Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri
The Worship of God · March 25, 2012
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Litany of Praise
Based on Psalm 51:1-3, 6-7, 9-13, 15
? Create in me a clean heart, O God. ?
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
? Create in me a clean heart, O God. ?
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
? Create in me a clean heart, O God. ?
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
? Create in me a clean heart, O God. ?
Confession and Pardon
Let us confess our sin and brokenness to God:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought,
word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors
As ourselves. Have mercy on us and forgive us.
God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. The old is gone, behold the new has come. We are free and forgiven!
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
(Adapted from a prayer by Rev. Laura Viau)
During our Lenten season, we are providing a few moments of silence as a part of our prayer time. As we enter into this sacred time, let us still our minds, reflect on our lives, and welcome God into our hearts.
[Moments of Silence]
We praise you, O God, with our words and with our bodies, with bells and horns, organs and flutes, and with our silence.
You hear our songs of delight, as sweet as Elizabeth or Mary, and as powerful as Miriam and Deborah. You hear our songs of lament rising from broken hearts, from captives and exiles, from the left behind and the forgotten, from the injured, scared, sick or dying.
When words won’t come, your Spirit sings in groans for us. When our hearts are too heavy, you sing over us, quieting us with your love. Give us the faith to praise you even in our moments of doubt and fear. Plant your hope down deep inside us, so that we might offer true hope to others. Give us the eyes to see your work among us. Give us voice to speak truth. Give us feet willing to go, hands willing to serve, and ears willing to hear your music so that we may join the dance.
Send your Spirit, whispering and roaring and give us the faith of your son, Jesus, in whose name we pray the prayer that he taught us, saying…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ ”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you’,
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Jesus in the Wilderness: Testing the Call
We have been on a wilderness sojourn through Lent. Have we not? First, we started with Moses, as he encountered the burning bush and the holiness of God that takes you places you would rather not go.
Then we wrestled with Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, as he plunged into the possible meaninglessness of life – vanity. But then he took us to hope from there.
Then we traveled with Ezekiel into the valley of dry bones. We witnessed a people that had vaporized coming back to life with a pronouncement of hope.
Last week, with Youth Sunday and Puppet Sunday, we traveled with Jonah into sticky, slimy places on the inside of a fish and saw the boomerang effect of God as he was brought back to just where God needed him to be. Reluctant, but he showed up.
Today, we come appropriately to Jesus’ time in the wilderness, his 40 days, his temptation. After his baptism, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness for his own time of purification and testing on the way to his public ministry. As he was there, he fasted and was famished. When he was at his weakest point – his most vulnerable point – the temptations came.
We are familiar with them. We walk through them every Lent, for those of us who have been around a while.
The first is turning stones into bread, which is the temptation to compromise ourselves for the sake of security. What will we give up to pursue security? Another one is jumping off the temple – a little temple jumping. That is the temptation to test God rather than submitting to our own testing. It has that relationship backwards. Doesn’t it? Then there is the one I would like to focus on today, which is all the kingdoms of the world, the temptation to acquire all the kingdoms of the world, with a little caveat, “If you will bow down and worship me.” If you will compromise yourself, then you can have it all. What are you willing to compromise to do that?
This temptation to power is at once the most common and the most elusive for us to grasp. Why is that? Because we think this temptation belongs to someone else. Most surely, it is a temptation for a political figure who wants to be elected, who wants the golden ring, and they will do anything to have that power. Or it is the temptation of some captain of industry, who will be willing to sully anyone downstream, as long as they can take everything they wish. If you think it would be someone like that, it would never be just someone like we are. Yes, it could be, just in different forms.
A big part of it is ego. We set our minds and our hearts on grand designs, not meant to glorify God, but to aggrandize ourselves.
The crux of this temptation has to do with that phrase, “Thy will be done.” It’s an inversion of that. Isn’t it? “Thy will be done” is changed into “My will be done, on earth as it is in my imagination.”
We are driven by this will-to-power and control in our relationships, in work, in politics, in family, in our pursuit of status, and in our acquisitiveness – what we think we have to acquire, all the kingdoms of the world. Most likely, all of this has to do with our hardwiring. Individuals, groups, and species survived because they trumped other individuals, groups, and species. That’s why we’re here, and someone else isn’t. So, it is not surprising that the will-to-power would be strong in us, the survival instinct exerting our will and power.
It is just that the will-to-power is the very thing that competes with our willingness to surrender to God’s power. Ah, there’s the rub. And that is the spiritual challenge. The spiritual path is one that must find ways to bridle the will-to-power, bridle pride, bridle our impetus to dominate, and instead to place our power at the disposal of God. Do you see the turn-around there? It is very subtle, but it is putting our power at the disposal of God.
The spiritual life is not natural. The natural thing is to seek after control and to grasp at power. That is the natural thing. The unnatural thing is to submit that to power that is higher than we are. Instinct is to do just the opposite. That is the challenge.
