The Foothold of Faith

A sermon based on Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 and Ephesians 2:1-10 preached on June 11th, 2017

Sermon audio

Hobby wind-surfer, Adam Cowles, realized he was way off-course when he spotted a cargo ship. He was windsurfing the Swansea Bay, not too far from his house, but after a few hours of delightful distraction, Adam found himself in strange territory. He had unwittingly made his way into the Bristol Channel, 140 miles away from home.

The water that day was freezing cold. If he fell in, he’d be in serious trouble. If there came a lull in the wind, Adam could have found himself stranded. Opposite the cargo ship, Adam could see land, so he surfed his way to shore and walked into a nearby bar, soaking wet.

The locals must have seen sights like him before, because even though he was still dripping wet when he walked into that pub, the patrons thought and said nothing of it. They even bought him a beer.

Adam began to tell them his story.

They told him how far away from home he was. 140 miles. He was astonished. And then he was embarrassed when he had to call his wife, asking her to make the 280-mile round trip to pick him up. She was not happy.

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Wind is so prevalent inside of scripture that one could easily call it a character. A living force rather than an object or an atmospheric phenomenon.

God shows up in the beginning of the opening act, in the very first lines of our story in Genesis 1, as wind. This is the form in which the Spirit of God makes way into creation, and then helps creation take its shape out of what was before simply chaos and nonsense. The second verse in all of scripture says it this way:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This is how God shows up. In a breeze. And that happens over and over again throughout God’s story—our story, too.

Consider the moment of the Exodus, when the Hebrew people, enslaved for two centuries in Egypt, make their way across the Red Sea and to the other side, outrunning Pharaoh and his army and into freedom. The Sea was split in two that day by a strong eastward wind.

And then there’s Jonah, the stubborn prophet, who tried his best to outrun God after God asked him to do something that made no sense to him. Throughout the Book of Jonah, he’s stopped, over and over again, to the point where it gets comedic, by wind and sea, by whale and wave.

We try our best but there’s no escaping the Spirit of God.

There’s at least two stories in each of the four Gospels, where fisherman disciples are out on a boat on the Galilee Sea. Terrified by brewing storms and rising waters, Jesus comes to calm the waves and the rain and brings them through. These are messages for us about how when we are caught in the scary seas of our own lives, when the water rises too high all around us, Jesus comes to us and subsides our fears and says to us the same thing he said to His disciples in those moments:

Peace be with you.

Last and certainly not least is the story we have in the Book of Acts where Luke gives us a glimpse of Paul’s travelogue. To get to the churches he has planted, Paul and his own team of disciples, servants, doctors, and scribes cross the Mediterranean Sea and sail up the Aegean between present-dayPaul Turkey and Greece, and north into the Sea of Marmara. Some of these voyages brought disaster. Pirates, shipwreck. Loss of cargo and loss of life. Throughout scripture, water and wind give life but they also take it away.

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dSo when Paul writes from a prison in Rome to the young believers in Ephesus—and by extension, to us—he has been wind-tossed, beat up, lost at sea, and then found again. Paul knows a thing or two about what it is to be blown about by wind. And he warns us, right at the get-go, here at the very beginning of Chapter 2,

Do not be blown about by the wind. Once you lived your entire lives wandering off-course in this perverse world….You were the offspring of the prince of the power of the air. He once owned you and controlled you.

I don’t know what kind of devil you believe in. We talk so little about evil and its personifications. Certainly, the personification of evil into some being with the proper name, Satan, is not as much a creature found in scripture as it is one that has been imagined in the tales of subsequent works of fiction: Dante’s Inferno and John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. We need to keep our stories straight.

We’ll talk more about this when we reach Chapter 4 of Ephesians, but for now, suffice it to say, here Paul describes some sort of evil or persuasive power, but he doesn’t give it a name or a form. It’s as if Paul is describing that thing mentioned in the first two verses of Genesis 1, a sort of earthly chaos, life and creation without shape, or meaning, or form. Life without God. That is a sort of evil in and of itself.

Paul is warning us against living in a way that’s uncritical, where we get swept up by the power of the air, picked up by every breeze that comes our way. Life lived empty and persuadable, easily manipulated by anything and everything around us. We can get picked up and pushed around wherever the breeze takes us, like that empty plastic bag at the beginning of the movie American Beauty. This is the prince of the power of the air. This is an opportunistic presence that will sweep us off our feet any chance it gets.

