March 10, 2019 Sermon
Jesus’ Temptations (and ours)
Sandy: Evil can often be disguised as good. When Jesus was tested in the wilderness, he faced 3 appealing opportunities: Take care of yourself. Save the world. Prove your faith. Jesus chose obedience to God rather than promoting himself or opting for shortsighted choices. Christian faith would not exist if he had failed any of these tests. In order to sustain church vitality, we need to make decisions founded in Jesus-like faith. Similarly, we make personal choices in order to keep from running amok.
GEORGE: The story of Jesus in the wilderness says, that temptations come at an "opportune" time. Temptation most often comes when we are vulnerable—such as feeling hurting, tired, lonely, depressed, impatient or stressed. I’m hungry. I want a cookie NOW.
Sandy: Bread was tempting after days of fasting. Yet Jesus responded, “Man does not live by bread alone.“ Most of us focus mainly on our own physical needs. As a result, our deeper spiritual core suffers. Churches also tend to give first priority our own physical needs. We focus on finances, church facilities and food for coffee hours and congregation meals.
GEORGE: Satisfying tangible needs produces visible results. Yet humans are inextricably body and spirit. Almost all people recognize a basic spiritual hunger inside themselves, even if it is deeply buried within them.
SANDY: That’s why, as Interim Pastor, I emphasize, What specific ways are we nurturing spiritual growth in members and young people? How does each church activity build deeper and broader caring with other members? How can we build in more intentionally deep, meaningful dialog? Regarding outreach: What is this congregation doing to figure out how to inspire people outside the church to explore their spiritual foundations?
George: Our culture encourages us to want immediate gratification.
Sandy: Knowing the dangers of easy fixes, Jesus did not choose to turn stones into bread. He chose not to indulge himself, despite his hunger, and perhaps a desire to prove to himself what a great miracle worker he was. //
Next, Jesus was tempted to save the world—at the price of a dangerous shortcut. Jesus was clear-minded: The result does not justify the means if the path to the outcome requires dangerous compromise. Accomplishing good goals by setting aside our faith-based values leaves us open to tyranny in our lives and on the national and world stage. Jesus stood strong: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.
GEORGE: Americans tend to pay little attention to God. We tend to mindlessly follow our favorite leaders in politics, social media, economics and religion. WW2 and unfortunate parts of Christian history demonstrate the dangers of blindly following a persuasive leader.
Sandy: Follow me, the devil-tempter told Jesus. A discussion about the devil would be fascinating. The Bible only uses the term “devil” 23 times outside of this wilderness story. Yet the Devil gets lots of attention. As Flip Wilson often asserted in his classic comedy routines, “The Devil made me do it!” Wherever diabolical diversion comes from, the key question is: What is God’s vision for each of us; & what is God’s vision for this church?
GEORGE: What is God’s vision for us? Prayer is the most direct way to find that wisdom. Sandy, you and I have witnessed the power of prayer in our own lives, in hospital ministries and in civil rights advocacy. We participated in many prayer and faith-based initiatives that helped reduce poverty, violence, hatred and sexual abuse. Faith empowers courage to stand up even for unpopular causes. The many blessings of our faith experience motivates us to explore what makes people turned off about Christianity.
Sandy: So we talk with people who are not interested in church participation. We have learned that those who have little interest in churches are turned off by congregations who stay inside their own comfortable fellowship. And self-aggrandizing Christians definitely alienate everyone.
GEORGE: Churches need to find new approaches for our new cultural context. We can help people explore spiritual and ethical issues. We can offer rare comfort of belonging and caring. We can prove by avoiding judgment and gossip that church is a safe, inclusive community. It takes Christ-inspired love to actively embrace even seemingly not so lovable folks and people on the fringes. Congregations and individual Christians need to DEMONSTRATE that we are humbly committed to spiritual practices and actively engage in ministries and advocacy that Jesus modeled in his ministry.
Sandy: A step in nurturing members’ spiritual growth in Union Church is the new faith and spirituality discussion table during coffee hour. We can also re-start a prayer group. For young people: At least one youth from Union is going to the inspiring National Presbyterian Youth Triennium. We can encourage more youth to go to Triennium and to the Holmes Camp Confirmation retreat.
For congregation caring, the Mission Study Team asks ALL congregation members to come on Friday evening, March 29 to share what is personally important about all aspects of the church. We can work together to follow up on those ideas. For reaching those who do not belong to churches, the Outreach committee is trying to find a few young non-church-goers to discuss at a Coffee Hour what would make a church meaningful to them. For active mission: More volunteers, including youth, are also helping to expand the Food Pantry. Church fundraisers can benefit benevolence recipients to help cover the church benevolences budget. Fundraisers for the benefit of local missions, can also help customers see Union Church’s efforts to help those in need; plus, customers will be more motivated to support those fundraisers that serve the community.
GEORGE: It sounds like this congregation is working to strengthen the church without succumbing to temptations of quick or easy ways. And I’ve only heard a few instances of the most dangerous temptation to churches and individuals: We’re doing it because THAT’S THE WAY WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT!...(even though that activity is no longer as useful!)
I still have another concern about temptation. Churches talk about spirituality, outreach to the un-churched people and mission outreach…yet much of the time, talk is all that gets done. In our own lives, we often do no more than talk, too…I want to get more physically fit, we say to a friend… over coffee and cookies! “I want to have deeper spirituality,” we say to ourselves, yet we do not actively enrich our spiritual life. Instead of intentional spiritual growth, we are tempted to whine about what the church is not doing right.
SANDY: Jesus committed himself to follow-through to reach significant goals in response to each temptation in the wilderness: To a temptation to satisfy his own hunger, Jesus responded: We do not live by bread alone. Then, when tantalized to grab power for himself, Jesus focused on the command: You shall worship God and him only you shall serve. To the third temptation to publicly PROVE his trust of God’s power to rescue him if he jumped from a steeple, Jesus responded, in effect: You shall not test God’s power and faithfulness by fabricating your own tests of God. /// Faith in God…takes faith. We can demonstrate our faith in God, based on our experience of God’s power and love.
GEORGE: Yet it’s not easy to focus on following God, rather than our own bright ideas. I have to keep asking myself: My way or God’s way? I do not want God as my co-pilot. I need God as my pilot.
Sandy: Prayer is the best way to keep focused on God’s will rather than pushing our own agendas: Not my will; but Thy will be done. All the members of Union Church can pray daily for guidance and vision for this church. Union Church could have a 12-hour pray-in for God’s guidance for this congregation. We could ask friends and family to pray for this church seeking to find meaningful directions to move into the future. Members of the whole Presbytery are praying throughout this week specifically for this church.
GEORGE: The good news-bad news is that temptations are never over. Look again at the last verse of Jesus’ temptation: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. [Luke 4:13] Sandy: We also discover that every time we away turn from temptation, we gain a little more power of the Spirit of God!