Sunday, 24 February 2013

Tempting choices

Lent 2 year C Sermon Luke 4

A new recruit in a monastery… approached a wise, old monk for guidance over a glass of cheer. ‘Tell me, please the new monk asked: How did you become holy?’

Two words,’ the old monk replied. ‘Right choices.’

Intrigued, the novice continued,
‘And… how do you learn to make right choices?’

One word,’ the old monk replied.  ‘Growth.’

So how does one grow?’ asked the inexperienced man

Two words,’ the old monk smirked. ‘Wrong choices.’

Wilderness slide
After his baptism in the Jordan…Jesus…full of the Holy Spirit…was led into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. His free will was never taken away from him…it wasn’t the devil’s to take… the power of choice always available…and Jesus chose well.

in the Lord’s Prayer, we used to say ‘Lead us not into temptation…but that’s a curious thing to pray, isn’t it…
as though God would intentionally put us in harm’s way;
or for some reason, is actually trying to get us to sin…

Word slide
But did you know the original Greek word
used near the end of the Lord’s Prayer and in Luke’s story of Jesus in the wilderness… actually has two different but related meanings…temptation and testing.
The goal of temptation is… to get us to do wrong…to turn away from God… and God’s way. To make choices that lead…not to peace and well-being, but to conflict and suffering.

Testing, on the other hand, has a very different purpose.
Whether it’s an exam at school, tryouts for the soccer team, or auditions for the X factor…when we’re tested, the goal is to find out who we are and what we’re made of.

Generally we’re given a test, not because somebody wants to see us fail, but to find out our abilities, our strengths…or our true character…Sometimes a test helps us discover this for ourselves.

And a good test does more than find out what we already know…it helps us learn something new.

Blank slide
It was common in the ancient middle-east
to believe that pagan gods were out to get human beings… constantly setting traps…and playing tricks
to fool us into transgressions …many pagan gods were quick to condemn, and eager to punish…

All that is consistent… with the serpent in the story of the Garden of Eden… the serpent tries to trick and manipulate Adam and Eve—by convincing them…God’s just trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Some of us behave like we still believe God’s out to get us when we say or hear something… even in a joke…
that’s irreverent… …. don’t we duck and cringe… in case lightening strikes? Like God is just waiting around with a smite button in the sky.

And Luke’s story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…strongly reminds us of the temptation in the Garden of Eden…have you ever noticed?

It’s quite intentional of course. Just as John’s Gospel reminds us of the Word at Creation and Matthew reminds us of Jesus connection with David…we see by Luke’s story that Jesus is a true descendent of the first human beings.

Yet a new Adam as Paul says…breaking the old patterns …once and for all… redeeming the world… through the cross and the resurrection. Ushering in a new day… and an end to the old order… [pause]

And how does God accomplish this…of course…
by taking on all that it means to be human…even temptation and physical frailty…even death…
and overcoming it.

In the wilderness story we just heard today…
Luke shows us a high resolution… flesh and blood Jesus …a vulnerable and hungry human being…
who faces… not only the evil Adam and Eve encountered…

but every principality and power… ever unleashed… against our creator God throughout the history of human rebellion…[pause]

Here’s how Luke’s story goes...fresh from his baptism in the Jordan and filled with the Holy Spirit… Jesus looks for answers in the beauty and solitude of the wilderness.

He’s needs time out…to figure things out…
somehow he’s got to get a handle on what
it’s going to mean… to be revealed as the Son of God
…the anointed Messiah…the long awaited redeemer…
who will proclaim and usher in the reign of God
over against all human powers…even Caesar’s Empire.

There was a lot to fear…a lot to doubt…especially when Jesus knew himself to bleed and bruise like any other man.

And you might ask why… Jesus would have to ponder these things at all… Why did Jesus need forty days in the wilderness… to search for answers. When surely it was clearly spelled out in scripture… and in the promise of the prophets.

But it just wasn’t that simple. You see in Jesus time…
Jewish and Roman historians chronicled many messianic movements… and pretenders to the throne of David…
not the least the house of Herod.

There were many popular and inspiring speakers and charismatic leaders…who were hailed as kings…and attracted followers…and these were usually cut down
by the military as a threat to the established powers and principalities…

All these would-be prophets and messiah’s promised their disciples signs from heaven…and great miracles…to prove God was on their side.
Yet not one of these movements lasted or endured…

No wonder Jesus needs time alone…to seek God’s guidance and think things through…there are so many questions
about his divine call, his mission, and his safety.

And so there in the wilderness… the answers come…
as choices…in the face of temptation. [pause]

At first every temptation appears so reasonable and attractive…they seem to make so much sense
from a hungry human perspective.

God wouldn’t want his beloved son to starve…would he?
If Jesus is meant to be sovereign over the whole world…
as the angel promised his mother…why doesn’t he just zap the world into submission

why not turn those stones into bread…if you’re hungry?