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We live in a culture full of wind-blown people. Too often, we get caught up in the prevailing winds of our day, and before we know it we’re like that empty plastic bag that gets knocked around by forces both visible and invisible. We get taken anywhere it pushes us.

What Paul is inviting all of us to see is a new way to live and move. Paul’s words here are a sort of prelude to the important and biblical idea of living in but not of the world. We cannot be blown about. Persuadable. Pushed about. We must find our footing. We must be discerning, keen, wise, sharp, perceptive, insightful, critical. You’ve heard the phrase,

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for everything.

This is God’s way of saying a similar thing. Find your footing.

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Paul knew something about wind. He was a tentmaker.

These days, if a person calls him- or herself a tentmaker, there’s a good chance they’re a Pastor who specializes in creating new churches. Paul did that, but before he ever entered into the ministry he actually made tents. This is how he made a living, even while he sailed the seas, planting churches.

So, Paul knew a thing of two about wind. How to shelter oneself against it. How to build a structure that can withstand it. Build them strong, resilient, and with a big footprint so they hold up to the power of the air and the elements. Everything thrown at it.

As we mature in our faith, as we walk forward slowly in the Way of Jesus, following in His footsteps, we too become strong against the breezes that try to blow us off course.

It is with rope and ground pegs, poles and stakes that a tent becomes secure even in the most chaotic of climates. It’s the power of God’s grace that does the same thing for our minds, our hearts, our spirits. God’s grace pins us to solid ground, can keep us from being blown off course. Grace is the foothold of our faith.

I mentioned a few weeks ago when we began our look into Ephesians, that God’s grace given to us is not an end in itself. Grace is not the end of any conversation, as in, “but for the grace of God go I.” Grace is always the beginning of the conversation. Grace was in the wind that blew the disciples out of their tiny house on Pentecost, and it’s the power we have been given by God to walk out of here and do God’s work—in and for the world.

Grace is the fuel, the power source God gives us to start something—to go out from here, or wherever else we are, as agents of God’s love, as keepers of God’s Message, as sharers of God’s mercy. Grace is designed and given to us by God to take us places. It is first unmerited benefit, yes; but it’s also Divine enablement. Grace is given to us to get us going!

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Through grace, we gain a foothold in our faith, stand up tall in Christ, and then become agents of grace—taking it and using it. Paul writes,

For it is by grace you have been saved. You have received it through faith. It was not our plan or effort, it’s God’s gift. Pure and simple. You didn’t earn it.

That’s verse 8. It’s one of the most beloved in all of scripture, but I’m afraid it’s too often misunderstood. People use it to convince themselves that works—doing stuff with and because our faith—isn’t important. But what Paul says is, Take God’s gift of grace, freely given to you—yes, it’s never earned, it’s always a gift—but then do something with it. Use it. Pay it forward. Grace is never the end of the conversation; it’s always the beginning of one. God’s grace is given to us in order to be put to work through us. Grace is God’s enabling power for growth.

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If you feel like you’re trudging through life right now under your own power, if you’ve lost your footing, if you’ve exhausted yourself that way, let me re-introduce you to grace. Author Anne Lamott says,

When you’re out of good ideas, what you’re left with is God.

She describes grace as spiritual WD-40 or water wings, if that works better. And all you have to do to find grace is to say “Help,” preferably out loud. Shout it into the heavens if you have to. The heavens will hear you. “But watch out!” Anne Lamott says. The moment you say that word, “Help!”, the moment you find grace, buckle up! Because, powered by the Holy Wind of God as it always is, God’s grace will take you places you never intended to go!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Human Again

A sermon based on Psalms 42 and 42 and Luke 8:26-39 preached on June 19th, 2016

This isn’t a sermon about the shooting in Orlando. But, then again, maybe it is. This is really a sermon about all of us. About how or why we unravel from time to time. And why life is messy and complicated, and why it hurts sometimes to be human—why there are moments that occur way too often when life just stops making sense to us. When we wonder who’s really in control here.

