Sermon: So Tempting!

 

My Sermon, offered today,  for First Sunday in Lent!

Reading from Luke 4: 1-11

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

This week, I’ve been teaching a class in Basic Critical Incident Stress Management for would-be peer supporters. The students are a mixture of police officers and law enforcement chaplains from around the state: To a man or woman (one of the chaplains was 36 weeks pregnant!) they were eager, interested, smart, compassionate and an all-around pleasure to teach.

Two of the officers hailed from one of the more progressive (and not-at-all-incidentally) wealthy towns in Southern Maine. They made the commute to and from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in an electric police cruiser.

“Wow. Really?” I said. “And how’s that going?”

The officers sighed. Kind of fun, they said.  Kind of like driving a go-cart. Except that if you run out of fuel…you can’t go get a can of electricity and be on your way.

A Level Two charger—-they’ve got one at the police station—-takes about twelve hours to fully charge the electric cruiser. In theory, the thing can then go 267 miles, which should’ve been enough…except that electric car batteries lose charge in cold weather. And this has been a cold and snowy week.

So their return trips from the Criminal Justice Academy —after a long day of class, with their pregnant chaplain in tow— became white-knuckled adventures, as all the vehicle’s occupants anxiously watched the dashboard power indicator drop; the driver turning off the heat, being sparing in his use of the windshield wipers, just to be sure that they could eventually coast into the police department’s garage powered by the battery equivalent of vapors.

Why, I wondered, would the leaders of a town in a cold state think it’s a good idea to purchase what amounts to an expensive, experimental vehicle…for first responders? That is, a car that will be driven by employees who—-by definition—-need to get to where they’re going swiftly and without delay?

Arguably, it’s a fad. A few years back, a major city in California undertook a pilot project in which a dozen cops were given these environmentally-friendly electric vehicles. California is not a cold place. And still, after a few too many inopportune strandings of what are supposed to be first responders, the “go-carts” were reassigned to detectives, and then, since the detectives also got tired of running out of juice on the freeway, and crime victims got tired of waiting for them to show up, the electric go-carts were given to the evidence technicians. By now, I’d imagine, they’ve been more or less mothballed.

Throughout this experiment, the city’s mayor and his entourage —-the really essential workers——naturally continued to travel in a convoy of gas-powered SUVs.

Progressive mayors in California and Maine are undoubtedly sincere in their belief that the fate of the earth depends upon our adopting—-right here, right now—-electric cars. They were also sincere when they agreed that historic and therefore systemic racism demands a drastic reduction in, or complete elimination of police services—-not slowly, over time, as other resources are developed, but instantly. This wasn’t about improvement, it was about transformation.

Just as they had not given up driving SUVs, these mayors did not give up the protection of their own armed police protection details. But hypocrisy is not, in itself, evidence of insincerity, as I know from my own behavior and to my own chagrin.

So, oddly enough, SUVs and bodyguards aside, I believe those who declare that in this crisis (name your crisis) the fierce urgency of now demands that we do something dramatic to save the world. Transformation is not merely necessary and desirable, but possible. Maybe even easy? We can end world hunger! All we have to do is turn these stones into bread…

When the goal is the salvation of the world, why not step off that cliff and into the arms of Satan? Later on, once we live in the world we can so easily imagine if we try, the one in which there are no countries, nothing to live or die for, the brotherhood of man…will anyone kvetch because, after the police were defunded, a few hundred more Americans were murdered, and their grieving survivors had to wait extra minutes or hours for the few remaining cops to buzz up to the scene in their electric cars?

You know, maybe we should be sanctioning Russia not just for invading Ukraine, but for failing to do so with electric tanks?

It struck me, reading this morning’s story from the gospel of Luke, that our world is filled with wanna-be saviors of mankind. When the Devil tempts Jesus, he offers the kinds of power that any of us might wish for, not because we want to be Putin or Hitler but the contrary: Because we want to be…well, Jesus.

Don’t we? When the winner in the Miss America pageant expresses an earnest hope that she can use her new position to help end world hunger, or bring world peace, she is speaking from the beautiful bottom of her (or possibly his) human heart.