Or how about this…why not avoid all that pain and suffering you’re going to face…and just get on board my train…take the easy way out…

And when that doesn’t work…oh come on…
all that pain and suffering you fear… is only an illusion…
just call on your daddy when you jump off that cliff
and he’ll scoop you up on a soft fluffy cloud…

why struggle and suffer…why not prove you’re the Messiah beyond a doubt for all to see…and use power to do it? [pause]

But a new creation a new Israel is being established…a new people of God a new covenant…and like the people of Israel two thousand years earlier…
here in the wilderness…Jesus is also hungry…
Jesus is also tempted to worship other gods and Jesus is cunningly invited to put God to the test? Luke doesn’t want us to miss that.

Fresh from the waters of baptism…revealed as God’s unique son…the Messiah…the one through whom Israel’s destiny…will be fulfilled…
the one to liberate and renew the people of God…
not only from their oppressors, but from all the powers and principalities that turned them away from God and from one another

Jesus must first defeat this evil…the in your face kind…personal and intimate…not on a global or intergalactic scale…the cross and resurrection are on the distant horizon…but right there in the wilderness…in the face of his own hunger and fear and human vulnerability

And Jesus defeats temptation and evil in the wilderness where Israel botched it. Jesus uses the authority of scripture and the shield of faith to make quite different choices… and Jesus the human embodiment of the Son of God as Israel thought itself to be… succeeds where the nation failed.

Not by lusting after prestige and power…nor by turning his back on God nor forcing God’s hand
But by confronting and conquering…
the one who tells lies about God…

God’s kingdom will not be established through dazzling displays of power… but by faith in God’s way and God’s Word. Any power and influence Jesus has
must be used to bring restoration and light to the world….
And yes the enemy will return againto test Jesus’ resolve …but for now…Jesus has defeated temptation…
…on the very frontlines of his life. Just as you and I must do [pause]

And like Jesus…his followers must learn to recognise the contrary voices…that whisper seductive and attractive lies into our hearts and minds…

So what can we do when we’re faced with the challenge of discerning whether the voices we hear or the choices we’re faced with might lead us astray? Well the first thing is to follow Jesus’ example.

Slide words reveal
Take some alone time with God. Remember that God is always with you. Get in touch with God's love for you. This must be the basis of all our decisions.

Does what you hear square with Jesus’ example and teaching? With the Word of God made flesh. We can read stories about the ways Jesus made decisions for God and how he dealt with temptations.

Is it consistent with God’s love and mercy and compassion and justice and peace and forgiveness revealed in Christ.

Does it honour people as children of God or treat them like objects of power and amusement.

Check out the fruits. Jesus tells the disciples they can know what is true from what is false by the fruits of their actions. ‘Just as, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree can’t bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.’

Ask yourself: do I feel like keeping this a secret? Believe me my friends…that’s a sure sign the voice you’re hearing is not God’s.

And after going through all these steps …
you’re still wondering if the voice in your ear is leading you astray or in the paths of righteousness…then I recommend you take out two more insurance policies.

Be clear about your vulnerabilities. Where are you most likely to face temptation. It’s much easier to fall off a cliff if you don’t know it’s there.

Get help from someone whose strength and faith you trust. You don't have to figure out what God wants you to do on your own.

Blank slide
The desert experience of God’s own Son is a vivid reminder for all of us who follow him. Passing through the saving waters of baptism—as Jesus did in the Jordan is a sacrament… not magic.

It’d be nice if it formed an invisible force field around us,
protecting us from every evil; clearly, that’s not the case.

Today beneath these mountains and beside these lakes we find ourselves, as Jesus did, among wild beasts and angels alike. My prayer is that you will cooperate with God’s grace as Jesus did.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A lesson on fasting in Lent

Epiphany 5 year C Sermon 
In a few minutes we are going to feast together
as the people of God. We’ll fire up the barbeque….
set out the salads and sit down for our annual parish picnic in the park.

And in ten days’ time… when the Season of Lent begins …Feb 13thmany of us will be challenged not to feast but to fast…at least… from something we
habitually consume in our lives.

The Season of Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter.
It’s a special time in the Church…and a time when we also remember the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert.
It was a difficult time for Jesus. He fasted
and was tempted to accomplish his mission…
using power rather than love.

During Lent…many Christians…
employ the discipline of fasting…to help us concentrate on what Jesus gave up for us.  

But most don’t realise…the decision to fast in the season of Lent…is a wonderful way to experience and celebrate … our freedom in Christ. Freedom from the powers and principalities that dictate how we spend our time and our money… and what we take into and put on our bodies.

Our culture tells us that
freedom gives us the right to be self-absorbed and self-focused…so we get more and buy more and spend more on what we want. But if we accept the dictates of the powers and principalities of this world…without holding them up to the light of Jesus… we’re actually selling ourselves into bondage.
Jesus has redeemed us so we can live in freedom.
He tells his disciples, "If the Son makes you free,
you will be free indeed" The apostle Paul echoes that wonderful truth: in his letter to the Romans
"The law of the Spirit of life… in Christ Jesus
has set you free from the law of sin and of death". [pause]

Most of us need some good teaching about fasting…don’t we? Because we don’t know much about it really and kind of think of it as self-deprivation…
we don’t realise the ancient practice of fasting… encourages us… to grow in true freedom.

