Monday, March 23, 2020

Born Blind -- Fourth Sunday of Lent

(Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all of our church services are virtual. You may find this sermon and the service around it on the YouTube page for First Presbyterian Church of Pulaski, TN or on the church's Facebook page.)

Psalm 23
John 9:1-41
March 22, 2020

            First, I want and I must say “thank you.”
Thank you to our Session who has been facing this crisis with such inspiring courage. While they have had to weigh lots of factors, and there’s anxiety about what will come next, the safety of the congregation and the staff and everyone who uses this building was their first priority. That is why we are not gathered today.
Thank you to the leadership in our presbytery. They have facilitated Zoom meetings and other online groups so that folks from every church in the presbytery has a chance to share with one another, connect with each other, pray for each other, encourage and uphold one another.
Thank you most especially to all of you. I have heard nothing but words of support and solidarity and love from every person I have talked with. You take our call to love one another seriously. Right now, and for the unforeseeable future, the best way that we can love one another is to stay apart physically.
But the greatest thanksgiving, the thanksgiving that is first and foremost is our thanksgiving to God. God our Creator, God our Redeemer, God our Savior, our Advocate, our Hope. Thanks be to God.
My original intent for this season of Lent was to stick with the gospel readings – as I generally do in my preaching. This morning’s gospel reading from John is one where the first question asked is “Who sinned?”
Why was the man born blind? Was it because of his sin or his parent’s sin?
Jesus answers, it wasn’t about sin at all. No one sinned. Through this man born blind, God will show God’s glory.
For me, and I suspect for many of you, this leads to more questions. Did God make the man born blind on purpose? Has he spent his whole life on the outside, an Other, suffering and struggling from limits and attitudes that came with his lack of sight, just so God could use this one moment to show God’s glory?
Biblical scholars, such as Rolf Jacobsen, who know better than I, state that the way interpret “born blind” is not necessarily in line with the Greek. Being born blind is not specifically linked with God doing it on purpose.
In other words, God didn’t make the man born blind. God didn’t choose that this man would suffer. But out of that suffering, God’s glory would be revealed through Jesus not only healing him but restoring him to relationship.
Yet with all that being said, I’m sure that in the face of this pandemic, in the face of COVID-19, in the midst of our many anxieties about a future we can’t even begin to predict, some of us may be asking, “Who sinned?”
Why is this happening? Did God make it happen? Are we being punished? Are we being arbitrarily tested?
I don’t believe that God is trying to punish us through this pandemic. I don’t believe that God made it happen. I do believe that there are consequences for our actions, and that often what seems to be punishment or retribution from the divine is just God letting us experience those consequences. As a child, my parents let me experience the consequences of my actions; as a parent I have done the same with my own children. I’m sure you all have as well. I don’t think that God wants us to suffer. I don’t think that God makes it happen. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be accountable for the consequences of our actions or our inaction.
But remember, Jesus didn’t just give the disciples a theological lecture about sin using the blind man as an object lesson. Jesus revealed God’s glory by healing the blind man. And it was not just a physical healing. It was an emotional healing and a communal healing. As preacher and teacher Karoline Lewis pointed out in, Jesus always healed to restore relationship. The blind man was not only healed, he was brought back into the community. In spite of what the Pharisees did to him. He was brought back into right relationship. He was no longer an outsider. He was no longer an Other. God’s glory was revealed not just in the giving of sight, but in the giving of relationship.
So the question is, how will God’s glory be revealed in the midst of this suffering? I think it already is. I think it is in the truly heroic people who serve in the medical community. How many doctors and nurses are working triple overtime, exposing themselves and potentially their own families, not for a paycheck, but to help and to heal? How much harder will they be working in the weeks to come? What about that cashier at the grocery store, and the young man who’s bagging the groceries? They’re going to work. They’re putting their own health and the health of those they love at risk by being there. But they’re there. What about the pharmacists and the garbage collectors? They are all revealing God’s glory.
I think God’s glory is being revealed in the care shown to others in so many ways. Teresa posted pictures of the line of cars coming to pick up their Rural Food Delivery boxes yesterday. The line was endless, and people are scared. But those volunteers didn’t falter. They were there.
God’s glory is being revealed right now, right here, even in this empty sanctuary. I’m not talking about me standing here trying to preach through a different medium. I’m talking about the fact that every single one of you stayed home, complying with social distancing, because you care about each other. You love each other.
Maybe that is the greatest way that God’s glory is being revealed. We are being reminded in a way that is unprecedented in my lifetime, perhaps in many of our lifetimes, that the only sure thing we have is love. God loves us and wants, calls, desires, expects us to love one another. If we can focus on that, if we can see that that is our only certainty, then God’s glory is revealed.
I said earlier that I usually focus on the gospels, but I also want to lift up the 23rd psalm. What more fitting psalm could there be in these days than this one. It is a psalm of great comfort and reassurance.
The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.
Like a shepherd with his sheep, he makes us lie down in pastures of green.
He leads us beside still and peaceful waters.
He restores our souls.
He leads us in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.
Even though we walk through this dark valley, in the shadow of death, we will not fear.
We know that God is with us. We know that God protects us and comforts us with God’s rod and staff.
God prepares a table for us, even as all that we fear surround us.
God anoints our head with oil and fills our cup to abundance. It is overflowing, pouring down.
We trust that goodness and mercy will follow us, every day of our lives, and we will live in God’s house our whole lives long.
Yes, there is no psalm more appropriate for these scary times. But truth be told, the corona virus could disappear tomorrow, and we would still live in scary times. We would still be surrounded with uncertainty. Ultimate control over what happens to us and to our loved ones would still be fleeting. That’s something that control freaks like me need to remember. We would still walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But as Rev. Tracy Blackmun said in a sermon I heard at Montreat last fall, the reason that there is a shadow in that valley is because there is a light somewhere.
The reason that there is a shadow in that valley is because there is a light somewhere.
There is a light somewhere. God’s light is there. The Light of the World has not left us or abandoned us. The love of God covers us. We are walking this valley together. Love is stronger than death. God is healing us from our blindness so that we can truly see it. God’s glory is being revealed right now.
Thanks be to God.

