Thursday, March 6, 2014

"How do you want to use your power?": a seminary sermon on Matthew 4:1-11

Chapel -- March 6, 2014 -- 11am -- Olson Campus Center, Chapel of the Incarnation
Preacher:  Emmy Kegler, M.Div senior
Assisting Minister:  Ashley Osborn, M.Div senior
Pianist:  Emily Bruflat

* Gathering Hymn:  Softly and Tenderly, ELW #608

1 Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me.
See, on the portals he's waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.

"Come home, (Come home,) come home! (come home!)
You who are weary, come home."
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, "O sinner, come home!"

2 Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me?

3 Oh, for the wonderful love he has promised,
promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon,
pardon for you and for me.

* Greeting

* Prayer

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
       but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
   and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
                   so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written,
‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.


“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And immediately Jesus heads for the desert.  He comes out of the Jordan at the height of glory, with an astonished crowd watching as God’s spirit pours down on him, and the next move is to go alone into the wilderness and empty himself completely.  And at the end of forty days, alone and starving, Jesus hears the devil ask him:  How do you want to use your power?

Don’t you want, says the devil, picking up a smooth stone, to feed yourself?  To eat when you need to eat?  To not hunger, or thirst, or want for anything -- because you have the power, you know, the power to feed yourself.

Don’t you want, says the devil, peering down into the temple, for people to know your importance?  You have something important to say, Jesus.  Don’t you want to make sure they are listening?

Didn’t you come, says the devil, with the blue earth small under his feet, to have the whole world at your command?  Isn’t that your mission -- to bring all peoples together and unite the world?  The kingdom is coming, Jesus.  The quicker you do it, the better it will be.

How do you want to use your power?

I don’t know if we think about ourselves as having power.  I know for me it’s easy to forget. We get put on the bottom of this seminary system, you know.  We have to wait and hope for CPE and internships and scholarships and GRE scores and Ph.D programs and thesis defense and full-time jobs and first call assignment -- and I don’t feel a lot of power in that.

And yet the devil holds out a stone.  We are called, and people will hold out money and trust and themselves, to us.  And then we have a choice.

We can choose to feed ourselves.  We are hungry, after all.  The lives of pastors and professors and public leaders are draining ones.  We can neglect self-knowledge and self-reflection, and choose instead the unexamined life where we unwittingly expect our needs and wants to be filled first.  Sometimes it feels much easier to turn a stone into bread for myself than to feed the five thousand.

We can glorify ourselves.  We have something to say, after all.  In a world that is increasingly unsure of the value and purpose of this whole Jesus thing, we’ve been equipped to preach the gospel.  We can want people to listen, by any means necessary.  Sometimes it feels easier to throw myself off the top of the temple than to wander, poor and homeless, from little town to little town with this message of God’s kingdom.

And we trust in our own abilities to make the kingdom happen.  We’ve worked so hard, for so long.  Certainly we know about God’s grace and provision, but that doesn’t get papers written.  We can think we have the power to change the world, and quickly.  Sometimes it feels much easier to bow down fast and take full control now, than to work in small ways, one person or family or community at a time, to pray for the kingdom to come.

How do you want to use your power?  Because the devil holds out a stone.  And we are hungry.

And in that moment, the only hope we have is that we do all this for something more than ourselves.  That when we feed ourselves, we eat with many.  That when we stumble, it is not for attention.  That the world comes to wholeness only through the work of God.

When temptation and the easy way bear down on us, when we are hungry and tired and alone and frustrated, the only hope we have is that God is bigger.  When the pressure is on, the kind of pressure that turns us into either diamonds or dust, there is a God that holds us together.   That God is working in us to turn us away from the easy road and onto a path of integrity and vulnerability and compassion.

The only hope we have is that the way of Jesus is real.

The world will never tell us this.  We begin Lent knowing already the end of the story.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hates it.  On Good Friday, the world will crucify a life of service, of compassion, of obedience.  Violently and viscerally the world will say to the way of Jesus:  No.

And on Easter Sunday God will say, with a voice so quiet that two thousand years later we still hear it:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

* Corporate Confession and Forgiveness

For self-centered living,
and for failing to walk with humility and gentleness:

For longing to have what is not ours,
and for hearts that are not at rest with ourselves:

For misuse of human relationships,
and for unwillingness to see the image of God in others:

For jealousies that divide families and nations,
and for rivalries that create strife and warfare:

For reluctance in sharing the gifts of God,
and for carelessness with the fruits of creation:

For hurtful words that condemn,
and for angry deeds that harm:

For idleness in witnessing to Jesus Christ,
and for squandering the gifts of love and grace:

God, who is rich in mercy,
loved us even when we were dead in sin,
and made us alive together with Christ.
By grace you have been saved.
In the name of + Jesus Christ,
your sins are forgiven.
Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit,
that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.

* Hymn:  Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love, ELW #708

Jesu, Jesu,
fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.

1 Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
master who acts as a slave to them.  Refrain

2 Neighbors are wealthy and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are near us and far away.  Refrain

3 These are the ones we will serve,
these are the ones we will love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.  Refrain

4 Kneel at the feet of our friends,
silently washing their feet:
this is the way we will live with you.  Refrain

* Peace

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