Whatever oath they may have mumbled when being sworn in, how many politicians genuinely believe—-just like Miss Nebraska—-that they were elected, even put on this earth, to transform the world?

Heck, how many ministers are convinced that the task of ministry isn’t to look after people, to be the shepherd to a given flock, but to save the planet?

It’s not like the planet couldn’t use a change, amiright? Who wouldn’t want to save or transform it?

Jesus’ world, like our world, was much in need of change. Plenty of poor and hungry people. Jesus cared about them. So the temptation on offer was real—-wouldn’t it be cool if he could change rocks into bread? Plenty of oppression and tyranny too: Wouldn’t it be grand if all the kingdoms with all their splendors, were put under the control of the one guy with the virtue and vision, prescience and common sense required to create perfection?

Who wouldn’t be thrilled to see the miracle to end all miracles taking place within one’s own lifetime; delighted if, by our own, earnest efforts, the arc of the moral universe bent itself into and not merely towards, perfect justice?

There is an old argument about Jesus’s sayings and doings in theological circles: Does Jesus speak the truth…or is what he says true because it is He who says it?

A similar question must be asked about the Devil. Was the power the Devil offered to Jesus demonic because it was the Devil making the offer?

Or was what he offered—-ultimate power, divine power, the power that can ignore the laws of nature, transcend human limits and transform the world—— in itself, inevitably, demonic?

We know that Jesus refused the offer. That should tell us something.

The model for good and loving action provided for us by Christ’s life, works and words is not one in which He—-and therefore we, as good Christian people—- takes on ultimate power and then enacts penultimate transformation.

History and today’s headlines tell us that sudden change can happen—-just ask the citizens of Kiev——but the means will not be loving and the end will not be good.

It bears repeating: The Devil offered Him the power to transform the world and create perfection: Jesus turned him down.

Jesus did not transform and perfect even the lands of Judah and Samaria, nor even the city of Jerusalem. Just as before His birth, so after His death, people still got ill and injured, there were wars and rumors of wars, pandemics, earthquakes, slavery, suffering, oppression, genocide…

Look around—-or, perhaps, look inward—-and you will find any number of wanna-be Saviors.
Funny how the one person in history who did not have a messiah complex was…the actual Messiah?

God’s salvation, God’s power, the love that the Greeks called agape…as Jesus modeled it, moves and transforms not in a flash of nuke-like brilliance, but humbly, mindfully, stubbornly body by body, soul by soul, day by day.

At the conclusion of this week’s academy class, my students were invited to share a “takeaway” —something they’d found especially interesting or valuable.

One older police officer told us that he could remember when both chaplains and Critical Incident peer support teams were unheard of. Over his career, he said, he has seen both become, if not commonplace at least no longer rare, and he testified to the positive change that had taken place within the culture of Maine law enforcement as a result. He expressed big gratitude for what was, in fact, a very small and incremental change, in a very small subgroup of a very small population within a very small state.

Was Jesus was wrong, to turn down the deal with the Devil? Maybe, had he said yes, human history from that moment forward would have been one long, Lennnon-ist bliss-fest, the arc of the moral universe bent, in one first-century nanosecond,   into a perfect justice pretzel, equitably distributed among all God’s children?

Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil…

On the other hand, as Mother Theresa advised and as Christ modeled for us, perhaps it is enough to do small things with great love. Show up. Do what you can to help, and let the glow of the holy give you strength, and draw your gaze and faithful heart to God. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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There are 10 comments.

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  1. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    I’m too far away and you have other responsibilities, so it would be foolish for me to imagine you starting a congregation, and me going to it, to hear your sermons every week.

    And me being allowed to sing hymns and prayers there, without going on an indefinite course of failed experimental gene therapy that has been found to be dangerous and is known to cause reverse transcription in liver cells vitro.

    And where our 2 and three-year old grandkids could go to church programs, without them and their little mates and their teachers being forced to hide their smiles and faces behind proven-ineffective face masks, and injected with a known toxin for non-existent protection against a low-risk infection.

    But I did think of it for a moment after reading this wonderful sermon.

