An Odd Church for an Odd Paradox

Sermon from March 10, 2019
Luke 4: 1-13
All Saints, Crockett, Texas

Today we are presented – with an odd paradox.
Jesus is tempted by the power of this world.
Yet Jesus knows that true power is not of this world.

Because after the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus out into the wilderness, where he is hungry.
And for 40 days, Jesus is tempted by the devil.

Jesus is tempted by the devil, as the devil says to him:
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
But Jesus does not give in to this temptation.

Then, in an instant, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and he says:
“If you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
But Jesus does not give in to this temptation either.

Then the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, and places him at the very top of the Temple, and says to him:
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”
But Jesus does not give in to this third temptation.

tempt

The devil carries Jesus up to a mountain to tempt him with an earthly kingdom (Luke 4:5–8; Matthew 4:8–10) Missal, France c.1470-75; Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS 425, fol. 48r.

Three different temptations are presented to Jesus:
A temptation to gain social power, by ending hunger.
A temptation to gain political power, by ruling all kingdoms.
A temptation to gain religious power, by the protection of angels.

But Jesus does not give in to any of these temptations for power.
Because Jesus knows that true power is an odd paradox.
True power comes – only by walking the downward path to the Cross.

Every Sunday, I am in a different congregation.
And every Sunday after worship, I visit with clergy and with lay people, just like you.
Almost every congregation expresses a desire to grow, and to be a relevant presence in their town.
After several years of being here with you at All Saints in Crockett, I have heard similar comments.

In these conversations, many times people will ask me why it is that the big box non-denominational churches in town,
All seem to be growing and thriving.
And yet the Episcopal Church in town – is not.

The worship in these other churches seems to be attractive to the elusive “young people.”
“Contemporary worship” and electric guitars and fog machines just might seem, on the outside, to be the magic pill.
Invariably someone will ask me:
“Bishop, what do you think is so attractive about their message?”

Now I don’t mean to paint anyone with a broad brush.
But I usually reply:
“The message of some folks is attractive – because it is the Gospel, without the Cross.
It is carefully-packaged, feel-good, motivational material that tells us how to live our best life now, to conquer the world, to have faith in the power of positive thinking, to move upward and onward.”

But if you notice carefully, with that message, there is little mention of the Cross.
There is little mention of suffering or loss or the refusal to accept power.
It is Gospel, it is good news, but without the Cross.

And what is attractive about a 10-steps to your best life, feel-good, upward message – is the same thing that is attractive about the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness:
The attractive promise of power and upward mobility, without having to walk the way of the Cross.

I believe that we minimize the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness – if we make the temptations of Jesus into just a lesson about us, a lesson about how we are supposed to resist our own temptations.
Yet Jesus does not resist the temptations of the devil so that we could “just say no” to the desserts that we give up for Lent.
Jesus’ resistance to temptations of power should not be boiled down to:
“Well, if Jesus could be hungry for 40 days, then I can certainly say no to a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie.”

No.
Jesus’ resistance to temptations of power show us more than his personal willpower.
Jesus resists the temptation of the devil – to show us an odd paradox.
Jesus resists the temptations of the devil – to show us the way of the Cross.

Because think of it this way:
What if Jesus had given into the devil on all those temptations?

What if Jesus had said:
“Hey, I am hungry and I am the Son of God.
I am going to turn all these stones into loaves of bread!”
Then how would we ever know the way of the Cross, the way of suffering, if Jesus always had a full belly?

What if Jesus had said:
“Hey, I am the king of the world.
I am going to be the boss over everybody!”
Then how would we ever know the way of the Cross, the way of service to others, if Jesus never stooped to wash feet?

What if Jesus had said:
“Hey, I am the Son of God.
So, I think I’ll just jump off the top of the Temple and fly on down.”
Then how would we ever know the way of the Cross, the way of humility, if Jesus was flying around with angels?

The temptations of Jesus don’t just give us a lesson about how we are to give up chocolate for Lent.
No, the temptations of Jesus give us an example of how we are to walk the way of the Cross.
The temptations of Jesus teach us to resist social and worldly and religious power.
The temptations of Jesus show us an odd paradox.
The temptations of Jesus show us a Gospel,
With the Cross.

For the Christian faith is an odd paradox:
The Son of God resists all the devil’s temptations of power.
And yet, Jesus is the most powerful man ever!

The Christian faith is an odd paradox:
We resist temptations that tell us to think positive, to live our best life now, to conquer the world.
Yet instead of onward and upward, we walk down,
Down into the darkness of the tomb!

All Saints Episcopal Church in Crockett, Texas, might seem odd compared to other churches in town.
And of course we are odd!
And I give thanks for this odd church who proclaims an odd paradox!

In other churches, they might not pray prayers that are over a hundred years old, much less over a decade old.
Yet we are odd, odd because we pray prayers that are centuries old.
Almost a thousand years ago, St. Francis of Assisi, the champion of animals and the poor, once taught about this odd paradox by praying this:
“It is in giving – that we receive;
It is in forgiving – that we are forgiven;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

My friends:
This is Gospel, this is good news, with the Cross!
This is an odd paradox.
An odd paradox,
For an odd Church.

AMEN.

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