Time for a Restart
Our theme for Lent at Good Shepherd is “Spiritual Reboot: Building Resiliency for a Life of Faith”. As our worship staff brainstormed, looking at the Bible readings that will run through Lent, we kept hearing scripture’s call for us to strengthen the way we live out our faith in daily life. The idea that came to our contemporary imaginations is that Lent reveals our need for a re-boot, much like when you update and need to reboot your computer. Every so often, big changes are needed in order to function in a healthier manner. As with our computers or iPhones, so it is with us.
Today’s gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) makes evident that one area in which we all need a reboot is in how we face temptation. Being tempted shaped our Lord Jesus’ resiliency. Jesus becomes a remarkable example for us in facing our own temptations. An important fact to notice is the timing of Jesus’ temptation experience. Jesus faced extraordinary temptation just as he was about to BEGIN his ministry on earth.
When are you Vulnerable?
We can be most vulnerable to some of our greatest temptations when we too are about to enter a new stage in life. Temptation most easily catches our attention when we’re in-between things. You know, those hard times, when you aren’t sure what’s next. Those times when, on purpose or by accident, we are letting go of one aspect of life and have not yet taken up the next. Those are our wilderness times. Those are the times, whether we realize it or not, when we’re on shaky ground. We could be trying to discern what God really wants for our life, but too often, in the uncertainty of the in-between, we’re more likely to attach our sights to anything that promises to help us only save ourselves.
Another timing key in understanding Jesus’ temptation is to notice that it IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS the story of Jesus’ BAPTISM. Baptized in the river Jordan, the voice of God spoke at Jesus’ baptism and declared Jesus to be God’s beloved Son. God spoke aloud, affirming Jesus’ identity and claiming Jesus as His own. Being grounded in our identity as children of God through our baptism and having faith that the power of God is with us as we attempt to resist temptation, that’s what sets us apart as Christians.
You should also know that the word Matthew’s gospel uses for “temptation” is the Greek work “peirazo”, which scholars say can equally be translated as “testing”. How interesting that Jesus is severely tested just after his identity has been secured. If you go back and think specifically about the temptations Jesus faces here, the devil is not so much questioning Jesus’ actual identity as the Son of God. The devil’s wording seems to trust that identity is true. The devil’s greater concern, the actual testing, is more about HOW JESUS WILL USE his identity as the Son of God. Will Jesus serve his own self-interests or will he serve God’s interests for the sake of humanity? (Troy Troftgruben, Sundays and Seasons, 2017, p. 103)
We face the same temptations as Jesus did in life. We are regularly tested and tempted. From where can we draw our resilience, as Jesus did?
Remembering our Identity
First, we do draw our strength to resist temptation from our identity as baptized children of God. I know that sounds so basic and we preach it over and over again. But in our daily lives, we’re so quick to forget the strength and grounding that our baptismal identity brings to us. We’re so easily tempted to be persuaded that our life’s meaning can be found elsewhere. Other offers come at us from every turn that call to us – here’s who you can be! Here’s where you can find yourself! Here’s what will matter! Here’s what will fulfill you on the next leg of life’s journey. Unfortunately, so many of these calls are simply empty offers.
“The PBS documentary series Frontline produced an episode a few years ago called “The Persuaders” that …examined the evolution of modern advertising. In years past, advertisements boasted of the quality of the product. Then, not too long ago, advertisements would seek celebrity endorsements. Today, however, advertisements make a promise less about the quality of a product and more about an imagined lifestyle that owning the product can somehow provide. By owning this kind of car, or using this kind of wineglass, advertisers suggest, we will discover our identity and move closer to having a meaningful life.
On the face of it, such advertising sounds ludicrous — Yet this documentary suggests that we are so starved for a sense of meaning and purpose, that we make many of our purchasing decisions based on our hope that the story they tell us — that we will feel less alone, less incomplete, and more whole if we simply buy their product — is true.” (“Into Temptation,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.)
Children of God, our identity is already sealed onto us in our baptism. We don’t NEED anything to make us more complete. Our fulfillment comes from LIVING OUT from our baptismal identity. Anchor yourself in your baptism.