     

     

    • #1
  2. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    You know, maybe we should be sanctioning Russia not just for invading Ukraine, but for failing to do so with electric tanks?

    I know it’s not really the point of the piece,     but this is a fantastic line!

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    You know, maybe we should be sanctioning Russia not just for invading Ukraine, but for failing to do so with electric tanks?

    I think your phone is ringing. It’s either John Kerry, or Greta Thunberg calling to offer you an; Atta Girl. :)

    • #3
  4. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Outstanding sermon. 

    GrannyDude:

    It bears repeating: The Devil offered Him the power to transform the world and create perfection: Jesus turned him down.

     

    GrannyDude:

    Was Jesus was wrong, to turn down the deal with the Devil? Maybe, had he said yes, human history from that moment forward would have been one long, Lennnon-ist bliss-fest, the arc of the moral universe bent, in one first-century nanosecond,   into a perfect justice pretzel, equitably distributed among all God’s children?

     

    I am willing to assume (Jesus being God and all that) that Jesus knew that either 1) the instantly created perfection would not last (after all, humanity had already undone the perfection of the Garden of Eden), or 2) maintaining that perfection would have required a change in humans that would make us less the type of creature that God had initially created (for example, we would have to lose the human capacity to make our own choices whether to follow or to love God and/or our fellow human). 

    I have noticed in my own life and in the experience of my acquaintances how often gradual changes are more durable than sudden “transformative” changes. 

    • #4
  5. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    GrannyDude: In theory, the thing can then go 267 miles, which should’ve been enough…except that electric car batteries lose charge in cold weather.

    And they can lose their charge after or during one high-speed pursuit . . .

    • #5
  6. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Stad (View Comment):

    GrannyDude: In theory, the thing can then go 267 miles, which should’ve been enough…except that electric car batteries lose charge in cold weather.

    And they can lose their charge after or during one high-speed pursuit . . .

    If you watch any of the many police car dash cam videos of high speed pursuits, with their frequent full throttle accelerations, you quickly appreciate how quickly an electric pursuit car would deplete its battery.

    The city near where I used to lived got some, but used them for a reasonable purpose – parking enforcement. 

    • #6
  7. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    Thanks, Kate. My pastor touched on the temptation passage as well today, using contemporary language. Jesus refused to “access divine privilege”.  

    • #7
  8. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    GrannyDude: Was Jesus was wrong, to turn down the deal with the Devil? Maybe, had he said yes, human history from that moment forward would have been one long, Lennnon-ist bliss-fest, the arc of the moral universe bent, in one first-century nanosecond,   into a perfect justice pretzel, equitably distributed among all God’s children?

    You bring up an interesting and important point.  Jesus couldn’t have worshipped satan instead of His Father, because that would have been to deny His own divine character.

    And if He could have denied His own character, then He wouldn’t be God, He wouldn’t have been up to the immutable perfection of God, and the world would never be ruled by anything or anyone as good as the one true God, and His reign wouldn’t have been equal to that which the true God has planned for it.

    • #8
  9. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    I heard from Lucifer that Solomon charged him with exposing false prophets. Lucifer was actually a fan of Jesus after his temptations.    

    • #9
  10. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    Flicker (View Comment):

    GrannyDude: Was Jesus was wrong, to turn down the deal with the Devil? Maybe, had he said yes, human history from that moment forward would have been one long, Lennnon-ist bliss-fest, the arc of the moral universe bent, in one first-century nanosecond, into a perfect justice pretzel, equitably distributed among all God’s children?

    You bring up an interesting and important point. Jesus couldn’t have worshipped satan instead of His Father, because that would have been to deny His own divine character.

    And if He could have denied His own character, then He wouldn’t be God, He wouldn’t have been up to the immutable perfection of God, and the world would never be ruled by anything or anyone as good as the one true God, and His reign wouldn’t have been equal to that which the true God has planned for it.

    But the temptation, nonetheless, had to be real in order for the story to make sense, or be worth including.  Jesus was fully human (and therefore temptable) as well as fully divine. As God or as Man, he had free will. No?

    • #10
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