Teresa's Sermon

(This sermon was written by Teresa Burns, our church's Commissioned Ruling Elder for Christian Education and Outreach. It would have been preached on March 15, but services ended up being cancelled because of the pandemic. Thank you, Teresa.)

Exodus 17:1-17 & John 4:5-42

These texts bring back special memories for me. These scriptures along with the creation story and the story of Moses and the Hebrews crossing of the red sea, are but a few that I have taught when we have gone to Guatemala and to Haiti on water system installations. I was lead for the spiritual and hygiene training aspect of the trips. These trips, specifically the ones to Haiti, wrecked me — mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You know the saying, “I can’t unsee that” — I spent years (and maybe still am) wrestling with the reality of my 1st world life in contrast to the 3rd world lives that I had been so readily welcomed into.

John 4:5-42 was the text I used in my first ever sermon - standing in front of our church family in Balan, Haiti, with an interpreter translating my hastily prepared thoughts. I was truly unprepared at the revelation the Holy Spirit poured out on me through that experience.

Three years later and another installation trip to Haiti with Marv Barnett and Larry Dunnavant to Mariannie, a town on top of what we would consider a mountain and I find myself looking at the town’s well, listening to the guys as they realize that the pump they used and the pump we would install couldn’t work together — the logistics of making sure the townspeople had access to the well along with the ability to get the raw water to the system was intense. And once again, I am teaching the creation story and the woman at the well to the adults who would be teaching their community about the importance of this clean water, reasons and procedures for hand washing and safe hygiene practices and the relation to the living water that Jesus offers. The timing of this story for me is profound - don’t you find it interesting — the similar discussions that we are promoting right here and now with trying to slow the spread of this virus - the reassurance that Jesus sees us and our uncertainty and fears and is hanging in there with us…

So back to Mariannie, after the class - Frazou, my interpreter, and the group sang a song about Jesus waiting by the well for you. Their voices, the interpretation, it was an extremely powerful ending that day!

I am not sure what you hear in this story OR what you have heard in the past but I want to share what I have come to realize is NOT in this story. Debi Thomas writes in her blog, Journey with Jesus, “that nowhere in the narrative is the Samaritan woman described as promiscuous. Nowhere does Jesus call her a sinner (sexual or otherwise), or tell her (as he tells so many others) to “go and sin no more”. This story is not a story about morality.”

