Irresistible Bliss

Work of Christmas Series | Matthew 4:1–17 | Second Sunday of Epiphany | January 18, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN

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When I was 16, I had to have my wisdom teeth out. I wasn’t looking forward to this. I don’t have any problem going to the dentist to have work done, but I don’t like what comes afterward which is pain. After all four impacted teeth were removed, I came home in pain. I don’t mean a little pain that was a nuisance. I mean a pain like no other. I was given some pain medication, but Mom, a bit suspicious of pain meds, didn’t want to give it to me. So, I was given Tylenol and tea bags to deal with the pain. I’d love to tell you that this worked, but sadly it did not. The pain kept me up for several nights.

After several days of dealing with this pain, I had had enough. I just couldn’t deal it with anymore. Mom and Dad were away at work, so I decided to take the pain medication- the one Mom didn’t want me to taking. And so, I took it.

After a while, I was feeling no pain. Actually, I wasn’t feeling much of anything, because I was out like a light.

A few hours later, Mom called waking me up from my slumber. My speech must have been garbled, because after a while Mom asked. “Did you take that pain medication?” I responded, yes. Yes I did.

We spoke a little bit more and then I hung up the phone and entered back into the peaceful nothingness. Mom woke me up later in the day and decided to give me one of her old wives remedy to wake me up: a cup of vineagar. I don’t know if it really worked, though I can say I was awake. But now I was awake with less pain.

Today’s passage deals with Jesus in the desert. It seems like right after he was baptized by John, he then went into the desert to fast. It was during this time in the desert, before his active ministry begins, that Jesus is tempted by the devil three times. As the story goes, Jesus is able to resist each temptation and in the end, the angels come and take care of him.

The devil tempts Jesus by first telling him to prove he is the Son of God. If he really was God’s beloved Son, then surely he could turn the stones in the desert into bread. That had to be a very tempting idea. He had not eaten for over a month. Living in the hot desert had to make him tired and weak. He had to really be tempted to just say some words and have instant loaves of bread. Jesus could have avoided the pangs of hunger if he just performed some hokus pocus on the rocks.

But Jesus refuses. He responds by quoting Scripture, telling Satan that humans don’t live by bread alone but by God’s words.

Jesus would later feed crowds with five loaves and two fish, but he did this to feed others- not to feed himself.

Then the devil takes Jesus to a high point and tells him to throw himself down. After all, he would be saved by his angels. Again, Jesus tells Satan no. He would not use his powers to save himself. In his ministry he would heal the sick to help them. He will not use God to please himself.

Finally, Satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world and tells Jesus that all this could belong to Jesus if he just worships the devil.

Maybe this was the most tempting. Jesus knew what it was like to live under and occupying force. It was King Herod who sought to have him killed when he was a little child and a number of other little boys were killed instead. How wonderful if he could depose the tryants and bring a just rule of the people of Israel. But again, his plan was to be the servant, not a ruler. It was about giving up power and not taking it.

This story is interesting because it shows Jesus facing something we face all of the time: temptation. For Jesus to be the Savior, to save us from damnation, he had to be able to face all that we face. The temptation of Jesus showed that Jesus was in solidarity with us. He was not some superhero that comes out of time and history to save humanity, but is with us, even in our temptations.

But the message here today is not how we can resist temptation in three easy steps. I don’t think all you have to do is just say some Bible passages and the devil will flee. The message here is that following Christ means entering into a life of the cross, a life where you will face challenges, challenges to leave a hard life behind and trade it for peace and security.

The ministry of Jesus was shaped by the cross. The instrument of death was the shape of his work on earth. It was a life living for others, a life of sacrifice, a life of challenges.

The work of the church is to live a life of the cross. I think this is summed up in a passage from Acts that talks about life in the early church. This is what Acts 2:42–47 says:

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

Some people have thought that this passage is somehow justifying socialism or support for government programs. That is not what this passage is about. It is about life in the early church and gives an example of the cross-shaped life we are to live within our church: a life where we care for each other: to the point that we share our possessions with each other, especially those in need. Yes we should do that outside the walls of this church, but it starts in how we treat those in our midst.

The congregation of Chain of Lakes Presbyterian Church in Blaine, MN.

This time of Epiphany is one where we look for the revelation of Christ in the world. We see Christ when we see cross-shaped living in the lives of Christ followers. That doesn’t mean we are all going to end up being crucified, but it does mean that we live a life that is not bound up in self, but in living for others to the point that if it is called for we will put our own lives on the line.

In a few weeks from now, we as a congregation will consider if we will public name ourselves an Open and Affirming congregation meaning that you will publicly welcome those who are differing sexual orientations. I can’t be actively involved in those discussion for obvious reasons, but I can say this: the reason this congregation should consider this is not to get more members. And it’s not to look good to others. It is because Christ lived a life of sacrifice, breaking boundaries to love others and care for others who are different, starting in this community and then going outward. You have done that in how you have welcomed me and my husband Daniel You do this because it is who you are as followers of Jesus Christ.

Since tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, I want to end with King’s observation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was part of his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” given on April 3, 1968- the night before his assasination. This is what he said about the Good Samaritan:

“Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
“But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking , and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
“But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

“If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

We all want to escape the pain, like I did nearly 30 years ago after having my teeth pulled. But God calls us to a sacrificial life, one that starts with the faith community and branches out into the wider world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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