Thursday, March 30, 2017

Afraid of Easter

Easter is an amazing day. It is a day we proclaim that death no longer has the last word, that Christ in rising has broken the bonds of the grave for all of us. Yet, wonderful as that news is, it is also news which Robert Noblett says, “Makes us quake in our clogs.” There is something unsettling and even frightening about resurrection. And I am not talking about the idea of zombies, or even dead bodies breaking forth from tombs; rather, I am talking about what James Evans McReynolds says in this writing:

Whatever else the resurrection of Jesus means,
it means that God is getting close to us.
We fear that.
Easter, we say, is a day of joy
and it really is.
We say it is a day of hope and it really is.
We say it is a day of promise and it really is.
But we are not as fond of it as we think.
We are afraid of it.
We are more afraid of it than we will ever say.

McReynolds says that resurrection means that God is getting close to us. God is reaching out and touching one of those certainties of life, and changing the rules. Certainly the disciples were afraid when Jesus walked into the room with them. What were Jesus’ intentions? Was he a good spirit or a bad spirit, a friend or a foe? They simply didn’t know how to react, because people aren’t supposed to rise from the dead. It certainly makes me wonder how I would respond if I encountered that kind of spiritual power?

At its heart, Easter is God interfering in what we think we know. And while we are thankful beyond words that death has been defeated, there is at the edge of our thoughts a terrifying realization that if God can do this, what else is God capable of? What other plans for reversal and change does God have? What other certainties of life might God decide should be done away with? And what if we don’t like those decisions of God and we would rather hold onto the old ways, even if they do include things like death?

Take a moment and think about it. Let Easter disturb your comfortable world with the knowledge that God is getting very close to us. Find yourself challenged by a love which is willing to change nature itself. Then hear Jesus as he says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sermon: Going Blind So We Can See

John 9:1-41

The meaning of the passage in the gospel of John is obvious.

There is a blind man who sees who Jesus is. Compare this with the fact that there are lots of people with good eyesight who are blind to who Jesus is. It is meant to be a contrast, a contradiction of what is expected that will shake up our impressions of the world. The gospel writer is sharing this story because John wants us to open our eyes so that we can really see Jesus. John doesn’t want us to suffer from spiritual blindness.

The problem is that from our birth we have seen things a certain way, we have put things in certain categories, and it is very hard for us to change that. This video demonstrates that really well:

Our minds get caught up in interpreting what we see in certain ways. It isn’t just with 3d images. We do it with people. For example, our scripture today. The disciples were sure that the man was blind because someone had done something wrong. They couldn’t see that a good person might suffer. The Pharisees were sure that Jesus was not from God because he healed the blind man on the Sabbath day. They couldn’t see past the sin of working on the Sabbath, to realize that what Jesus had done could only be done by God.

The same things happen to us. We get caught up in assumptions about our faith. So perhaps we have always seen Jesus or Christians or even people of the church as negatives things, what would it take to change that? Or likewise perhaps we have always seen Jesus or Christians or even people of the church as purely positive, without flaw, what would it take to change that?

The fact is that both of these are insufficient. Christians and people of the church have never been completely negative, nor have they been completely positive. They have been the catalyst for great good, and they have been the source of great harm. Sadly, there are people who have experienced Jesus as a frightening figure of condemnation and hatred, when it is his desire to be a source of great healing and hope in their lives. We don’t like to admit it, but both are true.

Likewise, if we turn the picture around, non-Christians and people outside the church are often depicted as evil or backward by the church as we point out all the harm they have done, and yet they have also been the catalyst for great good, Muslims have been the source of incredible blessings, atheists have made great contributions to society.

The challenge of this passage is to open our eyes and see where

God is at work, even in places where we may not expect it. The disciples have to learn that people don’t suffer because they sinned. The Pharisees have to learn that just because someone works on the Sabbath does not mean that they are evil. In fact, that person might be the Messiah. But for that to happen, something radical has to come that will change the way they see. The same is true for us. What happens when God is at work in a place we don’t expect? How are we going to see it? That’s where Jesus comes in. What Jesus says is that he is the light of the world.

Imagine you are in a room that is nearly dark. Always your experience of that room has been in the dark. You have learned to feel your way around. You know that there is a big box in the corner, that is smooth and really hurts when you smack your shin on it. You know that there is a comfortable chair just to the right of the doorway. You even know there is a lump in the carpet that you could trip over about three feet south of the center of the room.

Into your familiar setting, suddenly there is a new light, a bright light, which changes how you see everything. The lump in the carpet is still just a lump in the carpet but you never knew the carpet was lime green. The big box in the corner isn’t just a box, it is painted in a thousand colors, depicting the scenes of joyous celebrations from your life. The chair also holds a surprise, it has words printed across the back that say, “When you are weary, I will give you rest.” Plus, you notice things that you never knew were there before. The ceiling is actually carved with thousands of flowers and animals. It was out of reach, and you assumed that it was a ceiling like any other, but it was not. It took the light to change how you viewed it all.

That is what Jesus claims to be. He is the light that will change how we see the world. The problem is, that most of us, don’t really let Jesus turn on the light. We haven’t learned to change the way we see. We have to push beyond the ways we previously thought. That was the disciples’ problem, the Pharisees’ problem, and I think it is the problem of people in every age.

From time to time I wonder

what would happen to me if I were suddenly struck blind? Would I become kinder to people, less judgmental? Would I be less concerned about how good looking that woman in front of me is, or what that guy is wearing, or the color of that kid’s skin who is walking toward me on the sidewalk, and spend more time focusing on their tone of voice, their character, and who they truly are? Would being blind actually help me see them more clearly as Christ sees them?

I do wonder that from time to time. Would it take something that drastic to shake me from my certainties so that I could really see things the ways Jesus wants me to see them?  Think about it, “When have you been pushed beyond what you once thought so certain, both in faith and in terms of what you believed about people?”[1] Was it something big like going blind or being cured of blindness? Or was it something smaller that simply had a big impact on how you looked at the world?

As you think about it, “What helped you cope with the change? What did you learn?”[2] As you think about that shift in your understanding of the world, what if Christ is saying to you, I want you to do that with everything now? I am the light of the world. In the Message, Eugene Peterson translates Jesus’ words like this, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

So how does Jesus do that?

What does he show us and tell us to help us make clear distinctions so that we are not blind in this world? As you recall our drama, what is it that the situation teaches us about seeing? Well, it reminds us that suffering is not punishment for past sins. Rather suffering is an opportunity for God’s blessing and work. It then reminds us that it is our job to do the work of God, even if it breaks religious tradition and religious law. Finally, the blind man himself reminds us that the miracles speak for themselves. They are evidence that God is behind the work of Jesus.

As Christians we have no problem with Jesus being the Messiah. We accept that Jesus was from God well enough. But the heart of the argument isn’t just about who Jesus is, it is about the way that God works. The suggestion is that when miracles happen, God is present. No matter what we as humans may think of the individual or group who performed the miracle. And as Christians we aren’t as good about hearing that message. We would much rather say, no that person can’t be from God because they are breaking this part of God’s law, they can’t be from God because they have the wrong opinion on this issue, or they came from the wrong background, or worst of all they aren’t even Christian. And yet the miracle suggests that God is with them.

So Christ as the light of the world says, you claim to see everything so well, but when you don’t see what I am doing, you are still blind to how I work, and you have more to learn. This passage is meant to challenge us as religious people to realize that God is bigger than our preconceived notions. Suffering is not condemnation. People are not poor because they deserve it. People are not sick because they committed grievous sins. Suffering is opportunity for God’s people to be at work. Any and all of God’s people. So wherever there is healing, wherever there is hope, wherever there are miracles – God is there working with whoever and whatever kinds of people are there – even if we don’t think they are the kind God would associate with. Whether we want to see God there or not, God is there. Christ shines his light so that we might look and see the wondrous deeds of God, and see the people of God who do them in a new a powerful light. His light. But we may have to go blind to see it.

[1] Seasons of the Spirit
[2] Seasons of the Spirit

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sermon: Better Than Bling

John 4:5-42

Once there was a man who went on a hike.

