Temptation: A sermon by Pastor Bob

Perhaps the greatest temptation we face is that temptation that has been with us from the beginning: the temptation to ask and wonder: Is there really a God?

Temptation

A sermon by Pastor Bob

February 26, 2012

Text: Mark 1:9-15

Mark Mark 1:9-15

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”.

–I have always found our gospel reading for today to be a little peculiar.

–Especially when it comes to the role of the Holy Spirit …

–In the first scene, we see something out of a Sunday School picture book.

–It is morning and the sun is coming up.

–Jesus, the Son of God, is coming out of the waters of the Jordan River as he is being baptized by John.

–And as the heavens open, God’s spirit gently descends upon Jesus like a dove.

–And out of the sky comes a voice, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

–It is a remarkable moment.

–A moment that has been indelibly imprinted on our minds through paintings and artwork.

–A moment marked by a deep peace and a sense of greatness and gratitude where God says, “Atta-boy Son.”

–But the next scene in our gospel reading is not so serene.

–Here the Spirit is driving Jesus away from the serenity of the life giving waters of the Jordan River to the desolation and dangers of the wilderness.

–There is no longer gentleness, but urgency; there is no longer affirmation, but temptation.

–Can this be the same Spirit?

–Is it the same Spirit that descends into our lives like a dove, meek and mild at our baptism?

–And is it the same Spirit that pushes us into the wilderness of this world, to be tempted by its evil?

–Before we get at these questions, it is worth first looking at what we would call the “wilderness.”

–Not just a natural wilderness that surrounds us.

–But the wilderness of temptation itself and its testing.

–First, there is the wilderness of our culture

–Telling us, tempting us to be utterly unsatisfied with things

–With our looks.

–With our possessions.

–With our relationships.

–And ultimately, with ourselves.

–There can also be the wilderness of the workplace

–Constantly juggling many tempting balls in the air.

–Will I ever get caught up?

–Can I really get along with my boss or my employees?

–Is this really worth the time and energy away from my family?

–Wilderness of relationships

–Finding someone to share the loneliness of the moment.

–Daring to wonder if there would be someone to share a lifetime with.

–And there are many more.

–Temptations and testing about peer pressure at school, or the choices involving aging parents, or even just the sheer busyness that keeps us from reflecting on what is worthwhile in our lives.

–To survive in such wildernesses is to recognize the temptations of being there.

–Temptations are not something that take us by force, by coercing us.

–They are something that entices us to “want” to do something.

–Adam and Eve were not forced to eat the forbidden fruit.

–They were enticed to want to eat it.

–What in your life is tempting you?

–What is drawing you away from what you know gives you life?

–Is it worth it?

–Perhaps the greatest temptation we face is that temptation that has been with us from the beginning.

–The temptation to ask and wonder: Is there really a God?

–I see this temptation on best-seller lists and in the eyes of those who have been hurt by the church.

–I see it in the eyes of our teenagers as they seek to differentiate themselves from their parents confusing a childish faith with the faith of a child.

–I see it in the eyes of an unbelieving spouse who is irritated at the time the church takes up of their Christian partner.

–I see it in the eyes of the mother and father who have lost their young child, or at the death of a spouse or parent.

–And I see this temptation in the most devoted, wonderfully faithful Christians I have had the privilege to know.

–Are these temptations so different than those Satan tempted Jesus with in the wilderness?

 

–Sometimes we may feel that we are utterly abandoned by God.

–We are sometimes caught up in believing that God is only there in those serene, worshipful moments when life is going well.

–And we begin to wonder about God’s presence when things are not going so well.

–Is it the same Spirit in which we were immersed in our baptism that has driven us into this wilderness of life?

–Yes.

–But there is more to this story.

–There is a third scene that follows Jesus’ baptism and his going into the wilderness.

–In this scene, Christ’s number one ally in his ministry, John the Baptist has just been arrested.

–And we all know that such an arrest will eventually lead to his death.

–Our gospel does not say that Jesus ever returned from the wilderness.

–The wild beasts are still there.

–Not wolves or lions, but kings, religious leaders, and even a friend who will betray him.

–Friends, we are still in the wilderness.

–As we engage this world with all its temptations, we ultimately cling to our baptisms.

–And still dripping wet, we cling to the cross of Jesus Christ.

–As Christians, we cling to the truth, the faith, the promise of Jesus Christ that these temptations will end, and when they do, we will all return from the wilderness into the arms of our heavenly Father.

–But at the same time, we should not let temptation keep us from engaging this world.

–We should not convince ourselves that we are better off hiding ourselves in our work, our relationships, or even our church.

–God is clearly calling us to proclaim a word of hope amidst this wilderness.

–A Word that transforms bread into Christ’s body.

–A Word that shatters all the temples that we climb upon.

–A Word that does not bow to claims of power, but submits only to the one who calls us by name.

–Who baptizes us in God’s Spirit.

–And who raises us to new life, not just in some distant future

–But now, in this moment.

–May God bless you in the midst of the wilderness.

–May God be with you as you face very real temptations.

–May you know a God who will never abandon you, but holds you in all circumstances, even unto death, and even unto new life.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://sillama1.xanga.com Sil in Corea

    Thank you, Pastor Bob, and thank you, John, for sharing with us. Those temptations are along the path we walk. We just need to keep in mind that we’re walking with our best friend; we need to lean a little closer to him when we feel weak and weary.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

    This passage was our scripture reading as well as we embark on the lenten season. I was struck by the statement you make. “Our gospel does not say that Jesus ever returned from the wilderness.”

    It says angels ministered to him, and that Jesus proceeded on to Galilee where He began recruiting disciples, but it is quite possible that the wilderness surrounded Our Savior until his purpose here had been completed.

    Interesting…and quite thought provoking.

    • Andrew

      I feel the same way.

  • Jim

    Some beautiful words. But while I appreciate the intent behind them, these words seem so much like all the words I heard in church, and which eventually drove me out of it — they SOUND good but ultimately come up hollow and meaningless.

    It certainly SOUNDS good to say “May God be with you… etc.,” but what if someone IS overcome in the “wilderness,” or overcome by “temptations,” or overcome by their “circumstances?” Whose fault is it if someone does not “know” God?

    Interestingly enough, and a fact which is usually completely overlooked by most Christians, is that Jesus himself takes responsibility for it: “no one can know the Father unless the Son chooses to reveal Him.” And Paul, in his words to the Corinthians in trying to overcome their ignorance about spiritual things, said,” no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” But the “Christian” answer instead always puts the blame on the ones who are overcome for not being strong enough, or faithful enough, and they are told that God WILL abandon them to eternal hell for that weakness.

    Why do Christians always say that “God who will never abandon you, but holds you in all circumstances, even unto death,” but most don’t actually believe it?

    Do you believe that Pastor Bob…. or do those pretty words only apply to Christians?

    • Don Rappe

      It sounds like you are still in the wilderness. With Christ.

      • Jim

        It’s the best place to be.

        • Pastor Bob

          Jim, you are so right about how the church can project its own insecurities into absolutes that simply come off as condemnation and a narrow gate.

          We all live in the wilderness.

          I am however hesitant to restrict Christ and the love of God. In reality, there really is no us or them, but only Creator and creation.


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