Scripture Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
A Word of God that is still speaking, Thanks be to God.
Thoughts about an Imperfect Life and Faith “Ordinary lives can be holy.”
There’s a little ritual in our house that we taught Michael and now Genevieve is catching on to in her own cute little way.
Whenever we watch television and a commercial pops up, we say “boo, advertisements!”
It may be silly, but if you think about it, ads are designed to get you to want something or buy into something that you may not actually really need. Or, it presents you with a certain lifestyle that can be achieved - if only you subscribe to this service or purchase this product.
Want a carefree life of travel in your old age? Get there with our investment service.
Want to be popular? Drink this brand of beer.
Want your house to be perpetually clean? Or do you want to make cleaning fun? This brand of products will transform your life.
Want freedom and adventure? Just drive this car.
Ads don’t just sell us a product, they’re selling us a lifestyle. Values. Hopes and dreams. Oftentimes, these aspirations - belonging, predictability and security, spontaneity, freedom - are things that we are already yearning for. Hungry for. And whatever product or service is lifted up as providing us the key to finding what we’re looking for.
We find ourselves hungry for many things that we believe will bring us satisfaction.
In our story from scripture this morning, we see Jesus out in the wilderness - he was led there while he was full of the Holy Spirit and after his baptism by John. He spent 40 days having eaten nothing - and during that time was tempted by the devil - which wasn’t a bearded fellow dressed in red carrying a pitchfork as we commonly think of the devil or Satan, but rather a figure which in the Jewish tradition would have been understood as the “opponent” or “adversary” - a figure used to represent the forces that often make it difficult for human beings to submit to divine will. “The tester” might be a better understanding of how the devil operates here rather than modern conceptions of The Devil.
The devil comes and thinks Jesus would jump at the chance for instant fame and glory and to give in to the quick fix - he offers Jesus the things his heart wants. He’s hungry after all, with no food in the wilderness. Surely using his divine gift to turn a stone into bread would satisfy his belly. Having authority over all the kingdoms surely would have advanced Jesus’s purposes so much more easily than a ragtag band of misfit disciples and one-off healings and teaching in parables that were so often misunderstood. A chance to be saved from falling by angels in a spectacle that all Jerusalem would have seen? What a miraculous way to reveal his identity.
I mean - wouldn’t all these things have done wonders for the message that Jesus sent to proclaim?
What the devil offers here aren’t things that are bad in and of themselves.
But what the devil gets at is whether Jesus will serve himself - seek the fame and the glory with himself at the center - or if Jesus will serve God, using the ordinary and mundane to build a movement of peace, righteousness, and holiness in the everyday.
We all face our fair share of temptations - and I’m not talking about wanting that extra slice of cake for dessert...or even the temptation of buying those new kitchen cabinets that will make your Whole Life more organized (and I’m definitely not preaching to myself there at all…)
I’m talking about the temptations that we think would make our life perfect or more special or outwardly great or that would prop up the image of ourselves we want other people to see - the drive for more being a prime example of this that manifests itself in all aspects of our life, or the desire to fulfill and inflate my own ego needs over and above those of others - even God’s. It shows up in small and innocent ways - checking out the number of likes on your most recent social media post (and who liked it and who didn’t) thinking that it gives you a sense of belonging and community, believing if only you made more money it would solve all your problems or save your marriage or give you the freedom and security to pursue your desires, or wanting to be the best parent…or the best friend…or the best in your field…or the best teacher/therapist/lawyer/athlete…and receive all the recognition and praise and accolades for what you do.
Again - these things aren’t bad in and of themselves - but are you doing it for a false image of how you want others to see you - or does it come out of your authentic self?
I can look back on times in my life where I clearly operated out of the former rather than the latter - where I thought my work in church planting and the spiritual pioneering Ben and I were doing in developing faith communities in re-imagined ways was going to spark a revival within the greater church - that what we were doing and the way we were going about it would be heralded as models to follow, and that this - along with the work of other pastoral entrepreneurs - would be The Thing that would save United Methodism from decline.
I have long since let go of any illusions of greatness there.
Or I think about the pressure of social media - I read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s article from 6 months ago this week, and she talks about this reality that we find most prevalent on social media that really resonates with me - and it happens not just on Facebook or Twitter, but in the course of everyday conversation too - where it feels like you’re expected to constantly on top of every single injustice in the world - she puts it as the voices that say “if you aren’t talking about, doing something about, performatively posting about ___(fill in the blank)___then you are an irredeemably callous, privileged, bigot who IS PART OF THE PROBLEM”...which leaves her wondering: “am I doing enough, sacrificing enough, giving enough, saying enough about all the horrible things right now to think of myself as a good person and subsequently silence the accusing voice in my head? No. The answer is always no. No I am not. Nor could I. Because no matter what I do the goal of “enough” is just as far as when I started.”
The temptations are many - We are tempted by greatness. By self-importance. We’re tempted to internalize other people’s expectations and image of who we are - or maybe we’re tempted to disregard other people’s opinions entirely.
And yet what Jesus clung to in his trial in the wilderness, when he was tempted by greatness and shortcuts, was a complete certainty in who he was and what he was about…his place and purpose in God’s unfolding dream - and for him, that was good enough.
It makes me think about the story of Brother Lawrence who lived in the 17th century in France. Born into poverty, as a teenager he became a soldier and during that time in the army, as he fought in the Thirty Years war, he had a spiritual awakening. Upon leaving the army at the age of 26, he joined the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites where he found the holy in the ordinary work of cooking and cleaning.
He’s the one you may have heard stories about peeling potatoes for the glory of God. “The Practice of the Presence of God” was compiled of his sayings, letters, and conversations with the other monks and was published after he died. One of his sayings:
"Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . . We can do little things for God. I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for the love of Him; and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him Who has given me grace to work. Afterwards I rise happier than a king."
It was said of him that he "forgot himself and was willing to lose himself for God, That he no longer thought of virtue or his salvation ... that he had always governed himself by love without interest.”
There’s grace in knowing who you are - your role, your limitations, your boundaries - in not giving in to the temptations to be something greater. That isn’t to say we don’t have dreams and visions - but it’s about what drives those aspirations - an interest in the self and our own image or for the sake of something greater? It’s about knowing what is ours to do - and what isn’t - and in trusting that God moves through all that we do, drawing things together for the unfolding of God’s purposes in the world. It’s about believing - down to our core - that God works in our ordinary lives - in the small selfless acts, in the moments we may not think are important, in the connections we foster, in the moments of silence we cultivate - all of it is vibrant with God breaking in to our existence over and over and over again - and that is what makes our lives holy…and that is what gives us the ability to be good enough - trusting that we do our part, we do what we are called and invited and challenged by God to do, and that God will be faithful in weaving our actions into the greater tapestry of peace and hope and justice in our world.
I want to close by sharing one of my favorite poems called Famous, by Naomi Shibab Nye - because for me it captures this idea of holiness being related to who we are in our fundamental core - people capable of connection and creating space in the midst of our everyday interactions for God to break in. She writes:
BY NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
May we in this season lean into God’s movement in our lives, making the ordinary moments one of divine presence and holiness, trusting that our openness to the movement of the spirit makes our efforts “good enough” because God makes up the rest. May we not be tempted by perfection or grandiose ideas that serve ourselves, but may we be reminded of Jesus who took no shortcuts, who - even in all his divine power - used ordinary people to transform the world. May we find grace and hope in that truth this season. Amen.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.