November 24, 2017

Sermon: The Next Day…and the Next (Lent I)

Phoenix Mtn Preserve 2015

SERMON: Lent I
The Next Day…and the Next

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

• Matthew 4:1-11

• • •

We all have great and memorable days in our lives.

There was a day when you graduated from high school and perhaps a day when you graduated from college or graduate school too. Or perhaps you went through a particular vocational training or certification and graduated from that.

What a great day that was! The heavens shone down on you. Your family and friends celebrated with you. You had completed your preparation and now you stood on the threshold of a new life. You had a new identity — there were now official letters after your name, you had credentials, a line on your resumé was filled. You had studied for a particular discipline or vocation, and now you were ready to take it up, to go forward into the world as a business person, an engineer, a nurse, a teacher, an electrician, a musician, or as in my case, a pastor.

That day was wonderful! And then came…the next day. And the next. And the next.

And maybe after awhile what had been so clear to you on graduation day started getting fuzzy. The work you had prepared for wasn’t exactly like you thought it might be. There were times you flat out didn’t get it. The days were long. You got frustrated. You wondered if you made the right decision, you questioned whether or not you were on the right path.

It’s one thing to graduate. It’s another thing entirely to live and work every day in the vocation to which you’re called.

Maybe there was a day when you got married. You stood there before your family and friends and exchanged vows with the love of your life.

What a great day that was! The perfect couple! The church was beautiful, you and your bridal party looked amazing. Everyone who came commented on what a lovely ceremony it was, and you and your guests partied with joy and celebration at the reception. You had a legal, official signed piece of paper making it real. You were husband and wife. You kissed and threw the bouquet and drank champagne and drove off to a delightful honeymoon.

That day was wonderful! And then came…the next day. And the next. And the next.

And maybe after awhile what had been so clear to you on your wedding day started getting fuzzy. Living with a spouse day after day wasn’t anything like you expected. You didn’t always agree with each other. Sometimes you felt anger rising in your chest. Your spouse didn’t always pay attention to you or get what you were trying to say. There were times you raised your voice, another time when you were so frustrated you had to take a walk to cool off. The thought even crossed your mind that you might not have made the right decision. Were you two really compatible? Were you going to make it?

It’s one thing to have a wedding. It’s another thing entirely to live with someone day by day for a lifetime. Anyone can have a wedding, it’s another thing to have a marriage every day for the rest of your life.

Many of you had a great day when you welcomed a new baby into your life. If you’re like me, that was something that seemed utterly miraculous and mind-blowing. You and your partner actually created a life and brought it into the world!

What a great day that was! Such a precious little boy or girl! You held the baby and delighted in every little feature of his or her body. You laughed and cried and were at a loss for words at the wonder you felt.

That day was wonderful! And then came…the next day. And the next. And the next.

And sleepless nights. And exhaustion. And the frustration of not knowing what to do when the baby wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t breastfeed, wouldn’t stop crying. Maybe you had to deal with postpartum depression or complications from the birth. Suddenly your world was turned upside down and you felt alone, incompetent, and resentful that your partner didn’t help more. You even got angry at the baby for being so difficult. That made you upset with yourself for being so selfish and incapable of controlling your emotions.

It’s one thing to have a baby. It’s another thing entirely to care for a child. And once you made it through those often challenging days with an infant, guess what you had to look forward to next? Another challenging season of life — with a toddler! And on and on life goes. It’s one thing to bring a baby into this world, it’s another thing to be a parent every day for the rest of your life.

Today’s Gospel story — the one we commonly call “the Temptation of Jesus” — takes place right after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism was one of those great and memorable days like we’ve been talking about. When Jesus came up out of the water, the Spirit of God descended from heaven and came upon him. God’s voice thundered out from heaven acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God. This was Jesus’ great day, his day of graduation (if you will), the day when God affirmed Jesus in his identity as Israel’s King, the Messiah.

