Such a Hindrance!
Grace United Methodist Church
February 21, 2010
Luke 4: 1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And 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. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then 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, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Mark 10: 13-16
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
What’s keeping you from Christ? What’s keeping you from God? As we think on such questions, we probably all try to find an easy way out. “What’s keeping me from Christ? Well, Christ is not here anymore. God is just like some clockmaker who sets things in motion and then steps away.” But Scripture tells us a different story. No matter where we might go, Christ goes with us. No matter what we might do, God’s grace covers us. The gospel reveals to us and ever-present God. And our hearts know better than to say simply, “Christ is not here anymore.” So, what’s keeping you from Christ?
The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert gives us an idea of what keeps us from God. Jesus was tempted in every possible way. And the very things Jesus was tempted with were put there in an effort to separate Jesus from God. Had Jesus given in to such temptations, he would have fallen; Jesus would have kept himself from being in a relationship with God.
You see, Jesus was being tugged in two different directions. God the Father was telling Jesus, in essence, “Take my love to men and women; love them ‘til you die for them; save them by this unconquerable love even if you finish by hanging on a Cross!” Satan was saying to Jesus, in essence, “Use your power to blast men and women; obliterate your enemies; win the world by might and power and bloodshed.” God said to Jesus, “Set up a reign of love.” Satan said, “Set up a dictatorship of force.” The three temptations we read about in our Scripture for this morning are plausible, attractive, and make, as we would say, a lot of sense. God can’t want God’s beloved Son to be famished with hunger, can he? If God wants Jesus to become sovereign over the world, then why not go for it the easy way? Why not prove it by spectacular displays of power? Why not go for the easy ride? This is what the world is whispering in our ears everyday. Go for the power. Live for self. Love is over-rated! And how often have we given in to such temptations? How often have we kept ourselves from Jesus?
Jesus’ first temptation was to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. Let’s think for a moment about all the loaves of bread we’ve let slip into our lives. The obvious parallel is food and drink. But there are also those loaves like TV, internet, or video games. And we spend our time mindlessly overindulging as our relationship with Christ slips through the cracks. Then there is that temptation for power and prestige. Jesus was offered glory and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. For us the temptation might be to become a workaholic in an effort to receive the praise of a supervisor or maybe a big promotion. Or perhaps we are so concerned about pleasing people and building ourselves up in the eyes of others that we forget about serving God; about humbling ourselves before one another. Finally, Jesus is tempted to test God. We, too, are pushed to test God in various ways. We seek things from God that are unreasonable or not even always possible, and then we become angry with God when we do not get what we want; forgetting that what we want is not always consistent with God’s will.
The temptations that you and I face day by day and at critical moments of decision may be very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point. These temptations are not simply trying to entice us into committing this or that sin. They are trying to distract us; to keep us away from Christ, to turn us aside from the path of servanthood to which we have been called! God has costly but wondrously glorious plans for us, and the enemy will do everything possible to distract us and keep us from God’s good purposes! It’s important for us to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies, and to be able to distinguish them from the voice of God! Fighting temptation isn’t about self-hatred, or rejecting the God-given parts of our humanity; it is about celebrating God’s gift of full humanity and, like someone learning to play a musical instrument, discovering how to tune to and play it to its best potential.
You can be so great; I can be so great! We can have a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ! Our lives can be filled with such meaning! We can really make a positive difference in this world! In following Christ, we may not acquire power and prestige, but we are guaranteed true happiness, true fulfillment, which neither the world, nor the flesh, nor the devil can begin to imitate, much less take away from us! But we must keep our eyes on God, and trust God for everything! We have to remember our calling to bring God’s light into this world! And if we can do that, we are joined with Christ and we are enabled to say a firm “no” to the voices that try and lure us back into the darkness–into the misery!
Now, here’s another question for you. What’s keeping other people from Christ? Did you ever pause to think that maybe the answer to that question is, “Me. Us?” That sometimes the temptations we face affect not only us, but also the people around us; like the disciples who didn’t want the children near Jesus. Perhaps because of our attitudes or our own unwillingness to share Christ, we are hindering others from coming into a full relationship with him.
Let me share with you a story. As many of you know, a couple of weeks ago, I spent some time in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina at a continuing education retreat. Our keynote speaker for the gathering was Bishop Robert Schnase from the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. Bishop Schnase shared the following story with us:
“My parents were nominal Lutherans, which meant that we didn’t really go to church. My father worked hard in a blue collar job at a factory and my mother worked hard keeping the kids and the home in one piece.
