Former Ministry Intern Stacey Kohl preached at St. Mark’s on Sunday, March 5th. Her practice is to preach without a text, but afterwards she transcribed it, so we have the best of both worlds this time.
Sermon for Sunday, March 5th, 2017; Matthew 4:1-11
Today’s verses from the book of Matthew are some of my favorites. I absolutely love this passage!
So when Adam invited me and said I could come and speak at the first Sunday of Lent and I quickly looked up the lectionary I kind of did a little cheer because I love this passage. One of the reasons I love it is because it is the perfect, beautiful picture of one of my favorite types of entertainment: the reboot.
I am a child of the 80s and over the last several years we have seen reboots of almost every movie I loved. We have seen new Star Trek movies that are a reboot of the old, we have seen a new Footloose movie, which is a reboot of the old, we have seen a new Ghostbusters movie which is a reboot of the old with an all-female cast. That one, perhaps, gives the best picture of what I love about a reboot. It is the old story, told in a new way. It takes this story that, for a child of the 80s like myself, is deeply ingrained in my psyche and gives it a twist, gives it a turn, allows me to hear some of the same questions that the first movie may have been asking in a new way. And that’s what today’s passage from Matthew is doing.
We have Jesus heading out for forty days and forty nights into the wilderness. For those of you who have spent any time around the church, this forty something in the desert, in the wilderness, sounds a little familiar, right? Anybody remember Moses and the people of God after they left Egypt and then wandered for forty years in the desert. Already the author of the book of Matthew is giving us a setting that is familiar, but different.
Now the original story takes place in the book of Deuteronomy. This is where each of Jesus’ responses to the tempter come from. When he speaks those words he is pulling directly from the words Moses spoke to the people of God as they were ending their forty years in the desert. They had wandered all of this time, being fed by manna and quail sent from God, drinking water God provided, learning how to be the people of God—and now they stand at the edge of the Jordan waiting. Their preparation is complete; it is time to cross over into the land God has promised them. This land full of luxurious food where they can finally fill their stomach with something other than manna—which, while it’ll keep you alive seems to maybe not have been the greatest tasting stuff. All of a sudden, we’re going to have good food again! We’re going to have vineyards and crops. We will have houses over our heads. We will have a home. Here they stand, ready to step into that space. And as Moses looks out over them, he realizes the danger of this moment.
Because while the people wandered they had to rely on God. There’s no food without God. There’s no water without God. There’s no shelter without God. But in the land they’re about to enter—there’s good food, there’s shelter, and there’s an easy, easy path to forgetting who God has called them to be.
So Moses stands up before the people and gives this speech in the first several chapters of Deuteronomy which says over and over, “Don’t forget! When you get there, when life gets easy, don’t forget who you are! Don’t forget who God has called you to be. Don’t forget how God showed up for you.”
And then comes the reboot…
Thousands of years later. Israel has come and gone and come again and they’re back in the Promised Land, and now we encounter a man. The son of a carpenter, who a few days before heading out into the desert, was baptized and had the presence of God descend on him, reminding him, showing him, “You are the Son of God, I am well-pleased in you.”
But out into the wilderness we go…
And for forty days and forty nights, Jesus is dependent upon the Spirit of God for his very existence. He eats nothing, he drinks nothing, he has no house to lay his head in, he is the picture of the people of Israel wandering, learning, embracing what it means to be not just the people of God, but the very presence of God on earth. And at the end of this forty days, the tempter comes to him and reminds us again of these eternal questions.
He says to Jesus, “You’re starving! It’s been forty days, you’re hungry. Turn those stones into bread and it’ll all be good.”
But we can hear the message behind those words…
“You’re about to step into your public ministry, you’re about to walk amongst the people, you’re going to be celebrated for these years of your public ministry. You’ll be invited to dine with the richest of the rich, the tax collectors—who are going to feed you well. Good food is coming. Will you remember who you are?”
Will you remember that life, our very existence does not come from bread alone, but from every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
And so the tempter turns to him again and says, “OK, you didn’t go for that one. What about this one; up to top of the pinnacle of the temple—throw yourself down! God told you just forty-two days ago, you’re the Son of God. Nothing’s going to happen to you, you’ll be fine, right?”
Tempting to say to God, “Well, it would be nice to really know that for sure. To, you know, really know, have no doubt…no doubt!”
But God calls us not to test. To live into the faith we have been given. To see the ways in which God has shown up over and over and over and over—God shows up. And so we take that, and we hold that, and say,
“God, I don’t understand what’s going on right now, things are going to get hard. Public ministry might be good, but it’s not going to be easy. But you’re not going to leave me alone.”
And then the devil pulls out the last card—the trump card. “All right, I’m throwing this one down. I will give you everything! Power, control, everything—just worship me. Worship that power, worship that control, worship that privilege.”
And Jesus says, “No, because I have been called to be something greater. I have been called to live out God’s mission on earth. That is who I am.”
But there’s one more reboot in this story, and it happens right now.
We have just entered into the season of Lent. Our forty days and forty nights of self-denial, prayer, repentance, and seeking out God. We are living that same story again.
Those same questions that drew Moses to speak to the people in Deuteronomy, that Jesus responded to in the book of Matthew are given to us again, today.
What is your bread? What are you using to fill yourself up, instead of God?
What are the places in our lives that we fear trusting God? That we hold back our trust.
And where are the places in our lives that God is calling us to serve? To live out in our very body, in our very breath, in our very being God’s presence in the world.
The questions are the same. How we answer them is up to us.