[This series is based on the resource: “Lectionary Sermon Series” by WJKPress.]

March 5, 2017

“The Need for Change”
Matthew 4:1-11

Lent seems long. Forty days and forty nights is a biblical way of saying a good long time. And that’s why we have forty days and forty nights in the season of Lent. We are getting ready with Jesus for the big stuff ahead. Jesus had to get ready to bear the cross for us. We have to get ready to bear our crosses for his namesake.

As I begin to consider this, I want to emphasize that I am not talking about change for the sake of change, like getting tired of the draperies in the bedroom. I am speaking about a spiritual sense of gone wrongness that is not always easy to abide. I remember stories about Mohandras Gandhi, who for the sake of improving conditions for the ‘untouchable’ caste in India, for the Freedom movement, undertook seventeen fasts. Three of which were 21 days. This was part of his objection to caste separation, and a non-violent protest.

I am not suggesting that anyone here take up such a plan. But I am suggesting that taking the gone wrongness in our own lives and in the life of the community is important, if difficult, work; and it deserves a physical manifestation.

It isn’t easy getting prepared for any challenging task. Just look at Jesus’ trip to the desert. I’ve titled this sermon series “Boot Camp” to remind myself that I am not only preparing myself for something important, but that my ability to perform in the future is in some way dependent upon the work I do now. Some of you who are veterans might remember the literal place, ‘boot camp.’ I remember having to go to workouts twice a day to get ready for the football season. What I am trying to capture with this description is the idea of some intentional, intense, practice, so that we might be ready for life.

One thing that happens in such environments is that changes are made in our practices that improve our performance. I remember never ending drills on footwork, hand work, agility, all in an effort to do something that on its first glance is quite simple…to get in the way of another guy who wants to tackle your quarterback.

Lent is, of course not exactly like this. Lent invites us, not requires us, to a season of introspection and discernment of sin and all that separates us from the knowledge of the love of God for us and our neighbor. Lent is a time to practice those things that might become second nature and in their use draw us closer to God and one another. Lent, literally, is a time to ‘repent,’ to change.

One of the greatest temptations each of us face is to deny the need for change.

As individuals we could spend endless hours in reflection on where and how we need to change, but that might be a temptation in and of itself…spending all our time contemplating change and never getting around to actually doing it. If Lent is like a training camp for the soul, what is the hard work that can be done in this limited intensive forty days?

One thing that might be done in these limited days is to learn to look at a big picture. Where are our temptations as a people, in this nation, or in our community? Where does the collective us behave in ways and believe in things that deny the goodness of those whose lives are defined by exclusion or suffering? Christianity in general is not exempt from the need for repentance.

Now look at that big picture sin. It may not be a factor in your life. Maybe it is. But how does your day to day living help reduce the existence and effect of that ‘big picture’ sin?

In the Gospel, the devil offers Jesus power over others, and he denies it for a kingdom greater than this world. Each of us has some position, some power, even the very least of us. And each of us is tempted to use that power for our own appetites. What do we want at the moment? Do we really need this or that? The tyranny of the urgent tempts us to exploit our power for something less than God.
What power are we tempted to seek, and how might we instead work for a kingdom-level-justice that might seem impossible in this world?

Let us consider these temptations that Jesus faced. How we acquire our daily bread and at whose expense? How do we understand what it means that how we live our lives has an impact on the creation around us? Do we recognize that all too often we use the power we have in ways that are inconsistent with God’s desires for peoples and nations?

What I am trying to say is that if we cannot be honest about our situation, the fact that more often than not we act out of our own, isolated, selfish, fearful, greedy, bigoted, motives, then we too easily believe our motives are pure when they are not. And what happens then is that we do no realize how far distant we have become from the people God created us to be.

Fredrick Buechner in his book Secrets in the Dark writes: “The truth, of course, is that holiness is not a human quality like virtue. If there is such a thing at all, holiness is Godness and as such is not something people do but something God does in them, if there is such a thing as God. It is something God seems especially apt to do in people who are not virtuous at all, at least not to start with. Think of Francis of Assisi or Mary Magdalene. Quite the contrary. If you’re too virtuous, the chances are you think you are a saint already under your own steam, and therefore the real thing can never happen to you.” It’s funny but Buechner seems to say that too big a desire for change can get in the way like not seeing a reason to change.

As we begin this boot camp season, there are so many things that need changing that we might be overwhelmed…or should be. Let us consider how we as individuals need to change, how our life together as Christ’s church needs to change; and let us do so without fear, for as the Psalmist claims, God ‘surrounds us with glad cries of deliverance.’ (Psalm 32:5-7) “The tendency is to think that God will love us if we change, but God loves us so we can change.”