Eventually we moved to Texas, and my parents decided that they would go ‘shopping for a church.’ About once a month or so we would visit a worship service, and then move on to another one the next month. One evening, my dad and I decided to visit the evening service at the local Methodist Church. My mother stayed home to watch my younger siblings for we didn’t know whether or not they had childcare. We didn’t know much about church and I don’t remember much about the service. What I do remember is that the next evening we had a knock on the door from some members of the church. They welcomed us to the area, and told us how happy they were that we had visited the church. They obviously really loved their church! They told us about some of the important ministries that were taking place and the Sunday school classes and the activities for children. Then they told us they hoped we would come back. Their enthusiasm worked, and for the first time, our family started going to church on a regular basis.
Soon, they started to ask us if we would like to join the church. Though my parents were reluctant at first, we eventually joined. Next someone asked my mother if she would teach one of the Sunday school classes. She declined right off saying ‘How could I do that? I know hardly anything about the Bible.’ They persisted and told her she could be a ‘helper’. And to this, she said, ‘Yes.’ She was put in charge of the arts and crafts, and helped in that Sunday school class for the next 7 years.
At one point, my parents were asked to come join the Bible study that met at the church every Wednesday night. ‘Not at this time, thanks,’ they replied. They were invited again and again, until finally, someone asked them why they would not come. My parents told them that they felt they didn’t know the Bible well enough, and were afraid they would be embarrassed and wouldn’t fit in! But the person who had invited them promised them that this would not be the case; that there was a diverse group in this class. So my parents gave the Bible Study class a try.” Bishop Schnase went on to share with us that it was within this Bible study group that his parents came to form their strongest friendships; life-long friendships that continue to this day!
Of course, Bishop Schnase went on to seminary; entered into the ordained ministry, became a pastor and is now a Bishop. These days his father, who is now retired, spends three days a week at the church volunteering with some of the church ministries. His mother is active in the United Methodist Women, and is now a Sunday School teacher.
The church is and has been the center of their lives. But imagine extracting out of them all of those church experiences. Imagine if they had never visited that church or if those excited members had never visited them. Imagine if they had never joined the church or become involved in Sunday school and Bible study. Imagine if they had never learned what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Extract all of that! And who would they be? Bishop Schnase says that he wouldn’t be able to recognize them! The Church fundamentally changed their lives! Can you relate? I can. We all know what it is to build a relationship with Christ in the midst of a church community; that is why we are here!
So, who are we to keep others from building the same relationship that has so shaped our lives? Jesus stands with his arms wide open, ready to receive all who walk toward him. Will we be like the disciples, tempted by selfish voices, who try and stop the children from reaching Jesus? Or will we be like the two men who knocked on the Schnase’s door in Texas, talking about the love of Christ and the great church of which we are a part? As members of Christ’s Church, we are to go the second mile for everyone! We are never to think that someone is not worth our time. We are never to close the church doors to anyone, no matter what their background or what they look like. Be excited about our church because this is an awesome church! Be excited about our Savior, and be excited when new people come into this congregation! When new people come here, this is not only an opportunity for them to change, it is also an opportunity for us to change; for the newcomers become messengers to us as much as or even more than we become messengers to them! What this story about Jesus blessing the little children is telling us is, “Don’t put up obstacles in the way of people coming to Christ!” Just as we make every effort to tear down the walls of temptation and sin that keep us from Christ, so we too should seek to tear down every wall that keeps others from knowing God in Christ Jesus!
Are we willing to trust God enough to take the risks that are involved in growing in our relationship with Christ and helping to bring others into a relationship with Christ as well? Can we put aside our selfish ambitions and usher others into this relationship which will fundamentally change their lives, just as ours have been changed? Imagine if someone were to extract from you all your life experiences of Christ through the church. Would you recognize yourself? Would you even like yourself? Imagine how empty our world would be if the lives of all people were void of these experiences. As Christ followers, our task is to overcome the hindrances of this world that keep ourselves and others from growing in a relationship with Christ. As Christians, our task is to fill this world with the love of Christ. Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” And we serve Christ best when we follow his instructions to the disciples and reveal his love to the world: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”