Standing on the Word
Another tool we’ve been given as Christians to resist temptation is God’s Word. In today’s gospel, Jesus is grounded in scripture. Each time Jesus is tested, he draws on God’s words to speak of his resistance. This isn’t a Bible trivia contest to see how many single Bible passages Jesus can lift out of context and quote. Here, Jesus cites scripture that echoes with deeper truths from the entire Old Testament. Jesus looks to the scripture as God’s living word. That word is God’s presence that has spoken forth for generations.
We’re invited to receive a reboot of God’s strength in our lives by getting back into our Bibles. Rootedness in God’s Word anchors our connectedness to God.
One of our musicians in a praise band at our Verona campus emailed me right after worship the other night on Ash Wednesday. He wrote – Pr. Sheryl, your sermon really touched my heart. Could you review the Bible verses you were highlighting by emailing them to me? I was listening to your sermon, but I was also needing to think about the music we were going to lead the congregation in after the sermon, so I didn’t get the chance to write the verses down.
Of course, I was pleased to send those select verses to him. If that helps someone hang on a piece of God’s word that causes a deeper faith reflection in these Lenten weeks to come, how great is that?
What scriptures will you hold onto in these weeks of re-booting to come? Or maybe it’s better asked, what scriptures will grab hold of you?
Several weeks ago, we lifted up our church’s welcome statement at worship. One of our teenagers worshiping Sunday evening at The Deep, asked after worship, if that welcome statement slide could be projected again. She was so impressed with the inclusion we wrote about trying to grow into as a congregation, that she wanted a picture on her phone of our welcome statement to show some of her friends. She then asked for another slide to be projected so she could also put it on her phone, so she could look at it often. She asked for “that slide that had been about there not being Jew or Greek, slave or free, male nor female, as we are all one in Christ Jesus.” To which our church staff member, Sarah, replied – “Oh you mean the Bible verse from Galatians 3??” A young person impressed enough to learn a Bible verse and put on her phone.
No matter what age, how hungry we all are for God’s word.
How’s that going for you? Jesus quoted scripture to the devil. Yes, of course he was Jesus – he knew his scripture! 😊 But Lent is a perfect time for us to dig in. Find some passage or passages from the Bible that give you strength. Or hope. Or endurance. Digging into God’s Word fortifies our ability to resist temptation.
God with Us
For finally, what sets us apart as Christians, as we attempt to resist temptation, is that we draw strength from believing in the power of God that is always with us.
According to Matthew’s gospel, God’s Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. God’s living word filled Jesus as he faced each temptation tossed at him by this deep, evil power called the devil. And angels ministered to Jesus after he passed through this intense time of testing. Jesus was NEVER left alone in the wilderness – and neither are we.
A devotion I read this week was written by a woman who once worked as a Chief Operating Officer for a large hospice organization. Part of her job was to critique the skills of staff. This was a difficult task until she started using a tool that helped her look both at a person’s ability and at their motivation to complete tasks at hand.
She said that assessing someone’s ability was very do-able. It was assessing motivation that was far more difficult.
She went on to reflect, that when the devil approaches Jesus, he is assessing not only Jesus’ ability, but also Jesus’ motivation and commitment to God’s team and God’s plan for the world. Jesus’ motivation and commitment to God remain unwavering. (Pastor Amy Ziettlow, Reflections on the Lectionary, Christian Century, Feb 26, 2020, p.19)
It’s not our skills that are most important as we attempt to resist temptation and be faithful followers of Jesus. It’s our willingness that gets put to the test. Since God’s presence never leaves us, perhaps we could pray this Lenten season for God to increase our willingness to remain committed to God’s kingdom as our first priority. We could pray to be drawn closer to the knowledge of God’s love for us. We could pray that our awareness of God’s presence be increased. We could pray for the courage to live out God’s love and strength in how we dedicate our lives to serve others in Jesus’ name.
Each time Jesus is tested or tempted in today’s gospel, he reminds the devil of not only WHO he is, but what it looks like to LIVE OUT LIFE as God would have him live it. Jesus shows us that to face tests or temptations in life, is to stay grounded in one’s identity as a child of God, to stay centered in scripture, and to know that our meaning and purpose come our willingness to let God’s presence motivate our lives toward service to others as God would direct us. May God grant us the ability to resist temptation in all these ways. Thanks be to God! AMEN.