"Feed the Flesh, or Hunger for God?"
Lent I February 25, 2007 Luke 4:1-13
One day, so the story goes, the pope was being chauffeured in the limousine. But His Holiness had always enjoyed driving himself around in his earlier days, so he asked the chauffeur on the built-in intercom whether they might trade places for a while. The chauffeur accepted, though he was s little surprised by this unusual request.
Soon they were on the way again, this time with the pope at the wheel. The chauffeur wondered at first how the pope would make out, but from where he was sitting he could see the speedometer only read 30 km/hr. So he dozed a bit. A little later he glanced up again, and saw they were doing 60 km/hr. So he resumed his siesta. But while he slept, the car crept faster and faster, til the next tine he awoke he was startled to see they were going 120 km/hr!
About that tine a police cruiser appeared behind them, flashing its lights. The limousine pulled over and the officer walked up to talk to the driver. But when he saw who it was, he walked back to the cruiser and radioed in to the Chief. He said, "You know how you said, whenever we stop somebody and they're pretty important, we should check in with you before we give than a ticket?" "Yeah, that's what I told you," replied the Chief. "So who've you got?"
"I'm not quite sure," answered the officer. "But whoever it is must be mighty important _ he's got the Pope for a chauffeur!"
That's not a true story, of course. But it highlights the truth that we all want to BE somebody important, we admire people who are as famous or powerful as the pope, and maybe dream of being like that. And probably even the Pope has unfulfilled wishes and dreams!
As we reflect on the temptations Jesus faced at the outset of his ministry, even though they were tests specially concocted to fit him, we can relate to them. Satan tries to get us to PROVE ourselves; he preys upon our insecurities, trying to hook us into "moving up in the world" by pleasure, power, or fame.
The first temptation: "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Sin appeals to our human hunger, our appetite for pleasure, our native eagerness to consume. There are many different forms of course: over-eating, drinking, drugs, sex, even excessive sleep and laziness - each of these offers some form of physical comfort, it provides us with some aspect of SECURITY. But opting into than makes us a prisoner of our choices. An inmate in a correctional facility once shared with me how when he first entered prison he had been trying to turn over a new leaf; he'd started to read his Bible and felt actually happy. But after some time in the prison environment, he started drinking and taking drugs. Things started to change f the worse. His mood darkened; depression set in. He becam afraid, and had a very negative attitude. But it happened that he began to read his Bible again and talk with other inmates who had become Christians. When I spoke with him, he described himself as "right into God", off the drugs and alcohol _ and very happy.
Earthly pleasures have strong appeal but they fall short of the fulfilment God offers. Chuck Colson was an advisor to President Nixon and went to prison because of his involvement in Watergate. He became a Christian and is now a powerful writer and founder of Prison Fellowship. He writes, "A few years ago a magazine article about my prison ministry concluded that 'prison radicalized the life of Chuck Colson.' It is understandable that the reporter might have thought that, but it is simply not so. I could have left prison and forgotten it; I wanted to, in fact. But while every human instinct said, 'Put it out of your mind forever,' the Bible kept revealing to me God's compassion for the hurting and suffering and oppressed; his insistent Word demanded that I care as he does.
"What 'radicalized' me was not prison but taking to heart the truths revealed in Scripture. For it was the Bible that confronted me with a new awareness of my sin and need for repentance, it was the Bible that caused me to hunger for righteousness and seek holiness, and it was the Bible that called me into fellowship with the suffering. It is the Bible that continues to challenge my life today." Jesus answered the first temptation by quoting the verse from Deuteronomy, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." That scriptural word transformed Colson's life, and is providing nourishment and eternal security through the ministry of Prison Fellowship.
But the devil was only just starting. On a fantastic head-trip he showed the carpenter's son all the kingdoms of the world in their power and splendour, offering all that to Jesus if he would only worship Satan. This is the desire to be in charge, in control, to be able to snap your fingers and make things happen. It is one form of significance; security and significance are the two key needs in our lives. In today's world, the chief way to get power is to get money. Money can do much, as the lottery commercials keep telling us. Though the power of money is highly fickle: even governments of nations have to take drastic action to keep their currency from fluctuating wildly. Our own governments chart their financial course well aware that our money is only as good as the credit rating of the body that stands behind it. Christian financial expert Larry Burkett warns that their may be a coming 'economic earthquake'.
But such matters are beyond the control of us mere citizens. We're caught up with the colourful flyers that come in the mail so regularly. True, some specials have helped us save on costs; but those flyers lead us to wind up spending more on things that we didn't really need. It becomes habit_forming to peruse the ads whenever we see them; to drool over the Sears catalogue, or the latest flyer from The Source. What's the latest cool gadget? Forget kingdoms and splendour, we'd be happy with that cushy new living_room suite or maybe that huge plasma TV!
Think of the biggest items in your budget: for many families, the car and housing are major expenses, the "elephants" in our budget. The car gobbles up so much -- gas, insurance, repairs _ why? Because we value mobility so much. We're caught up in thinking it would be a bore to stay at home. Meanwhile our communities lack the creative ability to "make your own fun" that drew together rural neighbourhoods in the first half of the 1900s. Housing is another elephant. Many young couples starting out think they have to have the big house right away; with it comes a big mortgage, so they both have to work, and an unnecessary strain begins to cramp the relationship right from the start. So many end up divorcing because of financial pressures. I can think of at least one marriage among relatives that might have lasted if one of the spouses had simply learned to be more content.