Remember — women were voiceless; considered property. Leverite law was more than likely her story and that particular law was explained as this: when a man died without children, a brother was required to marry the widow. The reasoning being that if they conceived a son, the brother’s family line would continue. This woman was probably childless and could have been passed from brother to brother to brother … So what then is this story about?

For me, this story is about seeing and being seen. This story is about breaking down the barriers that prevent US from seeing Jesus — seeing him in the other.

I didn’t know this but when Jesus and his disciples left Judea for Galilee, this route through Samaria was the quickest and most direct but also the most dangerous for Jews. You know the disciples must have questioned Jesus’ reasons for going this way. John goes into great detail giving the time - noon and that Jesus was hot and tired and thirsty — sitting by the well waiting while the disciples went to find food. You know from the conversation between Jesus and the woman that Jews and Samaritans were enemies. — “A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) What I learned from the website,, was that Samaritans were the descendants of intermarriage between Jews left behind during the Babylonian exile and Gentiles the conquering Assyrians settled in Israel. So Samaritans shared a common heritage with Jews, but were quite different as she points out.

So Jesus, yet again, has broken some major Jewish and probably Samaritan rules by asking her for a drink and she knows it. Do you wonder if she thought before she answered him — I hope and pray nobody sees me talking to this Jewish man! I don’t need anymore grief — things are hard enough for me. But Jesus, in his humanness, draws her into conversation with his need - his thirst — and then her curiosity on how he could give living water got the better of her. Notice how she shifts from “us versus them” to “our” — ‘The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and flocks drank from it?”’

She is a woman of faith — and Jesus, recognizing her desire to understand, goes further into helping her see him — to understand who he really is.

I wonder did Jesus decide that in order for this conversation to continue he had better remember the social constraints - him talking to her alone? Is that why the request for her to go and get her husband? Was he giving her the opportunity to step away - to dismiss the conversation and return to her normal routine? But she is still all in - curious and yet honest — “I have no husband” she says and then Jesus told her that he knows her story — really sees her and stays engaged in the conversation anyway … Debi writes, “He sees the whole of her. The past. The present. The future. Who she has been. What she yearns for. How she hurts. And he names it all. I see you for who you are, and I love you.”

A prophet she declares and another question. Some commentators have suggested the question was a diversion tactic - her past front and center so let’s change the subject. But if we track with her being a woman of faith, living her best life in the middle of the storms and challenges, then this question makes sense. “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” I have had questions from people concerning baptism — you sprinkle but we submerge. Doesn’t the Bible say immerse in a body of water? Who is right and who is wrong she is asking.

While Jesus says ‘salvation comes from the Jews’ I think he is also saying that both groups are wrong - but both groups are right. When your heart is full of the Holy Spirit - worship happens anywhere and anytime and that is what I am bringing - what God wants is people who will worship him in spirit and in truth.

She knows the Messiah, the Christ, is coming — Jesus knew she was ready to wrestle with his truth — I am he, the one who is speaking to you. Jesus has reassured her that he sees her and now he stands waiting — will she see him for who he really is? Does she see him as the Messiah?
Do we see him as the Messiah — our Savior?

I am going to circle around again — this woman, a woman with a hard story; a woman on the outside of her community and definitely on the outside of Jesus’ community and Jesus chooses to reveal himself to her. Sit with that for a minute.
I watch our kids on Wednesday nights and realize how desperately they want to be seen and welcomed and validated as important in life. I have started volunteering at Bridgeforth in Shelly’s math class once a week and when these kids see me in their space — the waves, the hugs, the shouts of ‘hey Ms. Teresa’… they see me and are so quick to invite me - an old, outsider into their lives and introduce me to their friends.

This woman left her water jar — I can’t remember where I read this but the point was that she was so overwhelmed and excited at being seen and offered relationship that she left her jar — left all that she had — all that she thought she was. She left her fears and self-isolation and went back to town telling any and all that would listen - He told me all about myself - he offered relationship to me — could he be the Messiah? Come, come and see, she invites, come and see for yourself!

The first woman evangelist and a Gentile to boot! Because of her voice, her excitement, her wonder — her community came out to see. And Jesus, taking it even further, in order to restore her to wholeness within her community, stayed with them for 2 more days and many more believed.
Jesus broke the rules — every rule that denied people from inclusion, from wholeness. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth, he says. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit — so where are we breaking the rules; initiating conversations with those deemed different, outsiders, unlovable, invisible?

