Tempting Water – Lent 1
(Vital Mark: Ecclesiastical Health)
March 1, 2020 (Lent 1)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
How do you think Jesus was feeling after 40-days in the wilderness?
Pull to mind an experience you may have had that might have been good but also difficult. Maybe a week at Disney with toddlers. Maybe a camping trip when you really don’t like to camp. Maybe a trip to see family who you love but don’t really like. Maybe a time you had to spend alone. Maybe an experience while serving in the military.
Now multiply your experience by as much as it takes to get to 40-days. Subtract whatever food you were able to eat. Subtract whatever comforts – beds, indoor plumbing, other people’s support and sympathy – you may have experienced. Now you may be somewhere close to how Jesus felt when Satan showed up. He was hungry. He was tired. He was filled with doubt, fear, frustration and anxiety – because those all increase as our physical and mental reserves decrease. He was, as we say in our household, “done.” Totally, completely, stick a fork in you done. And that’s when Satan shows up.
Satan shows up and offers Jesus the easy way out. He offers easy, empty calorie food divorced from the spiritual substance Jesus truly needs. He offers easy assurance of God’s favor divorced from the spiritual wrestling required to root us solidly in the divine being. He offers easily obtained power and dominion divorced from the pain and suffering required to build God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To a desperately thirsty man Satan offers an ice cold, crystal clear glass of polluted water. Oh it tastes so good; such a sweet, cold, cocktail of dysentery, cholera and cancer.
When in your life have you found yourself emotionally drained and exhausted, consumed by fear and doubt, frustration and anxiety? When have you been offered the ice cold, crystal clear glass of polluted water and drank. Maybe you drank knowing it was polluted and you didn’t care. Maybe you drank in ignorance suspecting it was too easy, too quick. We’ve all been there. We don’t have to go into the wilderness and not eat for forty days to get there. Life gets us there.
Sometimes we’re driven into the wilderness and sometimes the wilderness comes to us. Loved ones die. Relationships fail or get strained. Jobs don’t work out or disappear. Health fails. Bank accounts empty faster than they grow. Dreams stagnate. Realities set in. Harsh realities. Unwelcome realities. We find ourselves lost, in the wilderness, hungry, tired, afraid, anxious. We find ourselves face to face with Satan and boy does that glass of water look good.
Churches too can find themselves in the wilderness. Here in Columbiana we wrestled with being in the wilderness several years ago when we engaged in our visioning process. East Palestine is participating in the Presbytery’s Vital Congregation’s program as a way to seek God’s call and vision for their future. It can be easy when we see empty pews, empty Sunday School rooms and empty bank accounts to grab for a quick fix, to try to force change before the congregation is ready, to build new programs or ministries without sustainable foundations. Sometimes the ice cold glass of polluted water looks awfully good.
The devil offers but Jesus doesn’t accept. Standing on his foundation of prayer and scripture, Jesus recognizes Satan and recognizes the emptiness of his promises. When we’re in the wilderness those same disciplines support us. We stand on prayer, on scripture, on the traditions of our elders. We know the well from which Satan draws his water is corrupt. We know God’s living water still flows. We know we can wait upon the Lord and be assured of our salvation.
We’ve experienced God’s faithfulness as individuals. That’s why were here. We’ve experienced God’s faithfulness as a congregation. That’s why we’re still here. Yes, sometimes, it can still feel as if we’re in the wilderness. But for the most part we’ve made right choices, as individuals, as congregations. We’ve been able to refuse the alluring glass of polluted water and allow the living water to flow in us and through us.
Monday night, at a workshop led by the Presbyterian Board of Pensions, our facilitator shared some guidelines for ensuring our decisions tap into God’s ever flowing stream of living water. The Board of Pensions uses these guidelines to ensure their ongoing spiritual and financial solvency, but their relevance extends to all of us who seek to walk in faith through the wilderness. Six questions to be answered in the spirit of prayer.
- Does this decision lead to peace and well being for all involved?
- Is this decision just, fair and evenhanded?
- Is this decision kind, loving and constant?
- Can this decision stand up to the scrutiny of God’s presence?
- Is this decision consistent with what we know of God’s nature and values?
- Is this decision one we can live with over time?
Satan tempted Jesus to turn stone into bread, but divining bread from stones does not stand up to the scrutiny of a God who promises to provide.
Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself from a pinnacle to test his value to God, but we do not need to put God to the test when we have true knowledge of divine nature and values.
Satan promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. But grabbing power as the world grabs never leads to peace and wellbeing, is never just, fair and even handed, is never kind, loving and constant, and so on.
In his time of trial, Satan offers Jesus the ice cold, crystal clear glass of polluted water and Jesus is able to say no. Jesus says no, and the angels come and wait on him.