Let’s Not Get Carried Away – – – February 14, 2016
I remember telling you several weeks ago that we skipped a passage on our journey through Luke. We jumped from his baptism to the story of his coming to Nazareth and being rejected. Those high church people, whoever they are who determine the passages for what is called the common lectionary, saw fit to have the story of Jesus’ Baptism come right after Epiphany, the revealing of Jesus to the world, and then jump into the beginning of his ministry. They chose to have today’s reading, commonly known as the Temptation of Christ, come at the beginning of Lent. I think that messes everything up. While I can understand why, I think it alters the chronology. At any rate I like this passage, yet I must confess to almost skipping it myself.
I almost skipped it because in the process of looking at this week and all that had to be accomplished I made out the Sunday bulletin with all the Ash Wednesday readings and hymns and I got so far as to begin writing a sermon for today based on the Ash Wednesday text. I lost my focus.
Tuesday afternoon, just before she left the office, Sue Ann came to me and asked, why I decided to switch everything. I told her I hadn’t, she pointed out that I had indeed switched things around and I began to plan the week again. I realized, upon reading the text that I had failed to do exactly what Jesus did do by going into the desert.
Jesus went to the wilderness, and I like to imagine that this is a metaphor though it could certainly had been real, so let’s say he went to the wilderness of his mind to explore and discover the purpose of his ministry. He went on this forty day fast in the wilderness to do a self-examination seeking the path his journey would take. This is the forty day self-exploration which Lent is modeled after. During this retreat, or fast, or meditative period of self-examination, Jesus sought to clarify or discover the expanse of his purpose in life.
So the story refers to the three temptations of Christ.
– Turning the stone to bread
– Being placed in the position of power above all the known lands, and,
– Being placed at the pinnacle of the temple and having legions of angels serve him
I, as you know, like to change words a little bit from time to time to preserve the meaning but facilitate a better grasp of understanding, I will call the temptations, the three “P’s”, possessions, power, and prestige. And in the next few minutes I will refer to them collectively not as temptations but as; distractions, clarifications, and attachments.
They are in fact the same attachments, distractions and need for clarification that each of us must contend with in life all the time. Overcoming them is a constant struggle. And the lesson from Luke is … Jesus had to deal with the same things we do, all the time. Plus, distractions and attachments are far more user friendly words than temptations.
What are the struggles we face?
What are the distractions that keep us from fulfilling the goals we set out for ourselves or that keep us from wavering on our spiritual journey?
If were to each choose to search our hearts in order to discover what might truly satisfy our spiritual hunger; what keeps us from pursuing those goals?
I believe that if we are honest with ourselves the attachments and distractions that we face … are the same as the ones in the story about Jesus’ journey into the wilderness of his mind. And the story of Jesus facing those same issues, is a story that, whether true historically or not, is one that, theologically or philosophically, we can identify with because it is our story as well.
Let’s think about them one at a time:
– Turning the stone to bread
This one, in my mind, represents possessions. A hungering for things, or a longing for that next car, the next and better computer, the upgrade to the new iphone, … The only way to keep from making anyone else feel guilty here is to pick on my own desires so I’ll say, the next and better motorcycle, the new laptop, a new deck on the house, … IT’s the “things” we want, or already have, that we are attached to that can distract us from the goals we strive to achieve for purity of our spiritual journey. And once I change the thought from longing for things to being attached to things then it also opens the door to consider what we have that we might be pretty unwilling to let go of for the sake of a pursuit of a more spiritual nature.
I want to stress really hard that I do not want to make anyone feel guilt, I want us to challenge ourselves to be thinking about our own distractions and attachments as we face the wilderness of our hearts and minds. The story of Jesus being “tempted” to turn a stone into bread, is about being distracted by and attached to “possessions”.
The part of the wilderness story for Jesus has to do with power.
– Being placed in the position of power above all the known lands.
In a very real sense, in his lifetime, Jesus was faced with the possibility that he could have rallied the people to stand behind him in an attempt to overthrow the powers that dominated the common people. He could have used his rhetorical power to advance his dominance over great land areas. He was, the story says, tempted by Satan and offered power over all the known lands. The personification of this “distracting force” is as wrong as is the personification of all goodness. Using Satan as a personal pronoun is as wrong as using God in the same way. What the story confronts us with is the distraction of, or the attachment to, power over people. Power can be intoxicating, it can be addictive, it can distract us from our goals. And power in the way we must think about it, can come as subtle as milder forms of partner or spousal abuse, or as blatant as military dictatorships. Either way, and at all points in between, it gets in the way on our spiritual paths. The story of Jesus being “tempted” by being given power over the known land is a story of his being distracted by and attached to “power”.
And finally there is the distraction of and attachment to … prestige. The story states it as Jesus … Being placed at the pinnacle of the temple and having legions of angels serve him.
Well prestige can come in many forms and it is easy to be distracted by and attached to, even addicted to, the prestige we feel in relationships, or in positions of authority; be it here behind this pulpit, or that of a political figure on a national stage.
The story of Jesus being “tempted” by having legions of angels to serve him is a story of his being distracted by and attached to “prestige”.
What distractions keep us from being one with the sacred, one with our community, one with all that is? There are always going to be distractions. We cannot rid ourselves of distractions any more than we can rid ourselves of the thoughts that traverse our minds during meditation, or while someone is preaching a sermon. But in meditation we train ourselves to observe the flow, to be present with the truth that everything is .ever changing.
It is like watching the river flow past without getting swept away.
Yes I have been distracted many times.
I was distracted at the beginning of this week by the feeling that there was so much to do and in longing to look good I lost sight of the path to my goal and had to be called back.
It happens. It happened to me, to you, to Jesus.
But does not have to carry you away.