Of course, we have it portrayed for us in Jesus, who was at once fully human (that is fully experiencing everything about our humanity) and fully filled by God. So, is it possible for us? It is more than possible. It’s present, and it is real.
George Washington Carver was an interesting man, a compelling scientist of his age, and he was also a man of faith. When Carver prayed, he had a pet name for God. He addressed God as “Mr. Creator.” I think everybody should have a pet name for God. Don’t you? His was “Mr. Creator.”
One night he walked out into the woods and prayed, “Mr. Creator, why did you make the universe?” He listened, and this is what he heard: “Little man, that question is too big for you. Try another.”
The next night he walked into the woods and prayed, “Mr. Creator, why did you create the human being?” He listened, and he heard this: “Little man, that question is still too big for you. Try another!”
The third night, he went into the woods and prayed, “Mr. Creator, why did you make the peanut?” This is what he heard: “Little man, that question is just your size. You listen and I will teach you.”
As you know, Carver went on to discover 300 ways to make use of the humble peanut. He was the expert in all of that.
Only God knows what the right-sized question and pursuit is for you. It varies according to the person and the time of life.
For Carver, it was the peanut. What is it for you? What is it for me? What is just the right size question, now? What’s your peanut? Not all the kingdoms of the world, but the question that’s just your size.
Granted, some people are going to prance onto the world stage and do big, dramatic things. They will flare out in a generation. That’s their portion, their peanut. But that’s not meant for everyone. God has a portion for each of us, custom designed to match our personality, our gifts, our temperament, our strengths, and our various kinds of intelligence. Our job, like Carver, is to find that portion. Not all the kingdoms of the world, not someone else’s portion. “But why can’t I do what they do?”
That is an irrelevant question. That is their peanut. Leave their peanut alone. What is God calling me to do, right now, with what I have and what God has given?
Sometimes, the portion is just the right size, but it is not the right time. It will be in ten years, or one year, or six months, but not now. When that time comes, it will be just right, and we have to wait. Sometimes, what was just the right portion ten years ago, or 20 years ago (some of you are not 20 yet), is not the right one today. It worked then, it’s not meant to work now. We are called to something else right now. That was a by-gone peanut. And now you have a new one.
Every stage of life is filled with new future potential, not limited by yesterday. Staying open to that future is the thing that allows it to happen. And part of staying receptive, open to receiving God’s future, God’s portion for us, is letting go of grasping after all the kingdoms of the world, whatever form they take for you. Grasping after all of them is what keeps the door closed on our real our portion.
Have you ever thought about that with Carver? It was only after he stopped asking about the cosmos and started focusing on the peanut that it started to happen. It is when we let go of the grandiose that we can actually accept our portion.
That incredibly deep soul, Simone Weil, put it this way: “The mediocre part of ourselves is not afraid of fatigue and suffering; it is afraid of being killed.”
I like that, because I have a mediocre part of me. It will do anything to stay alive and kicking. It is afraid of dying.
In other words, it is the mediocre aspect of ourselves that is constantly tempted to grasp after all the kingdoms of the world, all these illusions that we live by, all those things that puff up the ego but don’t give peace. You know what I’m talking about. They puff up the ego but don’t give peace. That is persistent in us. It resists letting go.
It was only after Carver let go of the earlier vision that he could focus on his direction. That is what choosing our portion is about: joyfully receiving what God has to give us now, so that we can flourish.
That’s what our Life Focus ministry is about – focusing you on the purposes of God in your life, so that you can be an effective and fulfilled person, and that everything you offer then becomes a perfect match for the community of faith. It comes from you and not from someone else.
We may not fathom the mysteries of the universe. We may not fathom the mysteries of the human being. But there is a portion God shall give us that we will, not only fathom, but also will thrive to embrace. It does not mean you will embrace all of the kingdoms of the world. In fact, it means you won’t do that. You will find your peanut, and you will go with it. That will be your treasure, and that is all you will need and just what the community of faith needs you to offer.
Jesus knew the difference. George Washington Carver knew the difference. You and I? We can know the difference, too.
The end of the wilderness temptation has the tempter departing… until an opportune time. “Da-da-da-daaa!” What that means is no matter how definitive those 40 days were for Jesus, when the curtain comes down, there is going to be an encore. There is going to be a repeat performance. Isn’t that exactly how it is for us and our recycling temptations? They just go away temporarily. Then they come around again and give us another shot at it. We will be tempted again to compromise ourselves to acquire all the kingdoms of the world, the illusions we think we want or deserve. But every time that happens, we are given yet another opportunity to clarify what we are willing to live for, and what we are willing to die for. And isn’t that the greatest gift?
And that’s the good news from Columbia, Missouri. Thanks be to God. Amen.
And now, the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.