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.