We need only to unfold our morning papers or open our laptops to check for current events—switch on the TV—to be reminded over and over again that things come undone, that we human beings can’t seem to find a way to stop hurting one another. Whenever things like that happen, most of us don’t have a problem calling them evil. But since they happen over and over again, we would do well to wonder if it goes deeper than that—if evil is more than just something that happens in instances. What is it inside of us and among us that makes the taking of life—death in all its forms (from physical or emotional or spiritual death, or the death of relationship) an everyday thing for us? There seems to be forces out there that keep us from living our God-given and God-blessed lives in full ways. From the very start of our story, there was something that lured us out of relationship with God.

What was it that made Adam and Eve hide from God—the very God who stitched them together and called them His own and gave them purpose, and wanted to share in full relationship with Him and each other? What was that voice that spoke to them, assuring them that is was okay to eat from the one tree that God told them to keep their hands off of?

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We don’t talk about the devil much. We’re Presbyterians after all. I’d take a guess and say that most of us here this morning don’t believe in a being called Satan. But that presents us with a problem. The problem is that Jesus talked about the devil often, and if Jesus talked about the devil over and over again, and if we believe that Jesus knew what he was talking about, then maybe we should take the devil more seriously, also. I don’t care whether you think a literal devil exists or not. We could have that conversation for days. But you and I cannot deny that there’s something out there—something very real—that stands in resistance to the Kingdom of God, something death-dealing, some out there that’s destructive.

In his book Reviving Old Scratch, author Richard Beck puts it this way: He says there’s something pushing against the life-giving power of God. Whether you personify it or not, give it a proper name or not, is up to you, but there’s some kind of pervasive force in and among us that seems hell-bent on unraveling all that is good and right. In the words of the father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, something out there that threatens to undo us, and in order to confront it and push back against it, we first have to admit it’s real. Throughout scripture, we read of a force called Satan. Satan is not so much the name of a being or a person as much as it is a description of a relationship—something that confronts us in an antagonistic or adversarial way.

Scripture says that Satan is the personification of all of those forces that stand in the way of us being able to experience life in its God-given fullness. In that sense, author Richard Beck says,

Hate is the satan of love, exclusion is the satan of inclusion, war is the satan of peace, oppression is the satan of justice, tearing down is the satan of building up, competition is the satan of cooperation, revenge is the satan of mercy, harm is the satan of care, hostility the satan of reconciliation.

Whatever is it that keeps us from living perfect and whole life with God and one another, whatever is it that strips us of our God-given humanity—call it whatever you will, but Jesus called it Satan.

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The man in our passage for today is full of voices that are not his own. He’s possessed by many demons that have crowded him out of his own humanity. He’s a man occupied by an army of demonic presences. The most heartbreaking part of this story is when Jesus approaches this man and asks him his name, and instead of a response that speaks to his humanity—like Fred, or Joe, or Matthew, or Jonah—the man says his name is Legion. Legion is a roman military term meaning an army of up to 50,000 soldiers.

This man isn’t so much possessed by demons as he’s being occupied by them. Just like Rome occupied the whole Palestinian region in Jesus’s day, this man was occupied by demons, and they have stripped him of his identity. This man has been invaded by so many oppositional forces that he’s ceased to be human. Everything about him speaks of death rather than life: he lives in a cemetery, makes his home among the tombs; he’s naked and homeless; he’s had to be restrained in leg irons and chains, and place under guard for his own safety and that of others. He’s scarcely human, and he begs Jesus to leave him alone. More than anything he wants to be left alone. It’s isolation that most affectively robs us of our humanity.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t even ask the man whether or not he wants to be healed. Jesus skips that part to contend instead with the Legion of demons that has occupied the man. The demons speak back to Jesus, begging for their life to be spared. He casts them out into a herd of pigs, and just as uncontrollably as they lived within the man, they occupy the pigs and send the pigs hurtling recklessly off a cliff and drowning to their death. And with that, after who knows how many years or even decades, he comes back to himself restored—fully dressed and completely sane.

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What occupies us? What gets in the way of us being truly ourselves? What forces exist out there that threaten to occupy and undo us?

