Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Temptations (not the singing kind)

Lent 1C, February 14, 2016
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Image result for ash wednesdayLast week in confirmation class, I was telling the class about Ash Wednesday, which some of them had never experienced before. One student asked me, “Wait, do we have to wear ashes all day? Like at school? Because I know that people would make fun of me.” That student was relieved that we had an evening service so they wouldn’t have to wear their ashes in public. Most of us would agree that it’s easier to talk about 
beliefs with people who won’t judge you. We want to be liked and to be accepted.

Image result for meeting new peopleWhen I first became a pastor, I noticed this same instinct in myself- to be quiet about my faith. I would meet new people, and when they asked me what I did for a living, telling them I was a pastor would lead to people either apologizing for their language or beverage, they’d tell me how they hadn’t been to church in years and why, or they would stop talking to me altogether. I started dreaming of alternate ways to answer the question- just so I could start to have some friends.

But if I hide my identity as a follower of Jesus, how then will I proclaim the good news of Jesus, as Paul exhorted the Romans to do?  

Image result for church people
A place where faith is nurtured
I think about what it is that I value about my life in faith: God’s unconditional love for me and for all people, which inspires me to live justly and gratefully. The Body of Christ has surrounded me and upheld me and my family in the hardest times of my life- cried with us in grief and brought us casseroles and cards. The church was the place where I found love and belonging, encouragement as I grew, a community which encouraged the development of my gifts in music and leadership, people who wrestled with me in questions of faith, and held hope for me when I was lost in anger and confusion. Because of my faith in Jesus, I have been named and nourished, strengthened and sustained. God has made me God’s very own, and sent me to share God’s love.

So picture me, my hand outstretched, meeting someone for the very first time and longing for a friend in my new neighborhood. I may not have been standing at the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, but that was certainly a moment of testing for me.
The concept of the devil is an old one, and what the devil was to do was to play shaytan. The shaytan was an undercover agent in the Persian Empire, someone who worked for the king. The shaytan would go out to test the loyalty of the people in the kingdom. They’d see if someone would agree with traitorous statements or go along with plots to incite rebellion. They were setting up undercover stings, and people who failed the loyalty test would be punished.

In the season of Lent, when we are devoting ourselves to the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we might be more aware than usual of the forces that draw us away from God, the moments when we feel tempted to turn away from that which gives us life. Our Lenten disciplines invite us into challenging territory, to be sure. Many of us will cheat or fail or slip up. We would be in trouble for sure if this were the Persian Empire.

Image result for jesus in my heartBut here’s the good news: God already knew that we are fallible and that we make mistakes. Nothing is hidden or secret. That’s why God sent Jesus to be by our side, to love us always, to defeat the powers of death and evil and to lead us into life. So whenever you are feeling weak or ashamed, remember Jesus loves you and claims you forever. Even if you deny him or choose the wrong thing or make a mistake, he’ll never let you go, and he’ll never stop loving you. That is some beautiful news right there.

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