March 1, 2020

The First Sunday in Lent

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scriptures

Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.


Sermon: “Testing….Testing….

Bishop Todd Hunter, in his book Our Favorite Sins, wrote:

 

Americans struggle with things today that are unique to our culture, time, and place. No book on temptation written fifty years ago would have dealt with possible addiction to video games. No sermon or article on temptation from ten years ago would have mentioned addiction to social media such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

 

The face of temptation has indeed changed, as this clip shows. (Donald Duck)

 

Would that temptation came at us with red horns and tail, carrying a pitchfork. Life isn’t a Disney cartoon, and temptation is a lot more clever and subtle than that.

Here’s Bishop Hunter again. “Because temptations are often rooted in something created by God as ‘good,’ they always look appealing. They coax, induce, allure, and seduce us.”

One of the good things that temptation can try to turn to its own purposes is Scripture itself.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In a world of unbelievable hunger, why not?

“If you are the son of God, throw yourself down….” Jump from the top of the Temple? Why not? In a world that falls asleep during sermons and won’t take the time to read scripture or make the effort to understand it, why shock people into faith?

The last temptation wasn’t so much a recitation of Scripture as it was an invitation to power. “Enter the political arena, Jesus. Compromise what you believe and who you are just a little, and you’ll do great things!”

In a world of slavery, war, and oppression, a world where life is cheap and human rights go ignored, why not?

Had Jesus given in to those temptations, he would have been an exceedingly popular and powerful person. He had to decide if he was going to please people or please God.

That temptation to give people what they want is especially powerful.  By giving in to it, we can keep the cross at arm’s length and go about our shallow, faithless lives unhindered and undeterred.

It’s not that pleasing God and pleasing people can’t go together. We run into trouble when we become so into bread making, Temple jumping, and power grabbing that we lose sight of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.

You might be a people pleaser if…

  1. …you often feel inferior to others.

 

People pleasers always feel like they can’t measure up. They make up for it by waiting on other people hand and foot so they can feel needed and so those other people can feel good. While that’s not a bad thing necessarily, it means nothing if it means forgetting who we are as a child of God.

 

  1. You might be a people pleaser if…you rely on other people to make you feel good about yourself.

 

People pleasers need the approval of others to feel confident and assured, to give them the self-esteem they don’t have.

 

  1. You might be a people pleaser if…you never stand up for yourself.

 

People pleasers let others walk all over them. They’re afraid that if they share who they really are, folks won’t like them.

 

  1. You might be a people pleaser if…you always put other people’s needs ahead of your own.

 

God does indeed call us to serve others, but that call isn’t one to neglect our own self-care and those whom we love.

  1. You might be a people pleaser if…you have an intense fear of disappointing others.

 

People pleasers worry more about disappointing others than they do about disappointing God. They’ll run themselves into the ground if it means keeping everybody happy and making themselves indispensable.

 

People pleasing is a powerful temptation in the walk of faith. Luke 6:26 sounds the alarm. The Message paraphrase strays a bit from the Greek, but, boy, does it get the point across!

There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests aren’t truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers your ancestors approved! Your task is to be true, not popular.

It’s hard, as Christians, to know when we please God. So, we try to do that by pleasing others through our service and our preaching and our leadership. But that’s where the challenge comes in. How can we tell if our motives are rooted in pleasing God, or in trying to earn the approval of others?

Paul put it like this, writing to the Corinthians.

I have become all things to all people, that I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)

Paul tried to please others if it helped share the gospel. But he would only go so far. He would never give up who he was as a person of faith, nor he would give in if that also meant betraying Christ.

People pleasing gets its direction and its behavior from what’s outside of us, those whom we try to please, not from inside of us, from our values, convictions, vision, and faith.

I know clergy sometimes end up chasing their pastoral tails because the people we try most to please are basically selfish, and don’t want what’s best for the congregation, but only for themselves.

When we fall into that trap, clergy and layfolk alike, people pleasing can suck the vitality, the joy, and the effectiveness out of our ministry.

Any Christian who fully engages in the ministry of Jesus Christ will discover there’s another team on the field, one whose coach goes by many names. The only way to avoid that kind of conflict is to never risk, dare, or speak to human need.

Jesus survived his time of testing in the desert and moved on to ministry in Galilee. He didn’t do it by just quoting Scripture, although Scripture was hugely important to him.

He didn’t do it by backing away from the spectacular or the political. He did indeed feed the poor and perform miracles. His ministry had and continues to have enormous political impact and implications.

The bottom line was that Jesus never tried to be like God or to be God. Our friend Paul, again, put it well:

Christ Jesus…though he was in the form of God, didn’t regard equality with God as something to be abused, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, born in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7)

 

Jesus didn’t use who he was to sidestep the pain and challenges that come with serving God instead of others. And it was as a suffering, dying, servant that God vindicated Jesus in the resurrection. We who are too often fond of power, place, and privilege would do well to remember that.