Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 5:1-8
After a late night Saturday, Nate was having trouble paying attention to the minister’s message. The minister raised his voice and said, “Open your lives to the Spirit.” Nate spontaneously shouted “Amen.”, got up, and left. The minister thought he had prompted Nate to seek God, and this would be a huge milestone in the time he had know Nate. He decided to stop by Nate’s that afternoon. When he got there, Nate had been drinking heavily. When he asked Nate why he was drinking so early in the day, Nate replied, “You said to open your spirits, and I did.”
There are many dangerous things we do: job interviews, first dates, marriage, children, and choosing to go to church or some other organization are some of them. Each of these opens a door to a future capable of dramatically changing our lives, and a door to deeper vulnerability, to possibilities of great loss and pain. But we do them because they are part of the pathway to real life.
When Jesus went into the wilderness, his purpose was to determine how he was to give his life to God’s service. He opened himself to the Spirit, and, in the face of many temptations, he chose to use power for God and for people.
I don’t understand why Jesus chose to go hungry, but his answer to the temptation to turn stones into bread applies to many similar temptations. We do not live by bread, by material things, alone. Too many people lose their lives to a relentless pursuit of material things, sacrificing relationships, sometimes sacrificing their gifts that are capable of bringing them great joy. In the temptation to use power to help himself, Jesus saw the danger of becoming the purpose for his life, but he had a higher purpose in mind.
With a purpose of bridging the gap between the people and God, it would be tempting to take what looks like a shortcut: do something dramatic and wow the people. Surely if he did something like jump off the temple, a very high building, they would believe his message. But Jesus knew that was a dead end. The next day they would want him to jump off an even greater height. His words, his message would be lost in the glare of the fame. When I consider all the talented people for whom fame has been a path to self-destruction, I could almost cry. When I read the deep insights of some artists, I feel sad that most people know little of the wonderful thoughts they have to share, as they only focus on their source of fame.
The third temptation, another shortcut, was the power over temptation. Satan misread Jesus – he thought Jesus wanted people to worship him. He didn’t: he wanted people to worship God in Spirit, in truth, and in action; to love God with hearts, minds, strengths, and soul. People rarely love their lords. This temptation is a blight on the history of the church. Millions of people have died because some church leaders and some church members were determined to force others to believe the same as them. Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans and Anglicans eagerly killed each other for believing the wrong thing for hundreds of years. We participated in the forced schooling of First Nations children, both in residential school and local day schools.
Power over others is a powerful drug that permeates our society. The list of evils in our society flowing out of the desire to exercise power over others is too great to enumerate.
Jesus sought and exercised power for people, and this is the kind of power we have and are called to use.
Jesus used power for healing, teaching, inspiring and connecting people. His time in the wilderness was the time when he identified, accepted, and prepared for how he would do that.
Our commitment to following Jesus, to using power for genuine good in this world, begins with the decision to being open to receiving whatever power God may provide for us. In Romans, Paul wrote that, when we open our doors to God, we discover God already is waiting for us with an open door. We cannot be sure where that door will eventually lead us, just like that first date, but it holds the prospect of a path of overflowing blessings.
The decision to open that door depends on trust and on desire. We need to trust that God loves us and is prepared to offer us opportunities to fulfill our created nature. We need to desire the opportunity to make a greater difference in the world than we could do on our own.
This applies to congregations as much as it applies to individuals. I am asking you, the members of St. Matthew’s to trust God enough to fully open yourselves to the power offered by God. I am inviting you to engage more in collective prayer and discussion in smaller and larger groups about what you see as opportunities for you to make a difference in the communities around this church and in the world, and the kinds of power you will need for those opportunities. Take some time now to offer a special prayer to God, to thank God for the opportunity as part of a wonderfully loving community to share God’s love with others.
May God’s Spirit move in us and fill us with power for. Amen.