Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Delusions of grandeur. . .

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, preached on Sunday, February 17, 2013.

    No time for rest, not even for a breath.  As quickly as can be Jesus is shuffled off from baptismal water right into the wilderness where Satan comes to call.  For us, this jarring transformation is shown by the contrast between the mount of Transfiguration's glory and the desert where suffering  and temptation visit.  Down the mountain the Lord goes for there is no glory that will not come through pain and suffering.  The fading glory of Transfiguration is already in our rear view mirror, replaced by the blunt mirror of Ash Wednesday's view of sin and death.
    So we go with Jesus, the echo of that voice still in the ear, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  It does not matter how pleased God is with Jesus, Jesus still must undergo temptation and suffering to accomplish our salvation.  There we find Him today, fighting our battle for us, exposed by the only weakness in Him – the weakness of flesh.
    The Devil taunts Him with delusions of grandeur.  "If" – the word used to introduce a sidestep of righteousness, a short cut, all the glory with half the suffering.  "If you are the Son of God eat and be full..."  Surely Jesus was hungry and weak, fasting some forty days.  Not the easy fast that gives up chocolate or wine or peas but the total fast that imposes upon desire the reins of self-control.  Yes, He was hungry.  But Jesus had just heard "You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  With this hunger comes the reminder of who He is and His holy purpose.  Yet His flesh nagged with the question of Eden?  "Doesn't God want you to eat?"  This time the only bread that will be eaten is the Word of God.
    He passed on to one more test, one more delusion of grandeur He must face.  "If You are the Son of God... believe..."  How many heretics begin with faith stretched, distorted, and twisted by a literalism that hides unbelief?  "God will catch You.  Throw Yourself down!  Don't you believe God will be there for You?"  Now, boy does that sound familiar.  The word diabolos means slanderer and the Devil slanders what it means to believe and trust in God by pushing us, as He pushed Jesus, to test the limits of God's patience, endurance, power, and love.  But not Jesus.
    The final test is perhaps the most difficult.  "If you are the Son of God then seek the easy path to power..."  Like Jesus, we have heard the horrible whispers of the great deceiver telling us, when you have money give, when you have time go, when you are in the right mood be holy...  The great satanic lie is the one that says make it big first and then you can make it right.  For Jesus this means obtaining the people of God but with out the suffering and death of the cross.  We love those short cuts but Jesus refuses.  Thy will be done.
    All that the devil has are the delusions of grandeur we offer him – the short cuts, the lies, the power of feelings, the dominance of desire.  Like Jesus in the wilderness, the devil always begins by an appeal to self. "God wants me to get what I want... to be first... to get things done... to be happy..."  How many Citizen Kane's sit here today having begun with noble motive only to be undone by expedience and taken down by short cuts to glory, to success, to happiness?  How many of us have sold our birthright as the children of God for today's soup du jour?
    We fall on every one of them.  But Jesus has the Word straight.  "By one man's obedience shall the many be made righteous."  Jesus has nothing to prove and He proves everything.  He shows us that the only thing that counts, that endures, that succeeds is faithfulness.  We fear what God wants from us or expects from us and in our fears we are weak before temptation.  Jesus has no fear of God or of righteousness.
    Jesus has nothing to prove except His faithfulness. . . neither do we. If you are faithful, you have it all.  If you are faithful, you are righteous.  If you are faithful, you are holy.  That is what it means when Scripture says the just shall live by faith.
    His obedience is our righteousness.  We have no need to wonder about what Jesus would do if He were in our shoes.  He has been.  We know what He did.  He chose faithfulness over self, over desire, over happiness.  The path of faith always leads us into the wilderness and the devil is always there.  We answer his taunts and lies and the delusions of grandeur he offers by speak Christ's Word to him.  Then we stand in Christ's strength and in that faithfulness God's generous grace calls us faithful.
    Temptation is not a test to see how vulnerable you are.  It is the constant state of life as God's own in a world that has turned on Him.  We succeed not by wit or reason but by faithfulness, by standing with Jesus upon the Word of God, and by sacrificing will and desire to the will of God the desire born of baptism and known by faith.  And you what?  As we see in Jesus, when we stand on God's Word, we lose nothing and gain that which can never be taken from us.  Delusions of grandeur meet the truth of Christ.  Amen.

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