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We Walk This Road Together: Jesus with Satan

Lent 1 Comon Lectionary Year A

Matthew 4: 1-11

©2017 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

I am suffering from abundance!
Midrashing this text with 19 people this past week
has filled my imagination with all sorts of possibilities for preaching this incredibly potent text,
certainly far more than can be packed into one sermon!

But if we let the overarching theme for Lent
discipline and focus our attention
on this particular encounter
between Jesus and Satan
I believe we’ll find ourselves challenged
and enriched and encouraged too.

Our theme for Lent this year is:
“The road we walk together”
Road = life, faith, and also the Lenten journey, 40 days long.
Walk, or journey reminds us that we have chosen to walk this particular road in the footsteps of Jesus, whose journey towards Jerusalem, towards the final showdown with the powers that be, implicates us too.
The verb walk also indicates purpose, or “intention.” That’s a word we’ll be coming back to week by week.

Together = a necessary correction to the tendency in much modern Christianity to assume
that a faith journey is individual, or private.
It is not.
The entire Bible consistently reminds us that unique individuals are invited by God into a community.
We do this faith thing better together.

Together also refers to the Biblical characters we will encounter en route,
and those we meet as we walk the road of faith in the midst of contemporary culture.

So, then, this road we walk together with Jesus
takes us out to the wilderness,
to witness Jesus as he intentionally
turns towards this particular encounter,
with the one whom Matthew calls ‘Diabolos’ –
the Devil, The Tester, aka Satan.

An odd choice, a perplexing choice,
to choose to walk with Satan
into a time of trouble, conflict, temptation.

You know,
Satan gets a justifiably devilish rap!
Satan doesn’t need horns and a tail,
nor to slither serpentine up under and around
our defenses.
Such an evidently repulsive depiction of evil
is too easy to dismiss as fable or myth.
No-one in their right mind, or their right soul
would willing turn, intentionally towards an encounter with such a demonic figure, surely?

One of our study partners this week said this would be a passage of Scripture she would not willingly read, much less share with her child…..
Except, once we got past the caricature,
and began to imagine Satan
as the little gremlin on our shoulder,
the dark side of our conscience,
the inner voice who presents the alternative,
the knot gut, the twitch in the temple,
the waking in the night,
that makes us pause, and choose.

We are constantly in inner dialogue with ourselves,
we are teaching our children,
how to discern the ‘healthy choice’ or the ‘holy choice’
between patience and the sharp word,
between spinach and chocolate,
between a good night’s rest,
and just one more episode on Netflix.
We do, if we’re wise, deliberately shape our families, our businesses, our faith communities
around the choices we make,
and the temptations we resist,
between ethical or lucrative investment,
between fear and courage,
between prejudice or openness to a new insight,
between risky welcome or closed safety,
between being right and being loving,
between compassionate living, or loving power.

Seen this way, we can in fact see ourselves
with Jesus and Satan.

But I think if we’re going to be true to Matthew’s text, we need to see that this is not merely
an Instagram snapshot of one of many instances of Jesus’ ethical decision making throughout his life.
The stakes are higher than that.
He has just committed, in his baptism,
to walk the road together with God,
for the rest of his life, to his death.
This is his Spirit Quest,
his orientation of self
to the purpose of his God-given life.

The three temptations,
choices laid out by Satan for Jesus
will set the tone, establish the key signature,
create the foundation, the bedrock for the Way,
the Gospel, the Road
by which Jesus, will travel.
The road we also will walk together with him.
They help Jesus to frame his mission statement,
his identity and values.
And ours.

Satan’s questions for Jesus then, and for us now,
are these:

First:
What hungers will Jesus satisfy?
His own, or those of the world?
What hungers will we satisfy?
Our own, need for security, comfort, safety, or will we work to satisfy the hungers of others first?
Will we work for clean water, to cool the overheating of our planet, to eradicate childhood poverty in our nation? our world?
Will Jesus live trusting that God has provided enough for all? Will we?

Second:
In what manner will Jesus conduct his mission, purpose, ministry in the world?
How will he be present as God’s Beloved Son in his encounters with others?
How will we?
How will we live our logo, live God’s Dream?
How will we be present as God’s beloved children in our dealings with those beyond these walls?
Will Jesus resort to the spectacular? Bedazzle people into a fickle fidelity to celebrity, or will he – will we – choose the small way, the one that walks the gutters touching the bleeding women, and the outcasts, with healing, with compassionate care?

Third:
How will Jesus respond to the pull of power, especially public and political power?
How will we?
Will the Dream of God become a nightmare should Jesus choose to align himself with those who had power over his life or death?
Will we keep the Dream of God alive in our own time? A Dream where life is abundant, gracious, free,
and where broken, redeemed by God’s grace and God’s love incarnate in us?

Three questions, three choices.
This tiny story, one man’s encounter with his destiny, this mythic fable is the kernel in which the entire Gospel of Jesus is contained!
It’s all here.
In this choosing this encounter,
this tempting time,
Jesus’ intentions are set.
His Way is mapped,
his feet are set onto pilgrimage,
to walk the road together with God
and the people of God for the sake of the world.

Lent, is our testing time, to set our intentions,
to put our feet on the road, to walk together
with God and one another, for the sake of the world.

……

Each week during Lent we will take a moment of quiet after the sermon, and during the offering
to set our own intention for the week ahead.

Today, we ask, What holy or healthy choice shall we make this week to live the Dream of God in our world?

Some examples:
I intend to make a donation to support Food Security
I intend to speak truth to power
I intend to truly listen to my children
I intend to care for….
I intend to listen carefully to my inner voice in the choices I have to make….

Write your intention on the blue foot.
Place the foot into the offering, or in the basket at the back of the sanctuary at the end of worship. During the week we’ll be pasting them onto the Wall Walk, in the corridor.
As the weeks progress, the feet will inspire us all on our walk together as a community of God’s people.

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