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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010-02-21 Luke 4:1-13

2010-02-21 Luke 4:1-13
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Temptation to satisfy your hungers.
Temptation to worship evil, to want authority & splendor.
Temptation to test God, to make God your servant, to make God your good luck charm, to be invincible.
Temptation to rely on your self-impression, self-identity.
Temptation to do what you can because you can do it.
Temptation to live without boundaries.

Over the past years I've become addicted to the TV show, "Lost." It's about a group of people whose plane crashed on a very strange Pacific island. Some of you remember another show about survivors on an island, seven stranded castaways whose three hour tour ended when their ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle. Some of you remember a show where Mr. Roark and his assistant, Tatoo, welcomed people to an island where their fantasies would come true. "Smiles, everyone. Smiles." 
Lost is kind of like Gilligan's Island crossed with Fantasy Island, overlaid with the Island of Dr. Moreau. Lost isn't only the name of the series, it's a description of how most people feel when they watch it. This is the last season of Lost, and if you haven't seen it before now, don't bother starting.

As a nerd, the show's like a puzzle that I'm always trying to figure out. But as a minister, I'm fascinated by the show because every episode is held together by two basic questions. And I think these are the two questions all of us wrestle with all our lives long. Every week, the characters are faced with trying to answer these two questions: Who am I? and Why am I here? Every time they think they're getting away, fate - or a monster made out of smoke - brings them back. And who doesn't that happen to? The mechanics of the situation are a little weird, but the questions never go away. In that regard, it's kind of a miniature, petri dish of what goes on all over the world, every day.

Who Am I and Why Am I Here? These are the biggies. Every decision we make is based on how we answer. These two questions. One way or another, Who Am I and Why Am I Here decides our fate or our freedom, our sense of right and our sense of wrong, our purpose, our goals, our depressions, and our dreams. Who Am I and Why Am I Here are the two most important, driving questions in anyone's life.

Scripture finds Jesus in a deserted place. Hungry, tired, stripped down to the bare bones of existence. Jesus is doing what the saints have done for centuries before him, and centuries after. As a religious practice, fasting in the wilderness isn't that unusual. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans, Christians -- it's all part of our shared history of religious disciplines, although good luck getting Americans hooked on Monster Burgers and 3G nationwide cell phone networks to (a) find a wilderness, and (b) go without food for forty days. Through the ritual of fasting, the faithful have sought to intentionally get "Lost" from human desires in order to get close to God. They believe you have to get lost in order to get found.

So, immediately after being baptized, Jesus goes off into the wilderness, on a fast. The devil, the Tempter, Satan - whatever you want to call it - appears to him, and challenges him. We can't duplicate the mechanics of the situation. But the challenges, the temptations, all funnel down to those same two questions of human existence: Who are you, and Why are you here?

"IF you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." And Jesus replies with a quote of scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3 - and see, people do read Deuteronomy - "Man does not live on bread alone..." and the rest of the verse is implied, "But by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

It's a very diplomatic way of saying, "The Son of God does not do magic tricks." Miracles, yes; magic, no. He'll feed five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, he'll heal the sick, but he won't turn a stone into bread to satisfy his own desires. If you are The Son - or even A son, or A daughter, A child of God, whatever you're here for, it's not to fulfill your own desires.

American Idol is another TV show that's fun to watch for the musical talent, but really sad when the contestants start begging the judges - Ellen the Good and Simon the Satanic - begging them to put them through to the next round because, "I need this," because, "This is my life, this is everything to me." They really say that. What, it's your life's ambition to be chased by paparazzi and be famous for fifteen minutes? Do you think fame is the magical solution to all your problems? Somewhere Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson must be spinning.

Whether at this point or not Jesus knew his precise purpose for being on earth, he did know that it was not to grant himself his own wishes. Whatever it meant to be Son of God, Jesus knew it wasn't the bright lights and roaring crowds and feeling really, extra-good about himself. Whoever he was and whatever he was about, he knew the goal of life wasn't satisfying his hungers with anything less than the word of God.

How well do we know these things? Are you waiting on some kind of magic to turn a stone into bread? Is that who you are? Is that why you're here?

Next temptation.

"You can have authority over all the kingdoms of the world. I can give their splendor and glory to anyone I choose. Just one little request: Worship me. And it'll all be yours."

