March 5 2017

Matthew  4:1-11

Narrator:            The Spirit leads Jesus out into the desert to focus his resolve for the journey ahead of him.  He went without food for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was really hungry. Then the tempter came …

Tempter:            [regarding the stones on the floor]  Jesus, You claim to be the Son of God?  So turn these rocks into fresh loaves of delicious bread.  Then you won’t be hungry.  It’s that simple.  You have the power.  You deserve it.  Just do it!

Jesus:                    [picks up one of the stones]  Come on, tempter, it’s not about the bread. What we really need to live life to the full is every word that God speaks.  Tempter, go away[drops rock]

Narrator:            Then the devil took him to Jerusalem and set Jesus on the very top of the Temple.

Tempter:            [they stand on the platform]  You say that you’re the

Son of  God?  Prove it!  Jump off this roof.  If you are who you say you are God will send angels to catch you before you reach the ground.  Go on, do it!

Jesus:                    I have no need to test God.  Tempter, get lost!

Narrator:            This time the Devil took Jesus to the top of a very high mountain where the whole world could be seen.

Tempter:            [Jesus is led to the ladder]  Jesus, climb up.  Everything you see, in all directions, all the nations and peoples, can be yours.  I give them to you, all you have to do is kiss my feet.

Jesus:                    I worship only God.  God is whom I serve.  Never you. Tempter, buzz off! 

Tempter:            OK, Jesus, but I’ll be back!  [walks out door and slams it behind!]

MESSAGE                           “Buzz Off!”        Rev. James R. Renfrew

Today our journey to Jerusalem begins.  It’s really Jesus’ journey, of course, but we’re following along with him as best we can as we read about him in the Gospels.  There are a number of ways to look at this journey, a number of ways to participate in that journey with him.

First, it is a geographical journey, starting from the little villages in the north of Israel:  Nazareth where he lived with his parents and became known as a carpenter, the shore of the Sea of Galilee where he found his first disciples, and Capernaum where many of the stories about healing took place.  The journey starts in the rural countryside of Galilee, and heads south toward the big city of Jerusalem.   It is a long journey, and it’s all on foot.

Second, it is a chronological journey, too, time measured from Jesus’ childhood and youth in Nazareth to his full maturity around 33 years old as he enters Jerusalem, ready to contend with the powers and principalities of his day.  From the first day Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God in his hometown to Easter morning takes about three years.

Third, it is also a sociological journey, from the rural periphery of nation, to its very heart in the urban center of Jerusalem.  Galilee was considered far from the political, commercial and religious power centered in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was the seat of the Roman authority that governed the land, and Jerusalem was the site of the great Jewish Temple.  As Jesus’ band of Galileans approach the big city they were considered little more than unsophisticated peasants.  Some of the push-back against Jesus comes from the opposition’s outrage that “country bumpkins” from Galilee might have anything of value to offer the rest of the world.  So the story starts in the fringes of society, but by the end the apostles are not only preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, but eventually in Rome, and finally in our own day to the ends of the earth!  Not bad for a fringe message by a fringe character from a village no one had ever heard of.

One other way to measure the journey may be the most important.  Fourth, it is your journey, and I can’t describe that journey as well as you can.  Because you know where your faith journey began, in what village or town or neighborhood you had your start, the obstacles and the dead-ends you’ve faced, the temptations you’ve fallen for and short-cuts you’ve tried, the mountains you’ve climbed, the family and friends that have helped or hindered your progress, and, hopefully, a journey that has brought you your first glimpses of the journey’s goal:  the Cross and the Resurrection.

For some reason the church through the centuries has tried to condense the journey into a ritual of just forty days of the church calendar, but, of course, your journey probably takes much longer than that, maybe even your whole life.  And all I can say about that is that I’m real glad we’re in it together, offering encouragement to one another as we take each step, helping each other in the rough spots, and always celebrating the joy of our progress.

I wish all of you were there at the Bible Study on Tuesday when we discussed this reading from Matthew’s Gospel.  It begins with temptation.  So let’s get right to it – quick – name three things that tempt you.  Feel free to add a few more, or even a few thousand more to your list!

Would you consider these three temptations “small” or “big”?  A small temptation would be along the lines of “should I eat that cookie or not?”  A big temptation could be “should I choose to live at the expense of others?”  Some temptations are in your power to control, but others might be called systemic or structural temptations that are very difficult for one person to stand against when everything is set up to distract, deceive, or defeat you.

Here’s an example of structural temptation.  You don’t even think of it as temptation, there’s no devil poking at you with a pitchfork.  You’re just going about your day and you stop at Arrowmart to fill your gas tank.  But each gallon you pump is filled with temptation.  People are dying because of that gas we pump, in distant wars to protect petroleum supplies, in pollution from transporting it by truck or rail or pipeline, by refining it, and by burning it to run your car.  It has a huge cost, but we deceive ourselves.  We manage to pump that gas without even realizing we’re giving in to temptation.  It’s not just temptation; it’s self-deception. 

That may be the best lesson from the story of Jesus and the tempter:  Jesus sees him coming, Jesus knows the real cost of accepting what is offered.  “Get Lost!”  “Go away!”  “Buzz off!”

Jim, at the Bible Study, showed a clip of the comedian Flip Wilson who told a story about a man questioning his wife about the expensive dress she had just bought.  Again and again, as she told the story, she was innocently walking down the street and it was the Devil who grabbed her and pushed through the front door of the store and forced her to try on and buy that dress.  “The devil made me do it”.  We had a good laugh, but the comedian’s sketch contains a lot of truth.  How easy it is for us to remove all responsibility for dealing with the temptations we experience.  Fortunately, we are not truly helpless, and together we are finding our strength.

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