Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Word (Elementary #1)

29 Feb-1 Mar 2020, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 32, p 766
Children, Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7 (Adam & Eve, command and temptation)
Message, Matthew 4.1-11 (Jesus tempted)

Today we begin our Lent message series, Elementary. Elementary because we are looking at the weekly texts through the lens of a very basic and central image. This week, our image is Word. It shows up in the story of the first humans, who receive a Word from God that they go on to ignore. It shows up in the Jesus story and he and the Devil both quote from the Word.
       Each week, we’re going to try to have some kind of visual display that fits the theme. This week’s display is a set of Bibles, some of them quite fragile. I encourage you to take some time to look at them before you leave.
       Upcoming weeks will see the themes of Wind, Water, Light, Life, and Death. Then, Easter!

So, I go to the drug store to get some saline nasal spray. Only, it isn’t where it should be. It’s on the very bottom shelf so that you have to see unnecessary and more expensive remedies before you ever notice the simple thing.
       And, when I finally do find them, the traditional squeeze bottle is out of stock. Instead, I find weird looking dispensers that look like a mini Reddi Whip cannister. And I’m supposed to stick that up my nose? Then, you read the ingredients and it’s not plain saline. It’s saline with some extra drug, some enhancer. But I really didn’t come to the drug store to get drugs, just plain old saline nasal spray. Then I discover, for the naturalists, there’s saline with grapeseed extract. Nope. Not for me. I’m not the essential oils “type,” if there is a type.
       I know, I know. If you add some lemon balm oil and essence of nard to that grapeseed extract and rub it on your temples it will cure your headaches. Nope. Not for me. So I pass up the grapeseed extract and finally find pure and simple saline nasal spray. Only it’s in this weird cannister that looks like a soda can mated with a turkey baster. And that’s just what you get.

More seriously, though … the world wants you to believe it knows what’s wrong with you (even if you don’t), that it has exactly what you need to be healthy, happy, wise, successful. You may never know you needed it, but now, at last, you’ve seen the light. I never noticed my dandruff, but the Head and Shoulders stuff on TV is just what I need. I never thought my life was dull until I saw that ad for a new sports car. I never realized how unhappy I was until I saw that beer ad. And that’s just what you get when both the problem and the solutions are all defined by our world.

After forty days and forty forts without food, Jesus undoubtedly needs bread. But he needs the WORD more.
·       “When your words came, I ate them. They were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15.16).
·       “I have food to eat that you know not of. My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and complete his work” (John 4.32, 34).

Why is it that the Spirit of God leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? Don’t we pray, “Lead us not into temptation”? Yes, we do. And, while temptation comes from the devil, it also comes from our own desire. There is nothing unusual about the temptations Jesus is given, except the extreme way they appeal to his desire.
·       He needs some bread, just to survive. We all do. That’s why eating disorders are so difficult. We’ve got to eat; we can’t abstain completely!
·       Jesus needs recognition and love. “Throw yourself down.” That miracle would get him plenty of recognition and love. And we all need some of that.
·       Jesus needs some power. “All the kingdoms of the world.” Think of how you could make the world a better place if you just had a little more power. Put an end to global pandemics. Put an end to child abuse. Put an end to war. That’s what some power can do for you.
Don’t we all need some of that? About as much as a soda can turkey baster. We need the WORD more.

There’s lots of things we think we need, only a few things we actually need – like food, clothing, and shelter. But even for those legitimate needs, as much as we may need them, we need the WORD more.
       Adam and Eve decided that what they really needed was a taste of something new and exotic. They wanted a life with something forbidden on the menu. They deserved it. They worked hard for it. They really needed it. They needed fresh knowledge. They needed to be more like God. Don’t we all?
       So, they forgot the WORD and they lost everything.

We think of temptation coming in a recognizable face. We see it. We know its sinister power and appeal. But, no. Most of the time we barely notice it. Most of the time it hardly registers. Its appeal is significant and tied in with what is obviously good. Shouldn’t we want to have some knowledge of good and evil? If we don’t have some knowledge of evil, how can we appreciate the good? The problem with our question is that we are thinking only of intellectual knowledge, but the Hebrew term is about an intimate knowledge, a knowledge gained only by experience. And that kind of knowledge of evil is not worth having.

We think of temptation coming in a recognizable face. But even the devil can quote the Word. Temptation is always well-dressed. It looks better than the stories told and the fantasies sold by advertisers.
       And nothing against marketing! We use marketing in our mission! It is just a reminder that temptation comes to us in very appealing forms.

We think of temptation coming in a recognizable face. If I met a talking serpent, I’d know something was off, for sure. If I knew I was talking with the devil, I’d start out by ignoring him. “Get behind me, Satan!” But, no. Most of the time we barely notice we are being tempted. Most of the time it hardly registers.
       No affair happens by accident. First, we find ourselves feeding fantasies. Then, we find ourselves attached to the memory of an old flame or fulfilled emotionally by someone other than our spouse. No murder happens in a moment, even crimes of passion. We must first nurture resentment, bitterness, jealousy, and anger before the moment presents itself for our violence to manifest. By the time the moment is upon us, we have taken so many preliminary steps that the next one seems hardly as dreadful as it truly is. No wonder the Psalm tells us (Psalm 32):
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.

That’s why the story of Jesus’ temptations includes the devil quoting the Scripture. It’s not easy to see temptation for what it is. It requires discernment. It requires honesty, an internal honesty, not the simple “being true to your self” that our culture teaches. It requires that brutal confession that our friends in recovery make in the first step: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” As the psalm says, “Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32).
       In addition, that discernment requires a new mind, a mind that only comes as a gift of God through discipline or spiritual practice.
·       And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may approve what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God. [1] (Romans 12.3)
·       [God] might sanctify her [the church] by cleansing her* with the washing of water by the word[2] (Ephesians 5.26)

A Bible inscription (from one of our families):
The best heritage I can leave you is the Bible (God’s Word). It will guide you into all good in your life.

When in trouble come back to it and it will help you, and keep you and teach you what is good for you. It will teach you in the way you should go.

Believe in it, and you will meet me in Heaven at the last day.


The good news in all of this is that, though we may fall to temptation, Jesus did not. As the apostle Paul wrote, “through the obedience of the one, many were made righteous” (Romans 5.19). And, in the language of Lamentations, a book of grief for sin and destruction, we have not a glimmer, but a full-on bonfire of hope right in the middle (Lamentations 3):

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 "The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."

[1] Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Ro 12:2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
[2] Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Eph 5:26). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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