Sermon February 18: Jesus’ Pop Quiz

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Faith United Methodist Church

February 18, 2018

First Sunday of Lent

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 1:9-15

Prayer of Illumination:

God of wisdom and truth, teach us your ways. As we hear the words of your promise, and as we reflect on the message you offer, let us hear your voice. Lead us in your truth and teach us to be your people. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen

Sermon:                                          Jesus’ Pop-Quiz      

One of my reoccurring dreams is about being back in school and showing up unprepared for class. Do you ever have those dreams? In my most recent one I showed up to class on the first day and was given a major exam. No time to study. Not even any time to read the textbook. I was glad to wake up from that dream!

Most of us get a least a little bit of time between the beginning of class and the big exam. We have some time to get the syllabus, the assignments, do the reading and study. Very few professors would give a test on the first day! Personally, when I was in school my favorite type of exam was the take home test. Take home tests cut down on those annoying things like time pressure and memorization. Take home tests were the best!

But what Jesus experienced in the wilderness in this morning’s Gospel was no take home test. It was more like a pop-quiz on the first day of class. Jesus went straight from his baptism at the Jordan into the wilderness where he stayed for forty days and was tempted by Satan. He didn’t get to ease into his life of ministry. Jesus, still wringing the water from his clothes, was sent into the wilderness to be tested before he even had a chance to learn what it meant to be the Son of God.

The Gospel writer Mark doesn’t go into many details when describing Jesus’ temptation. Matthew and Luke talk more about the specific tests that Jesus faced. Mark leaves that part to our imaginations. We’ve all faced temptations, so we can probably imagine some of what Jesus went through. Temptations of wealth. Temptations of ease. Temptations of beauty. Temptations of power.  Temptations of greed.

And we know that temptations are difficult to resist because they are just that ~ temptations. Temptations come wrapped in attractive packages. As preacher Fred Craddock put it, “No self respecting Satan would approach a person with offers of personal, social and professional ruin. That’s in the small print at the bottom of the temptation.” We succumb to temptations because they are too good to be true.   We can’t resist.

Jesus, though, did resist and that is part of what we celebrate this Sunday. Jesus was tempted ~ tested ~ in the wilderness and he passed. He aced that pop-quiz. He emerged from the wilderness, left the wild beasts behind, and was able to proclaim with assurance, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” That Jesus spoke of Good News immediately after his sojourn in the wilderness is a testimony in itself.

Our experiences of temptation, though, don’t always end so well. Where Jesus passed his time of testing, we often fail. And it’s not just the pop quizzes we fail, either. Sometimes we even fail the take home tests. We lie. We betray each other. We cheat. We push others back so we can get ahead. We seek credit. We take what doesn’t belong to us, thinking that we deserve it. We succumb to many a temptation when we should’ve known better.   As Christopher Henry preached, Wilderness is, “…the place between certainty and doubt, between hope and fear, between promises made and promises kept.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the wilderness.

Maybe that’s why Lent is such a meaningful season. It’s not that we enjoy being in the wilderness. Rather, Lent affirms that the struggle is worth it. The struggle to live a meaningful, authentic and honest life has value. Life isn’t just about what we can get out of if for ourselves. There is importance in resisting the temptations when we can. As Kate Huey describes the Season of Lent in her Lectionary reflections, “It’s about what God is doing and has done not only here and now, but in times long ago and in a future we cannot even dimly see.” In striving ~ seeking ~ to live as a children of God we connect in faith to the past and the future.

Part of that past is contained in what we read in today’s Old Testament lesson. In it we picked up at the end of the Noah story about the great flood that covered the earth. We often think of this as a Sunday School story. Noah built an ark and loaded in the animals two by two. Noah and his crew were saved as they sailed for forty days and forty nights above the flood ravaged earth. In the end they got off the boat and received a blessing from God.

In today’s reading we have the first description of covenant in the Bible. We hear of the bow ~ the rainbow ~ in the clouds set as a reminder that God would never again flood the earth. This covenant ~ this promise ~ was made not because of anything that we did, but because of God’s great love for us. No matter how sinful or disobedient or broken we are God promises not to destroy us. Even way back at the very beginning of the Biblical story we have this sign of God’s grace.

This grace continues as God sends another sign of his love in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Preacher Travis Franklin put it this way, “In this passage Mark reminds us who Jesus is – through his baptism, temptation and proclamation. And because of who he is, we can be all God wants for us – to experience life at its best and most meaningful.”   What this tells me is that, while we may stumble through the wilderness, we don’t stumble alone or as those without hope. God takes our broken lives and mends them with grace. Even in our failings and mistakes, God wants the very best for us. We can see that in the sign of the rainbow, in the sign of baptism and in the sign of the cross.

Whether they are pop-quizzes, mid-terms or take home tests, we are all tested at one time or another. We all face temptations. We all spend time in the wilderness. The question is, how can we use those testing times to help us grow in our Christian faith? How can we use our wilderness sojourns to strengthen our Christian discipleship? One thing we can do is face our fears, rather than run from them. If we are being tested ~ tempted ~ in a particular way it might be helpful to ask why. Why is that temptation particular appealing? What is it about that temptation that draws me in? By asking these questions we might learn something about ourselves.

The wilderness is not a comfortable place to be, but God didn’t promise us comfort. God promised to be with us, even in our brokenness and pain. During this Lenten Season, let us remember the God who placed a bow in the sky as a reminder of his love. Let us remember the God who sent his Son that all may have life and have it abundantly. Amen.