Scripture reading: Matthew 3:16-4:11
Happy Super Bowl Sunday! It looks like it will be a great day to gather and celebrate the moment with 110 million other people. Now in case you were wondering, I do think it is okay to pray for your football team to win as long as your team is the 49ers. Some might have noticed my tie is the color of the Baltimore Ravens. But I chose to wear to help us prepare our hearts for the upcoming Lenten Season that starts in 10 days.
It is an interesting Super Bowl this year. The two coaches are brothers. And so it is inevitable that one brother will go home defeated, while the other will be showered in champagne and Gatorade. One will have to watch the other bask in the glory of the moment and try not to let his envy show. In the locker room, one team will have to listen to the others victorious celebration taking place on the field. It will be one teams time to shine.
Unless you have won a Super Bowl, we can only imagine the terrific joy that pumps through the players hearts in that moment. And it got me thinking about how our church could benefit from living life this way? That is to say, basking in the moment with God's glory pumping through our hearts. And so today I would like to focus on how living in the moment brings us closer to experiencing such joy.
What do I mean when I say to live in the moment? I mean to live in a way that intentionally focuses the present. It is in this active, state of mindfulness we hand over control of our thoughts to God. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in this way, we become stronger in a whole new way. Instead of passively letting life just go by without really experiencing it, we truly live and embrace every moment of it.
Scientists believe people who live in the moment tend to be less anxious. They say such people have a better chance at reducing their stress, lowering their blood pressure, boosting immune system, as well as truly enjoying the fruits of life. When Christians are living in the moment, we are actually living in the constant presence of God. It is in the presence of God that grace abounds. And where grace abounds, God’s strength can be found. Through God, we are empowered to overcome the temptations and trials of this life, including fear, uncertainty and even death itself.
The Buddhists tell story about a monk being pursued by a ferocious tiger. Being afraid, the monk runs towards the edge of a cliff. Just as the growling tiger is ready to pounce,
The monk grabs hold of a rope dangling over the edge of the cliff, and begins to shimmy down the sheer wall. Having barely escaped, the monk looks down and sees a quarry of jagged rocks five hundred feet below. When he looks up he not only sees the tiger but also two hungry mice who begin nibbling at the rope. While looking for a new escape, the monk spots a wild strawberry growing on a small shelf of the cliff. The monk plucks the tender fruit, inhales its sweet fragrance, and then devours it in one, delicious bite. In that moment the monk was most delighted because it was the best strawberry he had ever tasted. Had the monk only focused on the past, that is the tiger;
or solely on the future, the jagged rocks below, he would have missed the strawberry that God had given him to enjoy.
The gift that God gives to us in the present moment is the gift of life. Far too often, Christians accept God’s call to a new life, but then try to control that life on their own terms. In doing so, we miss out on all the wonderful strawberries that come our way.
We live with the fear and anxiety of our past and future, instead of embracing the peace of the present.
How many times will we let the beasts in our lives stop us from savoring the feasts of life?
Today’s reading begins with a baptism and ends with a victory over temptation. There is a reason I chose this passage this way. Before Jesus is baptized, John has called the people to repent. Repenting isn’t merely an act of confession; it is a change of heart. Baptism is a sign of our commitment to allow the Spirit to transform the way we live.
Most of us here have been baptized but we continue to fill our lives with distractions and disruptions that slow, if not stop, our spiritual growth and transformation. We fill our lives worrying about what we did or what we need to get done. The scriptures tell us that by placing our fidelity with God, we can trust that our past transgressions have been taken care of, and our future has been prepared.
You see, it is only in the here and now that temptation has any power. The past has been washed clean. And the future is pure. It is in the present that we stumble and turn away from God. Which is why it is so important that we live in the here and now with God.
Matthew writes that upon receiving the Spirit of God at his baptism, Jesus is led by the very same Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. Does that seem crazy to you? What kind of God allows for such a risk to take place? Like in the story of Job, God allows this character called the Satan to tempt and test Jesus' faith.
In preparation for what is to come, Jesus fasts for 40 days and nights. It is in this spiritual discipline that Jesus is able to center himself in the presence of God. We should not overlook the importance of fasting as we look to God for our strength to live in the moment.
If you are new to the ritual, a fast is more than just an absence of food and water; it is a commitment to fully obey God’s commandments. Like repentance, fasting helps prepare our heart for living fully in God’s presence. It is in this spiritual discipline of fasting that we find ourselves most dependent on God for our daily bread and strength.
As the season of Lent approaches, I would encourage you to place yourself in the mercy of God and fast for 40 days. This year will mark my 15th fast. My first was from bread. Even though I lost a few pounds not eating pizza, I did not grow much from my experience. The next year, I focused on a more personal growth. I gave up using bad language. After the 40 days of watching my tongue I actually noticed my vocabulary had changed for the better. And over the last few years I have focused more on spiritual growth by upholding one of the commandments.
Now you might be thinking “how hard can it really be to give up killing someone for 40 days?” Brothers and sisters, it is Harder than you think. Hopefully the temptation for most of us isn’t the actual act of murder. But how many times have we killed someone’s dream, suffocated someone’s voice or destroyed someone’s desire? How many times have we shot down someone’s opinion instead of offering to help nurture it?
