Sermon for 3/9/2014 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA. Sundays aren't counted as part of the 40 days of Lent, so go ahead, have that chocolate!
Gospel: Matthew 4:1–11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4But he answered, "It is written,
'One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.'"
7Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
'Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.'"
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
When I was in college, there was a sweeping trend among Christians; the W.W.J.D. bracelet. W.W.J.D. standing for, What Would Jesus Do?
The point of these bracelets, was that by wearing one, you would have a constant reminder of your faith, and you would consistently make choices in life based on What Jesus would do. Or, to put it another way, you were supposed to wear these bracelets, so that whenever you were tempted to do something bad, you could look at this bracelet, remember Jesus, and say no to the temptation.
And here we are in the first week of Lent, hearing about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and how he just says no to it.
Thinking about wearing those bracelets, and the season of Lent, I’m reminded of something else, which started during my childhood. The “Just Say No” campaign. “Just say no to drugs.” is what we were told again and again during cartoons, sit-coms, and of course, the “after-school special”.
Just Say No. It often seems that this is how our faith is summed up by many people.
What does it mean to be a Christian? It means being very good and just saying NO to sin!..just like Jesus did.
Unfortunately, we human beings cannot Just Say No to sin…which is really the story of our faith. It infects every part of our lives, and it’s not just in the temptations that lead us to making poor choices in life. The truth of the matter, is that sin really thrives in places of our lives we don’t think about saying no to, like in our attitudes of judgment and superiority towards those who don’t just say no.
In recent years, the problems of people who have not been able to “say no” to drugs have increased dramatically, and drug abuse has reached epidemic status according to some.
Yet, in recent decades, instead of prioritizing treating people, it’s been much easier to find money for more jails and police officers than it has for addiction treatment centers, as our nation has fought a war on drugs.
The underlying message of this war, and general public percepction, is that we can eradicate drug related issues through will-power, and by punishing those who don’t seem to have it. Yet for all the lives, money, and years in prison that have gone into this crusade, drugs are still causing hearts to break in families and communities regardless of who the people are or where they live.
I suppose I could stand-up and say that because of my faith and a W.W.J.D? bracelet, I’ve made all the right choices when it comes to drugs. But the reality in my life is that I feel very lucky that I’ve never even had to make the choice to say “no to drugs” because I haven’t really been exposed to them. This is just how things have worked out.
But, even though I’ve been lucky in this regard, I know something. I know that after I eat lunch or dinner, I go looking for something chocolate, and if we have something I never stop at one cookie or piece of chocolate. The only thing that really keeps me from indulging is if we don’t have anything in our house. But a strange thing happens when I go to the grocery store, the cravings come back to me, and while I know that not buying sweets would keep me from eating them, they often find their way into my cart anyway.
I’m fairly positive, and old enough to now realize, that if I ever tried something that had the power over people’s brains that drugs do, I couldn’t just say no. And I know that I’d be ashamed of this, and hide it, and my shame and cravings would work together to send me further into a downward spiral. The power that drugs can have over people, is really scary.
And contrary to common perceptions, the people who suffer from drug abuse aren’t evil or weak, they’re people just like us. And the issue of drugs isn’t about morality, it’s about grief and sadness over the years of joy that drugs and other addictions take from people.
As we experience this epidemic of despair all around us, and even among us, I wonder, we wonder, what can we do?
It seems to me, that asking What Would Jesus Do? might be worthwhile. Not in the sense of making sure that everyone has a bracelet so that it can be some sort of magical shield against temptation. Trust me, that doesn’t work. I mean really asking What would Jesus Do? and finding out what he has done.
Jesus didn’t come into this world of despair in order to tell us to just say no to sin. Rather, Jesus came to take away our sin, through the giving of his life.
In the story of Jesus’ temptation, he takes away our sin not just by saying no to temptations, but by saying no to the devil’s empty promises. The same empty promises that drugs offer as a response to the sinful junk that gets poured into our beings from every direction imaginable. The empty promises that don’t lead to freedom and salvation from a sinful, abusive, and deadly world, but only further bondage into it. The same empty promises that trick us mortals every time and have since the Garden of Eden. This is what Jesus says no to.
But Jesus doesn’t just take away the sin of the world by saying no. Jesus says yes, to trusting in the God who isn’t about just fixing life, but creating it. And Jesus, as the one sent from God, as the one who is God, trusted in this creative power, said yes to it, not only in the wilderness, but also as he was being crucified by our sinful actions. And through Jesus’ trust, through his yes, came new and resurrected life. Jesus said no to the fixer, and yes to the Creator.
And Jesus has said yes to us, each of us, by giving us this new, resurrected, eternal life in the waters of baptism. This is what Jesus has done, and as we struggle in the grips of sin, it is this life that we are called to return to, to cling to, to depend upon, and to share in together. We aren’t called to just say no to sin, or try to conquer it, because we can’t. We’re called to return to the love that is given to us in the midst of our sin, because in that love, is new life.
And having been given this life without end, may we give this same life to individuals, families, and communities whose lives are being ripped apart by drugs and other addictions. May we have the courage to walk with them in their suffering. May we hear with patience and concern their stories, their hardships, and their despair seeking to understand and learn, and not judge. And may we bear the hope of Christ for the hopeless, offer them God’s love, proclaim through our compassionate love that God’s promise is real, and God’s triumph over the devil and all his empty promises was not just for some, but for all. No matter what.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,