‘The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ There is a hole in the ground close to our pond. Often there is little sign of water coming from that hole but on days after it rains, there is a steady flow — bubbles from deep underground, water that ‘gushes’ up and continues to fill our pond. There will be dry and dusty days in our lives but Jesus sees us and is waiting by the well — ready to renew and refill our souls. We are called, like the woman at the well, to be conduits of this gift of living water to any and all we encounter.

I want to end with a brief piece of the song that the community in Mariannie sang for me — the barriers that they broke in order to welcome me, to include me, to refill my soul… (play piece) Thanks be to God for the gift of grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, our Messiah and Savior. Amen

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Three-Sixteen -- Second Sunday of Lent

John 3:1-19
March 8, 2020

            My parents grew up doing Bible drills in church. As I understand it, that meant that in their Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible School, or in youth activities, they were told to get ready, get set, now find Ezekiel, chapter 25, verse 10! Or find Leviticus, chapter 12, verse 5! They also had to memorize verses from scripture and recite them.
            This meant that my mom and dad were both quick at finding their way through the Bible. And they knew/know the Bible. My dad knew the Bible exceptionally well. I am a pastor. I went to seminary. I studied biblical interpretation, theology, church history, and so much more vigorously and dutifully. I took both Hebrew and Greek. I spent a year in a church internship, learning what it means to be a pastor. But even with all of this, I cannot find my way through the Bible as fast as my parents and other folks of their generation. I used to think that rote memorization of bible verses was a silly, distracting kind of practice, but now I see it as a spiritual discipline. I know the stories and I know the themes of scripture, but I am terrible at remembering chapter and verse. Probably doing some memorizing everyday is the kind of spiritual discipline that I need to pursue actively in my life. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a few Bible drills either.
            But even as I say that, there is one verse that I know so well I could say it backwards and forwards. I know it in the King James:
            “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
            And I can recite it from the New Revised Standard:
            “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
            My guess it that just about everyone here – if not every single person sitting in the pews this morning – can recite this verse as easily and as readily as I do. Even if you didn’t participate in Bible drills like my parents did, just attending church on a regular basis means that you’ve probably heard this verse more than once. Truth is though, church attendance may not factor into whether someone knows this verse. This is one verse of the Bible that we see everywhere. It is displayed at sporting events. It’s on bumper stickers, and I’ve even seen it on billboards. Rolf Jacobsen, one of the professors and biblical scholars on, wrote this week that the name John does not even have to be used for people to recognize this famous verse. He posted a picture painted on a wall just of 3:16.
            Three-sixteen. A whole lot of folks know these numbers, and they know the verse they stand for. For God so loved the world … But often, it is only this particular, singular verse that we see. It is only three-sixteen that we hear. It is easy to forget that this verse does not stand on its own, but is part of the larger story of Nicodemus and Jesus’ words to him about being born from above. There is a lot more going on here than one verse, even the most beloved of verses, can encapsulate.
            While this is a great story filled with several great verses, I must admit that I have grown to dread its appearance when it rolls around in the lectionary. Dealing with this story means that I feel obligated to deal with the concept of being born again, and I do not relish taking that on.  
            I mean no disrespect to anyone who considers themselves a born-again Christian. I co-led a Bible study at the YMCA for several years, and at that table I was generally the only person who did not consider herself to be “born again,” at least not in the way that American Christianity tends to define that term. Everyone who came to that study and sat at that table became a good and cherished friend. I learned so much from them during the course of our time together. But our biggest point of difference was how we interpreted Jesus’ words in this passage. I don’t understand Jesus’ words in the same way they do. I don’t relate to being born-again in the same way that they do. It sometimes became a point of contention.
