Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reaching out...with open arms...

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times have I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not let me! Luke 13:34

If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. They are in pain or are lost or frustrated, but every attempt to come to their aid is rebuffed. Any attempt to comfort them is brushed aside. The idea of you being able to advise them, help them, direct them or simply stand with them in their time of trouble is summarily dismissed. They can do this themselves. They don't need your help. They don't want your help. And so you end up standing there...pathetically...with your arms extended and opened while they suffer on their own. You cannot make them walk into them. You cannot force them to accept your aid and comfort.

This is what Jesus offers to Jerusalem. It is what he offers us every day. Grace upon grace. Love upon love. Forgiveness. Healing. Comfort. Purpose. Strength. Direction. Presence. All this is offered freely, but how often don't we reject what he offers us because we want to do it by ourselves. We claim to have no need of God. And his response to our rejection is simply to open his arms wide and say, "Come. Come and find rest and healing and life and love in my grace." The question is will we accept his invitation?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some thoughts on Luke 4:1-13 and temptation...

Let’s just walk through the story and stop and reflect along the way.

1 Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert,2 where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over.

The first thing that we note is how Jesus came to be in the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. The Holy Spirit “led” him there. It is almost as if having been filled with that Spirit in his baptism, Jesus is now lead out to confront the enemy. No time for basking in the glory of the wonderful experience. No time for shaping things up a bit better. No time for revelling in the baptismal event with family and friends. It is simply straight into battle...and led there by God himself. Now this should not surprise us as we pray every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer “and lead us not into temptation”...that is into those testing times when faith is challenged and we sometimes experience the absence of God or are faced with questions as to how a loving and caring God can allow certain things to happen in our lives and the lives of others. The text doesn’t try to answer that question, but does show us that these sorts of testing/tempting times are also part of God’s plan for our lives.

1st Temptation
3 The Devil said to him,
If you are God's Son, order this stone to turn into bread.
4 But Jesus answered,
The scripture says,
Human beings cannot live on bread alone.

Is the devil cunning or what? He starts at the point of Jesus’ most human suffering...he was hungry. Famished is probably a better word. “You have no need to be hungry,” he tells Jesus. “You have the power to fix it.” It is the same line advertisers use on you and me everyday. You do not need to be unhappy or unsatisfied or do without. You can fix it or fill it or find happiness and satisfaction with this food or this thing. Put more into yourself, more fatty foods, more purchases, more horsepower, more...more...more. Jesus rebuffs the devil. Bread is not enough. It is an echo of the Ash Wednesday reading from Matthew 6 where Jesus reminds us that where our treasures are, that is where our heart is. If we put all our emphasis on earthly things and physical satisfaction than that is truly all there will be. Nothing for eternity. Nothing for anyone else. We will too busy trying to satisfy ourselves here and now. Jesus tells us that this is not living.

2nd Temptation
5 Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world.6
I will give you all this power and all this wealth, the Devil told him.
It has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose.7 All this will be yours, then, if you worship me.
8 Jesus answered,
The scripture says,
Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!

Next the devil challenges Jesus on the question who is in charge. It is an old temptation and a very common one. When you are tempted to eat that piece of cake or buy something you don’t really need your first response may be to remember that you don’t need it or shouldn’t have it. But then along comes that second thought…who says so??? Why shouldn’t you have that piece of cake? Just because someone says it isn’t good for you…what do they know? And why shouldn’t you buy that thing? Who is in charge of your life? Here the devil is asking the same questions…Kingdom, power, glory: Whose are these? What do they look like? Who is in charge here?

Jesus’ reply is simple…Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!...but what he teaches needs to be reflected upon a bit more. Jesus says “God is in charge.” for…
• Kingdom…"it is among you" (Luke 17:21) and that "it is God's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
• Power…That the "power from on high" (Luke 24:49) that clothes Jesus' little band of disciples will give them the courage not to take up arms against Rome, but to be witnesses of Jesus' kingdom, power and glory "to the ends of the earth."
• Glory… That there is more glory in a day lily than in Solomon or any of the rest of us all dolled up (cf. Luke 12:27).
So the Christian life is not to be about success or who is in charge, but about faithfulness. This temptation highlights the distinction between worldly success and kingdom faithfulness. We are called to be faithful.