Like this man who had no other name but Legion, are we also, at least sometimes, defined not by what God made us to be, but by what occupies us, holds us captive, pulling us away from all that is good and holy and whole and life-giving? And what about our world or our culture? What forces are at work out there that seem hell-bent on tearing our world to shreds, pushing love out of our world, robbing us of our humanity?

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So, maybe this is a sermon about the shooting in Orlando after all. We know now that the shooter was a terrorist, connected to ISIS. That means he lived under the weight of a very violent and very strict set of codes. He had been brainwashed to believe that anyone who didn’t live like and believe in all the oppressive and demanding ways that ISIS commanded, didn’t deserve to live at all. We also know that the shooter was gay, and because of the strict set of codes placed upon him by his militant beliefs, he fought against his own sexuality—even had a wife. He tried his best to live like a straight man, but there was always that struggle, this coercion—this battle waging inside of him.

This man was possessed by voices that stripped him of his identity, that told him his real sexual orientation was not permissible and needed to be denied no matter what. And anyone who fights so hard to be something different than what and who they are will inevitably come undone, unraveled.

In this case, the man was so confused, so full of his own demons, that somehow it made sense for him to target a nightclub full of people who most reminded him of who he was so fearful of being himself. And in his killing of those innocent people, he was, in essence, seeking to destroy that thing inside of him that he hated most of all. Killing 50 plus people and injuring even more, before taking his own life.

This man was so occupied by his own demons and so afraid of his own identity, so lost among all the evil that possessed him that he ceased being human, and he made himself into a machine made for killing.

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This passage from scripture tells the story about how we become human again. The demon-possessed man is a reminder for us that there are many powers and principalities that seek to claim and contort us, to pull us in all their different directions all at once, and away from God’s shape and purpose and intention for us, and in doing so, dragging us away from all that makes us human.

Maybe it’s that God is the most human being of all—and it is only when we seek to live our lives in God’s image that we become fully human ourselves. Maybe becoming truly human means being delivered from all that is not life, and being claimed, called, and adopted into God’s holy life.

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The world wants us to be so many different things. There’s a legion of voices we can become so easily occupied by. Our culture is great at carrying us away from ourselves, heaping upon us an infinite number of names and expectations. And when that happens, we become undone by it all. There’s so much that invades us, accosts us—steals us away from our God-given and God-blessed humanity.

This story is also about salvation. Maybe salvation isn’t only about getting to heaven. Maybe salvation is about being delivered from all that is not life, and being claimed and adopted into God’s holy life. When Jesus delivered this man from all his demons, the man ran home and told the story of what God had done for him—proclaiming the Good News of God’s salvation.

Maybe salvation is that journey away from all that holds us captive and attempts to tear us apart, robbing us of our divine purpose. Maybe salvation is that slow and intentional walk towards our God-ordained purpose and identity—every step along the way taking us a bit closer to becoming truly human again.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Undoing the Undoer

A sermon based on Deuteronomy 8:1-3 and Luke 4:1-13 preached on February 14th, 2016

Sermon audio

I don’t believe anyone who can say with a straight face that they don’t have any regrets. My life is full of decisions I would gladly go back and undo if I had the opportunity.

One of my favorite old TV shows is called Scrubs. It’s about a few medical students trying their best to make it through their residency program without doing any harm to their patients. The main character, JD, has a very vivid imagination. His inner dialogue narrates every episode. During one episode, every time he’s about to make a mistake, a tuxedo-clad opera singer appears in back of him, and in his huge baritone he belts out one word: MISTAKE! Sometimes I wish I had an imaginary opera singer who would pop up and warn me of my impending mistakes like that. Life would be a little easier that way.

If you could go back and undo or redo a part of your life, what would it be? Most of us have a mental list like that. Hopefully yours is not too long, but maybe it is. We’re human after all. Our lives are filled with moments we would gladly take a second chance at.

I’d tell you one part of my life I’d never redo is middle school. Middle school is when every kid is exploding from the inside. It’s called puberty. During middle school and high school you’re supposed to figure out who you are and what you stand for, but with all the hormones, and the confusion, I’m not even sure that’s possible? The changing, cracking voice. The acne. The bullying. All of that and you’re expected to be a good student, too! No thank you. There’s no way I’d do it over.

