Monday, March 14, 2011

Whose voice do you hear? Whose voice are you listening for?

Sermon Preached for the First Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2011.

    When my children were small, I could hear their every whimper.  In church I knew instinctively when it was one of my own crying.  I have found that once they grow up, they seldom cry in church.  Some folks have an issue with kids crying in church. They have often complained to me that children should be seen and not heard – especially in church.  On very rare occasions that have been small children whose cries might be better dealt with by taking them out for a few minutes, but, the rest of the time, I just plain don't hear them.  I am listening to and for other things.  What are you listening to?  Whose voice do you hear - not only on Sundays but all week?
    The story of temptation is the story of voices.  Eve first heard the voice of her own doubts and anxieties.  Then she listened to the voice of the serpent who kept amplifying those feelings.  Adam listened to the voice of his own discontent when Eve had risked the forbidden and then he listened to her voice inviting him to join her.  What happened in the Garden of Eden still happens.  We listen to the voice of our doubts, fears, and discontent and Satan amplifies that voice and adds his own voice of lies and deception.  And as soon as we focus on these voices, we are weak in the face of temptation.
    Whatever doubts Adam and Eve had of God and His rules for the garden, Satan took and amplified until they were the only voices they heard.  Their perspective shifted from the positive affirmation of all that God had given them to the negative voice that complained about the one thing forbidden to them.  So it is for us today.  Temptation starts with discontent over all that you have and soon it gives birth to resentment over what you do not have.  When our focus is on ourselves and what we lack, instead of God’s grace and what He has given us, this discontent becomes the fertile ground for temptation to succeed.  When this ground is plowed by Satan, the fruit is always weakness and defeat – we give in to our desires.
    Satan feeds on this discontent.  He manipulates our knowledge until the very thing that we know is wrong becomes the thing we think we ought to do. It was that way in the garden of Eden so long ago and it is still the path that temptation follows in our lives.  Whose voice do you hear?  Do you heed?
    Jesus heard another voice.  Jesus was flesh and blood like we are.  His perfection did not come because He was immune to temptation.  Jesus was just as vulnerable to temptation as we are.  The devil knew His weakness and appealed to it expertly – food for a hungry body, test to make God prove Himself, and finally a short cut to get what He was here to accomplish.  But Jesus did not listen to the voice inside Him crying out for the easy path.  He did not hear or heed the voice of desire.  Instead Jesus was listening to another voice – to the voice of the Father and the voice of Scripture.
    What enables us to resist temptation is not that we are better than others but a matter of whose voice we hear.  Sin speaks the voice of the moment, the voice of desire, the voice of want... The Spirit speaks to us the voice of truth, faith, and righteousness.  Jesus did not only fulfill all righteousness for us, He shows us who to listen to and how to hear the voice of the Spirit, speaking through His Word, make us strong.
    When Jesus says, "Man does not live by bread alone..." He is telling us that earthly things do not matter much.  The world insists that they are the only things that matter.  Our desires tell us that only this moment counts.  But the Word of God puts it all into perspective.  If you get the heavenly things right, the earthly things fall into place.  I read that somewhere a week or two ago.
    When Jesus says, "Do not test the Lord your God..." He is telling us that God is always there – whether we see Him or not.  He reminds us that what we see with these eyes may not be as true as what we see with the eyes of faith.  We do not gain trust by testing the Lord in small increments, we trust the Lord in the midst of all our tests, trials, and troubles and we are made strong.
    When Jesus says, "Trust in God alone..." He is telling us what part of us already knows.  Even well meaning people will let us down; only God will never fail us.  We say a friend in need is a friend indeed but how many of us have been abandoned by our friends?  God's friendship is not some vague promise but the reality of the Cross.  Greater love has no one than he who lays down His life for His friends.  Jesus shows us this love in His outstretched arms on the cross.
    No one escapes temptation – not even the Son of God.  Parents cannot isolate their children from the sinful path of the world and its allure.  But only Jesus faces the temptation in the power of the Word of God and remains true to that Word.  Better than hiding our children from the world is to raise up our children to hear the voice of God’s Word that the Spirit may make them strong in the face of evil’s glitter.  You and I walk in temptation every day of the week, every week of the year.  To whom do we listen?  For whom do we listen?
    The devil begins not with the stuff out there but with what is in here, in our hearts, with the voice of our own discontent, our own doubt, our own anger, and our own bitterness.  He reflects back to us what flows from our weak and sinful hearts until it is the only thing we hear.  And then we are done for.  But... when we listen to the voice of the Father speaking through His Word, we are made strong in Christ.  What we hear is joy, confidence, peace, and courage.  And when, striving mightily against temptation, we fall, Christ will stand us up again with forgiveness.  His forgiveness is His hand out to reach us, lift us up, and restore us to Himself.
    This is no simplistic call to think "What would Jesus do" or the command to "do what Jesus did."  This is the voice of God who does not command us to be strong but rather equips us with Christ's strength in the face of our weaknesses.  And when we do fall, as indeed we shall, this grace does not abandon us.  Rather it is this same grace that lifts us up again.  I call on you today.  Do not listen to the desires of your heart – they will lead you astray.  Rather, listen to the one voice that cannot lead you astray – the one true and solid voice of God in Christ.  Listen to His voice that you may be strong in the face of temptation.  And when are weak in the face of temptation, this same voice will call to You with forgiveness, lift you up and restore You to Himself again.  Amen

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