February 14, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Today is the first Sunday in Lent so after service we are going to lock ourselves in our houses and not eat for 40 days. Okay, just kidding! But I did get your attention. And today’s gospel grabs our attention too. Right after Jesus was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil. Jesus didn’t eat at all during that time and it’s fair to say he was starving and exhausted. Yet he was led there for a sole purpose – to pray and prepare himself for the mission God had for him that he was about to begin. Being weakened in body was the perfect time for the devil to try and get Jesus to give in to temptation. It was the perfect time to try and get Jesus to choose the easier path.
Luke’s temptation account reminds me of another story, my favorite movie called It’s a Wonderful Life. You may wonder what I am doing bringing up a Christmas story during Lent, but it’s more than just a Christmas story. It’s a story about character, temptation, prayer, and trust just like today’s gospel story. If you’ve ever seen the movie, you may wonder why the title is a wonderful life because the main character’s life is hardly what we would call wonderful. But the dictionary describes wonderful with words like amazing, astonishing, miraculous, divine, and pleasing. That’s something to think about as we look as the main character, George Bailey.
George was a man of great integrity. His life wasn’t easy and he made a lot of sacrifices for the people he loved. He wanted to go away to college and see the world, but he ended up staying in the small town of Bedford Falls where he grew up to run his father’s small savings and loan company so his brother could go to college first. George didn’t want to do that, but he put his family’s well-being and the well-being of the whole town ahead of what he wanted. He did the right thing no matter how hard it was, and the people in the town loved him…. except for Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter was the richest man in the town. He owned everything, but he didn’t use his wealth to help others. He got it through being dishonest and he didn’t care who he hurt to get what he wanted. But there was one person he couldn’t buy and that was George Bailey. Oh he tried all right. George really needed to earn more money for his family, and Potter figured if he wore him down enough George would eventually give in to the temptation of working for and being just as dishonest as Mr. Potter. It would have solved a lot of problems for George. It would have enabled him to provide financially for his family so they didn’t have to struggle so hard. And more money would have enabled him to help others in the community too.
But George didn’t cave in to Mr. Potter’s temptations – which led to more struggles – because George knew who he was and he knew who Potter was. George could see the truth and he trusted in that truth, the truth his father had taught him. That’s exactly what Jesus did when He was tempted by the devil. He trusted in the truth of God’s Word to see through the lies that the devil was trying to tempt him with. The devil was trying to get Jesus not to do something necessarily bad, but to make choices that would actually make things easier for him and others. If Jesus had turned the stones to bread, he could have not only fed himself, but so many other hungry people. Jesus had the power to do it and he very well could have. But Jesus trusted in the Word of God that says “one does not live by bread alone.”
Then the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms and offered to give them to him if he worshipped the devil. Jesus could have overthrown the oppressive Roman government that was taxing people to death. This would have done a lot of good for a lot of people, but again Jesus trusted in the relationship with His Father and said He would serve only God alone. Jesus came to earth with a specific mission from God and Jesus was determined to obey God no matter how tempting making other choices would have been.
The important thing notice in Luke’s account is that the devil repeatedly said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God” do these things. The more accurate translate is since you are the Son of God. You see, the devil knew that Jesus was the Son of God. He knew that Jesus had the power to do all these things and more. But he also knew that Jesus was also fully human, and as such, he was tired, and weak, and hungry,…….and easily persuaded at that point. And he was aware that Jesus was full of love and compassion for people, so it would have been tempting to help others and choose the easy road. Why do things God’s hard way, when it would be so much easier to do it my way? That was indeed a tempting question for Jesus and for all of us today.
It’s easy to be tempted to listen to the voices that urge us to do things the easy way even at the expense of the well-being of others. It’s easy to listen to the voices that tell us to care for ourselves and not the people that need our help like the homeless and refugees. It’s easy to listen to the voices that tell us to keep more money for ourselves and the things we want rather than as in the reading from Deuteronomy that tells us to give our first fruits to God. We are told to give to God first. That’s not an easy path to follow when we are constantly bombarded with voices that tell us to put ourselves first. Yet the example that Jesus gives us is to remember who we are – beloved and claimed by God – and to listen to God’s voice and follow God’s will because we, like Jesus, are filled with the Holy Spirit who is present to guide us.
Yesterday, our congregation once again hosted the annual Valentine’s Day Dinner/Auction to raise money to support the Northeastern Food Pantry. We could easily keep that money for needed money to run operations in the church, but we have been led by the Spirit to hear God’s word and feed the hungry. People may wonder then where the money will come to pay for the things the congregation needs to pay for, and the answer is to listen to God’s word. If we all put God first in our financial stewardship we will have more than enough to carry out God’s mission for this church. Following Christ and his call to listen to God’s word involves sacrifice, but it is not sacrifice that is in vain. If our lives give glory to God then we are living as Spirit-filled disciples.
Today we install the council of this congregation who are charged to live as Spirit-filled disciples. They are charged to pray and seek God’s will for this congregation and not their own. They are charged to work for unity within this congregation and not divisiveness. They are charged to be examples of Christ-like living in regular worship, stewardship, study of Scripture, and servant leadership. They are charged to listen to God’s voice for the direction of this congregation and resist the voices of temptation that want things to be easier rather than glorifying to God.
Our biggest temptations are those things that try and get us to doubt God’s trust-worthiness. They are those things that make us think that God is not going to take care of us, that God is not with us, that God has abandoned us. When we worry about our health, our jobs, our families, our finances, the weather, the economy, or whatever the case may be – we are essentially not trusting that God will take care of us. It’s normal as humans to be concerned about these things, but the temptation is in letting those thoughts or worries consume us. The question is what can we do?
Jesus has taught us by His example of prayer. We are not in control. God is in control and we need to trust that God will be faithful to the promises made to us in Scripture. Prayer reminds us of these promises. Prayer keeps our focus on God and not ourselves. Jesus was able to resist the temptations of the devil because he had been praying the whole time he was in the wilderness. He may have been starving and physically exhausted, but he was strong spiritually. That is what prayer does; it builds us up by bringing us closer to God. And when we are connected to God, we are more connected to each other. We are stronger together than we are apart.
We go to God first to seek answers to our questions and commit our lives to follow the Holy Spirit rather than our own will. And that is how the character George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life, was able to resist the temptations of Mr. Potter – a modern day devil. George Bailey prayed, his family prayed and his friends prayed. The movie began with all the prayers for George being lifted up to heaven and it ended when those prayers were answered in a most unexpected way. George prayed, “Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way… show me the way.” Like Jesus, following God’s will instead of his own didn’t lead to an easy life for George Bailey, but it led to a wonderful life, an astonishing life, a life lived in pleasing God.
During this Lenten season let’s ask God to show us the way through constant prayer. Like Jesus, like George Bailey, and like countless faithful witnesses across the ages, we will be strengthened to trust in God’s promises. We don’t have to lock ourselves in our houses and fast for 40 days, but if we pray faithfully and continually for 40 days, I guarantee we will be changed individually and as a congregation. Amen!