And then came…the next day. And the next. And the next. For forty straight days.

Forty days in the wilderness. Forty days of hunger and thirst. Forty days of exposure to the elements. Forty days of exhaustion. Forty days of unknown dangers and threats. And at the end of it all, when Jesus was at his lowest point, he began to hear the voices of doubt and discouragement, voices that caused him to wonder if he was on the right path, voices urging him to take shortcuts, to act in ways that were contrary to his identity as the called and chosen Son of God.

  • Voices encouraging him to save his life when he knew he was called to lose it for others.
  • Voices encouraging him to do something spectacular to wow the crowds when he knew he was called to love and serve and teach and heal.
  • Voices encouraging him to get all the power and riches and luxury he could get — which he rightfully deserved as a king! — and to give up the whole idea of laying down his life for the world’s salvation.

Thank God that Jesus persevered through those temptations! Somehow, by remembering God’s promises, he was able to maintain his identity and focus on who he was and what God had called him to do. He didn’t give up. He didn’t go another way. He didn’t abandon his calling. He kept on living the life of God’s beloved Son the next day, and the next day, and the next day, until the day he went to the cross.

But I don’t want you to have the wrong impression here. The Bible presents this as a single story of temptation, and we might get the idea that this was a one-time experience Jesus went through, and then he never had to deal with doubt and questions and the temptation to take another way rather than the way God had called him to take.

I don’t think that’s the case. I think these temptations, presented in a single story in the Scriptures, probably dogged Jesus on and off throughout his whole ministry. I believe that because we are told that Jesus took on our human nature, and I’ve come to know a little about human nature by living with myself and by dealing with people over the years.

And what I’ve learned is that you just don’t overcome temptation on one day and then its over. In fact, Luke’s version of this temptation story ends by saying, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” That wasn’t the last time Jesus faced these kinds of tests. It’s likely he faced them the next day, and the next day, and the next.

You see, it’s one thing to be baptized. To know that you are called and chosen by God. To come up out of the water and be filled with the Spirit and to have the assurance of God’s love and presence in your life.

It’s another thing entirely to live the life of a child of God day after day after day.

Thank God Jesus did that. And thank God he is with us today, and the next day, and the next to give us his Spirit and help us when we are tempted to give up.

May the One who overcame the onslaughts of the evil one and stayed on the path keep us faithful today. And the next day. And the next day. Throughout this Lenten season, and through all the seasons of our life. Amen.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Chaplain Mike. This is one I’ll be reading again and again.

  2. >> We all have great and memorable days in our lives.

    Hmmm. This statement of apparent fact adds another rock to the mountain of alienation I live beneath, hardly noticeable at this point. What follows in the sermon reads to me like a slightly updated Ozzie & Harriet script, and what I take away from it, as back then, is that these “great and memorable days” are what is considered “normal” by “normal” people. Back then I gave it my best shot, did as I was told until I could not stand it one more minute. That was a time when “alienation” was coming into vogue, and I never did feel comfortable with the alienated any more than with the Nelson family. The Bible speaks of living as an alien in an alien land, and that pretty much sums it up for me.

    My characterization of the Monastery is of a disparate group of people who feel alienated together in the name of Jesus. I don’t know of any Christian group anywhere that I can get along with as well as with the people here, but I do not feel any closer here than with the Nelsons or the Beatniks or the Hippies or the Boomers or the Millennials or any subsequent group to come along. Yes, closer with some people than others, that has always been true, but always Stranger in a Strange Land. I’m not crying on your shoulder, it feels normal to me by now and getting more normal all the time. But not fun so far, tho I am able to catch my own memorable moments. Today I plan on burying with honors a young Sharp Shinned Hawk who apparently did not survive the below zero night in a tree in my front yard. Too far north too soon and too inexperienced. I expect some attendees who don’t ordinarily inhabit our visible light spectrum. I probably feel closer to that hawk than to most people I know. I’m lucky to be alive today. Or “blessed” for any religious folk.