There are lots of jerks in middle school, but there are just as many in our adulthood. I say “jerks” because I’m standing in a pulpit and I can’t use the word I really mean. We all know a couple. There are people who seem to make it their mission to have us doubt who we are, who do their best to unravel us, to undo us.

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We don’t talk about the devil that much in church—at least us Presbyterians. In some churches, you hear about the devil all the time. Sometimes you hear more about the devil than you do about Jesus. I had a friend in college who seemed to know more about the devil than he did about God. It was as if his life was some kind of cosmic battleground between the tricks and temptations of the devil and his own efforts to push the devil away. There are some people who believe that their guardian angel leads them to every empty parking space at the mall, and if there isn’t an empty space then the devil is up to his tricks.

There’s a few things we need to unlearn about the devil. Most of our ideas about him are completely unbiblical. They come from John Milton’s Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno, or some bad horror movie from the ‘90’s. Take this passage for example. There’s no point in this passage where we see the word devil capitalized. And the word satan isn’t here at all. We have to go back to the book of Job to find the word satan, but it’s not a proper name either, it’s just a description of a role: satan means adversary or accuser. In Job, the satan character is not the same Satan we all have built up in our minds: this cosmic, powerful but oppositional force to God. In the beginning of the book of Job, the devil and God seem to understand one another, and in a disturbing way, they’re working together to make Job’s life a living hell. What’s that all about? And if we go all the way back to Genesis, we could ask why this snake is slithering around in a place called paradise? In that story, the snake is never referred to as Satan or the devil. There, the snake is that presence that creeps up on Adam and Eve and says things like:

Are you sure God told you not to eat from this tree? What exactly did God say to you?

The snake’s presence in the Garden of Eden is the thing that has Adam and Eve begin to doubt themselves and God’s plans for their lives. We know this presence all too well. It’s that voice that whispers into our ear that says we’re not good enough, strong enough, attractive enough, smart enough, that we don’t add up. We need something more than what God can give us. It’s that nagging voice that comes to us to plant doubt into our heads, that seeks to erode our confidence and replace it with self-doubt; that thing in us that always seems to make us question who we are, that tries to strip us of our strength and our sense of self worth; that beats us up and kicks us when we’re down.

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The story we read today in Luke 4 comes right after Jesus’ baptism when God’s voice proclaims from the heavens that Jesus is beloved, that he’s the Chosen One, that he’s the Son of God.

The other gospels say the devil shows up only at the very end of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. That’s when Jesus is at his weakest and most vulnerable. 40 days of fasting. No water. No food. If Jesus is going to crack, this is the moment—when he might give it all away for just a morsel of bread. If evil ever has a chance to enter our story, it’s when we’re at our worst, when we feel most exposed. The devil whispers in Jesus’ ear 3 times. We know that whisper. It’s the nagging voice that cuts our knees out from under us, its words shrink our self-worth. It’s a voice that tries its best to convince us that we don’t deserve better, that we’re all alone, that no one else understands.

Jesus, you’re hungry so why not feed yourself.

Jesus, you’re the King of kings, so why not assert your kingly power over the people?

Jesus, since you’ve got God on your side, why not jump from a great height? You know if you do, angels will swoop down to catch you?

Jesus says No to all 3 because the first one would be self-indulgent, the second would self-aggrandizing, and the third would be self-serving. And Jesus isn’t here to show off His own power; He’s here to reveal the power of God. And God’s power isn’t shown through stunts or magic tricks; it’s shown through humble service, shown through quiet acts of love, and ultimately, the greatest act of love the world has even known—His death on the cross. Jesus says No because, all the way through, Jesus never doubted who he was—or whose he was. His hope was always in something much great than anything he could do for himself.

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There’s one part of this story that’s often overlooked. It’s at the very beginning. Verse 1.

Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus wasn’t rescued at the end by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit didn’t fall upon him only in the moments he was being tempted. He entered into the wilderness already full of the Holy Spirit. That’s what sustained him the whole way through. The Holy Spirit was Jesus’ sustenance when He had no bread, His strength when He was weak, His rootedness when the devil was trying his level best to push and pull him in all those self-serving directions. Jesus stayed faithful even when his stomach was growling and that testing voice wouldn’t leave him alone.