In fasting, God invites us to experience the kind of freedom that is rooted in healthy discipline and meaningful sacrifice. Fasting offers the opportunity…
to step back from the demands of our culture
and cross the doorway into God's presence.

Fasting ushers us into a reflective place…
where we can listen to God… and pray wholeheartedly for things that really matter. When we fast, we’re free briefly…from our need for food or entertainment or busyness. We are even free to embrace discomfort if we want to…for a short season. In fasting we’re free from our need to be strong all the time, to control everything and understand everything.

Fasting strips away the extraneous stuff…so we focus for a season… on the thing that really matters…
our relationship with God. And if you hadn’t noticed…the disciplines of fasting and Sabbath keeping are profoundly counter-cultural.

The world we live in… tells us we should be productive and happy all the time. In fact, we often get the message… that something’s wrong with us…
if we aren't busy and bright every moment of the day.

But sadly, we miss something significant about God
if we listen to our culture.

God runs the universe-we don’t. We affirm this truth in a special way… when we stop working
and embrace rest on the sabbath.

Jesus reveals to us that God cares deeply about the hurting, the lonely, the poor and those who need his love. We affirm this truth in a special way when we fast and pray. The Bible almost always speaks of prayer and fasting together.  

When we fast we voluntarily…we set aside our own contentment for a set period of time and embrace discomfort… so we can pray for those who live in discomfort all the time.

In the midst of our culture's frantic pace and obsession with personal happiness, the rhythms of Sabbath keeping and fasting… can help us step aside from our culture
and put God at the centre of our lives.

The rhythm of fasting and feasting…
makes us spiritually healthier. Just as fasting lasts for a set time only, so should feasting. But our culture encourages us to feast all the time.

Christians today practise fasting in a variety of ways. Fasting might involve abstaining from food, as the people of God did centuries ago…but you could also fast from the news media, or entertainment, or even information…You can fast from shopping, or email or the Internet.

My friend Lynne Baab… the author of a book
on Christian Fasting tells this story about a fast she made …she says…

‘I was praying for the thousandth time about an obstacle my friend had faced for almost two years…it was something that should have been resolved much more quickly. As I was praying, the idea came into my mind that perhaps we should fast together
as we prayed for the problem.

I ask God how and when to fast on that particular day. When I looked at my schedule, I had three appointments involving four car trips…may fifteen to twenty minutes long.

Lynne says…‘When I drive I always play music, turned up really loud. So I decided to fast from music… on those four car trips, expecting the silence would remind me to pray.
So on that pleasant sunny day I set out on my first expedition with the car windows wide open.

I heard something surprising right away: my muffler was beginning to conk out! I hadn't noticed it before because of the music …and I wondered what else
I might be missing in my life
because I do so many things the same way, day after day.
On the first two car tripsI prayed fervently for my preferred solution to my friend's problem. On the third trip, I realized I’d spent no time at all…trying to hear God's voice on the matter… so I began to ask God…
to teach me how to pray for the problem.

I found myself thanking God for the ways he helped my friend cope… and brought good things to her
because of this unresolved issue.

Then my prayers changed again, and I began to focus on her family. By the fourth trip, I was praying for the problem in a totally different way…and this new way of praying… continued to influence my prayers even after the fast day ended.

Lynne’s story reminds us…that this form of fasting… helps us discover a profound freedom. We don't have to do things the same way, day after day. We are not slaves to our habits. We can change things around, try new things.  We can experience companionship with God
in new ways.

Free to make time to read the Bible… free to pray passionately…to listen to God and change the direction of our prayers.

God doesn't want us to punish ourselves. Fasting as self-punishment… denies the freedom God gives us in Christ. Fasting as self-punishment… doesn’t give energy to our prayers or help us listen for God. This is because our spirits are intimately connected to our bodies, and to deny the body can cripple the spirit.

Fasting isn’t about extreme self-denial day after day, year after year. Fasting lasts only for a set time.

When we fast, we embrace the rhythms of life. Sometimes it’s healthy to celebrate abundance; sometimes we need to submit ourselves to discipline.

This season of Lent begins in ten days time on the 13th of February, I want to challenge you to embrace your freedom to choose…and  liberate yourself
from bondage to something…I want to challenge you to embrace fasting…as a way to affirm your desire
for God's presence.

And be open to the possibilities God might reveal to you …just imagine giving up worrying for Lent…or gossiping…or negativity…or busyness…!

imagine every time you find yourself fretting… repeating instead…let go and Let God.

So in this coming week I want you to do three things.

One…pray…ask God to show you how to fast in the Season of Lent.

Two…be patient wait … listen for God’s guidance…

Three…exercise your freedom in Christ
to respond to what God is calling you to do.

This sermon has been adapted from the Lynne M. Baab’s Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites Kindle Edition. Intervarsity Press, 2006.