To fast from killing is to feast on life at every level, to encourage not discourage. Instead of saying “no” or “don’t do that,” learn how to say, “yes” and “how can I help.” Such a fast helps the heart focus on obeying God’s commandment to love all persons and people.
In the wilderness Jesus used God’s commandments to fend off the tempter, who had come to see if he could use Jesus’ humanity to break the Messiah’s divinity. He sought to test his faithfulness like he had with Job, to see if Jesus would trust himself rather then his father in heaven.
In the first temptation, the tempter says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Remember, Jesus hasn't eaten in 40 days and nights. In other words the tempter is saying, if you are hungry, use your powers comfort your soul. Stanley Hauerwas writes, “Eating may be the devil’s first line of attack because eating gets to the heart of our dependency; a dependency we try to ignore.”
But Jesus did not bite. He knew if he used his power for himself his sinless nature would be compromised and thus meaningless.
How many times have we been tempted to use our power for our own advantage, to secure our comfort and position in the world? It is in the present moment the tempter attacks our ego, where we are the most vulnerable and hungry. He makes it appear that we are the most important. He wants us to believe that what we do and who we know are more important than the one from whom all power flows. If this were your temptation, I would encourage a fast from serving self and to feast on serving others.
When you live in the presence of God, your service becomes a joy and not a burden. Jesus reminds us that we do not live on bread alone.
The second temptation tries to get Jesus to tempt God’s hand to save him. To make God rule like human beings desire to rule. Hauerwas writes, “Jesus is offered a heroic role, to take his life in his own hands, to be in control of his destiny, to force God's kingdom into reality by making a sacrifice that God cannot refuse.” I can’t even begin to count how many times I succumb to the temptation and put God to the test. Each time resulted in my own failure. And I am reminded to the words Jesus spoke, "you shall not put The Lord your God to the test." If this were your temptation I invite you to fast from trying to control God and feast on obedience. When we live in the presences of God, we are able to trust God to be in control of our lives in a way that will protect us, not fail us.
In the third temptation, the tempter takes Jesus to a high mountain.
He offers Jesus all the kingdoms and riches of the world if Jesus will just bow down and worship him. Again, Jesus refuses by quoting the commandments: "Worship the Lord your God, / and serve only him." How many times a day do we bow down to something man made before we bow down to God? How many times a day we check our email, send a text message or post our status on Facebook, And compared that to the number of times we read the Bible or pray to God. The very technology designed to keeps us in the “now” has removed us further from being in the now with God.
If this were your temptation, perhaps a fast from distractions will help you feast on the joy that comes with living in the moment with God.
This might sound like some crazy Zen philosophy of mine, but observe the way a 5 years old child embraces life. It is around this age, children are truly awakening to the world before them. The world seems to grow bigger as they grow bigger. A five year old has the advantage because at that age, they are not yet able to really understand the concept of past or future time. History is simply wonderful stories that could have happened yesterday. The future doesn’t really go beyond five minutes, and thus making the countdown to Christmas unbearable for so many kids.
But Jesus said, unless you embrace life like a child you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to live with God in moment, with all the wonders and excitement of a child. As we do, we find the true joy of life that God has given us.
We as adults want bread. We want to force God's hand to rescue us. We want peace in the world-and we want all this now, in our time. But let us remember, Jesus is our bread, he is our salvation, and he is our peace.
In closing I want to leave you with this Bible verse. James 4: 8 says, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.” I love that. I invite you to draw near to God so God can draw near to you. To live in the presence of God, we must draw near to God, just as Jesus did fasting in the wilderness.
While I focus my fast on the commandments, I encourage you to commit to a fast with deeper, spiritual meaning. Focus on what will make you a better friend, a better spouse, or a better Christian. You can fast from judging others, or self-criticism, or from a self-destructive addiction. Use the 40 days as a time to reconnect yourself with God, and to live in the holy presence of God.
Instead of letting life go by, embrace it by awakening to the experiences that God places before you, and taste the strawberries of life. Amen.
Confession of Sins: Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us and forgive us. Help us delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your name, Amen.
Brothers and sisters, beloved Children of God, we have this assurance that no matter how far we may wander from the way of life that we are called to lead, we never move beyond the boundaries of God’s love. As God’s beloved children, we are loved, we are forgiven, and we are blessed.
It is an honor to be here to offer you the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. We celebrate an open table at Church of the Chimes, in the tradition of our beloved Teacher who welcomed all to the Last Supper, even those who betrayed him and those who ran away. You do not need to be a member of this church to celebrate this gift; you only need to feel moved by the Holy Spirit to participate.
On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus sat with his disciples.
(take the bread, lift it and break it)
He took the bread and when he had given thanks he broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Ministering to you in his name, we offer you the bread of new life.
After supper, (take the cup and lift it up) Jesus took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks and blessed it, he gave it to them saying “This is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”
Ministering to you in his name, we offer you the cup of the new covenant.
Let us pray: Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with the spiritual food in the sacrament of his body and blood. Send us now into the world with peace and grant us strength and courage to love and to serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord, Amen.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”