alone. And, if you think of the many feeding stories that we hear about Jesus, it is more than just feeding that Jesus gives people. When Jesus feeds people, he affirms their humanity. It is about community. It is about recognizing who they are and where they are in that moment. Being able to snap his fingers and turn stones into bread may not be able to deliver that same message.

The second temptation that Satan presents to Jesus is about power. Satan offers Jesus all the powers in the world if only Jesus would worship Satan. Once again, think about all the injustices that Jesus could make right if he were all powerful as Satan seems to promise. Think about all the prisoners he could free if he were the one in charge of all the kingdoms of the world. Think of all the people he would be able to help if only he were the one in charge instead of governments or rulers. Satan is speaking directly to the heart of Jesus’ ministry. What he is offering is an easy way out. But once again, Jesus remembers who he is and who he belongs to. He reminds Satan that he will worship God and God alone. Jesus, once again, is resting secure in his identity. This is not an easy thing to do for us humans. They easy way out is always tempting us.

The final temptation that Satan poses to Jesus is to jump off the highest point trusting that angels will catch him. Once again, our reading says “if you are the son of God,” but it is more accurately translated as “since you are the son of God.” Since you are the son of God, prove that an identity. Show me and the world that God will claim you and catch you when you fall. And Jesus, knowing the devil’s intent, states that you shall not put your God to the test. Jesus does not need to prove that God loves him and will protect him. He already knows this to be true in his identity. He knows that he is the son of God, the Messiah. It is not to him to prove this to anyone else.

So, my beloved, what can we learn from this today? I think are most important takeaway from these readings today is to be secure in our identity. No matter what else the world may call us, good or bad, our primary identity is that as child of God. There is no shortage of people either challenging us to prove who we are, or people challenging who we are. God created us in God’s image. We are beautifully and wonderfully made. However, there are many that will challenge the way we act, the way we look, even the way we move about in this world. That’s why it is so important to remember who we are and whose we are. We are reminded of this identity every time we gather at the baptismal waters and every time we gather around the table. We are fed and bathed in the promise of redemption and loving adoption from God. This is not to say that we will not cave to temptation. We know we will. We know we have. It is sin infiltrating our lives on an almost daily basis.

It is good for us to remember then, when we do fall to temptation and sin, we serve a God that is relentless in loving us. You saw that the devil gave up challenging Jesus after three tries. Good for him for trying. It was a no-win situation for the devil. But for Jesus, he never gives up on us. We do not live by a three strikes and you’re out rule. Of course, Jesus does not desire for us to succumb to temptation and sin, but when we do, God through Jesus Christ is there to remind us that we are loved and forgiven. The freedom of the cross promises us this on a daily basis. We will not be defined by our temptations or our sins. The love that God has for us is stronger and greater than either of those.

Satan may also tempt us with something else: the idea that we actually do not deserve God‘s love. We may be quick to reject it. We may think that our sins are too great or are unforgivable. I am here to tell you my beloved that simply is not true. So, perhaps, over the next 40 days, you give into the temptation to be loved. Give into the idea that God is going to love you even when you feel you are unlovable. Give into the idea that you are forgiven even if you cannot forgive yourself. Give into the fact that you are claimed by God as a child of God and nothing can come between that relationship. What a wonderful 40 days this might be if we gave into those kind of temptations. Give into the temptation to love your neighbor. Give into the temptation to see the best in one another. Give into the temptation to see Christ moving in the world towards making this world a better place. Give into the temptation of allowing yourself to be loved so wholly/holy and so fully that you can’t help but love one another and the world that God created. Temptation exists. Evil exists. Sin exists. And I am very confident that the devil exists. But none of that is stronger than the grip that God has on us as claimed children of God. Our identity in God is secure. The love that God has for us is the strongest weapon against any temptation. Rest secure in your identities my beloved. God has a strong hold on you!

 

Sermon for 2/18/18 Mark 1:9-15 Lent 1

Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness isn’t exactly an unfamiliar story to many. You may have heard variations of it over the years. But it is in Mark’s telling of the Gospel that we get today that has the least amount of details. Here’s what we know: Jesus had been baptized and immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Here’s what you need to know about the wilderness. This isn’t wilderness like Denali National Park or someplace in the Colorado Rockies. This is wilderness like a desert. Like the area between Lincoln, Nebraska and the Colorado border (if you’ve made that drive). The wilderness in this story is stark, barren, full of uncertainty, and temptations. We don’t get a lot of details in this story. We know Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan, he was with wild beasts, and angels waited on him. That’s it. That’s all we know. We don’t know the ways that Jesus handled Satan. We can assume he did handle Satan because we hear more of the Gospel story.

