I preached this sermon this past Sunday at Azle Christian Church. It was the first Sunday in Lent. The audio isn’t up yet, so here is the manuscript. The two quotations not cited come from the “Pastoral Perspective” in the Feasting on the Word Commentary. The painting below entitled “Jesus Tempted” was done by Chris Cook and used as the photo for our church’s facebook announcement of the sermon.
Into the Wild”
It was a normal day in her busy life. She was a working mother, she was a soccer mom, she was a wife. She was expected to have it all together, but she was on the verge of breaking down. Her day at work had been so crazy she didn’t have time to grab lunch, she just simply went without. Then after work she had to pick the kids up from their after-school program, take them to practice, get them to do their homework, and maybe make dinner. So, she loaded the kids up in the mini-van and hauled them to their respected fields, back home, sat them at the dinner table, and worked on long division with them. It was at that time, maybe about 7 o’clock, where she heard the rumblings of an empty belly. “Mommy, I’m hungry, what’s for dinner?”
“Oh we’re having…” She couldn’t remember what she planned for dinner. Her day had been so busy she didn’t take any time to think about how she would feed her kids, let alone herself. In that moment she thought to herself, “Do I take the time to make something healthy for them, maybe some chicken and salad, or do I go get them a couple of Happy Meals and get myself a nice, juicy, Big Mac?”
“Turn these stones into bread.”
There was a man who was out wandering the woods. He did this because it calmed his soul. It nourished him spiritually. He found God, whatever was out there, in nature. He had been to church as a child, his father and mother made sure he was always in the pew, but it never really took. The concept of sitting, chanting, listening, singing, praying with eyes closed and head down never really appealed to him, but nature, if there was a God, nature was where you’d find her. And so he hiked.
He hiked hour after hour, but what ended up happening was he got lost. Not lost in the good way in that he lost all his anxiety and stress and was open to God, but lost in that panic inducing, heart attack brewing, pit of your stomach in your throat way that happens when you are somewhere you don’t know how to get out. He was lost in the wilderness, just like those shows where people are put into the wild to survive, only he was without cameras. The Sun was starting to set, it was getting cold, he was hungry, his legs were tired, and he had no shelter. He looked up at the sky and with a voice shaky with fear cried out “If you’re out there God, will you just…”
“Throw yourself down, for it is written…God will take care of you.”
College had been particularly rigorous for him. He wasn’t the greatest of students, but he tried hard, studied a lot, and made the grades. He just wasn’t a bookworm and he knew that. He was more at home talking with people. He was a people person, and that benefited him because he had scored a great internship at a marketing firm during the summer after his junior year of college. He interviewed well and was hired.
Now it was nearing the end of his senior year, March to be exact. He would graduate in two months time. Going home was not an option; he had been told this over and over by his father. “I didn’t go home after college, and neither will you.” He took this to be true, and so he was determined to get a job so he could pay off those loans he accrued. He actually received two job offers this week: one was another internship, this one paid, at an environmental lobbyist’s office. He would be helping try to promote ideas that would help delay our own destruction of this good creation. The other was at that marketing firm he interned for. The marketing job had a significantly higher salary, and all his friends were harping on him to just “take the marketing job, you know what you can buy with all that money?”
“Just fall down and worship me.”
There is a temptation here, and I use that word with specific intentions, to read ourselves into these stories, just like we read, or listen, our way into the story of Jesus’ temptation. We make the story about us. We ask ourselves what would we have done? Would we have resisted like Jesus, or given in? Do we resist now, or do we give in? This seems to be human nature. We hear a story, and we imagine ourselves there within. It’s why superhero movies do so well, besides the entertaining action. We want to see ourselves in the hero. We even create our own narratives to make ourselves the hero, focusing upon what others do wrong while we make ourselves out to look great. Jesus said something in this vein about eyes, specs, and logs. I hate to break it to you, and it seems so obvious now that I am saying it out loud, but this story, Jesus going into the wild isn’t about you, and it isn’t about me.
The story Jana, Matthew, and I read is actually about Jesus and what kind of messiah is going to be. It reminds me, not so ironically, of a preview for Man of Steel, last year’s Superman movie. In the preview, Jonathan Kent speaks to his adopted son: “You’re not just anyone. One day you’re going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is going to change the world.”
In this story we see what kind of man, what kind of Son of Man, Jesus is going to be. Will he given in? Will he take the easy way out? Will he opt out? Will he use coercion to get his way? Or will he resist? Will he take the difficult road, the road less travelled, maybe not even travelled. We will be who God intends him to be? I ask these questions, but we all know the answers: Yes, he does what he’s supposed to. He chooses the right path, the difficult path. We even know the ending of the story! But that’s not the point, the point is that we NEED to hear this story, we NEED Lent.
A commentator says it like this: “Jesus is tempted by bread for his hunger. He is tempted to save himself from danger. Finally, he is tempted to take all the power in the world that the devil can offer. Each time he rejects temptation, he sets up for the reader a way to understand the cross to come. Certainly God can save God’s self from death on the cross, and certainly God in Jesus can refuse temptation to sin, but in OUR [emphasis added] humanity we need to see God offer sacrifice and refuse temptation in order to learn the lesson ourselves.”
We need to learn who this Jesus character is. And after we do, we are left with the question of what next? What does this mean? What do we do now we know who Jesus is, now that we know he won’t give into temptation (and if they are called temptations then he had though of thought “maybe…”), what are we going to do now that we know he won’t use his power in coercive ways.
I suppose the easy answer is attempt to be like Jesus. Usually I don’t like easy answers, but it seems this one is appropriate. Sure, I said this story is not about us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. We are Jesus people, followers of the Way, Christians. That means that we attempt to follow Jesus’ teachings and his way of life. In this instance, resisting temptations. And while Jesus was presented with some seemingly large temptations, they are not always so obvious. If you remember those three stories I told at the beginning, you’ll remember they all ended with what the devil tempted Jesus with. They were stories of temptation. Not necessarily stories of grandeur and a large stage, but stories that could happen to anyone. Temptation comes to us in a myriad of ways, seeking to fill the little cracks in our lives. Maybe even better put, temptation causes and grows the cracks in our lives.
It doesn’t take anything big, no miraculous bread, no falls from great height, no leading nations. Some of the worst temptations seem small. “Temptation comes to us in moments when we look at others and feel insecure about not having enough. Temptation comes in judgments we make about strangers or friends who make choices we do not understand. Temptation rules us, making us able to look away from those in need…Temptation rages in moments when addiction to wealth, power, influence over others, vanity…defines who we are. These are faceless moments of evil that, while mundane, lurk in the recesses of our lives and our souls.” They lurk in the wilderness of our lives.
This time of Lent is to ask forgiveness when we let something other than God into our heart. When we let temptation rule us. It is a time to look in the mirror, say what you see, and ask forgiveness from God. It is about seeking to loosen the grip our fears and insecurities have around our neck. It is about preparing our lives for the miraculousness of the empty tomb. Like this story, Lent is about Jesus. It is about this unknowable, crazy, revolutionary character who walks with us as a friend even when we don’t know it, who rose on the third day, who promises to be with us to the end of this age. It is about the one who is with us, even when we experience temptation.
So remember: when the little things in life start to weigh you down, when mistakes begin to pile up, and giving into temptation seems that much easier, we follow one who has been their before. We follow the One who is with us even when we go out into the wild.