3rd Temptation
9 Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him,
If you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here.10 For the scripture says,
God will order his angels to take good care of you.11 It also says,
They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.
12 But Jesus answered,
The scripture says,
Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

This one is clever. The devil puts Jesus in a situation and challenge his faith in the Word itself. Remember that in each of the previous temptations Jesus starts his response with the words “The scriptures says, “ So now the Devil tempts Jesus to put the Word to the test and also uses Jesus’ own words against him. “For the scriptures says...” The difference being that the devil neatly twists the words of Psalm 91:11-12 which refer to God’s protection for his people on their journey and says nothing about deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way or tossing themselves off high buildings.
Jesus recognizes this ploy and rebuffs it with further scripture.

Sadly though the human condition is such that we quite regularly think that if God won’t give the miracle then let’s make him do it and prove himself. This is what Gideon did in the Old Testament when he put out the fleece. It is what Abraham did when he questioned how God could keep his promise. It is what Moses did when he kept making excuses as to why he couldn’t lead Israel out of Egypt. It is what we do when we ask God to prove himself in some way. It is what we are doing when we complain that God appears not to be doing anything in a difficult situation. We blame him for both the problem and the lack of solution. We ignore the fact that we are usually both part of the problem and solution. As one author put it "Just because God can bail me out of anything, that doesn't mean I should make it necessary,"

This temptation actually asks the question: How do we know the Lord is among us? Jesus says by believing God's word that God promises to be with us.

13 When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.
And so the devil departs...for a while. Interestingly Mark’s account never has the devil leaving Jesus, but simply uses the temptation to set the scene for the constant battle between good and evil that will face Jesus throughout his ministry, but that is another sermon for another day. Meanwhile what can we draw from this event in the life of Jesus.

Just as Jesus’ temptation is subtle way of showing us just what and who Jesus is, it is also a subtle way of getting us, the readers and hearers, to ask ourselves the question: Who are we?

It describes the constant challenges that Christians face: the temptations to forget our baptismal identity, to try to be successful rather than faithful, to be dazzled by the success and riches of the world, to make compromises when we are called to stand firm, and to avoid the path of sacrifice and suffering.

For the devil entices us not with great evils, but with good things for the wrong reasons. He challenges how we define ourselves, our worth, our purpose, our value as individuals, as human beings and as the people of God. He comes and asks “why?” With Christ we can answer “For Scripture says”. Trusting in the promises of God. Living in the reality of his Word.

One final point of interest in this story. All the temptations require Jesus to do something exercise control over his life and situation. Isn’t that often the manner in which the devil’s temptations come to us? To control? In contrast God calls us to be rest...that we might know him. Maybe that is why this text finds itself in the Lenten readings. For Lent is a time for reflection. Lent is a time in which we can look at our hollowness, ask why it is and listen to the voice of God.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What would Jesus do?

Peter said to Jesus, "Master, how good it is that we are here! We will make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." (He did not really know what he was saying) Luke 9:33

I disagree. Peter knew exactly what he was saying. He was saying...let's stay here. Let's keep the good times rolling. Let's not go back to real life where there is pain and misery and doubts and problems. Let's stay here where we can bask in the glory of God and reality of Mose and Elijah. The problem was that Peter only partially understood the significance of the event. He wanted to freeze the moment and commemorate the event. Peter did not understand at this point that following Jesus would require following him all the way to the cross.

We often make a similar mistake. Testimonies that refer to a wonderful, life-changing event in our lives...a mountaintop experience...are good. But when we continue to talk about that one event and focus on that particular occurrence at the expense of everything else we are in danger of having frozen ourselves, our faith, and God in that one event. What is more important are questions like: What role is Jesus playing your life today and tomorrow???

And, anyway, the truth is none of us could stand to live on the mountaintop forever. God's presence...God's grace...the life of faith...are all found and best lived in the everyday world. That's what Jesus did!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Something to consider...

The problem with constant reading is that I note things down and then forget where they came from so if anyone can discover the book and author for this quote I would be appreciative...meanwhile...what he/she has to say is a telling commentary on the Illawarra Lutheran Church and asks the big question. Please read on...

All living things grow -- you don't have to make them grow. It's the natural thing for living organisms to do if they are healthy. For example, I don't have to command my three children to grow. They naturally grow. As long as I remove hindrances such as poor nutrition or an unsafe environment, their growth will be automatic. If my kids don't grow, something has gone terribly wrong. Lack of growth usually indicates an unhealthy situation, possibly a disease.

In the same way, since the church is a living organism, it is natural for it to grow if it is healthy. The church is a body, not a business. It is an organism, not an organization. It is alive. If a church is not growing, it is dying. [p. 16]

The right question: What is keeping our church from growing?"