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This is one of the lessons of Lent. As Martin Luther declares in his hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God, there are many things that threaten to undo us. All these little devils that we come across from one day to the next, that enter into the conversation and try to pull us the wrong way. We might call each one a temptation, but it’s more like a test. The test is: Do we listen to all the lesser voices who like to tell us who we are and who were are not? Whether we’re good enough, or what we need to change about ourselves in order to be good enough? Or do we listen instead for that Greater Voice that sustains us through the wildernesses of our lives? Who’s whispering in our ears? What are they saying, and how do we respond to them? Do we choose our way—do we try facing all of these things with our own determination, using our own strength, wit, and willpower, or do we choose a better way—a bigger life—listening for a greater and wiser voice to guide us through our days, to govern our actions?

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This Lent, we can practice that better way—pay closer attention to that greater voice.

Life is messy and complicated. There’s no opera singer following us around to warn us whenever we’re about to get ourselves into trouble. Neither is there a way to undo our mistakes. The good news is God knows all that. He was one of us. He has lived this life. He knows what it feels like to undergo these things, to be tested, to fail, to get back up and try again. He even knows what it’s like to be undone by death, even the most humiliating of deaths: death on a cross, the worst of all the undoings. But as we know, whenever God’s involved, even that undoing will be undone.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

The Tale of Two Powers

A sermon preached on Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11 on March 9th, 2014.

Sermon audio

What are you giving up for Lent?

It’s not as if these days, we walk down the street and we get asked that question. But around church circles, I hear that question asked all the time during this season of the year. It’s almost assumed that if we do anything at all in observance of Lent, this is it: we give something up.

Say we give up chocolate for Lent. That sounds fine. Why not? Unless chocolate prevents you from biting someone’s head off, I can’t see how abstaining from it would do anyone any harm. But the question I would ask is, “Is your giving up chocolate for Lent doing anything to draw you closer to God?” Perhaps so. But perhaps not.

Sometimes we will choose to give up something more significant in our lives than chocolate.

Say we go deeper and we undertake giving up one of our addictions for Lent—smoking or alcohol perhaps—or something else given up not for the good of our waistline merely, but for the good of our very existence. See, now we’re talking! Because such things as nicotine and alcohol can be for many a dependence, and if we’re bold enough to make an effort to rid ourselves of our addictions for Lent, then aren’t we asking God to be our strength when we have no strength for such things on our own.

It could be, though, that the old “give up something for Lent” thing does not take on any real spiritual meaning at all. And that’s why, lately, people have looked into doing something completely different in observance of Lent.

The Lutheran pastor Nadia Boltz-Weber shared with her congregation a way to observe Lent and to draw closer to God by engaging in small, daily practices. For each day of Lent she suggests that we undertake one small, spiritual practice that she hopes with bring new life to those who commit themselves to them.

Here are some of her suggestions: Day 1: Pray for your enemies. Day 4: Give $20 to a non-profit of your choosing. We’re already on day 5, so you wouldn’t have to do either of those things. Day 13: Read Psalm 139. Day 21—I love this one—Ask for help. Day 32: Donate art supplies to a local elementary school.

You could say that by doing these things, we’re merely adding to our daily workload when we’re already too busy. I get that. Certainly the message of Lent shouldn’t be to add more stuff to our lives. Our lives are too much full of stuff as it is. But I would have to imagine that as Nadia Boltz-Weber made this list for Lent, she wasn’t thinking about how to shove more stuff into our days, but how in adding these small gifts into our lives, we might find what our lives are missing. If I take a moment to carry out these daily suggestions for the next 35 days then maybe I’ll learn that practicing sacrifice isn’t all about giving something up but could also be about lending more of my life to others and to God. Now, there’s a Lenten practice worthy of an entire 40 days!

Part of the Lenten message and challenge is about de-centering ourselves and re-centering on God. Lent is about loosening our grip on the steering wheel of our own life and turning the controls over to God knowing that God will give us better directions anyway. I think Carrie Underwood wrote a song about that.

Lent is an opportunity for us to say, “I’m done being the one in control. Jesus, take the wheel. I’ve steered long enough.”