            Why? Because I was constantly being told that I needed to have a date and a time when I could say that I had accepted Jesus into my heart and was saved. But I don’t have one date. I have several. I have the date I went forward during an altar call in Vacation Bible School and was baptized after that. I have the date when I walked into a Presbyterian church for the first time. I have the date when I reaffirmed my faith. I have many dates; dates when I felt and experienced God in my life in a new and powerful way. I have many dates where I discerned that God was calling, sometimes even pushing, me in a new direction. The Greek that is translated as “being born from above” can be read in the future tense. That means that this being born from above, born in the Spirit is an ongoing process. The Spirit is working on us, over and over, not just on one day or at one time, but over the course of a lifetime.
            I do not have one day that I can point to as the day I was saved. And because I don’t have this, many of my born-again friends have implied that not only am I not saved, they have made it clear that they don’t think I’m a “real Christian.”  So I’ll be honest when it comes to three-sixteen, I don’t just dread it, I get my back up. I become Amy DeNiro.
            “Are you talking to me? Are you looking at me? Do you think I’m not saved cause I’m not born again? Do you think my kids aren’t saved cause they were baptized as babies? Do you think I’m not a real Christian because I interpret scripture differently than you? Are you talking to me?” I know this attitude may not help my argument.
            One of the problems that I have with the contemporary idea of being born-again is that it puts the world into two distinct camps – those who are and those who are not – with people on either side thinking they are the real Christians while the others are not. But is that what Jesus was saying? Is that what John was implying in this story unique to his gospel?
            The story we have before us does not begin and end with three-sixteen. Think about verse 17. God loved the world so much that God sent his Son into it to save it. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. God loved the world. God loved everyone in the world. The world and all its inhabitants mattered to God. The world was to be saved by God through the Son because God loved the world.
            Here’s another point of contention that I take with our modern concept of being born-again. It would seem to imply that it is we who do the saving. I accept Jesus Christ my Savior; therefore, I am saved. I make the choice. I make it happen. But isn’t it God who saves? Back to verse 17. God sent his Son into the world so that the world might not be condemned but saved. This does not just reference individuals. Jesus was speaking about the whole world. The. Whole. World.
            The Greek word for world is kosmos. Biblical scholar and former WorkingPreacher contributor, David Lose, wrote that throughout the gospel, John used the word kosmos to refer to “an entity that hates God.” The world hates God, so the world will hate anyone who comes in God’s name. God didn’t just love the world, God so loved the God-hating world. God so loved the world that rejected God, that despised God, that hated God.
            The world might hate God, but God does not hate it in return. God loves it. God loves us. And God does not just love us from a distance; God loves us way up close and personal. God loves us intimately. God loves us so much that the way God sent his Son was through the very messy, very human process of being born. That’s how much God loves us, and God loves this world. Even though the world might hate God in return, God loves the world. That is the God we know; the God who loves us, God’s creation.
            Let’s think about the final verses in our passage today. God loved the world. God sent his Son into the world to save it, not condemn it. But if someone rejects the Son, if someone rejects belief in the Son, then that person is condemned. Does that mean that God banishes the person into hell? Or does it mean that a person banishes God from their life, from their heart? Rejecting God is about rejecting the light. The light came into the world, but those who reject God choose darkness over light. We may not be able to save ourselves by ourselves, but we are certainly good at condemning ourselves, aren’t we?
            But the light came into the world, because God wants the world to know the light. God loves the world. This is the God we know. However, this is not some easy peazy, happy-go-lucky love. God’s love is unconditional, but it does demand something of us. It demands us. It demands our hearts. It demands our whole selves. God’s love demands a response: a response of gratitude, service, and a willingness to trust and follow, even when that may seem impossible. God loves us because we matter. We have worth; after all, God created us. God is not about condemnation, but about love.
            God loves us and this world God created. God gave us not only the Son, but the Spirit. And that Spirit works on us and works on us and works on us, reforming and shaping our hearts, so that we are being born and created from above. In this season of Lent, we are called to come from the darkness into the light, to trust God and to believe in God’s love. And in this season of Lent, we are called to love in return, to love the world and all that dwells in it as God loves it.
            Three-sixteen. Because God loved this God-hating world so much, God sent his Son into the world – even the darkest, most God-hating parts of it – not so that world would be doomed, but that the world would finally, wholly and completely know the fullness of God’s love for it.
            Thanks be to God.
Let all of God’s beloved children say, “Alleluia.” Amen.

