Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sermon for Year C Lent 1

It’s a throw down

Here is a story I read this week:

“Son,” ordered a father, “don’t swim in that canal.”

“OK, Dad,” he answered.
But that evening the boy came home carrying a wet bathing suit.

“Where have you been?” asked the father.

“Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy.

“Didn’t I tell you NOT to swim there?” asked the father.

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy.

“Why did you?” the father asked.

“Well, Dad,” he explained,
“ I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”

“Why did you take your bathing suit with you?” the father questioned.

“So I’d be prepared to swim,
in case I was tempted,” replied his son.

It’s all about temptation today, this first Sunday in the season of Lent.
Jesus and the devil are having a throw down.

Change these stones into bread, Jesus.
Come on—impress us!

Do it now--

Look at these kingdoms, Jesus!
Don’t you want to be the boss?
Power and control are so sweet, Jesus!
All you have to do is worship me. The devil.
I’m oh so much nicer than God!
Worship me and then you can have it all.

You know what they’re all saying about you, Jesus?
Son of God!
Impressive. Except they don’t believe you.
Why don’t you just hush up the nay-sayers?
Jump off from the top of this Temple.
God will send angels to catch you, Son of God!
You’re special. You’re different.
Jump, Jesus, jump!

Of course, Jesus resists.
After all—Jesus is Jesus.

The devil keeps throwing out the hook but Jesus does not bite.

Jesus says, “One does not live by bread alone.”
Jesus says, “Worship only God, serve only God.”
Jesus says, “ Do not put God to the test.”

Jesus wins the throw down.

Jesus knows that nothing else equals God’s grace—
not success, not power, not prestige—
not even being right.
Jesus knows that nothing on earth can fill us in the same way
that the God’s love fills us.


It is hard.
Living each day with our priorities straight is just plain difficult.
That “swimsuit” burns a hole in our pocket most days.
Resisting all the temptations around us every day is anything but easy.

It is one of the reasons we have the season of Lent.
It’s like strength training.
We take on a task or let go of a little piece of our addictive nature,
to prove to ourselves—not to anyone else—but to ourselves,
that we can do it—with God’s help.

Lent is a great practice run—
for all those much bigger temptations
that wait for that opportune time.

Lent is also a reminder of how strong an opponent temptation really is.

It is interesting though that Jesus did not attack or even belittle the devil.
The devil pushes
but Jesus does not push back.
The devil throws out the hook and line,
ever ready to reel Jesus in—
but Jesus doesn’t bite—
Jesus doesn’t bite the hook or the devil.

Jesus hands over all the temptations to God.

Jesus says, “One does not live by bread alone.”
Jesus says, “Worship only God, serve only God.”
Jesus says, “ Do not put God to the test.”

Jesus doesn’t feel the need to prove anything to the devil,
to the Pharisees,
or to us.

Jesus doesn’t really “win” this throw down with the devil--
because Jesus doesn’t have the need to win or even to play.

We have numerous stories in the gospels about miracles Jesus performs—
but he never performs a miracle
as a “trick” or to impress any one
or to win the “Biggest Miracle” challenge.

When Jesus is faced with someone in need,
with someone who knows that God is the only one
who loves them enough to possibly heal them,
Jesus is there.
God’s love is there
and God’s presence is made known.

Temptation is about making choices.
God gives us that freedom to make choices.
Sometimes we make very bad choices—
sometimes those choices threaten our lives,
threaten our souls.
Sometimes those choices threaten the lives of others.
We even have the freedom to turn our back on God.

We are absolutely free to make those choices.
Love does not force itself upon you.
God does not challenge us to a throw down.
God’s love is broad and wide and deep
and more immense than we can ask or imagine—
and God’s love is here.
right here in this world.

We can choose to be part of that love, that life—
or not.

The last line in our gospel this morning—
that line about the devil departing from Jesus until an opportune time.
I hate that line.
Because it means that even when we make a good choice,
even when we resist temptation,
temptation will return again…
and again…
and again.
Be ready for that.

Lent gives us 40 days to practice our resistance to temptation.
Whatever we choose to give up—chocolate, our cell phones, gossip, —

Or whatever we take on—
daily Bible study, going to the gym every day,
taking better care of the environment,
forgiving someone who has hurt us.

Whatever we willingly choose,
I can guarantee it will not be as difficult
as when the “devil”—temptation-- shows up in full dress.

Lenten disciplines are like small pebbles
marking the path that God makes
to lead us out of the wilderness.

The season of Lent is not a season of harsh self-discipline—
It is a season to remind us—in little ways--
to love ourselves,
to love one another
and to love God.

To walk in love as God loves us.

+ + +
The story at the beginning of this sermon is from SYNTHESIS.

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