Rev. George Miller
“Led by the Spirit; Attended by Angels”
March 9, 2014
Today we begin our Lenten sermon series by lifting up the fruit of the Spirit that we talked about last Sunday.
Each week we are encouraging you to pick one of the spiritual fruit and to practice it.
Today we spotlight self-control, gentleness and goodness.
But let’s be honest- who am I to talk about any of those things?
Self-control is not my forte- if I had any, I’d look more like John Hamm the actor rather than looking like I just ate a whole ham.
Gentleness; well I’ve inherited from my mother what my father called German-hands, which means nothing is handled gently.
As Dean can testify, woe to any office chair that my 270 pound frame sits upon.
And goodness? Well that depends if you catch me when the office is not dealing with a deadline or I’m not in the midst of creating.
It’s easy to be good, polite and hospitable when everything is in line, but when the office is trying to complete the Heartline or the bulletin or when I’m creating liturgy or the week’s sermon…that’s something else.
Sermon writing is not an easy thing. There is not only the research that goes into it, it’s the creativity and trying to find a new way to say something that’s over 2,000 years old.
It’s all been said before, all been done before.
There are some sermons that seem to fall right out of the sky, fully formed-the character sermons are a perfect example.
Then there are those that pop out like a newborn chick from an egg simply from a book I read, or a movie or TV show I saw.
But then there are the other weeks…the times where it seems impossible to craft or form a single word, idea or message.
As a writer there is a series of thoughts that run through my being:
-I have nothing to say
-I have no witty story, joke, parable to use
Which segues into:
-I am nothing
-I’ll never be able to write another sermon ever again.
Which then derails into:
-I’m going to have to get another job
-I have no marketable skills
-I’m going to work at Publix for the rest of my life
Believe it or not, this can happen almost every single week, for years, and yet the miracle is that something always emerges.
But as any creative person will tell you, the act of creation is a wilderness experience of self-doubt, fear, and worry.
For pastors it takes on another element, because sermon creations are tied into the awesome responsibility of sharing the Good News, of teaching people about Jesus Christ, of encouraging them to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with the Lord.
Of giving a reason to hope even when things seem hopeless; of believing and turning to God…
…and then, that’s when the light clicks, the truth sets in. The ego is vanquished and the reality is reminded: it’s never about us; it’s about God, it’s for God, and it’s from God.
So the preacher steps back, stops worrying, lets go, clears the head and soul by running, sleeping, cleaning, reading, anything to reset the body and soul, and it comes together somehow, someway.
Anyone who is creative, who has written, composed, crafted, collaged will tell you this is so.
The creative process is a wilderness and if not careful, the psyche works in a way that can make one turn away from God, not trust in the Lord, not believe that all things are possible.
I share this all for two reasons. The first is because this Thursday our church is blessed to have a nationally known author and speaker joins us for a speaking engagement.
Her name is Jill Badonsky and she’s worked with numerous creative folk, she’s published books and writes an interactive blog.
With humor, gentleness and goodness she’ll share with us how to “Create a World of Joy Within the Real You.”
In preparing for her visit, I read over her blogs. One that struck me was about dealing with pessimism and negative emotions.
Jill’s response was fascinating. She stated that if you feel any kind of negative emotion, instead of suppressing it, you should embrace it.
If you get bad news, like the plumber is late or your car is not ready, instead of running away from that feeling or irritation, embrace it.
Jill gives an exercise: feel that emotion in every cell of your body. Slump in your chair. Furrow your eye brows, squint your eyes, grunt like you are a cat expelling a hairball.
Sigh big and deep, cross your arms, think of the doom, harbor resentments. “Banish any notion of being civil.” Snivel, scowl, and say cynical statements.
Connect to the suffering. Then, let it go…
Sit and write about how you felt. When done- smile.
According to Jill, this ability to connect with what you feel can actually create a person who can positively channel how they feel into what they do, who has a flow of freedom, and who is truly authentic.
Does that sound, by chance, anyone we might know?
