Temptation of Lent
I am going to be honest with you and tell you I am not going to preach on the latest school shooting. I preached on gun violence when the neo-Nazi shot up the church in Charlotte South Carolina. I preached on it when the knucklehead in Vegas shot up the music festival last fall. I could look back over my sermons and list every other mass shooting I have preached on with the intent to bring comfort, and spiritual direction during this violent time. I am not going to do that today because there is no more I can say and words are just words and the people who set policy for the country weren’t too bothered when 20 first graders were shot to death at Sandy Hook and they won’t be too bothered that 17 students were killed in Florida. Somewhere along the way those in power lost their moral compass and my sermons here in Albany, OR will not help them find it. Honestly, I wish that the gospel simply preached could. The only thing that will help our elected leaders discover commonsense is the voter and I am not allowed to discuss that here so I won’t. My freedom of speech as a pastor is limited by the IRS to spiritual matters so I will stick the spiritual issues that we are all wrestling. The primary question is how do we live as faithful followers of Christ in such a selfish and violent culture?
First, let’s take a look at how God dealt with humanity when people became too greedy, violent, and loveless. Quite simply God destroyed all of creation. Humanity became so awful on such a large scale that God just wiped everyone, but Noah and his family, off the face of the earth. God being the designer of all creation was able to wipe the board clean and begin again. The image of God found in the Old Testament has a tendency to turn to wrath and violence when people get out of hand. Not all of the time, but destroying all of creation through flood does leave a lasting impression. Even just doing it once lets the whole world know that God has his limitations when it comes to sin. Granted, we are given God’s promise that He’ll never destroy the world again – in the same way. Get that? “In the same way.” There are plenty of other ways that God can destroy the whole earth flood just happens to be one of them. Because of these stories we have a lasting image of God the Father as a vengeful God.
Many Christians still hold on to the image of God as full of vengeance and wrath. The sinner is doomed to the fires of Hell if they don’t repent and accept that Jesus is Lord. This theology is rampant in our culture and it has its roots firmly grounded in the Old Testament. Within this theology Jesus becomes the elixir that saves believers from God’s vengeance. John the Baptist proclaimed that his baptism for the forgiveness of sins would protect people from the wrath to come. Everything about this theology is based on fear and separation. Fear that God will destroy the whole world in the second coming and the need to be separate from non-believers in order to stay pure and saved.
Look around our society today. Everywhere you look you see fear and separation. Fear that bad people are going to invade your home, school, work place, and community. Fear is so palpable that many people are walking around armed. On top of that we have isolated and separated ourselves from our neighbors and our community. For example, in my neighborhood I have no idea who lives around me. People don’t speak to each other. Our neighbors drive into their garage, close the door, go into their house and don’t come out until the next day. This isn’t unique this is how people live as community in this day and age. Fear and separation leads to paranoia and isolation. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves in this fear drenched culture?
Jesus, on the other hand, is all about shedding the image of God the Father as a vengeful God. Jesus through his life, ministry, actions, and self-sacrifice reveals a God who is bringing about the kingdom of God for all, not just those pure few who choose Jesus. Jesus brings people together as a community of faith and reaches out to the outsider. Jesus reveals a God of love, peace, and mercy, shedding all pretense of fear and isolation. Jesus breaks barriers, shatters boundaries and lives a fearless life. Was Jesus naive? I mean he pushed religious leaders and politicians to the limit by challenging their hypocritical ways. Jesus knew he would be crucified, but he continued on his journey without fear. Jesus is the anathema of all that the good, safe, separate Jewish people held dear.
How did Jesus do this? His first words are a huge indicator of Jesus’ method. I mentioned this a couple weeks ago that Jesus’ first words are “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.” Repent? I can’t emphasize this enough. Jesus is not saying repent of your sins. Jesus is using repentance in the same way that God repented in the book of Jonah when God changed his mind and turned away from his wrath. Jesus’ repentance means to turn away from your fear and separation and follow him. Turn toward Jesus and follow his example of a faithful life that leads to the kingdom of God. What is the essence of a faithful life? The rest of the Gospel of Mark maps out Jesus’ faithful life, but how did Jesus come to this radical conclusion that God’s will is love, inclusiveness, and community? This is where the temptation in Matthew and Luke are helpful.
In the gospels of Matthew and Luke the temptation of Jesus is more fully revealed. In Luke and Matthew Satan tempts Jesus by challenging just what kind of a Messiah he would be. Satan leads every temptation with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God.” Also, in every temptation Satan tempts Jesus to be a self-serving Messiah. Jesus holds firm to the belief that he is a other serving Messiah. Satan tempts Jesus with food, safety, and power and with each temptation Jesus doesn’t say “No” Jesus quotes scripture. Here Jesus begins to reveal that he is going to be a very different kind of Messiah one that is other serving and inclusive. What is truly amazing about the temptation and Jesus’ response is that Jesus doesn’t just reject Satan with words he goes a step further and rejects Satan with actions. Jesus achieves this throughout his ministry. For example, Jesus doesn’t turn the stones to bread, but he multiplies the loaves for others. Jesus doesn’t test God’s healing powers, but heals others. Jesus doesn’t become a king sitting on a throne he becomes the king hanging from a cross. Jesus doesn’t fight Satan, sin, fear, and separation with force he does it through grace and active love. We, his repentant followers, are to do the same.
How can we live faithfully in a fearful and ever more isolated culture? We need to embrace our community and those we fear. We need to see where fear has created barriers and destroy those barriers with love. We are going to do that here at Good Shepherd. We are going to go out and discover who our neighbors are and how we can better serve them. We are going to go door to door and introduce ourselves and inform them of the ministries we offer. We are going to invite different community outreach organizations to speak on Wednesday nights in Lent to see how we can build on existing programs.
The best way to address the violence, fear, and craziness of our time is to repent and follow Christ. Let’s break down walls, barriers, and ignorance with outreach. Knocking on doors and speaking to strangers takes courage and strength. Just think how uncomfortable the disciples were traveling with Jesus into Gentile territories and eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus showed us how to overcome a hate filled world through service to others with love. It won’t be easy. It’s out of our comfort zone, but Jesus asks us to pick up our cross and follow him and that’s what we’re going to do.
I can’t stop the hate, violence, fear, and craziness of our time, but Jesus does and he gave us a beautiful blueprint to with which to work. Let us trust the message of Jesus and like Jesus tell Satan and his lies to stick it. Let’s be the solution to the problems of our time and not just another commentator. Cable news has enough commentators giving opinions. In contrast let us work together towards peace love and unity in the name of Christ.