Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Temptation is about trust. . .

Sermon for Lent 1A, preaching on Sunday, March 9, 2014.

    In Dostoevsky's classic work The Brothers Karamozov, the grand inquisitor asks, "You did not know that when man rejects miracles, he rejects God, too?"  The great weakness from the beginning was not simple disobedience but the substitution of another word for the Word of the Lord, our works for the works of God.  From the beginning of man's rebellion in the Garden of Eden, we have lived the illusion that we can pick and choose from God's Word what we choose to believe and what we choose to reject.  The miracles were always easy targets for the skeptical mind.  Rejecting the Word and works of God, we reduced religion to mere morality and a self-improvement program.
    Dostoevsky's inquisitor continues that miracles are so essential to mankind that if we reject the miracles of God we must replace them with miracles of our own manufacture.  Over time that has always been our weakness.  When we rejected the word and works of God, we ended up replacing them with words and works of our own in the guise of spirituality but with the result that we were distanced from God and caught in the dead end of death.
    So Satan came to Jesus to see if the temptations that worked so well on us would undo Him.  They were all cloaked in the sound of truth but if He accepted them He would have rejected truth and rejected the Father who sent Him.  We did not see it until it was too late but Jesus saw it clearly.
    From the beginning of creation we second guessed God's Word.  You can hear it in the conversation with Satan in the Garden of Eden.  Did God really say?  Did God really mean?  We may be tempted to think doubt is a modern idea to second guess God but it is as old as time.
    Then we were arrogant to think our believing made it true.  In the end, placing ourselves above the Word of the Lord is the ultimate denial of truth – the replacement of a temporary truth for the truth that endures forever.  We end up with a god and a truth no bigger, no more powerful, and no more resilient than we are.
    Finally, we confused faith with understanding.  If we understand it, if it seems reasonable to us, then we call it faith.  That has never been what faith was or is.  A God we can understand and with whom we can reason is no God at all.  The end result of trying to understand or reason God and His ways is nothing but death and fear.  The corrupt tree produces the ultimate corrupt fruit.  Rejecting God and His Word, we are left with only the lies we tell ourselves and a life which is nothing more than a prolonged death.  We did not see this in Eden but Jesus did.
    Jesus trusts the Word of the Father.  It is His strength in weakness and the Light to unmask Satan’s lies.  When Satan offers Jesus the opportunity to satisfy Himself and His desires with a little bread, Jesus sees it for what it is.  It is the lie that would trade in the bread of life for a morsel that cannot prolong a moment.  Jesus will not manipulate the Word of the Lord to satisfy His wants or needs.  He trusts the Word of the Father.
    When Satan asks Jesus to exploit that trust, to put the Word of the Father to the test, it seems so very reasonable.  God said He would protect you.  You can trust the Lord.  Use that trust.  This is exactly the kind of reasoning the devil used in Eden.  But Jesus refuses to follow the logic.  Faith is not reason and it is not understanding.  It is trust.  The Father is true to His Word and His faithfulness needs no testing.  God and His Word are the most sure and certain things of all.  Faith meets God here.  So Jesus refuses to test the Father, to expect or demand a sign from Him. 
    To those outside, faith seems like a crutch for the weak or an easy way out for those with no sense of adventure or independence.  Oh, how I wish it were true.  The easy way is always a dead end.  Satan offers an easy way.  No suffering.  No struggle. No pain.  No death.  Just a quiet little transaction with the devil and Jesus can avoid it all.  It is no different than the way we want.  A life without suffering, struggle, or pain.  But Jesus sees that the easy way out is a dead end.  So Jesus will do the will of Him who sent us – knowing that the path of redemption for you and me will lead Him through suffering and death.
    We build roadblocks to faith all the time.  We cherry pick the Word of God and believe only the things we like to be true.  We replace His Word with our own pious sayings and we deny His miracles in order to laud our own accomplishments.  We choose the path of least resistence and run from suffering, sacrifice, and struggle.  And then we call this faith.  This is not faith.
    In place of the cross, we taut our own works.  In place of trusting the Lord, we trust ourselves.  But not Jesus.  Jesus stands for us and in our place sees through the lies to hold on to the truth and rejects the so-called easy way.  We come here today not to find some magic pill to an easier life.  We come here to see through Jesus eyes the truth that endures forever, to trust with Him the God whose promises never fail, and to walk with Jesus the way of the cross.  We come today because Christ denied the devil his victory and chose the path of suffering that redeems and death that gives life.  We come to walk with Him the hard walk of faith, trusting not in ourselves, not in our words, and not in our deeds.  We come to meet Him at the cross where our redemption was won and to take up the cross and follow Him.  We come to rejoice because amid all the lies the devil still tells, the Word of the Lord shines with the light of truth.     
    We are tempted to believe that temptation is about power or money or sex or some other thing.  It is always about faith, about trusting the Word of the Lord.  This is what Jesus shows us in His temptation.  Temptation is always about faith even when we are tempted by other things. Is God trustworthy?  Can we depend on Him and His promises?  Is His Word enough?  Faith is not neat, clean or tidy and it is certainly not the easy way out.  It is not a path without struggle or sorrow.  But this is the walk that leads to life everlasting.  Jesus forged the path through temptation.  He did so in order to carry for us the heavy burden.  Now He bids us trust, believe, and walk in Him.  Amen.

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