It was a beautiful day. The kind of day that just invites you to keep walking. The perfect temperature, just the right breeze. The sun brightening every surface so that the colors are vibrant. Every bird seemed to be singing a joyful song. And so the man kept walking, enjoying the day and the hike.

After a while the man realized that despite all of the beauty around him, he was missing something. He had walked all this way, and had not brought any water with him. He was beginning to be thirsty. So as he walked he began to look for water, to listen for water, even to try to smell water in the air.

After some time he saw a sparkle in the distance, a shimmer, a glint of sunlight off of something. Rushing toward it, he imagined the taste of the water, and the way it would refresh him. But as he drew near, he realized that it was not water at all, but a vein of fool’s gold. In his disappointment, he did something that would make very little sense to us when we are thinking right, he picked up a piece of the rock and put it in his mouth hoping it would somehow help his thirst. Of course it didn’t. It just tasted like metal and dirt, and made him want water all the more to wash the grit from his mouth. He spit what he could out. But now he had to find water.

He was obsessed by his thirst. He no longer noticed the sun, the breeze, or the birds. His pace was no longer that of a man on an ambling, enjoyable hike, but a frantic race.

Again in the distance he saw a sparkle, again he rushed toward it, this time only to find a large diamond, shining in the sun. This was no fool’s gold, no item of false value, it was perhaps worth millions to the right jeweler. So what did he do? He licked it. He was thirsty, he needed water. But licking it didn’t do any good. As you well know. The diamond itself was pretty but it didn’t satisfy his real need.

And this could be our life, couldn’t it? The frantic search for the thing that satisfies our deepest thirst. Trying things that don’t actually help, in fact, things that make it worse. When I read the quote about the psychologists thinking that our attraction to bling, comes from our primal search for sources of water, I thought, “How interesting that we might get distracted by a shiny rock, like a diamond or a lump of fools’ gold when what we need is water. What we thirst for is water. We can eat the rock, and we are still thirsty. Its satisfaction is purely a deception. Look at your neighbor’s bling – they are pretty, they are fun, there is nothing particularly wrong with the items, but let’s be honest, they aren’t the meaning of life.

As we live our lives there are lots of things that are sparkle,

there are lots of things that are pretty, there are even things that we think of as very valuable—worth millions. But they never really could satisfy our deepest needs. It simply isn’t possible for them to do that. Yet we try them anyway, even when we know they won’t work.

Think about it. Throughout our lives we chase the things we need, we search for the things that really satisfy us, that bring joy and fulfillment to life, that make it worth living. And yet we get caught up chasing the wrong things. When I meet with families for funerals, I often ask what made your loved one’s life worth living. I have never had anyone say, a diamond, or a bank account. [with irony] Perhaps that is because I have never done a funeral for a rich enough person, but I doubt it.

And diamonds and wealth aren’t the only sparkling things out there that can mislead us. People seek to quench their deepest thirsts in lots of ways, and often they discover the things they thought would satisfy them don’t. It could be their jobs, chasing after better opportunities thinking that success will make them happy, and it doesn’t. It can be in relationships, chasing man after man or woman after woman, going through marriage after marriage thinking that eventually one of them has to make us happy. Oh, so many things sparkle like water, and we taste them, and they only make us thirstier. Look at your neighbor’s bling – do not taste it . . . just look and think.

What Jesus says in our passage today is that he is the living water.

He is the thing that satisfies. He isn’t a deceptive sparkle that is misleading us, but he is the very thing that spiritually we have always been looking for whether we have known it or not.

For the Samaritan woman, this claim proves to be true. Finally she finds what she has been looking for, a meaning and purpose in her life that she had not felt before. We can guess based on her history that she had tried to find happiness through relationships, but it had never worked. If she were the hiker in my opening story, she would have licked 5 diamond rings, and would be trying another, when Jesus would walk into the scene. No water in hand. No evidence of a canteen or bottle. And he would say to her, “I am the living water.” And of course we heard their conversation in the drama earlier.

Jesus pushes her to examine deeper, to think spiritually. For so long she has assumed that not being a pure Jew, and being a woman the spiritual realm was no place for her. But Jesus tells her that, “a new day is coming, in fact, it’s already here, when what matters is the heart of the worshipper” and thus this well of living water is available to her.