    The sermon above speaks of Jesus as not abandoning his calling. If I were called to my Life Review right now, I think I could say the same, which seems strange in that I have never understood what my calling was. At the same time I believe that calling is becoming more and more clear to me, perhaps less fuzzy, and this at a time of life when most normal people are kicking back and letting someone else carry the load. There are specific things I am given to do, but overall it’s what I’ve been doing for as long as I remember, staying on the path, one foot in front of another, like the sermon says, today, and the next, and the next after, with allowances for my dwindling strength of body. I’m trying to learn to do this standing up straight and hope to get that one down before I leave the planet. No Bach in the Monastery this morning, but I’ve got The Global Bach Community working out. Sometimes it’s an old organ you can hear breathing. Cool! Happy Sunday!!!

    • Dana Ames says:

      Charley,

      A commenter named Matt left this at a blog post of Fr Stephen’s that talked about animals. I don’t know if Matt composed it or got it from somewhere else. I thought it would be very useful – and indeed I have prayed it since then.

      “I do not know, Lord, and am unworthy to inquire, what plan of salvation you may have for this creature. But I beseech You, who in Your unfathomable wisdom have made even Your sinless creation subject to futility in hope of salvation from corruption into Your glorious freedom, to extend all such mercy You have planned for that with which we have had this privilege of sharing Your gift of life.

      [Include this paragraph if we were responsible for its unnecessary death.]
      “Forgive us, Lord, in our haste and our brokenness, poor and unprofitable stewards of these Your gifts, and ever guide us to repentance that we may do all things in accordance with Your will.

      “Lord Jesus Christ our God, bless this Your creature in accordance with its kind, as it returns to its dust whence it had been brought forth from Your living earth, that all your creation may be restored to the joy of Your salvation, O Resurrection and Life, in Your everlasting mercies with Your unoriginate Father and All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

      Dana

      • Thank you, Dana. We got it done this afternoon in the bright sunshine and melting snow, a little grave with a Spruce needle bed and a Maple leaf blanket, in between Ralph and Missy the doggies and a little away from Shadow the cat. He was only about the size of a Dove, I say “he” not knowing for sure but it felt that way and I named him Horus. Not as ornate prayers as your Fr Stephen but accompanied with tears and perhaps the unseen presence of a birdie angel and possibly even a representative from the Blue Avian people. Horus will join the other eight critters I lift up in blessing daily on my prayer walk, along with everyone here, amongst others. I expect I may get to see him again on the other side. This was the only time I have gotten to see one of these little Accipiters up close and personal. Usually they are a flash of feathers at the bird feeder in the general panic. ~Charley

      • Robert F says:

        dead finch
        on the roadside
        its grave unmarked

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Voices encouraging him to save his life when he knew he was called to lose it for others.

    Voices encouraging him to do something spectacular to wow the crowds when he knew he was called to love and serve and teach and heal.

    Voices encouraging him to get all the power and riches and luxury he could get — which he rightfully deserved as a king! — and to give up the whole idea of laying down his life for the world’s salvation.

    Voices encouraging him to do the things everyone was expecting of Messiah — and to give up the whole idea of BEING Messiah.

  4. Ronald Avra says:

    “One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

    When the kingdom appears in its fullness, one of my principle interests will be to discover how many persons this has sustained.

    • Christiane says:

      “He is the staff and sustenance of life
      He lives for all from one Sustaining Word

      His love still breaks and pierces like a knife
      The stony ground of hearts that never shared,

      God gives through Him what Satan never could;
      The broken bread that is our only food.”

      (from a Lenten reflection by Malcolm Guite)

  5. MamaBear says:

    I appreciate the Lenten reminder. Having laid out my plan for focusing on repentance and the Lord’s call, I made it all of three days into Lent before stumbling on the stones of my besetting sins again. Dust off, and try again on a new day is all I can think of…