“The Walk of Faith”
Matthew 4:1-11, March 1st, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
First Sunday in Lent
“Our lesson this morning comes from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter four, verses one thru eleven.”
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
“Having heard how Jesus was tempted, let us consider the temptations that are presented to us each day.”
“The Walk of Faith”
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. A five-week journey which shall bring us to Holy Week and then our Easter celebration. Today, we are reminded of temptation; those Jesus faced and those which we all face in our lives here and now! Can we, can you and I, resist the temptations that are placed in front of us as we journey ever forward? Can we do this for a day, a week or even five weeks? Are we even able to acknowledge the temptations that are placed before us each day? Can you name them, or do they sneak into your life disguised and hidden from sight? The walk of faith which we are called upon to make, is oftentimes challenging and the roadway is time and again, ‘in need of repair’; leaving us to negotiate the potholes and find our way when the road seems to have been blocked by situations, obstacles and hurdles to overcome. Yes, I think we each know what temptations is. The question is, are we trying to overcome them alone or are we acknowledging we sometimes need help?
Many of you came out for the Ash Wednesday services this past week. The ceremony of the ashes is meant to be a reminder of our mortality and that we were brought forth from the dust, the very ashes of the earth itself and to ash and dust we shall return. It is a humbling moment for many when this ritual is observed, for facing our humanity of our existence here on earth is something we all must face in the twilight of our lives. Acknowledging it along the pathway is vital as we seek to find the right path as we journey ever forward. The temptation is to ignore this and not work at the acceptance of this now – rather than in the future when it may be too late to adjust ‘how’ we navigate through the ever-changing roadways of life.
As we consider our personal temptations let us be reminded of how early theologians considered this accounting of how Jesus negotiated the obstacles he faced in the wilderness of life. In the Geneva Notes, we are told that “Christ is tempted in all manner of ways, and still overcomes, that we also through his virtue may overcome.” As we have now heard the account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, the wilderness of human life, we can be assured that the same spirit of commitment and devotion to God, our heavenly Creator can be ours also, if we but ask for the strength, the courage and the willingness to resist the temptations, lures, enticements and invitations that human realities present to us. When we turn to God, to the teachings of Christ, turning to the Living God who comes to us in the Spirit, we too shall prevail and push those earthly cravings and desires away, choosing the pathways of righteousness and love of God and service to others; over our self-seeking wants and longings.
Jesus was offered food and nourishment for his body, power and authority over earthly things, as well as the arrogance to turn his back on God’s ‘calling’ to humble himself for the good of others, for the sake of pride and ego. It all starts so early in life, the lure, the trap of a softer easier way. Simple things like going out to play with one’s friends rather than do the responsible thing and do one’s chores as your parents have asked of you. Then it progresses to more concerning things such as the pull to give in to the peer pressure to try your first cigarette or perhaps a hit off a joint filled with some drug which gives you false courage and imagined fantasied skills. These first experiences may become a habit that pulls you further and further away from the realities that we humans need to face, whether we like it or not. Temptations come in many packages.
When I served my first parish as a young pastor just out of school, the woman’s group invited me to a luncheon. As they laid out their scrumptious and mouthwatering meal, each item fixed with love and a desire to feed others with their best efforts, there appeared a delightful desert. It was a bowl fixed with so many wonderful things all mixed-together it was not possible – ‘not to begin’ – to drool. As I eyed the whipped cream encircling three or four delectable berries: blue, red and what appeared to be pieces of chocolate, I asked “what do you call this one?” The answer came with a big smile from one of the ladies: “Sinfully delightful” she beamed back to me. And oh, how right she was! I quickly became a non-apologetic, non-repentant coisure of her delightfully sinful desert that smashed every effort one might have to eat a sensible lunch!
Ah yes, the joys of overeating rich sweet dishes with no nutritional value whatsoever can lead to all sorts of sinful lifestyles as we disregard our responsibility to care for the human body which God has given to us. We test the grace of God when we abuse ourselves in such ways forgetting that the Spirit of the Living God resides within us. Such temptations start small, yet they can lead to truly destructive lifestyles. Surely, you say: “Pastor this is not what we need to concern ourselves with during such a serious discussion about temptations!” Perhaps you are correct, but, yet I now have your attention, do I not? So, let us move further onward in our discussions.
As a child you learn to use your prowess, your abilities to take advantage of others. It begins slowly, you snatch away your sibling’s allowance and threaten them not to tell. You get away with this and that feeling of superiority begins to build inside of you. You ignore the Sunday school teacher and the youth pastor’s lessons on sharing and being kind to others around you. You certainly do not retain in your selfish mind that the lesson was to teach you how to be in community and to love others, as Jesus taught so clearly in his many teachings; lessons that your teachers only thought you understood. Left unchecked you grow to adulthood and being at the top of your business classes you become a manager over others. Yes, you become successful, but at the cost of the rights and the human dignities of those who work underneath your harsh thumb. Temptations of power while rejecting the expectations of a God that asks for you to follow in the teachings of the scriptures and some simple guidelines have become prevalent.
It is so important to recognize, early on, whether we are succumbing to temptation such as an occasional good desert, on a special occasion, verses making lifestyle choices which put your preferences at odds with your relationship with God! These next weeks, as we journey together through the season of Lent, is a good opportunity for each of us to consider where we are in our journeys of faith. It is never too late to make corrections in how we interact with others; how we grow our relationship with ones Creator God; and certainly not too late to ask God for forgiveness – as you turn your heart back toward God. This is an easy lesson to teach but a very difficult one for us, as we grow further and further away from the light of God.
The subtleties of one’s behavior can fool others, especially if you have been refining it for several decades. However, deep inside each one of us is the spark, the burning light of God’s Spirit. If you have neglected it, the light inside may be flickering and has become dim within you. If you stop and reflect on those things within your own heart and find it lacking, you may want to reexamine some of your current choices. Lent truly is a good opportunity for reflection. Rather than give up your favorite desert for forty days, you may want to add a time of prayer and even a little fasting. If skipping a meal helps you reflect on your mortality and brings you closer to God, go for it! Take it easy on yourself. Remember, God may be more pleased with you than you think. God has been known to surprise others with the words: “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”
Don’t allow the ramblings of your preacher to distract you from who you truly are, in the sight of God. Preachers are only called upon to put forth a devotional message about a piece of scripture, which will enhance its meaning for you the listener. Use this reflective time of Lent to cause you to do some self-reflection. Practice the teachings of the likes of Jesus; be kind to yourself as God would have you be kind to others. Be a power of example for others to follow. Have integrity in all areas of your life. If you like the person who looks back at you from the mirror – good! However, if you are feeling that something needs to change, then start asking God for some direction on what types of changes are needed.
Don’t give in to the temptation to skip over this part of your journey. Even the doctors, the caregivers and the pastors in your life need a make-over from time to time. When you admit that without the help of God you are lost, you are halfway there to being found! When you turn your back to that next temptation you will find yourself facing the Light of the Spirit. Ask the Living God to help you and begin a time of transition. The angels that waited on the needs of the human man Jesus are ready and “waiting to assist” you!