5th March, 2017
The most effective course in preaching I ever took began in discomfort. The first day of class, the Professor assigned us each a five-minute sermon. He came to one student, offered a choice from slips of paper, on which were Bible verses. The student had two minutes to prepare and then preached. Other students commented on his sermon, then the professor, and the slips were offered to another, who drew, had two minutes, and preached. My friend David drew, “Jesus wept”. After his two minutes, he talked about weeping as sign of compassion, of honesty. He shared an example of how he wept at friend’s suffering, how he weeps for things happening in the world, and concluded.
After student comments, the Professor had only one criticism. David preached on the wrong half of the text. The point is JESUS wept.
I thought about temptation for this sermon, temptation in my life, how I use my power to serve myself, and the ways I can dress it up to look like good. I thought about my excuses for choosing what I want, and how I blame others when I don’t do what I ought to do. Do you recognize these behaviors? Sure, but the point of the Gospel is that temptation happened to Jesus.
When this drama took place, Jesus was unknown. He was at the beginning of a ministry which, at that point, could have been meaningful or could have gone unnoticed. No one knew him. He had no reputation. He had not healed anyone, had not preached a sermon. He had not told a parable. Jesus could have passed through life and no one would ever know his name.
Alone in the desert with a dream of serving God, the temptations came. Jesus wondered about his purpose. He had a strong conviction that God’s first name is love. He had a good idea. He might be able to teach a new way of living. His vision of God as loving Father was underrecognized in his time, and he wanted to share it. Jesus had a good heart and a great love of God, and he wanted to tell his story. And in the wilderness, while sorting that out, they came. The story tells of three temptations to his power – personal power, political power and religious power. Perhaps you can relate.
First, he was encouraged to turn stones into bread, After all, he was hungry. “Why not gratify your own hunger, build up your strength and make a show for your God? That could be useful in getting the allegiance of those who are starving, yes? Use your power, Jesus, to satisfy yourself and get the attention of others.”
Second, Jesus was tempted to throw himself down from the tower of the temple, for surely, the Scripture says, the angels of God will catch you. “What a demonstration of divine power. And what good news to those who are oppressed. God might send angels to save them. Could start your revolution!”
Third, Jesus saw he might take power over the nations, power to make his good religion the only religion in the world. It could be done if Jesus used power to make people hold to one religion. It might seem good to us, at first glance, if all the world was made Christian? And made Evangelical Christian, or maybe you would want progressive Christian? Or maybe you think the Episcopal Church is the shortest road to heaven? But would that say “love” about the God behind the religion. How would Jews and Muslims and Non-believers respond? Jesus believed they too are children of God?
Temptations come at the place of your power, where you can do something. There is no temptation to invest in something not of interest or within your power. I have not the slightest temptation to take up astronaut training so that I can go to Mars. We are tempted to do what is within our power. So the question is, how will we use our power?
Temptation is attractive. No self-respecting devil would offer personal, political or religious ruin, but success. The ruin comes in the small print at the bottom of the temptation. And real temptation does not offer for us to fall but to rise. And the greater the power, the greater the temptation, the greater the fall.
All this happened to Jesus. He had a dream, and was tempted to MAKE it happen, or to say the ends justify the means, to achieve success at any cost. He has walked where we walk. Not a stranger, he calls us to understand our power and the temptations which come with it. He held to his devotion to a God who has love for all, and put that love at the top of his list of purposes.
The classroom for your temptations is anywhere you have power. So first, recognize the voices of temptation – quick fix, self-serving, blame someone else, become famous. Second, like Jesus, call on your high principles. Jesus placed God’s desires at the center of his decision-making. We can hold those principles, like respecting the dignity of every human being. And be sure not to fall into blaming God for our troubles, or trying to be cagey with God’s rules While we may worship many things, only God’s worship leads to wholeness for all. Finally remember – we are not alone. Jesus has walked this way ahead of us.
You might think my Professor cruel to give that assignment on the first day. His point was only to show we could preach. You can do this. He could persuade us we could preach, or tell about others who had learned, or given us samples of sermons, or he could let us find for ourselves. T
The end of this Gospel story, when Jesus had passed through the temptations, was not the end of his temptations. They were with him constantly, as ours are with us. With each step, however, he grew stronger. With his company and God’s help, may that be our story.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.