As they talk about the things of God, the woman understands that there is where her thirst lies. She is thirsty for the Divine Presence, and no human being, no matter how impressive can satisfy that need. Once she takes a sip of this living water, through her encounter with Christ, it overflows into her relationships with others and changes their lives too. She begins pulling others to Christ, so that they can find the spiritual waters of God that he offers.

So let’s make her story personal and connect it to your story.

Where is your thirst? What have you been longing for? Have you gotten lost looking at the sparkling jewels of the world? Put yourself back on that hiking path in the story I told earlier, how can you get yourself up, cast aside the distractions and head toward the waters of life that you know are flowing from Christ.

What are those distractions, what have you tried? What fools’ gold have you eaten that left you spitting it out, and thirstier than ever?

Perhaps there have even been people who told you that you certainly couldn’t look to God for help. Maybe people even tried to prevent you from reaching Christ, or got in the way of the real living water, pretending to be substitutes. But there is no substitute for the real living water. But today, Jesus beckons to you. The water is for you to drink. Yes, you.

So how would you go about leaving those distractions, substitutes, things that have gotten in your way, behind? Because Christ is sitting there beside the waters of life, ready to give you a drink. And as he says, “The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sermon: Rebirth In the Spirit

John 3:1-17

Sometimes we have used a phrase for so long that we forget what

we are saying. For example, if I say that you are barking up the wrong tree, you know that I mean you are looking in the wrong place, or you have the wrong approach to a problem. But you probably aren’t actually picturing a hound sitting at the base of an old oak barking, when the squirrel is actually in the pine several yards away. Right?

In this case, it doesn’t change the meaning much if I tell you that you are woofing at the incorrect woody plant.  You would look at me funny, but you could figure out what I am saying. But some of our other phrases might totally lose their meaning if you change the words like that. I mean if I tell you that a job is a piece of cake it means one thing, but if I tell you it is a sliver of angel food or a slice of Devil’s-food you get a very different image.

That is how it is with one of the phrases in our bible passage today. In many bibles it uses the phrase born again. But when many of us think about a person who is born again, that phrase doesn’t make us think about a person actually going through the process of somehow being rebirthed. No, when we think of born again, we think about a certain type of religious person. Often Southern Baptist, but not always.

On the other hand, if I tell you that I heard about a church that offered a ceremony for reemerging from the womb, you might think, “What kind of weirdness is that?” Certainly you not think it was a Southern Baptist church! And yet when you think about it, the phrases born again and reemerging from the womb have a similar function. They are trying to get us to think about the beginning of life, and that perhaps just being physically born is not enough to really bring us life. It is important that we get past the preconceived notions we have about the phrase born again before we read the scripture today, so we can hear it in the original context as a discussion about spiritual rebirth.

Listen as Jesus explains this in John 3:1-17:

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?” [turn to your neighbor and say, he’s confused]

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?” [turn to your neighbor and say, he’s still confused]

“Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus with questions. He wants to take the next step. He considers himself a religious man, but something isn’t working, something isn’t right. During the conversation Jesus tries to explain that simply being born physically in this world is not all there is. There is also a spiritual birth, a time when we start life anew with God. Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus that at some point, we have to open ourselves to a world that we have long ignored, we have to be willing to experience life in a different way. Until we do that, we can’t take our first spiritual steps or eat our first spiritual food, and we certainly won’t reach spiritual adulthood. Whether you call it being born again or a rebirth in the Spirit, or reemerging from the womb, it is the beginning of the adventurous life with God.

Perhaps you are like Nicodemus.

Perhaps you have questions you would like to ask Jesus, perhaps there are answers you want in life. Perhaps you are confused by what God is doing in the world. Edward Markquart says, “if you have ever come to that time in your life, when things aren't quite right, when your religion has become more of a ritual than a real thing, when it is more of a pattern than power, when it is more structure than Spirit, we then need to come to Jesus' home, rap on his door and say, "Jesus, I need some help. I've got a problem … here… in my heart. It is not quite right."[1]

When you do that Jesus might say to you, just like he said to Nicodemus – before you can understand my child, before you can find the answers you seek, you have to be reborn from above. You have to allow the spiritual part of yourself to be enlivened and awakened, by the love and grace of God.