The story of people who trade their souls for world domination gets told over and over, from the opera of Faust to the movie where young Anakin Skywalker leaves the Jedi to pass over to the Dark Side. I think it's a plot line in Lost, but I'm not completely sure yet. To take the power of good within you, and twist it into a power for evil didn't become one of the world's most popular stories without good reason. 

There are people in this world who are bona-fide devil worshipers. I don't know any. And I'm OK with that. Could be their parents let them listen to too much Marilyn Manson. But more likely, they just have a thing for being creepy.

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent was the "most subtle" of all the creatures, and it's when evil is subtle that it's most destructive. Think about it. We proclaim Jesus is the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." The Bible itself says his name is above all others. The book of Revelation tells of when Jesus will return and sit enthroned over all the earth. Jesus is going to get there. But he's not going to do the right thing for the wrong reason.

Jesus answers with another quote of scripture - Deuteronomy 6:13 - "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."

(We really need to spend more time reading Deuteronomy.)

Who is Jesus and what was he doing here? His answer says that he didn't set out to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In his own words, he says he, "Came not to be served, but to serve." Authority and power weren't things he took on himself.

I think there's another dimension to his answer, too. And that is, whenever anyone strives too fast and too hard to be King of the World, they may not be serving the devil in name, but they sure aren't serving God. Of course, I don't know anybody who's striving to be King of the World. The world's so messed up, who would want to be? But I do know the urge to say, "I'm right, and you're wrong." "It's my way or the highway." I know the urge to go to unconcerned third parties and say, "Here's what happened and what I did. Don't you think I'm right?" You ever felt those urges? Most of us aren't bent on global domination. Just dominion over our little corner of the world. There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel special. It's when we want to feel special at the expense of someone else that we start worshiping, well, not the Lord our God and serving him only.

Third temptation.

"IF you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this high place, because scripture says, 'he will command his angels concerning ou, to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone." - Psalm 91:11,12

Wouldn't it be great if, if you just believed hard enough, if you just believed sincerely enough, if you just set your mind and heart on believing in God enough, you'd be indestructible? Wouldn't that be cool? Like that cheerleader on Heroes - impervious to injury, immune to pain. Faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. 

And again, Jesus responds with Deuteronomy, this time, 6:16, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." In other words, believe in God's power, but don't be stupid. The God who made you also made gravity. And God loves gravity at least as much as God loves you. You can't eat chocolate cake for breakfast and expect to look like Lance Armstrong. Homer Simpson, yes; Lance, no. Jesus knew God is great, but God is not your good luck charm. If your faith tells you that God's going to take care of your every wish, no matter how dumb or how self-indulgent, if that's how you think of God, you're not worshiping the God of Jesus Christ. You're worshipping a deity who originates in a much lower, much baser place.

In fact, if we take it a little farther, and if Jesus is our example, then what the Bible tells us is that God won't protect you from pain and suffering. A lot of times people get really disappointed, and get really angry with God because God doesn't heal them, God doesn't make the suffering stop. I know way too many deeply, deeply committed Christians who have gone or are going through their own, personal hell, through no fault of their own. I refuse to believe for one second that it's because their faith wasn't sincere enough, that they somehow failed God's pop quiz. The fact is, faithful or not, our feet will be dashed upon a rock. The fact is, if you're serving others, and caring for people, and loving people, you're going to get your heart broken, because neither you nor your prayers can stop the pain.

"Do not put the Lord your God to the test," is really a pretty strange answer. If we don't test God by expecting God to solve all our problems, we'll probably be a lot more careful. If we don't test God by thinking God's legally bound, obligated, to save us from pain, then pain itself becomes a pathway to God. Not that we should seek it out. That would be dumb. But if God isn't obligated to protect us from suffering, then suffering has value beyond itself. (I know this is weird, but stay with me.) The path to resurrection begins at the cross. Eternal life begins at the grave. Jesus didn't run away from the cross; he carried it. He was nailed to it. And then he turned it from an instrument of death into a symbol of the greatest hope, the greatest faith, the greatest love.  That's who he was, and is. That's why he was here, and why he's still here. To show us that even if we flunk the temptations - and we do - even if we flunk out, we're not lost.

Jesus in the wilderness, tempted by the devil, is a gigantic and confusing plot twist. I'm not sure I understand exactly what it all means. But I know I'm hooked on it. And unlike "Lost," I know how the story ends. It ends with us being found.