March 9, 10, 2019 – Rev. Dr. Leigh Bond
Greetings to you as we begin the season of Lent! Lent is traditionally a season of reflection and repentance. We think about making sacrifices and “giving things up.” I also like to think of it as a time to “take something on.” Perhaps we will embrace a new spiritual discipline? Maybe we would like to work on a more healthy behavior or attitude?
Lent is also a time to get closer to our Creator. It is a time to open our hearts to receive the gifts and graces of God and live more fully and faithfully and abundantly. Today’s message will help “set the table” for the season.
The theme for the season of Lent will be “Opportunity.”
It is my hope and prayer that we will find the courage and strength to make life-giving choices and changes in our lives. WE’VE SET THE TABLE…LET’S TURN TO THE TEXT. In a recent survey, people were asked about their favorite fibs. Here are a few of the suggestions and samples that were sent in.
a. “You made it yourself? I would never have guessed!”
b. “You don’t look a day over 40.”
c. “Mom, Dad, I promise to take care of the puppy.”
Numerous studies show that lying is one of our top temptations.
a. Over 90% of folks admit to “white lies” about small things.
b. Over 70% regularly fib to family members or friends.
c. And almost 40% confess to lying about important matters.
B. So why focus on this temptation when there are many other more exciting options for us?
Perhaps because matters of truth lie at the heart of our story?
Lies have taken people down since the eatin’ in the Garden of Eden. Today we find Jesus in an unexpected place. Remember, he has just had a mountaintop moment. He has just been baptized and God-confirmed! He should be celebrating—having a Mardi Gras moment! But he does the opposite—he heads to the wilderness. And Jesus is “led, driven by the Spirit” to the desert. This seems to contradict what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe this is as much a “God-thing” as his baptism was?
So Jesus heads for the hills to wrestle, to struggle, to be tested. And the attempts at seduction are extraordinarily sweet! Jesus’ ministry has not yet taken form; the path is wide open. What would this new role as Messiah look like? How would he respond to these first real trials and tests? Would he…could he…choose God—and not the lies? And can we…will we…choose God—and not the lies? Let’s look at some of the opportunities in the story.
II. THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PLEASURE.
Please notice that the tempter can quote scripture with the best of us. And he is armed with a dangerous, powerful, two-letter word…”If.”
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
Have you ever been as “famished” as Jesus was? We are painfully aware of the presence of famine in many places on the planet. Some refugees coming to America confess to feeling guilty to be able to eat. We know of the hungry and homeless in our own community. But I would guess that most of us don’t miss too many meals. We do know about short-term pleasure, instant gratification.
“If it feels good…do it.”
And our technological toys can betray us…we live in a “one-click” culture. We speak of the “Alexification” of society. These devices can take over our lives and drown out the Voice of the One who whispers to us. A child prayed: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from e-mail.” So we have lots of options for short-term fixes…and some are even more serious. We’re tempted to think, “Surely this won’t cost me…This won’t cost me my job, my marriage, my friendship, my reputation? So I’ll just charge ahead…charge along…charge it.” Unhealthy short-term decisions can have lasting consequences.
In the story, Jesus opts for God and says: “One does not live by bread alone.”
III. THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR POWER.
The tempter says: “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus is tempted to sell out and grab another kind of power. Get the pleasure without the pain, the crown without the cross…Get the glory without the grief, the triumph without the trials. Can you imagine Jesus as a benevolent dictator? Again, I think most of us understand what is at stake here. The lure of the easy path is so attractive and appealing. We want it quickly, we want it now, we want it all. The shortcuts are seductive—and we can end up getting into trouble.
Some of you are excited that “March Madness” is underway. The road to the “Final Four” is not an easy road. The commitment of the young men and women is impressive. How many “Nos!” have the athletes shouted along the way? No bad diet, no missed practices, no skipped training…
In the story, Jesus opts for God: “Worship and serve the Lord your God.”
IV. THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PRIVILEGE.
“If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘God will command the angels to protect you.’”
Again, this sounds like a pretty good deal—a YouTube moment—this would go viral! Love yourself first—then you can love other people. Go for it—this is about the survival of the fittest and fastest. This is what our culture teaches us every day in countless ways. The message is as fresh as the names in today’s headlines. There have been many confessions lately.