The third temptation is to leap from the pinnacle of the temple, presuming upon the help of angels to save oneself from being hurt. This is the desire to BE SOMEBODY - to become famous, significant in a non_monetary way. In the movie "Lawrence of Arabia", General Allenby in Cairo tells the hero that Lawrence will be a household word when people will have to go to the War Museum to find out anything about the general. TE Lawrence captured the Imagination of the West by his adventuresome, flamboyant leadership of the Arabs in driving back the Turks. He was, in the words of one who knew him, "the most shameless exhibitionist I have ever known." His crossing of the desert to surprise the Turks was not unlike jumping from the peak of the Templ e, a supposedly impossible feat. He presumed upon God's protection. Yet even Lawrence was soon reminded of his human limits: torture at the hands of the Turks reminded him he was still human. And he failed to get the proud, independent Arab tribes to co-operate with each other and form their own government. Lawrence's tendency to stretch his limits eventually cost him his life: he died at 47 by going too fast on a motorcycle and having an accident. We have limits. When we test those limits, we are presuming on God and testing or taunting our Creator. As Jesus again quoted from Deuteronomy, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
Bread...kingdoms...pinnacles: there is a key common factor in all the temptations. It's to think of myself as if I were an isolated system, completely sufficient unto myself, on my own able to determine my fate. As soon as we start thinking like this, the devil's got us, we're trapped in a lie. The truth is, as persons, we are human, limited, and very fallible: we make mistakes. Original sin being what it is, we're never satisfied, we always want more. Another truth has to do with the nature of community: it will not happen without leaders who are also servants, without the greatest being accountable and responsive to the least. If they're not, envy is bound to develop, and boom! we're into a power struggle.
What was Jesus' approach to temptation? Well, he didn't argue. Even though he had the brightest intellect there ever was, he didn't engage the devil in a dialogue about ethics. We will never win with words over temptation since it strikes us at a deeper level than logic - a subliminal level, the irrational or animal level, close to our instinct for survival. Another thing Jesus didn't do was "give it a try". He avoided getting sucked in; once you start yielding to a temptation, however small, it's hard to turn around. That would cause us shame, we'd have to admit we were wrong and so lose face. Sin is auto_addicting: a little makes you want more.
And Jesus didn't get hooked into proving himself. He knew he was accepted as God's Son already, so he didn't get defensive when Satan sneered, tauntingly, "IF you are the Son of God..." At his baptism Jesus had heard the voice from heaven affirming him as God's dearly-loved child, in whom the Father was pleased. So for us both baptism and communion as sacraments are signs or assurances of our acceptance by God, on the basis of the death of his Son. We don't have to PROVE ourselves to anyone - isn't that great?
What Jesus DID do was let God do the talking. Three times he began his response with "It is written" -- or another way of saying it would be, "But God says..." Instead of thinking of himself as an isolated system, Jesus chose to cast himself into God's care, be totally dependent, and align his own will with Cod's purposes and promises. The vehicle by which he does this is memorized scripture. Jesus had learned and absorbed deep_down the foundational covenant promises and fences God spoke for our provision and protection.
In Jesus' view, it's better to suffer with God than to dine with the devil. He said in the Sermon on the Mount, Life is more than food and clothing; as he defined it in John 17, eternal life consists of knowing (being in living relationship to) the Father and Son. He was hungry - but hungry for God, not the passing things of this life. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS, for they shall be filled." (again Sermon on the Mount) Or as Paul wrote to the Romans, "God's kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."
The fundamental meaning of communion is that life is had only in receiving the One who gave his life for others; and Jesus is not only the model for us in this, His Spirit becomes our internal power source for doing it. We take of his blood, or life; we are nourished by the grace of his body, broken and shared with us.
Traditionally, Lent has been a time for special emphasis on prayer and fasting. But let's make it a type of fast which increases our hunger for God, for a right relationship with our Lord, aligning ourselves with his way. Not just "giving up" something with grumbling dutifulness and self_martyrdom, but "giving OVER" everything to God. Remember stones to bread: as we prepare and eat our meals, and engage in other physical pleasures, what quantity will meet our needs; what quantity will make us "stuffed" and ineffective, satiated, taking advantage of others?
Remember kingdoms - as we use our money, ask, Does this purchase harmonize with God's purposes? If Christ returns tomorrow, would this be something I'd want to go back into the house to try and take with me? What people do I know that are struggling and could make better use of this money?
Remember the leap of stardom: am I showing off, or seeking to lift others up? Does this plan of mine "enhance my lifestyle" or place me more at God's disposal? What do I really want in life - and who or what is that worshipping?
A certain woman named Dorcas had a new neighbour who turned out to be an immigrant. That didn't bother her, but when the neighbour borrowed her snow shovel without asking, Dorcas became quite upset. She marched over to the woman's house, rang the doorbell, grabbed the shovel, and stomped away while the woman tried to explain in broken English.
"The nerve of that woman," she told friends; "she obviously thinks 'What's theirs is mine.'" She had her shovel back, but she also had a good case of bitterness. Soon, though, God's Spirit helped her to see that she needed to show mercy. Prompted by Jesus' words, "Blessed are the merciful," she bought the woman a shovel. When she gave it to her, the neighbour told her that she was alone with two children and had no way to buy a shovel. Dorcas' kindness touched her heart, and she allowed her children to attend church where one of them received Jesus - and a Kingdom!
Temptations of all kinds will beset us; we have inborn desires for pleasure, power, and fame. There will be dry wilderness times when we wonder if God's left us all alone. But as we hold fast to the promises He's given us in Scripture, the Spirit will make us realize we not only have eternal security and significance in relationship with Jesus Christ, we have ample to share as He has shared with us. Praise his Name forever! Amen.