Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Conversations with Jesus about life’s persistent questions: How can I choose the best when good enough is so attractive?

Matthew 4:1-11
March 9, 2014
© 2014

During Lent, the Gospel will be presented in worship as dramatic readings before the sermon. 
Matthew 4:1-11
Narrator:   Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him,
Satan:      “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 
Jesus:      “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 
Narrator    5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him,
Satan:      “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:      “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 
Narrator:   8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him,
Satan:      “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 
Jesus:      “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 
Narrator:   11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Matthew may well have been reporting Jesus’ own account of his temptation. Mark’s brief account was common knowledge among the disciples of John the Baptist who witnessed Jesus’ baptism and knew he disappeared for 40 days before calling them as his first disciples, including Peter, who was probably Mark’s source. Luke did not know Jesus personally but interviewed people who did. Perhaps he interviewed Andrew or Peter, James or John, which could account for some of the slight differences between Luke and Matthew, which I take as editorial emphases, not factual discrepancies.
Jesus’ temptation is often taught as a model of how to use Scripture to resist our own personal temptations. Today, however, we will engage in a conversation with Jesus about the significance of his experience.
I think Jesus would say it was more like test than what we think of as a temptation. That’s what the Greek word means. In high school, I remember most of my classmates hated essay tests, but for Jesus these tests were even harder; they were character tests, and not nearly as obvious as they seem when we read them. He was being tested for the redemptive mission on which he embarking after his baptism. What was the nature of his mission? By what means would be accomplish his mission? Was he strong enough to complete his mission?
I think Jesus would say that both the novel and movie The Last Temptation of Christ got it wrong. He was not being tempted to a moral failure or to opt out of his mission to have a normal family life. He was tested to choose between the easy and difficult paths to accomplish good.
Jesus’ prolonged fast did not leave him weak and vulnerable to turning stones into loaves of bread, but spiritually strengthened him to recognize the test was about the nature of his mission. Would he be content with satisfying legitimate but transitory human appetites?
The question was not whether he was the Son of God, but as the Son of God, what will he use his power to accomplish? By making stones and loaves of bread plural, Matthew pointed ahead to Jesus’ feeding miracles. Would Jesus be content with filling stomachs in a world full of hungry people or establish God’s Kingdom of justice?
By quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 that we do “not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” Jesus connected his mission with God’s provision of manna for Israel in the wilderness and refused to scale it back to temporal appetites, defining it in terms of God’s abundant love.
Renewing and increasing our involvement in Meals on Wheels is a wonderful first step at extending the mission of 1st Christian Church and engaging the people of Odessa. Jesus’ test with the stones and loaves of bread call us to a conversation about our mission. Will we be content with feeding people physically and meeting other legitimate but temporal needs, or will we tackle the much more demanding mission of feeding people spiritually and inviting them to trust and follow Jesus?
For Jesus to leap from the pinnacle of the Temple was a test of means consistent with ends. Would he be content to gather an instant, popular following who would acclaim him king and lead them to expel the Roman army?
This test is more than considering taking a short cut to get to the good faster. Spectacular exhibitions distort and obscure the life to which Jesus is calling: self-sacrificial service to seemingly insignificant people.
By answering with Deuteronomy 6:16 that we are not to put God to the test, Jesus affirmed that his mission had to be accomplished by faith that God works through what is unseen and small. God cautioned Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, that they not forget that God gave them prosperity and they did not make it by their own intelligence, strength or effort.
As 1st Christian Church embarks on a new era of mission in Odessa, comparing with prominent successful congregations takes the focus off of the mission to which God has called this congregation and measures by human rather than divine standards. If people who are hungry for God are to be attracted to Jesus by 1st Christian Church, they must see that they can safely come among us regardless of how unworthy or insignificant they feel.
Ever since the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s death, the Hebrew prophets held out the dream of all the nations of the world streaming to Jerusalem and the God of Israel. Israelites of Jesus’ time and the first century Church certainly saw the Roman Empire as the devil’s hegemony. So the devil’s test for Jesus was, “Acknowledge that I am the legitimate sovereign over the Roman Empire and every other human empire and I will hand them over to you. Israel’s dreams will be fulfilled and you will be the supreme emperor.”
Jesus was offered a shortcut to accomplishing great good. Skip the cross and all the other painful stuff. Let the devil give it to you by conceding it belongs to him anyway. Was Jesus confident that he had sufficient might, power to complete his mission? Was he stronger than the devil?
Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 about worshipping only God to indicate that he was not depending on his own individual strength but the power of his heavenly Father, knowing He was far stronger than the devil. Israel faced a similar test when they rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple when returning from exile in Babylon. When only the foundation was laid, they saw that the Temple built by Zerubbabel was smaller and less glorious than Solomon’s Temple had been, and they wept. (Ezra 3:12; Haggai 2:3). But in Zechariah 4:6, 10, God told them not to despise the day of small things, but it was “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” And in Haggai 2:9 “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.”
For 1st Christian Church to enter the new era of mission that is opening up is first and foremost a spiritual test. It is not about techniques, advertising, budgets, programs. It is not even about your new pastor. Of course, you want your new pastor to lead you in passing these tests, but the tests are for the whole congregation. The strength for your mission will not come from how smart you are or how hard you work but from the Holy Spirit of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment