Saturday, March 29, 2014

I Once Was Blind

Ephesians 5:8-14
5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-

5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

John 9:1-33
9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

9:3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes,

9:7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?"

9:9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man."

9:10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"

9:11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight."

9:12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see."

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?"

9:20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself."

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner."

9:25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

9:26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"

9:27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?"

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."

9:30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

Lynn Williams is a professor of creative writing at Emory University and she has written a wonderful little short story called, “Personal Testimony.”

Personal Testimony is a story about a 12 year old girl who is the daughter of a fire and brimstone evangelistic preacher from West Texas, who every summer sends his little girl to summer camp.  Not just any summer camp, but church camp.  Fundamentalist church camp.  Which means that during the day it is like any other summer camp – softball, sailing, archery, hiking, swimming – but at night, every night, there is a sweaty “Come to Jesus” sermon by some visiting preacher who seeks to woo children into heaven by scaring them out of hell.  Hell is vividly described as a place of fire and brimstone and sulfur and demons and pain and agony.

The unwritten rule of the camp is that at sometime during the week every child will come forward and give his or her life to Christ.  And not just that, but each child will give a personal testimony.

The problem is that most of these kids are just ordinary kids who don’t have a great story to tell during a testimony.

That’s where our 12 year old preacher’s daughter comes in because she has figured out a way to make some extra money at camp – as a ghost writer for Jesus.  She fabricates personal testimonies for the other campers.  For $5 she wrote a personal testimony for a boy named Michael which he delivered tear-stained before the congregation.  It was all about how in his old life he was bad – so very bad.  He would take the Lord’s name in vain during football practice, but now that he has met Jesus his mouth is as pure as a crystal spring. 

Her best work, however, was for a young boy named Tim Bailey, and he was able to say that his life was empty and meaningless until that fateful night, when in a pick up truck accident in Galveston he almost met his death, but Jesus himself took the steering wheel and steered it away from disaster.

Now that one took imagination so she got $25 for that one.

I like that story because it sheds light on a truth about personal testimonies – and that is that in many churches they become so pat, so predictable, so cliché, that they all have the same plot. 

“Once my life was in shambles, but I met Christ, and now everything is wonderful!!!”

“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, then the master of the sea lifted me, and safe am I.  I once was blind, but now I see.”

And we love that sort of testimony – predictable, pat, formulas that never change – because we like a religion that is predictable, pat, and based on a formula that never changes.  We like it simple. 

And we like our faith simple.

We like a predictable God.

We like having a God who fixes things and makes everything nice for us.

But God is not always simple, or predictable.  And He rarely “fixes things” for us so that everything is nice and easy.

Have you ever heard someone give a personal testimony by saying, “I was living a pretty good life.  Had a nice job, nice family, had a nice home and car.  Then Jesus came into my life and messed everything up.”

Actually, that is what we see in the personal testimony of this man in John chapter nine. 

Here is a person who should have the greatest of all personal testimonies – in fact we have right here in John, chapter 9, verse 25, that wonderful phrase, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

But the interesting thing is that the one person in the world who could never give one of those pat, easy, cliché, formulated testimonies, is the person who said in John’s Gospel, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Because the day he met Jesus is not the day his troubles ended. 

The day he met Jesus was the day his troubles began.

The passage begins with Jesus walking into town.  He sees a man who was blind from birth, and the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned?  This man or his parents?”

In other words, the disciples want an easy, simple faith. 

We want our faith to be simple.  Why there is suffering in the world.  We want a simple answer.  Why did terrorists kill innocent people on that fateful day in September 2001?  Why does grandma have cancer?  Give us a simple faith.

The disciples buy into the cultural teaching of that day that said if you are blind, you are a sinner.  So they want to know, since this man was born this way, did he sin or did his parents sin.

But Jesus refuses to give a simple answer – he says, “Neither sinned.”

He then begins to give a little sermon in which he says, “We must do the works of God while we are in the light of day, night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Then Jesus spits onto the ground, makes a gross little mud patty, spreads that on the man’s eyes and tells the man to go wash his face in a nearby pool.  He does, and then he sees. 

Now in a simple faith, what would happen next is that the man who once was blind would tell everyone the news.  Everyone would then praise Jesus and accept him as Lord and savior and there would be peace in the valley.

But no.

There is never a simple faith with Jesus.

For the man born blind, once he sees, life gets very complicated and his troubles begin. 

People look at him and ask, “Is this the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “It is.”

Others said, “No, it’s just someone who looks like him.”

But the man kept saying, “I’m the one who was born blind.  Now I see.”

They took him to church and had the clergy, the Pharisees, investigate.

“How did you receive your sight,” they asked.

And the man explained all about the spit and the mud and the pool, but the Pharisees said, “No, can’t be.  He can’t do this on the Sabbath.  We have rules.  He didn’t observe the Sabbath.  He’s a sinner.”

So the Pharisees call in the parents.  “Is this your son?  How does he see?”

And the parents distance themselves from this controversy, saying, he’s an adult.  Ask him.

So they do, they call the man to meet the Pharisees yet a second time for an explanation, but the man has none to give.  “All I know is that though I was blind, now I see.”

There is no simple faith here.  No easy testimony.  For the man born blind, once he sees, life gets very complicated and his troubles begin.  He is hounded by the authorities.  He has to give testimony over and over and over again about what Jesus did for him.  He finds himself in conflict with the social order of his community – he was healed on the Sabbath, which is against the law.  What a mess!

A few years ago Pastor Rick Warren wrote a book that became wildly popular - “The Purpose Driven Life.”   When Rick Warren was on Larry King Live the pastor was asked to explain the success of the book, Warren said he couldn’t understand it.  He said there is nothing in that book you can’t encounter in any church in America.  Spend 40 days in any church, and you will encounter pretty much everything that book teaches.  There is, Warren admits, nothing new in that book.

I’ve thought about this and I’ve come to believe that the success of this book is based on two things.  First is the opening sentence, “It’s not about you.”  The church has been teaching that for 2000 years, but that is a dramatic contrast to what our society is now teaching us.  That opening line was so much of a contrast to what people see on television and in society today, that it drew people in.   Second, the book is so, very, very simple.  I think that once in a while Christians need to step backward and take a class in Christianity 101 and to hear the simplicity of the faith.  Rick Warren’s book does that so well.

But there is a danger to that, and that is that we would just stay right there in the simple faith, and never move forward.

It may be a good starting point, but where do you go from there.

We like our faith to be simple.

We like it unchanging.

We like it unchallenging.

And if we have come to Jesus just for our lives to be easy and simple and for God to fix everything for us, then we’ve made a grave mistake.  Because we have made our faith all about us.

And it’s not all about us.

It’s about God.

And if you really have found Jesus, then you know your life can never be simple, and you can never rest easy again.

You know how those medicines that are advertised on television have a disclaimer.  The commercial begins by telling us what a wonderful product this is, and if we get our doctor to write us a prescription, then our blood pressure or cholesterol or whatever will be managed.  Then at the end, there is a rapid succession of words about how this product may cause headaches, weight gain and in some cases death.

We never listen to that part of the commercial.  We tune that part out.

Jesus filled his ministry with disclaimers.  But we tune that part out.

More than once the Bible speaks of how a true disciple should be prepared to suffer. 

In Matthew 16:  "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. “

Matthew 10:  “I did not come to bring peace to earth, but a sword.”

Luke 21:  “People will hate you because of me.”

When you get in the light of Jesus your eyes are opened and you no longer have a simplistic faith – you have a REAL faith.  A faith that struggles with “why is there suffering” and yet has no easy answers.  A faith that demands that you get up and work.  A faith that often puts you at odds with society.  A faith in which you can no longer rest easy. 

Meeting Jesus does not always fix everything so that your life is now nice, and pleasant and simple and easy.

When Jesus opens your eyes, that’s not when your troubles end.  It’s when they begin.

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor whose eyes were opened to the oppression of the Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany.  He stood up against the Nazis, spoke out against them, and even helped sneak Jews out of the country so they could survive.  He wrote a book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship.”  The world found out what he was talking about when the Nazi’s executed him in 1945.

            You think it is easy being a Christian?  Open your eyes!

            It’s tough.  If you want your life to be “fixed” so that everything is easy and simple, see a shrink.  You want to become a disciple?  See Jesus Christ.

Suzie Scott had a successful modeling career.  She became the Miss May of Playboy magazine.  She got divorced and then married her divorce attorney, who himself was a very wealthy person.  They had a home in California and another in Miami, Florida.  They traveled the world.

Then one day she and her husband found Christ. 

And their easy life vanished. 

All their problems began. 

Suzie found herself moved by pictures of hungry children.  You know the kind.  We see their ads on television all the time – but we don’t really see them.  Children with swollen bellies and some professional actor tells us that for a few pennies a day, this child can be fed and sent to school.

But she saw these ads.  And she opened her eyes.

She found herself traveling to Ethiopia, and to the Sudan.  She tried to use her status as a celebrity model to encourage other people to give money. 

And one day she found herself in Haiti – where she and her husband bought a home.  They opened a hospital for children in the poorest part of the city of Port au Prince. 

Let Jesus open your eyes – and you can never rest easy again.

It’s a lot easier to stay blind.  We can ignore the poor.  We can forget those in need. 

It is so much nicer to have a simple faith.

But remember what Jesus said at the beginning of this text?  The disciples wanted a simple faith – an easy explanation to suffering.  When asked if the man born blind was blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned, Jesus says, “Neither.”  Then without offering a theological rationale behind the suffering in the world he goes onto say, “We must do the works of God while we are in the light of day.”

Open your eyes!

There is work to do.

A few years ago the Presbyterian Women of a tiny little beach community decided to take on a new social ministry.  One thing about the Presbyterian Women is that they have a long history of putting their faith into practice. 

The town was being flooded with homeless men and women.  Some of them would sleep on the porch of the homes of these seasonal residents who came to Florida for sunshine and relaxation.  The homeless would panhandle on the fishing pier and run the tourists off.  They would break into homes to steal food and money.

Somebody had to do something.

So while the police were trying to run them off, the Presbyterians decided to open their eyes and to see them as children of God.

They began to feed them breakfast. 

There were some rules.  They couldn’t sleep on people’s property and they couldn’t pan handle. 

Suddenly the panhandling stopped and the homeless would find places to sleep other than the front porches.

But the members of the Town Council, which happened to be located right next door to the church, didn’t like it. 

So they ordered the church to stop feeding the homeless and they threatened to close the church. 

And they nailed their proclamation on the front door of the church so that worshippers were greeted with this news on Sunday morning.

Yeah – that’s not what you want to do to Presbyterians.

The Presbyterians added lunch to the menu.  Showers were installed in the church.  Doctors and nurses showed up on Fridays to provide health care. 

And pretty soon, every church in town began to send volunteers.

The town council was confused. 

What’s with this Presbyterian Church?  Isn’t this the church that was blind?

No, must be another church.

Don’t they know they can’t feed the poor?  It’s against our laws.  You have to have a licensed kitchen to do something like that.

So the Presbyterian Church got its kitchen inspected and licensed.

And it wasn’t easy.

The program was expensive.  It was always under the watchful eyes of the Town Hall.  If any homeless person did anything the tourists or residents didn’t like, the controversy would begin again.

But once your eyes are opened, hard work begins. 

When Jesus gives us our sight, it is not a comfortable thing – it’s a dangerous thing.  It disrupts our lives and the lives around us.  When Christians open their eyes and see, they can never rest easy again.

Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2014
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, March 15, 2014

For God So Loved The World

John 3:1-17
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

            John 3:16 may well be the single most familiar verse in the Bible.  “For God so loved the world that he gave only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

            There is a restaurant chain throughout California and the other Western states.  In-N-Out Burger.  Inside the bottom rim of their paper cups you can find printed the words of John 3:16. 

            Forever 21 is a chain of clothing stores with locations throughout the world.  At the bottom of their shopping bags you can find the words of John 3:16.
            Tim Tebow is known as a Heisman Trophy-winning football quarterback who played for the University of Florida and was later with the Denver Broncos.  You know the way football players black out the area below their eyes as a way of reducing the glare of sunshine?  Tebow often used his eye black to spell out the reference “John 3:16.”

            At many sporting events, you will see someone holding up a poster that simply reads, “John 3:16.”

            This text has become so much a part of popular culture, that it is no surprise that it has been parodied by comedians.  In a Family Guy Episode, Chris Griffin makes a John 3:16 sign for a Boston Red Sox game, and one of the characters, Brian, does not know what that means, so he looks it up and – according to that television episode - it says, “And the Lord said, ‘Go Red Sox.’” 

            Well, of course that is NOT what it says. 

            John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.

            In the 2011 Super Bowl, one of the great ads was about John 3:16.  It was a well done commercial showing a group of men and women viewing a televised football game in a living room. As the crowd cheers a play on the field, the camera focuses in on a player with the Scripture reference “John 3:16” written over the black under his eyes. When one of the group asks his buddy what the phrase means, someone reaches for a cell phone and says, “I’ll look it up,” as the ad fades to the phrase, “A Message of Hope.”

            What a simple message.  I dare say that many non-Christians and people not well versed in the Bible would have been prompted to finally look up to see what that phrase meant – John 3:16.  For God so loved the world…

This ad was controversial at the time, and more than one person said it was offensive because it was viewed as an exclusive statement – meaning some people get left out. 

But it is not in itself exclusive. It is, perhaps, the most inclusive statement of all time – “For God so loved the world” – and that means everyone. 

It becomes exclusive when we decide to reject it. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that – whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

I am sad to say that many wonderful people have indeed chosen to exclude themselves from God’s love.

And that brings us to the question we should be asking about this verse. In the past, God was often seen as vengeful and terrible, but today it is generally accepted that “if there is a God, he would be a loving God.” 

The question for us is NOT, does God love us – the question is – so what?

What do we do with this information?

What is our response to “God so loved the world that he gave his son…”

First – we need to believe.

So here I am, preaching to the choir – both literally and figuratively.  You are probably here today because you believe.  But not necessarily.  You may have come here this morning because you have recently become open to this good news.  Or you may be here against your will – your wife made you come or your parents made you come. 

You need to believe and accept that God loved the world so much that he gave his son for us – for you - and for our salvation. 

On August 30, 2005 Coast Guard Lieutenant Iain McConnell was ordered to fly his helicopter to New Orleans and to keep that machine flying around the clock for what would turn out to be a heroic rescue effort. None of his crew were prepared for what they were about to see in the aftermath of a terrible hurricane. They were ahead of every news crew in the nation. The entire city of New Orleans was under water. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs and two cats.

On the fourth mission, despite twelve different flights to New Orleans, he and his crew were able to save no one. None! These people all refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the Coast Guard to bring them food and water. Yet they were warned that this was extremely dangerous. The waters were not going to go away soon. Sadly, many of those people refused to believe there was danger.  Their helicopter ride to salvation was viewed as robbing them of their opportunity to stay with their homes to salvage their property.  Many of them died because of their refusal to be rescued.

In our Gospel lesson today we come face to face with the Son of God and with the greatest rescue effort of all time.

So what do we do with this John 3:16 passage?  We start by believing it and accepting it.

