Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 & Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
March 5, 2017
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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about temptations.
A man named Jack was walking along a steep cliff one day, when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet.
He couldn't hang onto the branch forever, and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff. So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something.
HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? "HELP!"
He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice. Jack, Jack. Can you hear me?"
"Yes, yes! I can hear you. I'm down here!"
"I can see you, Jack. Are you all right?"
"Yes, but who are you, and where are you?
"I am the Lord, Jack. I'm everywhere."
"The Lord? You mean, GOD?"
"God, please help me! I promise if, you'll get me down from here, I'll stop sinning. I'll be a really good person. I'll serve You for the rest of my life."
"Easy on the promises, Jack. Let's get you off from there; then we can talk."
"Now, here's what I want you to do. Listen carefully."
"I'll do anything, Lord. Just tell me what to do."
"Okay. Let go of the branch." "What?" "I said, let go of the branch. Just trust Me. Let go."
There was a long silence.
Finally Jack yelled, "HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?
Back to today’s passage the temptation of Jesus, where we are told Jesus is led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Into the wilderness. The Greek translation for wilderness can mean, solitary, lonely, isolated, desolate or even uninhabited. When I picture the wilderness, I tend to think of a forest or mountain yet let us think outside of our physical surroundings and think more figuratively.
What might be the wilderness you are currently living in? Perhaps it is a new job. Starting a new job can be overwhelming, exciting while also scary. Not knowing where things are, what to expect, who you can confide in…Or maybe your wilderness is a new social status, either a new relationship, or empty nesters, newly retired or looking towards retirement. Maybe your wilderness is moving. Leaving the familiar home to go somewhere new. Wilderness is all around us, it is the uncertainty, the worry of the future, the unknown. We all are experience wilderness and we are walking in the wilderness as we speak.
Jesus is also in the wilderness, he is taken out of his comfort zone, out of his ordinary surroundings and this is where he faces 3 temptations. Yet the devil is not simply tempting Jesus to “do something” rather as my colleague John Brock suggests, Jesus is being tempted to doubt himself and “prove something”.
- Jesus is tempted to prove he is the son of God, to prove his self-worth
- Jesus is tempted to test whether or not he is loved
- Jesus is tempted to have power, to rule over all rather than trust in God.
When I am feeling good, confident and knowledgeable about my surroundings, when I am in familiar territory I know I have self-worth. It is when I am thrown off kilter, put into a new situation, challenged or facing some uncertainty, it is when I am in the wilderness of life that I am tempted and often given into to questioning my self-worth. Maybe you have been there also.
I remember working in college athletics, I knew my stuff. I felt so confident and worthy of being there. I knew who I was and where I was going. I felt important and needed.
It was at times when my life felt uncertain, I was unsure of what I was doing when I felt the need to prove my self-worth. To turn the stones into loaves. It was at times when I began comparing myself to others or where I thought I needed to be that my self-esteem would suffer. I am five years out of school and only here professionally, is it okay that I am changing careers and going back to school or shouldn’t we be having kids by now? The Jones’ are hard to keep up with.
Yet, here is the good news. You do not have to keep up with the Jones’. They are not even real! But seriously, you are worthy because you are you. You are worthy because God created you. As we are told by the Prophet Jeremiah "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;” (1:5). Just as God created Jesus, God also created you and you are worthy.
So we are all worthy yet are we all loved? What does that look like? Can we see love? We express it love by saying I love you and by our actions. We all know when we feel love but it can be hard to express. And here is the big question, how do we know we are loved by God?
I have meet some individuals who were adopted. Questions of love constantly appear. Did my birth parents love me? How could they love me if they gave me away? Although my grandmother was not given up for adoption, she was haunted by a similar question. During the great depression her mother sent her and a couple of siblings away while keeping a couple at home with her. My grandmother wanted to know why? Did her mother not love her? Many people who have been shunned by their family of origin ask am I loved?
Jesus was tempted to test the love God has for him but he knew that God loved him. As we are told in the Gospel John that Jesus said “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9).
God loves Jesus and God loves you.
How do we know this? For starters as believers in the scripture, the Bible tells us so; “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7-8) It is through our love that we know God and that God loves us.
The last temptation Jesus faces in the wilderness is to turn away from God, the have the power to rule over all the lands rather than trust in God. Jesus of course does not fall to the temptation. He does not take the bait to rule over all the lands. He does not go and run for the power. He does not put his own selfish interest ahead of God and others.
If only we humans were so able. If only people were not power hungry, if only we always put the interest of others before ourselves, if only we could always trust God. This is why we need Lent. We need the reminder to return to God. Power is a dangerous fruit. Barbara Brown Taylor states “We are children of God, through our blood kinship with Jesus Christ and we are also sons and daughters of Adam and Evil with a hereditary carving for forbidden fruit salad.”
Adam and Evil wanted the power which the Gods held yet it did not turn out as they had expected. Power has a way of doing that of not being what is expected. Jesus is our role model, Jesus is our example of how we strive to live our lives. If Jesus did not go for power then we too should be aware of those who reach, crave and worship power. Power is not god and we are called to “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”.
So as we move through this wilderness called life, remember of these three lessons.
1) You are inherently worthy and so is every single person
2) God loves you and also loves each and every person on this vast earth
3) When a self-serving power opportunity arises, pause, trust and turn back to God.
Jack from our story was holding on to a literal branch. However we all have branches we cling to and are afraid to give up in order to completely trust and follow God. This Lent may we trust we are worthy and loved by God enough to let go of whatever branch we are holding onto and turn back to God.