February 14, 2016 – Deep Relationships, Deep Love

God's Love

Happy Valentines Day!  I wish Valentines Day was really about relationships instead of a Hallmark excuse for excess.  Guess I passed my dislike of the holiday on to my daughter Kate because when her boyfriend Ryan asked what she would like for Valentines Day she answered lets just skip it and be great to each other every day!  That’s the deeper meaning of Valentines Day.  Deep and abiding love for each other.

Right here on the altar we have an expression of love from one person to another.  Paul LaBlanc who has not lived in the valley for several years has a Valentines Day tradition, giving all the ladies at church a flower.  Even though he is not here in person, he continues the tradition. He enlists Barb Saint Amour to help him offer these roses to all of us. Nice don’t you think?

I think this is about valuing relationships.  Paul wants to continue relationships with the people in this congregation.  He wants to remember us and he wants us to remember him.  We all have people in our lives that we never intended to let slip away.  But it happens, unless we are very intentional about keep our presence alive with each other.

Our scripture from Luke tells us about a very special and somewhat weird relationship between Jesus and Satan.  But before we examine what they had to say to one another lets talk abut how Jesus got here.

Last week we talked about a powerful mountain top experience, the transfiguration.  Jesus choose to go up the mountain where he encountered God, was transfigured, and told by God that he was his chosen Son.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Luke begins our scripture passage today with reminding us that Jesus is still filled with the Spirit and that this Spirit has led him into the wilderness.  Another mountaintop experience?

Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days, not twenty not thirty but forty the same amount of years that Moses wondered in the wilderness.  Our scripture from Deuteronomy references this very event.  In Deuteronomy the people are told how to give thanks after surviving those 40 years.  They are told how to show their love for God now that they are living in the midst of abundance, the land of milk and honey.  What else is 40 days?  That’s correct, Lent.  Its not that the number 40 is so important it is the relationship that is created.  It is what ties together the story of Moses with that of Jesus to our faith today.  It is relationship that is created and should help to deepen and enrich our experience of God’s continuing work in the world.

We don’t know if Jesus purposely went into the wilderness to encounter Satan, but that is what happened.  In fact our scripture tells us that Satan was there all forty days.  When this scripture is used a sermon on temptation is usually preached. Instead of us looking at where temptation is present in our lives and how we might  resist it, lets look at the relationship that is formed between Jesus and Satan, and what God is offering to us through their encounter.

You know that I like Lenten themes and this year’s is to go deeper.  It’s not about giving things up or even taking on something new.  I would like for us to examine what God might be offering us for our Lenten journey.  How is God reaching into our lives for the next 40 days?  To discover this I think we need to take a deeper look into our scriptures, into our practices and into our very existence to see what we might receive.

What did God give to Jesus in this story? God gave Jesus the confidence, the tenacity and the power, to answer the hard questions.  Being filled with the Spirit enabled Jesus to engage with the difficult, the uncomfortable, the evil.  It also inspired him to look deeper than the easy answer to examine how his sense of mission was going to differ with the world’s sense of power and prestige.

Jesus went into the wilderness, into this strange relationship with Satan filled with the Spirit.  Did being filled with the Spirit enable him to resist temptation?  Actually was he really ever tempted?

Satan asked if Jesus the Son of God was hungry?  Jesus was starving.  Yet turning a stone into bread was a magic trick.  It was the easy answer and really nothing special for the Son of God.  But this idea of hunger is much more than simple a physical sensation it is about what actually fed Jesus, what actually nourishes us.  Jesus knew the answer and he used God’s word from Deuteronomy to answer.

Deuteronomy 8:3 – He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Again our connection with ancient scripture becomes the answer for today’s dilemma about what really feeds us.  It is the relationship we have with God.   Our physical hunger, which we so easily satisfy should alert us to the greater need we have in the nourishment of our souls.  Having a fulfilling relationship with God is never going to be as easy as ordering a burger.

Then Satan offered Jesus power and glory over the entire world.  All Jesus had to do was to worship Satan.  Seriously?  Jesus must have almost chuckled.  What Satan was offering, Jesus already had, he was the Son of God and yet Satan felt that he could offer something more.  What would that have been?  Satan actually called Jesus the Son of God and yet did he not understand the real power that God had given with that title?  The real power was not about the glory, and the might.  The real power is believing in and following a loving God.  If Jesus were interested in the type of power Satan was offering, he would have been a vastly different man sent by a very different God.   Worldly power and might is the kind of God talk that we are hearing a lot of as the elections move ever closer.  It is the kind of talk that makes us  cringe.  This is not how deep and abiding love is packaged.

Jesus is ready with his answer, he quotes Exodus 20- I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

Satan is not giving up.  Come on Jesus lets test your God.  Your Father will not allow you to die, step off from this high point. Satan exhibits his own command of scripture and tempts Jesus to test God. Because as it says in Psalms:

Psalms 91:11 – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

Satan’s question of Jesus is basically do you really trust your Father to save you if you step off this temple?  This kind of temptation only works when you believe in a God that manages minutia.  Would God have sent angels to bear Jesus up?  Is God present for Jesus and for us in all situations?  Yes of course.  Jesus answers that we are not to test the Lord.

Deuteronomy 6:16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test.Jesus knows that God is always faithful, always present and ever loving.  Testing God by following Satan’s suggestion would indicate that Jesus’ faith was in an infancy stage.  Stepping off the temple would be like metaphorically sticking the fork in the socket to see if there really is electricity.  Jesus didn’t need to test God.  Are we tempted to test God?  Do we want to see how and if God reacts to our testing?  To see if God exists?

God offers us a real presence not in rescuing Jesus from a ridiculous physical test but in the testing of our hearts.  God is in relationship with us when we are in real need, real praise, real gratitude. God is not present to us in illusions and tricks but in our times of grief, and fear, of gladness and joy. What is God offering us when God allows us to be tempted, to be tested to be hungry?  God is offering us a place to grow in our faith, to grow in our service, to grow in our love for God and all of creation.  God offers us God’s word, God’s promise and God faithfulness.

Now we just have to find the courage, and enthusiasm to understand real relationship.   We have to acknowledge that real relationship with God and each other will call us to examine what we love, what we desire and what we do.  It’s the process of going deeper into that real love that is our God.

So as we celebrate Valentines Day, think of the people, places and things we love.  Tell them we love them.  And let us not forget to say I love you to God   Amen


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