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Jesus is in wilderness—fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, with no food and no water. He is famished. Certainly Jesus needed something to drink. Something to fill his stomach. Jesus was just as human as we are—even if he was just as divine as God is. He too needed nourishment just as any other human being does. In fact, most of the time we see Jesus feasting with others! Wherever Jesus was, there was enough food and drink within reach to feed many. Jesus knew that eating was a great way to celebrate God’s abundant gifts. But here in this wilderness, Jesus has not a drop to drink or a morsel to eat, even when the devil comes to him with his suggestion to turn these stones into bread.

“Since you’re the Son of God, surely you’re capable of doing this for yourself, Jesus!”, the devil says, Jesus refuses him.

“You could have all the food and drink you wanted, since you’re the Son of God!”

“Since, you are the Son of God, why don’t you prove yourself and throw yourself down and the angels will come and catch you before you hit the ground,” the devil says.

“All of these kingdoms I’ll give to you if you would simply fall down and worship me,” these are the three things the devil says to Jesus. And all three times Jesus shoots him down.

Do you see a theme in these three temptations?

Webster’s Dictionary defines temptation as the enticing, alluring desire to do something unwise.

This is nothing new. There was temptation from the very earliest of stories we have from the bible. It was the snake who made an offer to Eve, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden? You won’t die if you eat from this tree! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Now that’s enticing! Who doesn’t want to see clearly, and what’s the harm in knowing anything?! And so Adam and Eve eat. Temptation is the oldest story there is!

The devil makes three offers to Jesus, but I see the same temptation in all three. It’s the same temptation given to Eve by the snake: the temptation to reject our dependence on God,  

“Why not push God aside and do this on your own, Jesus?” Can you hear that one question in all three temptations the devil brings to Jesus?

It’s the temptation to forget about our reliance on God—to take things on all by ourselves and all for ourselves. To use our own power and to forget what God thinks. It’s the temptation of believing that what we have inside of us is enough, and that we can accomplish things all on our own power. From the very beginning with Adam and Eve up to today, we should recognize in ourselves our desire to construct our world using only our own blueprints—to put the plans of God in 2nd place in our lives and to go forward with our own plans—to build ourselves up using only the materials we make for ourselves, rather than letting God be the sure foundation that we build on and Jesus the one and only cornerstone of our lives.

Whose power will we rely upon? God’s? Or our own?

Jesus had the power to do all that the devil asked of him. In fact the devil seems to know that already. The devil enticed Jesus to use power that he knew Jesus had in himself.

“Why not use it, Jesus?”, the devil is asking. But Jesus seemed to know that doing what the devil tempted him with, even if it meant he could fill his stomach or even rule over kingdoms, would amount to exploiting his own power rather than relying on the power of God.

Here in this passage the devil seeks to lure Jesus away from the right use of power.

The question for Jesus is, “Who’s power will I rely upon here? My own, or will I wait for God’s?” Will I choose the sort of power that draws attention to me or will I be faithful and only rely upon the power of God? As hungry and desperate as Jesus may have been after 40 days without any sustenance at all, there was only one thing that Jesus knew was right. It was right for him to keep his trust in the power of God to deliver him from this wilderness.

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Lent is a time for us to observe that Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights and underwent these temptations. It is in part because of this passage that Lent is labeled as a time of self-denial. We fast from food just as Jesus did. We walk away from some of the vices in our lives and we leave them behind for a season hoping to draw closer to God and rely on the power of God and not on our own power. But I think this passage should tell us something more about how we should use these 40 days.

In this passage, Jesus doesn’t so much say No to what the devil offers him as much as he says Yes to the promises and power of God. Lent is a time for us to restructure ourselves—to stop relying on our own power to make it day by day but to ask for God’s help to make our way through.

During Lent, we too are called to wrap ourselves around the ways and desires of God. Lent is our opportunity to relearn our dependence on God. Rather than seeing this story as Jesus saying No three times to the power of the devil, perhaps it’s better for us to see it as the time where Jesus says Yes three times to the power of God.

Lent is a time for us to say Yes to the power of God.

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So how will you live out Lent this year? I wonder if rather than saying No to something easy, we, just like Jesus, would said Yes to God.

What would happen if this Lent was full of days when we chose not to rely upon on our own power to see things through, but we instead relied upon the power of God? In this season, how will we say Yes to God?

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.

Alleluia! Amen.