Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Bless us, O God-- you who have given us every good thing-- bless us with ears that hear you speaking to us, and eyes that see you revealed, and hearts that are dedicated to your will for the sake of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the coming of his kingdom. AMEN.
A woman in Jamaica who lives in a corrugated shack takes down a dress for her daughter to wear to school. It is a school uniform, and she is grateful for it, because all of the children dress alike, and they are not divided by the clothes that they wear. She has just the one uniform for her daughter, and every night she washes it by hand in a tub of water. This is the world she lives in. She didn't choose this life. It was the one she was born into.
Here in the United States, a friend of mine. . . . Her past career attempts were unfulfilling, and she doesn’t know what to do.
Two women with very different problems in two very different contexts. But both of these women face a similar question-- they face the question that was before Eve-- and the question of Jesus in the wilderness. Indeed, the same question is also before you and me at this very moment-- perhaps it is THE basic question of life: What do I want?" "What am I looking for?”
Our scripture readings today show us that it is not so much the answer to those questions that matters, but rather the perspective by which we come to the answer. Do we ask and answer life’s questions believing that we do so on our own and for our individual benefit?— or do we ask and answer life’s questions with the understanding that we are children of God, in the presence of God and co-creators with God in the world?
The message of scripture is that we experience life at its fullest when our desire is to answer all of life’s questions toward the goal of living in harmony with God, our neighbors and creation.
As Christians, we know that life is full, not empty. Life is filled with the presence of God. It is filled with gifts from God. It is filled with purpose and meaning by God.
Every moment is an opportunity to give our lives joyfully in service to Christ. Every moment is filled with meaning and purpose because we have the fullness of God dwelling with us. Whatever you do, do it in response to— and in light of God’s unfailing love.
What do I want? What am I looking for? The specific answers don’t really matter. What matters is whether or not you believe you are answering them for the sake of yourself alone, or that you are answering them as a response to God’s grace at work in your life.
The downfall of Eve in our first reading is that she sees herself as alone in the decision before her. She follows her own logic. She alone must decide what to do-- and being more like God; knowing good from evil, seems to make a great deal of sense. That she acts on her own is her undoing. Had she only trusted that God’s instruction had been given precisely for the purpose of safeguarding her in moments like she was in, she would not have failed.
Jesus, on the other hand, never doubts that he is NOT alone in our gospel reading. He does not go into the wilderness alone. It is the Holy Spirit who leads him there. And with every challenge of the devil, Jesus' response is not to rely upon his own wisdom and strength, but to rely upon the Word of God, "It is written," he says-- Jesus repeatedly goes to the scriptures for his guidance, because he knows that the scriptures are where the Holy Spirit will strengthen and guide him.
Because Jesus sees that he is not alone but in relationship with God, he also sees clearly how the promises of the devil are false hopes that lead only to separation-- destruction. Indeed, the Greek word for "devil"-- diablos-- literally means "to throw apart." The devil is the one who throws apart what God intends to be together. When we believe that we live for ourselves rather than for God and for one another, then is when we— like Eve— live in sin.
Eve took for herself. Jesus saw that taking for himself was to cut himself off from a genuine relationship with his heavenly Father. Consequently, he lived as a servant. He chose not to take but to give, and his giving is for you and me.
That is the good news. And as Christians, we know that this is where we begin when answering that most basic of questions: "What do I want in life?"
Jesus taught us— and showed us— that for us to experience life in its fullness as God intends, we must seek to live as instruments of God in the world. Jesus put it like this: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?" Or, more simply put, he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”
Every moment is a sifting of our desires. Will I act selfishly, or will I act in loving service to my neighbor and to God?
I wonder— What would our lives be like if each of us decided to live every moment for the benefit of those around us, rather than for ourselves? What would our lives be like if we actively expect to be met by God in the eyes of everyone we meet?
Eugene Levy— the comedic actor— has a new series out, called, “The Reluctant Tourist.” He is by nature a homebody. He likes his familiar surroundings, but now in his mid-70’s he has decided it is time to challenge himself and explore the world.
The first country he visited was Finland. It is in the arctic circle. He went ice fishing and ice bathing, and dogsled mushing and reindeer herding— and he complained about all of it…. lovingly.
The Finish people, as it turns out, are said to be the happiest people on earth. He found that quite believable. “How can you be so happy in these miserable surroundings?” he quipped. When he asked his hosts what they valued most, they said they were happy because their lives were simple— they were content to live in harmony with each other, animals and nature.
I am going to add a very biased footnote to that and point out that the majority of people in Finland are Lutheran! I don’t know that it is true, but I certainly hope that our tradition’s emphasis on God’s grace has been a source of the contentment that brings happiness and gratitude to their lives.
What fills your life? What do you want?
It is just a question. Not a trick one, either.
A quote from Shakespeare comes to mind: “A thing is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Temptation is merely the sifting out of our desires. What is your personal desire? Good health? No financial worries?
What is your desire for your family? Happiness and safety and opportunity?
What desires do you have for your church? Steady attendance and strong giving?
None of these answers is bad, of course. I hope for all of these things in your lives— I hope to have them in my life!
But are these the sum of our desires.
Beyond these desires, the Holy Spirit calls us to a deeper desire that goes beyond these. A desire unaffected whether we have these other things or not.
What do I want?
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Seek first the kingdom of God.
Seek to follow God’s will.
Seek to meet God in your neighbor.
Seek to live a life of thanksgiving for God’s grace.
Seek to live a life of loving service as a child of God.
Every moment is a sifting of our desires. Every moment is an answer to the question. Every moment is a moment to either throw apart or to celebrate the unity we have in Jesus Christ.
Now is the moment of the sifting of your desires. What do you want?