Sunday, March 13, 2011


I was presented with several DILEMMAS by today’s scripture.
            The 1st, was “How can a sermon add anything to the dramatic presentation by Robyn and Warren?”
            2nd was
“How can the temptation of Jesus be relevant to a world rocked by earthquake and Tsunami?”

I felt that I was headed out to WANDER in the wilderness as I WONDERED about what to say. I thought I might take you along on my ‘WONDERING’ – ‘WANDERING’ journey and see if you can find a place to relate to temptation.
As always, I looked first at the context of the story:
Jesus has just heard the call of John the Baptist to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He responds with his own commitment to ministry by being baptized by John, “in order to fulfill all righteousness”. He takes his private step of commitment by making his promise to God PUBLIC.
We don’t know who heard the voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” But anyone around Jesus would have understood that ‘son of God’ is a title for royalty. This leads us right into the realm of his temptation.
But first, look at the place of temptation; The wilderness of the Palestinian dessert was not a place to wander into casually. This is a place for robbers to hide & for poisonous insects to lay in wait for prey. It is a place with no respite from the elements and no fast food stands or coffee shops. It is a place to go to be ALONE. & it is a place to FEAR to be alone.

We can infer that Jesus didn’t WANDER into this place but went intentionally to the wilderness for solitude and isolation from everyday life.

We hear the echoes of biblical story in the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent out here. We just reviewed Moses’ journey up the mountain (last week) for 40 days and 40 nights; A time when Moses was alone with God and received the gift of torah, the rule of living that all Jews would follow.

I began to wonder what ‘new’ Torah Jesus received during his 40 & 40.

And as I wandered into the account of Jesus’ 3 temptations I wondered if they were an invitation for me, -- for us, to enter Lent – another 40 day period – as a time when WE can RISK the journey closer to God.

Jesus is first tempted to use Divine Power for his own survival.
            That had to be a serious temptation in a place without food or water. – a place where survival is NOT a sure thing. In fact, it is far from it. Surviving the dessert is a major accomplishment. This temptation requires an immediate choice for how can Jesus accomplish any mission if he doesn’t survive to live and preach another day?
Jesus not only survives, he “declares that his faith and obedience to God is his security,”[i] not food, water, or protection. His lack of self-preservation looms over this desert scene like the shadow of a cross. We, who know the whole story, know that he WILL NOT put his own protection before obedience to God.

Jesus also is tempted to tempt God. Diablo even quotes scripture to entice Jesus into using Divine power to PROVE to the world who he is. ‘Goes to show how easily scripture can be used as a weapon.[ii] But Jesus refuses to challenge God or ask God to subvert God’s will for his own.

And lastly, Jesus is tempted to use power to establish a political regime, to make the world his own. . . . . But isn’t that what he came to do?

I realized in my wondering, how my own temptations, however petty they may seem in comparison, mirror these temptations. Am I not tempted to pride, vanity, selfishness & power?
Am I not tempted to be a spectacle – only in order to attract others to follow Jesus as part of this church, of course?
Am I not tempted to lobby for political gain, even if only so that people may be fed and clothed and provided with shelter.
Am I not tempted to ask God for the miraculous? To ignore the rules of nature set in place in order that the world (would) be according to MY WILL?
I read a series of  tweets yesterday as people commented on God’s will in regard to the natural disaster in Japan.
 I wondered about how death is part of life and noticed how quickly we put blame on God when things ‘go wrong’.
I wondered how often I am tempted to ask for miraculous intervention. Am I wrong to ask? Am I wrong to question?
Why is it so hard to believe that GOD walks with us thru the storm AND the calm?

I felt alone and out in the wilderness because I realized I am tempted by all these things.

And I continued to wonder about us as a community of faith and about the future of the Christian Church as a whole, realizing that at one time or another; Christ’s church has succumbed to ALL the temptations that Christ overcame.

The church adores the miraculous.
- We love to hear of life-giving changes that happen out of the blue.
- We can’t help but glorify Easter; ---- too often without mentioning the cross that got us there.
- We love to speak of rising from the dead without talking about giving up our lives.

The church loves good news, celebrity good news. Giving thanks whenever good Christian people are lifted up and written up in the news. And we long for more publicity and greater recognition for our congregation and our denomination.

The church grapples with political power and each time ‘we’ have it, ‘we’ screw-up somehow..  .   .   .

Whether we can find evidence of giving-into each of these temptations in our own congregational history or our own personal history, we know that as members of the CHRISTIAN CHURCH, we all stand guilty as accused.

We feel insecure about not having enough. (Enough money, enough insurance, enough people in the pews)
We make judgments about other people who make statements and choices we don’t understand.
We get preoccupied with causes, big causes like world hunger and disaster relief that allow us to look away from the people in need right before us.
OR, we focus on building up the church so much that we live our lives unaffected by poverty, hunger, and world-wide disease.

We are guilty because we all want POWER; power over our own lives; power over the circumstances and people around us. We want influence and we have the need to control everything we possibly can.[iii]

“Temptation wins [everytime] when we get so caught up in the trappings of life that we lose sight of life itself.”[iv]

And when we can’t hear the good news of happy days in church on Sunday, we stop coming, because no one wants to stand accused.
No one wants to feel guilty, or guiltier that we already do.

But I am guilty and I know it. . .

Where is the promised ‘good news’ of Jesus today? . . .    . . .   . . .

Wandering in this wilderness I discovered a gift.
I found it - not running away from the truth of these temptations, but by looking them right in the eye. Surprisingly, It is the gift of Lent itself.
I found HOPE in the words of Maryetta Anschutz, who wrote
“Lenten penitence engages the dark places in our lives that we may come face to face with them,
                        Name them,
                                    Understand them,
                                                & seek forgiveness for them.
It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all. [Lent] is about amending life and about new beginnings.”[v]

Lent is followed by death and resurrection.

I invite you to enter the wilderness of Lent with me. Take time in these 40 days to examine your journey with God. 
Look at the way WE yield to temptation.
Look at the way we rely on control and power and security
for the real temptation is TO NOT ENGAGE the JOURNEY at all.

We can do this together. We can wander into the wilderness; face our dilemmas, our fears, and every temptation. We can even die to ourselves as we face the truth.
And like Jesus,
                        We will be raised to new life, to living a new way; the Jesus’ Way.
This week's reading: Jesus; one man, two faiths by Ron Messier


[i] Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander Bishop Epis Diocese of Atlanta writing at
[ii] ibid
[iii] Maryetta Anschutz Feasting on the Word Yr A Lent Bartlett & Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK 2010) p. 48
[iv] ibid
[v] ibid p. 48

1 comment:

Terri said...

Ahh, good reflection...