I didn’t realize it until I looked at the text for today that I am in the middle of a three-part Lenten sermon series. Last week we took a look at the well-known “temptation” of Jesus in the desert, where he is trying to figure out who he is and what type of Messiah is he going to be. What I was trying to say last week is that Jesus encountered the same crises of identities that you and I encounter—who am I, who are you, who are we.
Today, I want you know, that if you are taking the spiritual walk seriously, you will enter the wilderness—you will encounter temptation—as you seek to live into your best self. And when you do that, I guarantee that you will have to struggle with your worst self; your shadow side.
Your identity as a beloved child of God is formed no other way but in struggle. Those of you who thought that Christian faith would make things easier… well, there are lots of other options.
And even though many of us may not resonate with the personification of the devil; I know that there is evil in this world. And I know I have struggled with “spirits:” be it demon, or ego, or psychological stress, or the shadow side of my personality; I don’t care what you call it; the experience is the same, and that is all I care about.
If you are walking the walk, you will struggle. So you have to stay with your disciplines of prayer, of study, of worship, of community; you have to work it spiritually as much as you have to work it in the gym to stay in shape. There are no cutting corners. Just as your body know it when you haven’t worked out in a couple of weeks; so too does your spirit know when you haven’t exercised your soul.
As part of the struggle of faith, in fact in any struggle – personal, communal, national, social, political, any struggle – not only will you face temptation, you will inevitably face something else. And that is opposition.
You seek to walk the way of Jesus, people will be all up in your face, sooner or later. Everybody has their Jerusalem, everybody carries a cross. Everybody.
In the case of Jesus, he is on his way to Jerusalem, preaching and teaching and healing, inviting everyone to experience the present kingdom of God; it is very close; it is in sharing, it is building community; what is not to like about that? What is Jesus doing that is so bad?
But as we read “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him; ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’
Herod, the vassal king of the Roman Empire; Herod, the nominal Jew who was a great architect and builder but was as brutal a man as ever lived. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the day, once wrote; that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than one of his sons; he murdered several of them.
(Did you note that it was the Pharisees who tell Jesus this? At this point the Pharisees are still in Jesus’ camp – but not for long.)
Regardless, Jesus is doing what he does – living the kingdom – and that attracts the attention of the powers. And the powers never like it when the status quo is challenged. Never. Powers don’t want to give up and share power.
Jesus responds: “Go tell that fox.” You can probably right now think of five or six things in contemporary English that would be an expression of what Jesus was telling Herod. I am too polite to give you any examples.
Don’t shake the status quo. “Don’t rock the boat! Don’t rock the boat baby!, Don’t tip the boat over” as the Hues Corporation sang in 1974. One of my favorite songs as a teenager!
Of course there is “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls. I can hear Clayton Minder singing it:
And the people all said “Sit down, sit down you’re rockin’ the boat”
“And the devil will drag you under by the sharp lapel of your checkered coat
Sit down, sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat”
The devil and the powers don’t like it when you are rocking the boat!
The closer you are to your truth, the closer you are to “fine” as the Indigo Girls once sang: the more the opposition is going to pay attention and try to shut you down.
I think during this Black History Month of those who moved towards a truth and how the powers arose.
Malcolm X started moving towards a more universal vision of humanity. His trip to Mecca opened his eyes to the multi-colors of Islam. And he was killed for it.
Dr. King, he knew his time was coming when he went to Memphis. He knew the moment was drawing near when he started organizing for the Poor People’s campaign, and against Vietnam – and the Justice Department was paying attention, and J Edgar Hoover tapped his phone and followed his every move.
Our conversation this afternoon about Reparations – causing discomfort, creating tension.
So you see, what is described biblically is lived out historically.
What Jesus experienced in a particular age is well known across the ages.
And it is not just the famous. The other day Deanne and I were talking to a brilliant young woman who is just about to graduate from college. Her options are almost endless. She wants to do good and so she is exploring “Teach for America.” Some of our young people in this congregation have served in this program. This young woman seeking her truth, wanting to “give back.” Her parents – who are really good people—they don’t want her to do “Teach for America.” They are worried and scared. They want her to make money and start securing her future.
It is the spirit of the demons who raise the voice: “Now be careful. You don’t really want to do that. Make money first.”
I’m not finger pointing, I feel the exact same way when my kids talk about their idealistic plans to travel and serve abroad. It makes me frightened. We want our kids to find the truth as long as they don’t take risks and live down the block!
After all, the devil can use safety, and statistics…and we know the devil can quote scripture!
That is the thing; we think that the devil is obvious evil, stupidity, closed mindedness and the devil is all of those things; but the power that presses against the divine love, and the yearning for truth and liberation is often fairly well known and benign.
I think about the one struggling with sobriety. And so often the one seeking life is pressed down by dysfunctional family systems and longtime drinking buddies that fear change – because the change in one might mean a change in all – and that is more than the “powers that be” can stand.
No matter what your call is at this time: As a stay home parent, you can get down.
As a student, there will be opposition. In a marriage, there will be obstacles. With any idea, there will be counter ideas.
As we press towards truth, as we move towards the call of our deeper identity, there is so much peer pressure. We are fearful of disappointing, of failure, of embarrassment, of cost.
There is so much in our culture that tries to kill the spirit, the body, the mind and the soul. Opposition at every turn.
And yet, there is no turning back. The work has to be finished. God will have her way; Christ is showing the way. We have been told of our status as a beloved child; we know we are part of an affirming community, that we’re not alone; we have been shown the way and know the way of peace and mercy and justice and hope. It is all there for the taking. But don’t be naïve: there will be a million voices, a million overwhelming choices, and opposition and threats and, yes, if you get powerful enough and close enough to the truth- just like the prophets – people will look to silence you.
But God, through Jesus Christ seeks to gather us and all the children under her divine wing; and then push us out as agents of change, as people of the light, as carriers of the truth, of proclaimers of hope.
Our work is not finished!
Let us be on our way!
In Jesus’ name, amen.