Tempted --First Sunday of Lent

Matthew 4:1-11
March 1, 2020

            My parents moved back to Minnesota from Nashville when I was in seminary, which meant that their home was one that that I visited but never lived in. That also meant that when I would visit, there were things, elements, particularities, that I had to discover. When I visiting them one summer, I was going from the kitchen, through the laundry and mud room into the garage. I noticed that there was a little door on the wall of the laundry room. It was a little piece of plastic – the kind of plastic light switches are made from, and it was set apart from the wall on a box made of the same plastic.
            It was a door on the wall. I’ve read plenty of great fantasy books where an adventure or mystery began with finding a strange and unexpected door, so I opened it. I don’t know what I thought would be behind it – an entrance to some alternative universe. Perhaps it was the American, muggle opening entrance to Hogwarts. I didn’t know. What was behind the little door on the wall? A light switch. The box with the door was a light switch cover. I clicked the switch a few times to see what would happen – nothing that I could see. It was anticlimactic to be honest, and I was about to go on my way. Then my dad saw me messing around with the switch. He said,
            “Amy. That switch is for (whatever it was for, I no longer remember). I put that box over the switch so the grandchildren would leave it alone. I didn’t expect you to get into it.”
            He laughed at me, and I sort of abashedly apologized, but I was thinking,
“Did you just meet me?”
            You put a little door on the wall, and you expected me not to open it? If it looks closed for a reason, I want to know that reason. If it looks like it might be forbidden, you just offered me a tantalizing new fruit that I must have.
I’ve always been that way. If I wasn’t supposed to touch something when I was a kid, I’d want more than anything in the world to touch it. If my parents put something away so that I couldn’t find it or get to it, and I knew that it was in the house, I’d search that house high and low until I found it. Don’t even talk to me about birthday or Christmas presents. It would take every ounce of willpower I had not to go in search of them. It seemed that in my case the word “no” was an incentive for disobedience. 
            I’m sure I wasn’t unique in that respect as a child. And I realize that children are not the only ones susceptible to this. Our Old Testament lesson is about the very first humans to hear “no” as “yes.” Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; unashamed, uninhibited, blissfully ignorant of certain things; till that serpent comes along and tempts them.
            Now I know that tradition and our translation of scripture dictate that Eve is the one who is originally tempted, then she in turn tempts her husband. But the Hebrew contradicts that. The conversation may have been between Eve and the serpent, but the grammar asserts that Adam was there as well, a silent, complicit partner in all that happened.
            Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, they give into temptation and everything changes. They are forced to leave the garden; their idyllic existence is disrupted and their relationship with each other and with God is changed forever.
            That is one powerful story about temptation. Yet, we also have the gospel story. Here is another story of temptation, only this time it is Jesus who is tempted.
            Jesus has just been baptized by John in the river Jordan. And now he has been led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards he is famished.
            And it is then, when he was at his most vulnerable, that the tempter appears. After that long without food, it is an understatement on Matthew’s part to say that Jesus was famished. He must have been weak with hunger. He was weak with the kind of hunger that would make most of us vulnerable and desperate for any sustenance someone offered. The tempter appearing at this exact moment can’t be coincidence. Temptation is at its strongest when we feel most weak and vulnerable.
            The devil’s first temptation is to offer Jesus bread. The word translated as “if” here would be better translated as “since.” The tempter is not trying to throw Jesus’ relationship with God into question. He is trying to find cracks in that relationship.
            “Since you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
            Jesus answers him with scripture, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
            Then the devil transports him from the wilderness to the holy city and places him on the summit of the temple. Looking down across the multitudes, the devil says, “Since 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 returns scripture for scripture, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
            Then in the final temptation, the tempter takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 
“All these I will give you,” he says, “if you will fall down and worship me.”
            Jesus commands, “Away with you, Satan! Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
            At this the tempter leaves and angels appear to wait upon Jesus.
            If you think about it, all these temptations sound … good. Turning stones into loaves of bread. Think of the poor that Jesus could feed. Throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple and having angels bear him up. Surely that would be a miracle that could convince even the most skeptical of skeptics. Having power over all the kingdoms in the world? We have to believe that Jesus would govern them with justice and mercy.
            Real temptation often tempts us to do what we think is good and right for others as well as for ourselves. My internship supervisor once told me that true temptation does not come to us as darkness, it comes to us as light. Temptation slips in under the guise of good.
