Sermon :: March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

1Jesus 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, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
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, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ ”
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

—–

During the season of Lent, the gospels do something really interesting and I’m not sure that we could catch it if it isn’t pointed out early. We are going to be watching Jesus interact with people. That’s not so uncommon – Jesus ministry is marked with a back and forth between people and solitude, crowds and isolation, and, really, our faith in God, just like Jesus’ faith in God, is more complete when we are serving and helping people. Our interactions with people matter because people matter to God. But, I’ll think you’ll agree, people are rather difficult, aren’t they? I mean, people are all different and, because we’re all different, we each have our own ideas, our own quirks, our own way of doing things (try telling someone how you fold towels and sheets if you want a good analogy).

So Jesus interacting with different people is fairly normal, but I think you’ll find that each and every person he interacts with in Lent will be a little different. These are people that would have been scandalous to spend time with, to talk to, to love, or to be seen with. Take this week’s gospel, for example. I’m guessing that if we saw Jesus talking with Satan, it would be a rather disturbing scene. The way we typically think of Satan, I don’t want him talking with Satan. If we see Satan as this duality, as this opposing force, I don’t want to see Jesus having a theological debate. I want to see Jesus, I don’t know, body slamming him like a professional wrestler or something.

So why would Jesus be talking with an arch enemy? I mean, I think we all understand that God works across boundaries, but this seems extreme. So, let’s take a peek at this idea of Satan. In our reading today, Jesus isn’t being attacked, but is being questioned. This makes sense when we see that the word “satan” actually translates to “accuser.” In our reading today, like in Job, Satan is more like a lawyer than some pure-evil tormenter (although, depending on your opinion of lawyers, it might not be that different – p.s. I love lawyers). He is asking questions, he is challenging Jesus’ place, and he is making sure that he is really who we claim he is. He is asking Jesus to support his arguments and is using scripture to critique them.

And Jesus passes. Jesus puts God’s word ahead of his own comfort and by putting God’s word ahead of his comfort, he is putting God’s creation first. That includes you and me, and all of humanity, as part of God’s beautiful creation. Satan keeps saying “If you are the Son of God…” but the word used for “if” also translates to “since.” Satan is making sure that Jesus is who God said he is and he finds that it’s true. Jesus is God’s son.

I think, really, that sometimes we are asking the same things. We are faced with different difficulties and struggles and it’s common to ask these questions. “Why can’t you just make this stop?” “Why can’t you make me healthy?” “Why is all this happening?” “If you are the Son of God…”

This is the reality of faith. We often like to think that having faith means blindly following and unwaveringly abiding by every word we hear. But the reality of faith is that faith is tested and so we test the object of our faith. And I want to tell you that asking questions of God is not a bad thing. It’s okay to doubt, to ask questions, and to not have all the answers. How do we know this? Because Jesus put up with all sorts of questions; questions from Satan in our reading today, of course, but also from his followers, the religiously elite Pharisees, the scribes of the law, and even the government officials who handed him over to be crucified. People asking all sorts of questions and Jesus never, not once, cursed or disowned someone for asking or even doubting.

If Jesus wants all of you, he wants your questions, too. Jesus didn’t come to take away doubt or your questions, but to be the answer to it. And it doesn’t always make sense. He didn’t come to take away all the suffering of our world, but to suffer with you. He didn’t come to delay death, but to conquer it. Jesus didn’t come to insulate and segregate and separate, but to open up the borders and to proclaim love to all people in all times and in all places.

That’s what this Lent will be teaching us – that nothing and no one is beyond the scope of God’s love and that the Holy Spirit has no boundaries. And that is so beautiful to hear, isn’t it? In Lent, and especially in light of our Ash Wednesday service this week, we are reminded of our own mortality, insufficiency, and brokenness. People came forward and heard the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” while a cross of ashes were placed upon their foreheads. And, in times when we feel the most inadequate, the most pain, and the most doubt, maybe the most important thing we can hear is this: “You are not alone. I am with you. I feel it, too.”

While watching Jesus’ interaction with Satan, we see some things come into focus. That questions are not antithetical to Christian faith, that Jesus has placed the Word of God above all things, and that by doing so, has placed himself squarely in the realm of working for the creation and kingdom of God, of which you are a part. Jesus is working across borders, across boundaries, to proclaim that love and kingdom of God to and for all people. And Jesus is not afraid of our questions or our doubts. If Jesus refused to condemn Satan himself for asking questions, then I know there is grace for you.

As we enter this Lenten journey, we will be encountering Jesus continuing to care more for people than borders, more for the boundary-less kingdom of God than the lines people draw in the sand that they give each other. Christ has come to suffer with and for you and all people, to live among you and all people, and to bring the kingdom of God to you and all people. This we know is true, that Christ has come to live, teach, heal, die, and rise again for you and all humanity. The love of Christ remains the same, whether or not we can understand or see it, and in the valley of Lent, this is the best news we can hear. “To dust you will return.” But God makes beautiful things out of dust. Amen.

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