Through Many Struggles, Faith

By Deacon Greg

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11; Psalm 32

    In listening to our Gospel reading this morning on the 1st Sunday of Lent, how many of us see this story as Jesus having a debate with Satan, and at the end, “Jesus wins!” Hooray Jesus!!? How many?

   It shouldn’t be surprising that we all have this perspective after centuries of guilt theology, but I hope that I can bring to you this morning a different perspective of a deeper meaning that connects each one of us to this very human Jesus.

   In meditating and praying on the opening verse from Matthew, I realized that this translation can be misleading. It says “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Have you ever been “led up by the Spirit” to go some place?

   Imagine saying to your spouse or parent, “I was led up by the Spirit into the shopping mall today to be tempted by the devil with all those advertisements, and ended up spending $5,000!” Does that sound believable? That sounds more like that character Geraldine that Flip Wilson used to play—you know, the woman who was always saying “The Devil made me do it! The Devil made me buy this dress.” (YouTube Flip Wilson The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress).

   God does not “lead us” into sin. Even in the Lord’s prayer we use each Sunday we suffer from a 16th Century King James, Shakespearian English translation of “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” which in the Book of Common Prayer (p.364) has a modern-day English rendering of “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.”

   Does that give you a different perspective? “Save us from the time of trial!”

We know we face regular trials in this life, some of us on a daily basis. 

   Here we are praying to God “Save us from the time of trial!” “Help us get through this, God. Help us remember you are walking with us. Let us not lose hope!”

   “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil” feels to me like a very personal response between two loving beings—between God and each one of us.

   Isn’t that what our relationship with God is? God is not a vengeful judge, but a loving parent. Save us, dear God, from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil whenever it assaults us.

   When we pray or sing the traditional Lord’s Prayer, try grasping in your minds this more personal one: Save us from the time of trial!

    Likewise, I would like to suggest a different way to see the opening verse of today’s Gospel. Instead of “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” try “Jesus was inspired by the Spirit to go off alone to listen to God’s call, and to struggle with his own human weaknesses.”

   How often do each of us struggle with our own weaknesses? Jesus, too, has faced these struggles!

   At his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus heard God tell him “You are my beloved.” In hearing this, Jesus, with a desire to deepen his relationship with God, separated himself from the day-to-day world to spend time—40 days!—focusing on God.

   In that time in the wilderness, where resources are scarce, Jesus inevitably encounters his own human needs and desires—desires that call for humans to focus on “me, myself, and I”—rather than on what God lovingly calls us to do.

   Notice, though, how Jesus overcomes his selfish, human desires, by grasping onto the words of God: “One does not live by bread alone…”; “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”; “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

   The deeper meaning of today’s Gospel is that in listening to God’s call, Jesus overcomes his all-too-human side of “It’s all about me”, and transforms his inner self into “It’s all about all of us, and it’s all about God.”

   In Jesus’ day the faith of the Pharisees and Sadducees focused on counting up sins and sacrificing animals. St. Paul tells us that Jesus has already wiped away our sins through his death on the cross. There is no need for us to keep an accounting ledger to total up our sins.

   Sin is not an abstract number to be added up, but instead are those things in our lives that keep us separated from God:

·       Things like greed,

·       thirst for power,

·       lust,

·       addictions of all kinds,

·       hatred of others—

     There seems to be an unending list in this world of the ways people separate themselves from God. Should we focus on sin, or focus on God?

   This is what the Season of Lent is all about:

·       It’s a time for us to introspectively examine our lives and struggle with our inner demons that lead us off the path to the Kingdom of God.

·       It is a time not only for introspection, but also in building our inner resolve to expel the demons within us by choosing a different way of using our time in this life.

   I read a quote the other day from an author, David Viscott, a psychiatrist, from his 1993 book “Finding Your Strength in Difficult Times: A Book of Meditations”. He wrote, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” That sounds to me like a great definition of our call during Lent.

   Through our new life in Christ, a life where God says to every one of us “You are my beloved,” we are called to live a life focused on mercy and justice, and living God’s dream of bringing the Kingdom of Love into this world.

   In this Season of Lent we are called to examine the things in our lives that keep us separated from God. Jesus spent 40 days in prayer and introspection. Could you spend 40 days? How about 40 minutes each day for 40 days?

   How can you find your inspiration? A book to read? In Prayer? In Meditation? Will it be a combination of something? Find something to inspire you! Set aside the time! And as you live through this time of lent, remember that after Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, he started a ministry that changed everyone’s life. What are you called to do?

   I leave you with this Lenten reflection from "The Saint Helena Breviary":

Then let us also keep this Lent

With watchful and devout intent,

That, vigilant, we may prepare

Our hearts for God’s redeeming care.**

As by our lapses we offend

O you who love us, truest friend;

Forgive us, Jesus, our offense;

Teach us a new obedience.

Let all the world for evermore

You, gracious Trinity, adore;

And may we spend these forty days

In seeking you and singing praise. Amen.

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  Through Many Struggles, Faith By Deacon Greg Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11; Psalm 32      In listening to ...