            But the tricky thing about temptation is that what seems good now may not be so good in the long run. Jesus understands this and turns the tempter on his head.
            Yet later in his ministry Jesus does some things very close to what the tempter offered. He takes loaves and fishes enough for just a few and feeds thousands. He walks across the water as a sign of his divinity. And certainly, we believe him to be the true ruler of all that is in heaven and on earth. So why was this time in the wilderness seen as temptation? Maybe because as I said before, the tempter wanted sever the relationship between Jesus and God. He was trying to weaken it, to distract Jesus from his obedience to God.
            Temptation in the guise of good. That’s what gets us, isn’t it? The question we must ask ourselves is “are we really doing what is good or are we just being pulled away from God?”  Is our relationship being weakened or strengthened? Are we going to accomplish something wonderful or are we just reaching for forbidden fruit or a door on the wall?
            The different accounts of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness are always given for this first Sunday in Lent. The idea of Jesus in the wilderness, fasting, for forty days and nights is a direct correlation to our forty days and forty nights of the Lenten journey.
            This story is to be our help and our guide throughout these forty days. If Jesus can resist temptations such as these, then surely we can find a way to resist our own temptations. This story is our model, our shining example. Jesus was tempted just as we are, but he did not sin. That is a powerful statement to make, but whenever I hear it, it makes me feel not empowered to do as Jesus did, but ashamed that unlike Jesus, I do sin. I fail in the face of temptation, repeatedly.
            It makes realize that when we say those words about Jesus, we imply, without meaning to, that Jesus not only did not sin when it came to temptation, he was unable to sin. He could not have sinned. He was Jesus. But that would mean that he really wasn’t like us. It seems to me that many folks have this deep down, hidden belief, that while we say Jesus was both human and divine, we really think of him as superhuman. He was a superhero – ordinary looking on the outside, but when danger appears, he would rip open his robe to reveal a red, white and blue suit with a giant “S” on his chest for Savior. It’s a bird. It’s a sheep. No, it’s Super Jesus!
            Super Jesus may have looked like he was being tempted, but in reality, he had everything under control. But that idea of Super Jesus doesn’t work. It’s not scriptural. It isn’t what we profess to believe when we say Jesus was fully human. If he was fully human, as well as divine, then he was tempted. To be tempted means to be confronted with a choice. If there was no choice, then it was not true temptation. What that means is that Jesus could have chosen differently.
            But he didn’t. Why? If he wasn’t Super Jesus, then why did he make the choice he did? Maybe, just maybe, because his trust in God was greater than the temptation before him. That’s why I can’t seem to stop messing up and sinning and falling down and falling short. Because I put more trust in myself than I do in God. All three temptations offered by Satan were about power; power to turn stones into bread, power to command angels, power to rule the world. Jesus knew that a big problem with power is that it makes us think we are doing it all ourselves. Jesus’ trust in God was greater than the temptation to hold power.
            O, if only I could remember that I am making my way through this life on my own steam. O, if only I could remember that I am where I am and I am who I am because others have helped me. O, if only I could remember that it wasn’t God who failed me or forgot me or left me alone, I have done that to myself.
            Jesus’ ability to resist temptation was not because he was Super Jesus; it was because he trusted God wholly, completely and without reservation. We are called to do the same. We are called to trust that God is with us. We are called to trust that God does not always make everything okay, but that God is with us even things are not okay. We are called to trust that God is with us, that God loves us, that God is working good for us and through us for others. We are called to trust that God will call us to do what seems hard and will lead us where we feel we cannot go, but that God will give us what we need to do what we are called to do and go where we are called to go. God is with us. And the good news is that even when we do fail in our trust, even when we do give into temptation, God is still right there, calling us back, offering us a second and a third and fifty-fifth chance to follow once more. Jesus trusted God, and his trust was greater than the temptation before him. May we trust God in equal measure.
            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia.” Amen.

For This Moment

Lately I measure time
in seconds of hand washing
and feet of distance
between me and the
nice lady at the grocery store
who tried to help
get the last item
out of my cart,
till I – politely –
stopped her.
I have been so caught up
in this season of
and fear,
I have lost track of equinox and
phases of the moon.
I forgot that
nature’s cycles,
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
still come around and around,
one after another.
Spring, lush with birds and blooms,
has stepped out on the stage,
reminding me that life
also still cycles
around and around.
Life, death, new life, death
and life again.
For this moment
I will stand
in the sun and
In and out.
In and out.
Season after season,
for as long as I am here.