Saturday, February 16, 2013

Seduction and Temptation

Luke 4:1-13

There is, throughout the Gospels and everywhere in Christian theology, a tension between the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. It’s very clear in this story of the temptation – or testing – of Jesus in the wilderness.
Jesus is fully human and fully God, at the same time, all the time. Our creeds and our theology attest to that. So, let me share a personal belief. Since Jesus is fully human, it was probably not possible for him to go for 40 days and nights without having anything to eat or drink. More likely, he ate and drank sparingly, surviving on what the wilderness provided him. While not abundant, it was enough.
In truth, the details of Jesus' fast are not important. What does matter is that the purpose of a fast is to allow us to focus more completely on our relationship with God. Even something as simple as fasting from chocolate for the 40 days of Lent reminds us that God gives us the delicious food we enjoy. 
The temptations – or tests – themselves tell us how Jesus managed to do what he was sent to do. Last week, we thought about Jesus praying, keeping his focus on God and on us. Today, he’s talking with the devil, still keeping his focus on God and on us. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where he could struggle with any resistance the human Jesus might find to God’s plan, and where he could gain the strength to know he could fulfill the purpose for which he became human.
In order to live according to God’s plan, Jesus has to make choices. If he chooses to feed his human self by turning stone into bread, he uses his divine powers and denies his humanity which cannot do such a thing.
If Jesus chooses to worship the devil he denies his divinity and claims powers that humans would love to have. The divine Jesus knows that the devil’s offer is a lie, since the whole world belongs to God, not the devil. Since Jesus is both human and divine, he already has all the power and glory he needs, and it would be foolish to give it all up to the devil.
If Jesus chose to put his human body at risk by jumping off the top of the temple without a bungee cord, God would probably let him die, because he would be misusing his divine status and power. This would be against God’s plan, and they would need to find another way to save humankind.
But, Jesus has been sent for God’s purposes and does not fall for the devil’s tricks. The devil has to look for other ways to defeat him.
 We like to think that it is easy to identify the devil, but it’s not. The devil does not run around in a red body suit with horns and a pitchfork. The devil looks like you and me; that’s why it is so easy to fall for the lies the devil tells. In our class last Monday, someone mentioned the word seduction. I think it’s a very good word, because seduction is a powerful force that draws us away from our current relationships into a relationship that is not healthy. Seduction draws us away from God and into the belief that we don’t need God. Seduction leads us into trusting in ourselves for what we have and for what we want. Seduction is how the devil works in our lives, because the devil looks innocent, just like us.

·         The devil looks like a guy who is very happy with his new car, because he loves the power and handling capability.
·         The devil looks like a gal who is very happy with her new hair color because it makes her look younger and sexier.
·         The devil looks like the smart-alecky baby who has all the answers to financial investment and wealth.
·         The devil looks like the newest gadget, replacing last year’s newest gadget.
·         The devil looks like the comfort of the easy chair and whatever is on TV.
·         The devil looks like the latest pill to help us lose weight.  
·         The devil looks like the fear to speak about our faith in Jesus to another person.
·         The devil looks like resistance to change because it’s different from what we have always known.
·         The devil looks like hatred of people who are different from us.
·         The devil looks like people who complain about injustice without taking action against it.

The devil is anyone or anything that leads us away from our trust in Jesus. The devil is anyone or anything that keeps us from putting God first in our lives. The only way we can resist the devil’s seduction is to do exactly what Jesus did – put our trust in God and in God’s plan and purpose for us and for our world.
Please pray with me. Mighty God, it’s only through you that we can recognize the seduction of the devil’s ways. And it’s only by trusting in you that we can resist the temptation to trust in ourselves instead of in you. Forgive us when we turn from you, and help us return to you, again and again. Amen

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wearing Ashes

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

This Gospel text is about true discipleship. Jesus highlights how the appearance of devotion is given by many people of his time. They make a big show of their piety through obvious giving, through the performance of praying in public, and in the wearing of ashes and a sad face as a sign of repentance. But their pretenses are known by God, and disregarded as phony.

Jesus offers substitute actions for public demonstrations of righteousness. Give in secret, so no one knows the gift comes from you. Pray at home, in secret, so only God knows you are praying. Fasting as a form of prayer and discernment is a good thing, and it also should be done with joy and in secret.

Then Jesus follows up this advice with the clincher: whatever you value the most is your treasure, and that’s where your heart is. Your treasure should be your relationship with God and not anything else.

So, what are we to make of the ashes on our foreheads? Are the ashes today – in 21st American culture – an outward sign intended to display our piety and devotion to God? Do we wear these ashes for show? Or do we use them to draw attention to the sacrifice Jesus made for us? Do we wear them for the rest of the day or wash them off right away?  What do we think when we look in the mirror and see the ashes on our foreheads? What do we see when we see the ashes on the faces of others? 

I’ll tell you what I see. I see people brave enough to wear the mark of faith in a culture that tries hard to deny the importance of faith. I see people faithful enough to attend worship in the middle of the week. I see people who have the opportunity to share their faith with others. I see people wearing the sign of our own sinfulness. I see people who wear the sign of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

I see a sign that our relationship with Jesus is the most important treasure we can possibly have.

So, as you leave worship, you have some choices. You can stop in the rest room and wash off your ashes, or you can wash them off as soon as you get home. Or, you can leave them on for a while and reflect on the meaning they carry for you, especially as you encounter people who stare at you or smile at you, or as you are startled by your reflection in the mirror.

Whether we wash away the ashes right away or leave them on for a while, the ashes signify our sins and the forgiveness of our sins. They are a sign for all of us that Jesus loves us enough to suffer and die for us, and a sign that death is not the last word for us. I think I’ll leave my ashes on for a while. They are a sign for us that Jesus, crucified and risen, is our greatest treasure. Amen