Of course you may have done that before. You may have a moment when you can say you did all of that. That’s the problem with the way people use the phrase born again, like it is a one-time deal. You get reborn and voilĂ  you are all done. But spiritual birth is a lot like physical birth. The birth is just the beginning, you still have to learn to walk, to talk, to move from eating mushed up green beans to solid food. And sometimes along the way, we lose track of what we are doing, are just going through the motions, and we have to stop and shake up our souls again.

Perhaps spiritual rebirth is more like the cycle of nature,

than human birth. Jesus never says that this is a once in a lifetime experience, it may be that like the coming of spring when life is reborn in the world around us, that we need to be spiritually reborn again and again, re-experiencing the heavenly because we have become so fixated upon the earthly. Perhaps our spirits naturally go through phases of life where we retreat, shed the old, and feel like we are dying or lost inside. It may be that the cycle of spiritual life often brings us back to the place where we need to be awakened to God in a spring-like resurrection of the soul and a new spiritual birth.

Or perhaps, as Mickey Anders says, we should really use the word, Windborne because the Spirit of God is the breath of God in the world, blowing where it will. That literally is what the Biblical words for Spirit mean, breath and wind. So when we enter into the spirit of God, we are windborne, because we have been picked up in the wind of God and are carried along. Certainly that helps explain the one section of what Jesus is talking about where he says “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” When we are borne of the spirit, we are allowing ourselves to be picked up by God’s Jetstream, and our life in this Spirit is a life that “soars among the clouds powered by the mystery of God.”[2]

I say all of that so that you will rethink what Jesus is saying to you.

It isn’t about that day 10 years ago when you accepted Christ. This is about spiritual life and what it looks like from the very beginning. Whether your spiritual life is more like the seasons of the year and you have seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter – with the hope of coming again to a new spring with its new life sprouting up around you. Or you are windborne and carried like a leaf in the breath of God. Or you simply had questions and knocked on the door of Christ hoping to have them answered and he said, “Come in, let’s talk.” All of this is being born of the spirit.

And to each of these he says: Everyone who believes in him has eternal life, yes, so that the world might be saved through him.

[1] Born Again, Edward F. Markquart
[2] Windborne, by Mickey Anders.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sermon: Testing and Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

In the book Where the Red Fern Grows,

Billy needs a coon pelt to train his dogs. So Grandpa tells Billy a surefire way to catch raccoons.

"Now," he said, "You go down along the river where there are a lot of coon tracks. Find a good solid log close by and bore a hole down about six inches. Drop one of the bright pieces of tin down the hole, and be sure it's laying right on the bottom." [skip a bit]

"Now, say this is the hole you bored in the log," he said. "About an inch apart, drive these nails in a slant opposite each other...the ends of the nails will enter the hole about halfway between the top and the piece of tin," he continued. "Leave an opening between the sharp points big enough for a coon to get his paw through." [skip a bit]

"You see a coon is a curious animal. Anything that is bright and shiny attracts him. He will reach in and pick it up. When his paw closes on the bright object it balls up, and when he starts to pull it out from the hole, the sharp ends of the nails will gouge into his paw and he's caught."

Billy thinks this sounds like a great idea, until he realizes that all the raccoon has to do is let go of the shiny thing, and decide that freedom is more important than being trapped. But Billy builds the traps anyway, and eventually catches a coon.[1]

In today’s scripture, the devil tries to use coon traps on Jesus. He tries to find things that are so attractive to Jesus that he will grab hold of them and not being willing to let go. Listen to Matthew 4:1-11.

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”

Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”

After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”

Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”

Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

That is a pretty exciting confrontation between Jesus and the devil. Things have been going well for Jesus as his ministry opens up before him. He is beginning a new step in life, he has just been baptized, and God has said, “you are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”

So Jesus is in the desert preparing himself for his ministry by prayer and fasting. After 40 days, he is in pretty bad shape. He is literally starving. He needs medical help as his body and mind are on the edge of breakdown. And it is at that moment that the devil walks in with a loaf of fresh baked bread. Well, actually it is a rock, but he reminds Jesus that if he wanted he could turn that rock into bread. But Jesus says no.