Positive, free and authentic…could those be words we use to describe Jesus Christ?
Today’s reading is an interesting one because it allows itself for so many questions:
-Did it really happen or is it a metaphor?
-Does Satan really exist?
-Do angels really exist?
-Could Jesus really have been tempted?
All of these can be a sermon on their own. But what interests me this week is the notion that part of Jesus’ temptation was about turning from God.
Note that Satan doesn’t tempt Jesus to do things like steal, kill, and lie. What Satan does is try to fool Jesus into no longer trusting God.
Jesus is in a wilderness. A lonely place; a challenging place. He has undergone a rough patch of days. Temptation comes in a variety of ways with one intention: to turn him away from God.
After 40 days of being in the dessert it would have been so easy to do. After 40 days of having nothing to eat it would have been so easy. After 40 days of no other contact it would have been so easy.
Yet Jesus does not fall into the trap; Jesus does not give into the temptation to turn from God.
How did he do so? The easy answer is to say he’s the Son of God, holy and without sin.
But to immediately say that doesn’t give credence to the other side of Jesus. The human side. We claim that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.
But what does it mean to be fully human?
It means more than just to live and breathe. It means to experience. It means to think. It means to feel.
To feel lonely when you are alone.
To feel famished when you have not eaten.
To have doubt when you are scared.
To cry when you are sad.
To laugh when something is funny.
To be tempted when you are without.
Do you believe that Jesus felt these things? Are you willing to allow Jesus to have that human side in which being in the wilderness could be scary and make him feel alone?
Can you allow Jesus to have his own doubts, to even possibly explore the idea of turning from God?
Do you think that at any time Jesus could have said to Satan “Yes.”?
These are not mindless, simple questions being asked, but deeply theological questions that help us shape not only our understanding of who Jesus is, but who we are as well.
Jill Badonsky encourages people to give in to what they feel, to experience it, so they can let go and move on.
I wonder if that’s what Jesus had to do as well.
During those days in the wilderness was he being polished and prepared for ministry?
Did he also have to find his own way to deal with his own doubts, fears, worries, and emptiness?
I think so. I think in this story what Matthew is telling us is that Jesus also had a time in his life in which he had to wonder if perhaps there was an easier way to live. That instead of relying on God he could do it all alone, magically, and by himself.
I think this story is telling us that Jesus too had a time in which he could inflict self-harm on himself as a way of challenging God.
I think this story is telling us that Jesus too had a time in which he could have taken the easy way, without any hard work, suffering or sacrifice.
I think this story is not about a match of wills between two supernatural beings, but it’s about how Jesus himself also experienced a similar set of temptations that we all face over and over and over again.
Therefore, it allows Jesus to have solidarity with us; therefore Jesus becomes the one we can turn to when we are also facing such trials, we are facing such temptations.
After all, it is not the temptations that define who we are; it is how we confront and deal with them.
It’s how we each find our own way to turn to God even in the most difficult of times; it’s how we each find ways to confront the temptations and wildernesses in our lives.
In conclusion, this week I’d like to suggest something different for all of us then what I had originally planned when we came up with this Stewardship Sermon Series.
This week, instead of unselfishly focusing on others, let’s focus on ourselves in a way that is self-full.
Regardless if we are creating, or building, or healing, or planning, or leading, be good to yourself this week.
If you come across a difficult situation that tries your faith, be gentle with yourself, because after all, you are only human.
And if you worry if you made the right or wrong choice, show self-control on how much you may judge or limit or criticize yourself.
When you find yourself in a wilderness of doubt or worry, fear or shame, loneliness or being overwhelmed, don’t run from it.
Embrace it, acknowledge it, turn to God and find a way to trust, to believe and to receive.
That some way, somehow the demons of doubts and distress will be diminished.
Believe that somehow, some way, God will be revealed and attending angels will make themselves known in a multitude of ways.
After all, no one here is called to be Christ; we are called to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
To be free, to be authentic. To be us.
For that, we can all say “Amen and amen.”