“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, March 21, 2011

Up On the Mountain

Matthew 4:1-11

Last Wednesday we came into this place, to this beautiful sanctuary, gathered here as a community of faith, joined with one another and worshipped as we entered into the season of repentance—the season the Lent. Together with our brothers and sisters we began a journey—a journey to the cross—to Golgotha. Many of us have vowed to give up things during this time that often separate us from the faith. For many of this us this may be chocolates, meat, technology, cokes, or television. Over the next forty days we will be tempted to take part in some of those things in which we enjoy the rest of the year. But when we are tempted we can remember that we are not alone.

As we journey to the cross with Christ, we know that Christ has also encountered temptation. And like Christ overcame death, Christ also overcame Satan during that time in the wilderness. Journey with me, if you will, to that place, to the wilderness, to the isolation of the desert where Christ was for forty days. Forty days of solitude and loneness. Forty days without his family, his disciples, his friends. For forty days, he left his ministry. For forty days he left those who needed healing, loving, and redeeming—those who needed to hear the Gospel. For forty days he prayed, he communed with God, he communed with our Creator. For forty days, he worshipped, not even letting food or water interrupt his time with our Lord. For forty days he remembered why he had been sent to this earth. At the end of these forty days weak and tired, Christ encounters the Devil. With barely enough strength to talk, the Devil tempts our Lord three times.

Temptation is not something specific to Christ. We have all experienced temptation, but this one was different. Face to face he comes into contact with the Devil. Face to face he encounters the evil one. Face to face he is temped.

In the first temptation, he is offered food. And after forty days without food and water, many of us would jump at the chance for nourishment. Yet, unlike us, Christ holds fast and is strong. He does not yield to the temptation. In the second temptation, Christ is offered the easy way out. It seems that through out his ministry he is telling people that he is the Son of God, but few seem to believe. Yet by jumping off this pinnacle, it would indeed show that he is the son of man. Christ, though, does not take the easy road, but instead chooses to continue to heal, to love, to preach, and to pray that others would come to know him as the Lord. In the third temptation, the Devil offers power, all the kingdoms of the world. It may seem funny to hear Christ, who is the Son of God, being offered earthly kingdoms. We all too often know what it is like to be tempted by the desire of power and authority. And so perhaps Christ resists this temptation just for us, to show us the possibility to not bow down, that power and authority are not just givens in the world.

We have all been tempted, and through our temptation we have all fallen short. This is not new news to us as human beings who often give into our human nature. And we also know that our temptations have consequences. It seems that gambling has taken center stage in our local news. WSFA, the Adversities, the Mobile-Press Register, and the Birmingham News, have all reported on the horrors of the greed in our state. This issue has harmed and divided our state. The United Methodist church is very clear about where we stand on this issue and we have seen the result of greed in our own communities. It is the need for power, for wealth, and for social standing that has placed our state in the national news. It is the temptation that drives us toward power and wealth. While some of our state’s leaders await trial, temptation continues to loom in all of our lives. It is something that, regardless of where we go or what we do, we cannot escape. It is always in our lives. Temptation surrounds us.

The political figures and those in the business world are not the only ones subject to temptation. All of us have been tempted. All of us have fallen short. All of us need to know that we have been saved by God through grace alone. It is the power of the Messiah that allowed Christ to reject the temptation offered to him in the wilderness and it the power of God in our own lives that gives us the courage, the faith, and the assurance to stand up to temptation in whatever form it presents itself… be it in lives held in jeopardy by gambling or by the tempting pleasures of eating a bite of meat, giving into the piece of chocolate, or parousing facebook for just a few minuets. Like Christ, all of us face temptation.

Following years of Apartied in South Africa, a man who had been imprisoned for 27 years was elected President of the new democratic South Africa. Nelson Mandela was the first political authority of African descent to rule over the country. For years the National Party which was composed of white men and women known and Afrikaners controlled the country’s political and economical environment, oppressing all who disagreed with their views. Arrested, charged, and convicted for national sabotage, Nelson expected to spend the rest of his life imprisoned by the National Party. In prison Mandela preformed hard labor in lime quarries and was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months. Life seemed grim, but the world was changing and in 1990 he was released from prison. Following years of hatred, violence, racial persecution, animosity, and economic inequality it would have been easy for Mandela to further divide the country, by simply reversing the roles, by seeking revenge on those who harmed him, his family, and his nation. The temptation was great for Mandela to give those who harmed him a taste of their own medicine. To show them what it is like to be persecuted, harmed, and unjustly treated. Payback would have been easy. But Nelson Mandela did not do that. Instead, Mandela looked that temptation in the face, and like Christ so often teaches us, offered love. He offered peace. He offered equality to those that had not offered it to him. He united the country by making sure those in his cabinet, in the police force, and people in his army were of both African and European descent. Life was different and it was certainly not easy but for the first time in South African history, power was not something you achieved by the color of your skin but rather through your accomplishments and hard work.

Following years of violence and hatred, it would have been easy for Mandela to offer the same to those who persecuted him. Yet, as history tells us, this is not what he did. He looked temptation straight in the face and with the smile that the whole world saw time and time again through the news media turned temptation down. He choose justice rather than retribution. He did not fall to temptation. He did not give others a taste of their own medicine, but under his leadership, South Africa became a well-respected country with economic stability. And because Mandela did not do what was typically expected, he became a world leader and inspiration and was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

It is often difficult to look temptation in the face and turn the other face. Yet, when we do this the rewards are great. When Jesus found himself alone in the wilderness. Satan offered him food, glory, and power at his weakest moment. And Jesus, our messiah, the savior of the world looked the devil and temptation straight in the face, knowing that he had been sent to this earth for a purpose—to love, to heal, to teach, and to save.

During the next forty days, we will journey with Christ to the cross, to Golgotha; we will hear him teach his disciples about love, grace, and forgiveness. We will hear him to proclaim that he is the Son of God. We will see some believe and other lack faith to comprehend that he is infact the Messiah. I invite you to open your minds and hearts to this message. To see the healing, to understand the grace, and to experience the love. To see the courage of standing up to the Evil One and the compassion of carrying his cross to the hill of Calvary. To know that although Christ was tempted, Christ looked the devil in the face, and turned around. Saying “no” I will not give into the need for food, glory, or power.

Throughout life we encounter many temptations, some more obvious than others. Yet, when we follow the teaching of our Messiah, the outcome is always for our benefit. Although this is often difficult in the world in which we live, in a world that values power, seeks revenge, we can look to the cross knowing that through our temptations there is one who walks beside us in this life. There is one who gives us the courage to say “no,” and there is one who offers love and forgiveness, even when we stumble. It is from our Savior that we find our strength, even when it seems most difficult.

So I invite you to journey with me for the next fourty days. Keep your eyes focused on the cross. Hear the words of our Lord that contain our Salvation. And know that through this journey during next forty days and through all phases of life, there is one who walks with us. One who has overcome temptation and the world, who has overcome sin and death, who has overcome hatred and injustice. And that one, our Messiah has called us to be people who seek after the cross, and who offer love and grace to others as it has been offered to us.

God of mercy, Your word was the sure defense of Jesus in his time of testing. Minister to us in the wilderness of our temptation, that we who have been set free from sin by Christ may serve you well into life everlasting. Amen.

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