“I was wrong, but I convinced myself that rules didn’t apply.”
“I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to do.”
“I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved it.”
So please pray for those people—and all of us—we all fall short.
A mother tells of a trip to the mall with her precocious preschooler. She needed a birthday present for his friend, but before they entered the toy store, he said, “Mommy, I can’t go in there.” She asked: “What’s wrong, honey?” He said: “You know I like toys—I’ll see something I want and you won’t get it for me.Then I’ll cry—so it’s just better if I don’t go in.” The word temptation was not yet in his vocabulary. But he sure knew what it was—and what to do about it. In the story, Jesus opts for God: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
V. WE ALWAYS HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO TRUST GOD.
Maybe that is what is at the heart of all of this? We experience different kinds of hunger—and we are tempted not to trust that God will satisfy our needs. We experience trials and tribulations—and we are tempted not to trust that God loves us and cares for us and knows each one of us by name. So many of our problems have to do with trust and timing. We get wonderful gifts from a life-giving God, designed to bring us nourishment, opportunity, pleasure and well-being. But we are not to selfishly gobble them up, grab them, force them or rush them. Bread can satisfy our hunger, except when God says, “Wait.” Power is worth pursuing, but not if we sell our souls in the process. Being children of God is a cherished blessing, but we can’t take God’s good and graceful gifts for granted.
Someone said: “Temptation can be an invitation to fail and fall.”
“Or it can be an opportunity to rise and reach heaven.”
“It can help us lean more deeply into the very heart of God.”
My wife and I observed the beginning of Lent in an unusual way. I came downstairs, dressed and ready to head to the office. Ellen was reading, nestled into her normal place on the couch.I was surprised to see a warm, crackling fire in the fireplace. I thought to myself, “This is odd. The only days we get a fire started in the morning are Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“What’s going on? What’s the special occasion? Oh, right, it’s Ash Wednesday. How kind of Ellen to remember the day; she was preparing our own special ashes.” Then I noticed a chill in the air—and it wasn’t coming from her.
She calmly announced, “The furnace isn’t working.”
It became apparent that we were giving up heat for Lent. And Ellen, with her warm-blooded Texas background, thinks it’s cold when it drops below 70 degrees in our house. So the clock was ticking and I couldn’t ignore the problem. I was also going to give up my Ash Wednesday schedule.
So I called a local company—they have lots of commercials where the customers and technicians are always smiling. Who really does that in the midst of HVAC repairs? The smiling repairman arrived and made the diagnosis. Now I was going to give up a lot of money for Lent.
“You need a new motor—it will be $1000—or you might want to replace the whole thing for $4000 or $5000.”
I opted for the motor and waited for the next technician. Hours later he came and installed the motor—in 30 minutes. I think I could make it quite well on $1000 per half hour. Later I got online to compare prices—I knew better. I began to give up some other things for Lent. I started talking in angry, snippy-speech—that is, until the prophet, Ellen, proclaimed: “Don’t get short with me!”
I remembered the commandment. “Thou shalt not put the cost of household repairs above our relationship.” And God, through her, helped me snap out of it…a little bit.
Processing the experience brought helpful perspectives. The house was warming up—how many people in our community and around the world don’t even have a home to warm up? Folks in Alabama are reeling from the tornadoes. People out west have lost everything in the fires. Refugees have had to leave everything behind.
Then God, through my colleagues, helped me snap out of it. They offered to cover for me at the Ash Wednesday service. But I’m so glad I came—the music was inspiring and John, Rob, and Steven’s comments and prayers were meaningful. And Susan’s message was excellent—especially her story of her mountaintop experience on her sabbatical in Boulder, Colorado. She spoke of the temptation to give up on the way to the mountaintop. She talked about getting lost and turning back. But she gave thanks for the glory of finishing the trek to the top—and she shared the spectacular picture of the view with us.
Then God, through you, helped me snap out of it. Hundreds came forward to accept the gifts from the Table…Bread, wine…and a rare, tangible symbol of faith…ashes. You accepted an outward sign of your inward commitment. As I made the sign of the cross…one by one by one…I gave thanks for your gifts and graces, your faith, your ministry, your trust in God…And the opportunity to serve God together…with you.