But, often when we are in the wilderness, we may not know how to handle it. We may not know what to do or say. When Satan tempts us in the wilderness, we may cave to those temptations. And the wilderness looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And when you’re in the midst of your own wilderness, directions seem few and far between. Christ has called me this moment and this time to speak truth. I am called to speak truth even if it isn’t popular and even if my voice shakes. My beloved, we are in a time of wilderness. And Satan has taken on the form of the powers in this country refusing to do anything about gun control.

Before you turn off your ears, I am begging you to hear me. I am not anti-gun. I know many of you in these pews own guns. I fully support your right to do that. I have made the decision that I will never own one. But, that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. I am not anti-gun. However, it is time for us to get serious about how someone can own a gun and who can own a gun. How many of our children must die before we get serious about this? We will be in a wilderness until we repent. We will be in the wilderness until we can turn our hearts from worshipping guns to worshipping God.

We don’t know how Jesus handled the wilderness in Mark’s Gospel. But we know that Satan was nothing to be messed with. After all, when Peter attempted to rebuke Jesus when Jesus spoke of his own death, Jesus looked at his disciple and said “get behind me Satan!” (Mk 8:33) The trouble with not knowing the details of how Jesus handled the wilderness is that we are left to our own devices to fill in the blanks. And the temptation may be to give ourselves more credit and abilities when it comes to fighting Satan or the wilderness. We now find ourselves in the wilderness. We’ve been in this wilderness since April 20, 1999 when we first heard of a place called “Columbine High School.” And it seems no matter what we do, nothing changes and we stay in the wilderness.

We certainly aren’t Jesus, we know that. But, and I don’t know about you, I know I don’t want to stay in the wilderness for the rest of my life. Jesus didn’t even stay in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a life-giving place. Part of what can help us start to escape the wilderness is what we talk about a lot during Lent: repentance. But, repentance cannot happen without confession. We can’t hurry this process. Sometimes confession is less about us speaking of the ways we failed and more about listening to the ways we failed through the words from other people. Confession is about being honest. Confession is about exposing our failures not only to other people but to God as well.

Too often when tragedies like this happen, we talk around one another. We talk over one another. But we rarely engage in conversation with one another. Instead of having difficult conversations, we just hop online and try to one up one another with articles, statistics, and engage in “I’m right, let me tell you why you’re wrong” conversations. And instead of throwing our hands up in the air, what might it look like for us, for the church to model hard conversations? We can model these conversations because Jesus in the midst of these conversations promising that relationship built on accompaniment. What would it look like to have a cup of coffee with one another and talk about those difficult topics and find the places where we can agree. Talking together and trying to find a solution has to be much more productive than “thoughts and prayers.”

What might change if we engaged in these conversations looking to learn from one another rather than prove one another wrong? I want to hear your story, what you’re passionate about, and why you believe what you believe. And, in exchange, I want you to hear my story, what I’m passionate about, and why I believe what I believe. And then, together, we can confess the ways we have failed to see one another as full and amazing creations of God. And together we can repent from our previous ways and work towards finding common ground centered in Christ. We don’t have to stay in the wilderness. Christ is our key out of the wilderness. Worship centered on Christ, living surrounded and centered on Christ, and conversations centered on Christ are our keys. Thoughts and prayers will not help us escape the wilderness. Looking Satan and all of his lies right in the eyes and repenting, turning to Christ is the only thing that can help us escape.

We may think we can’t change anything. The government seems so big and we are just but one person. But we have something that seems to be forgotten about at times: we’ve got Jesus. Jesus’ baptism shows us things can change. Jesus’ temptation shows us things can change. Jesus’ ministry shows us things can change. And most importantly, the resurrection shows us that things can and do change. If we truly believe that God’s kingdom is also God’s kin-dom, then yes, things can change. Thoughts and prayers are fantastic. Prayer and action is what we’re called to as disciples. Yes, these acts of violence are terrible and seem almost too big to take on. Let’s show that big problem our big God. Satan will tempt us not to leave the wilderness. Well, get behind me, Satan. I’m ready to answer the call God has on my life, the call God has had on all our lives since baptism. Let’s start these hard conversations here and now. Conversations are much easier to have than prayer vigils. It starts today.