The devil then challenges Jesus to test God’s power and protection, and ultimately offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Yet Jesus also resists these traps. In each case, what the devil offers is something that looks attractive, especially to a worn out and weary Jesus. And Jesus is able to see beyond the temptation, keep track of what is vitally important, and pass the test.

Somewhere along the line,

Jesus must have told this story to the disciples. They weren’t there when it happened; in fact, no one witnessed it except Jesus. But Jesus felt that this incident was important enough for his disciples to know about. Why? Was he bragging about how he had defeated the devil in one on one bible verse combat? No, I doubt it.

I think Jesus shared this story with his disciples, because he knew that all of us as human beings face temptation. He knew that there are coon traps out there in life – and if we aren’t careful we might lose track of what is vitally important.

While we may not be offered the kingdoms of the world, we are often offered things that seem to be life-giving, desirable, and even valuable; but in reality distract us from God’s will and God’s way. These trials may come just when we think things are going well, when new and exciting opportunities are on the horizon, as if they are especially meant to stop our progress. Like they did for Jesus. They may come just after we have spent significant time getting ready spiritually for what is to come.

There may be physical things thrust in our way, like the hunger from fasting for a long time, or a disease, a bout of surgery, or the troubles of aging.

There may be spiritual doubts that creep in, like will God really protect me? If I threw myself from the rooftops, would the angels catch me?

There may be temptations to turn from our way, from the call of God and the opportunities ahead, and instead take another road, a road of self-satisfaction. These are all quite common. So Jesus is reminding us, that if it happened to him, it can happen to us.

What Jesus reminds us is that

the challenge of these trials and temptations is always to seek God’s will, to be guided by what we know is right, and not let ourselves be deceived by half-truths and misleading thoughts. So he gives us examples of ways to respond to each of the temptations in life.

For example, to our physical problems like hunger or health, we say, life is not just about our bodies. It is so much more, there is a depth far deeper than our hunger, our pain, our mortality. Life springs from the mouth of God, in words of hope, in acts of love, in courage in the face of death, and the power of resurrection. That is life.

So while our physical needs are important, they are not the same as life. Which we all know. We know that there are things that are more important in life than the food we eat, we know that good health does not last forever but we have the promise of God that life goes beyond this mortal body. We just have to remember all of that, when these temptations come our way.

Then Jesus talks about our spiritual doubts and worries, those moments when we would test to see if God is real, if God’s love is active. He knows that we will have those moments. He understands that there are days when we wonder if God really will protect us, if God really does want the best for us, if the angels really will hold us in their arms when danger is near.

So he reminds us that in those moments we have to say, I will not put myself in danger just to prove a point. I will trust God to do what God will do. I won’t try to manipulate God. God is not my personal assistant hired to do my bidding, but the Divine Creator that loves me – and it is our relationship that matters, not whether everything in my life is perfect. So when it is our temptation to judge God, or test God, or pressure God to follow our personal agenda, we have to step back and reconnect with God, listen to God, allow the love of God to refill us.

Finally, when the devil offers Jesus the kingship of the world, it is an offer of power, but it is also a temptation to leave the path that God has charted for Jesus. It is an offer to rule the earthly kingdoms instead of the heavenly one. We also have temptations, while not normally at that scale, to leave the path and way of God, to give up on God’s plan for us. We might also be tempted to choose a path of power and pride in the here and now.

So Jesus shows us that in the face of such temptations we are to say, though there are many things in the world that promise fulfillment, I know that the greatest reward is in doing God’s will, and only God’s will. Nothing more. Nothing less. If it is not God’s will for me to rule the nations, then I should not, even if I am Jesus. I should seek God’s will even if it leads me to a cross and suffering, rather than a throne and glory.

Jesus tells his disciples about his temptation and trials

So that when we face a life filled with temptations and trials, we can overcome them. He doesn’t want us to get trapped. So he reminds us to keep our focus on the life that God gives, the relationship that God offers, and the way which God leads us. If we do those three things, we can overcome. And in overcoming, the angels themselves come and care for us, even in our struggles.

[1] Chapter 7. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, 1961.