2014 11 March

Lenten Study 1: Temptations – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United


Lenten Study 1: Temptations

Welcome. You are invited to be part of a Lenten journey, Turn Around Take Off!

You, me; individuals, groups; people all across the country questioners, seekers, the spiritual but not religious; maybe church people, long- time members, or maybe folk just checking it out.

Lent is one of those times when there’s space for everybody…. An opportunity to take time out; to slow down; to ask yourself, “What really matters in life? In my life? Or what really matters for a community of faith, a church, the United Church?”

Lent is an opportunity for asking questions… about direction, purpose, meaning; Lent is a time to look into the mirror, to look honestly at yourself, and hear those core questions more directly, more personally, more honestly.

The Bible is good at asking questions. Despite the fact that many people try to turn it into a straightforward answer book, with no room for doubts, contradictions, or questions.

But take, for example, the first thing that God says to humanity after Adam and Eve do their apple-eating thing. It’s not a scold, or condemnation, rather, it’s a question…. Where are you?

And in the next chapter, when Cain and Abel are going at it, when we have the first murder, God again asks a question, “Where is your brother?”

You could go a long way with just those two questions alone…. Where are you? Where is your brother, your sister, your neighbour?

Jesus is good at asking questions. According to John’s gospel, the very first thing Jesus says is, “What are you looking for?” Now, that’s a good Lenten question.

These are the kind of questions we’ll be sitting with for the next six weeks, that I’m inviting you to ponder, as you think about your own faith journey, and as you think about where the United Church is being called.

Today’s reading, Matthew 4:1-11, sets it up in a classic sort of way; a description of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness launches every Lent, year by year. Jesus has just been baptized, and then the Spirit leads him into the wilderness for 40 days of wrestling with questions, trying to sort out the direction of his life, his ministry, what really matters; trying to hear his call.

And we’re invited to walk along with him, experiencing temptations, struggling with what knocks us off course, what sidetracks us from listening to our call.

Wilderness…which we humans know all too well. Those times when we are stripped down to the basics; when we come face to face with our own mortality, our own shortcomings, threats and dangers.

Scary, threatening – we spend a lot of energy trying to keep out of all wildernesses. They aren’t usually a lot of fun. And yet, we also know there can be a gift in the wilderness. When everything we have relied on is taken away, well, sometimes we can catch a glimpse of what’s essential. We might hear the voice of the Spirit. We might discover a new way to live; new possibilities might emerge.

Wilderness…that’s what some people say the United Church is in the midst of – all those statistics of shrinking numbers, declining finances, aging membership.

And some have even suggested that God is in this diminishment, that it’s the Spirit that is driving us into this wilderness, forcing us to confront questions about what it really means to be people of faith, to discover again the why of church, not the how.

Today’s passage talks about Jesus and the three temptations that confront him…and the power behind those temptations. In many ways these might well be temptations we face.

Turn these rocks into bread…. Remember that Jesus has been fasting for 40 days, and so having his fill of bread looks might tempting, almost a question of survival. Taking care of myself, my own hungers…that’s what I spend a lot of my life’s energy on. And even when I basically have what I need, I get caught up in wanting more, thinking it’s never enough. Can’t be too safe.

Or maybe turning stones into bread, hooks our desire to be known as do-gooders, handing out bushels of bread to every foodbank across the land. Nobody starves, but nothing changes.

Or that second temptation…take a flying leap off the temple. You gotta save me God, that’s your business. Keep me secure; guarantee my safety. I expect miracles, thanks to a string-pulling, prayer-answering God. Except it doesn’t usually work that way…so then what?

Or the final temptation… power and glory and MONEY. All the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. Now that’s tempting…stuff, endless stuff; the lifestyle of the rich and famous, of those in the Western world, which is probably most of us….

This reminds me of another Jesus question: “What will it profit you to gain the whole world if you lose your life, yourself?”

And this temptation sure has hooked the church over the centuries. Seventeen centuries ago the church jumped at Constantine’s offer to become the official church of the state, and in return, bless the status quo of Roman power. We’ve been willing, most of the time, to offering a blessing to whatever government needs a religious back up, in return for recognition and status.

Seductive for any church…we’re important; we have power; we can influence the government…and we’ll use it all for good. But oh my, we’ve seen, over and over, where that leads – trouble! Talk about losing your soul!

All good questions these. They’re powerful temptations. But the real question is, “What’s tempting you?” What is distracting you from paying attention, from acting upon what really matters? What is distracting you from the urgency and wonder of your own journey, and that of your faith community? I wonder….

And I wonder where we might find the strength to do as Jesus did, to root ourselves in God; to draw upon ancient resources in the stories of scripture, of people who had walked this wilderness before.

Maybe that’s what this Lenten journey is about – the discovery of how we find our true selves, how we maneuver through all that might seduce us from becoming our truest selves, the people, and the church, that God would have us be.


You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.

Gary Paterson | March 10, 2014 at 10:55 am | URL: http://wp.me/p2RwbK-m7