Second – it is not enough to believe – we also have to live it.  For John, to believe was to live it out.  In the book of James, we read, “Faith without works is dead.”

In the Presbyterian Church we do not often talk about saving souls, we talk about making disciples.  Making disciples is about saving one’s soul, but in more ways than one – it is not just about the after life, it is about the present life – the here and now.  Being a Christian should make a difference in how you live.

And again, I may be preaching to the choir – most of us are here because we are trying our best to live out the Gospel. 

I’ll tell you where we fall short –

We fall short in our third response to John 3:16.

We need to believe it, we need to live it – but we also need to share it!

And how many of us are sharing the Good News?

On the front of the bulletin each week there is a list of seven marks of discipleship.  We are very good about service in this church.  We did a great job a couple of weeks ago raising money for a school in Haiti. 

We are good about enjoying spiritual friendships.  If there is a dinner, we show up and enjoy the food and fellowship.

We are good at coming to worship, reading the Bible, praying – but…

When it comes to sharing the Good News of the Gospel?  Not happening.  Or at least, not happening enough.

We live in an age in which we share so much – we go online and write reviews about the restaurants we visit.  We post comments on Facebook about politics.  We tell our hair stylist deep, dark secrets. 

If we have good news about a new pizza place – we share it.
If we have an opinion about a politician – we share it.
If we like a new television show, book or movie – we share it.
If we go to a great ball game – we share it.
If we go to a lousy ball game – we share it.

But when it comes to the greatest news of hope for all people – we are silent.

It’s time for us to post it on Facebook, tweet it on Twitter, put it on our bumper stickers – but for better than that – to tell people face to face.

It’s time for us to find times and ways to tell others – “I’m loved by God and so are you – wouldn’t you like to experience that love?

I mean, if we can’t keep good pizzas, movies and books to ourselves – why is it that we try to keep Christ to ourselves?

Now at this point I have to share with you that the other day I was at home, enjoying a day off, and even though I woke up early, there I am 11:30 in the morning and I’m still in my PJs. 

The doorbell rings and I go answer it and find two Jehovah Witnesses looking me in the eye with the expectation that they are going to save me from the fires of hell – or whatever it is that think I need.

I have to wonder, is there a household in this country where anyone welcomes a knock at the door with an excited shout – “the Jehovah Witnesses are here!  The Jehovah Witnesses are here!  Yippeee!”

I don’t think so.

Now, these people were very courteous and gracious and when I politely thanked them and suggested their time would be best spent finding someone else to talk to, they happily went on their way. 

But we all know that there are ways that have become very common ways of sharing our faith that more often than not produce a negative response.  Door to door evangelism is one.  Handing out tracts and pamphlets produce only one thing – lots of trash on the streets. 

Are those methods EVER helpful?  Yes. 

But is this the way we are likely to share the Good News effectively? 

Maybe not.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

St. Francis of Assisi may have been the first to say, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” 

            We need to practice what we believe – and for John, when he said “whosoever believed” he meant believe and live it out.

            It is okay to share our faith in conversation.  We can do this without badgering people – just work it into the conversation.  Let people know you go to church, read your Bible, pray for others.  I love seeing people post on Facebook comments about what is happening in our church – or with those friends who don’t come to this church – to see what is happening in their churches. 

Don’t keep your faith a secret – let your light shine. 

And live out your faith.  Let them see your faith not only with words, but more importantly, with actions.

Because in the end, whatever words we share, without having the actions that should correspond with those words, become hypocrisy. 

We don’t agonize how to share our opinion about our favorite restaurant – we just do it. 

We don’t agonize how to share our passion for a certain basketball team – we just do it.

Let’s not agonize how to share the good news with others – let’s just do it. 

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved. 
For copies of other sermons, visit

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Resisting Temptation

Matthew 4
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

In the Broadway Play, My Fair Lady, one of the characters sings a memorable song.
The Lord above made liquor for temptation,
To see if man could turn away from sin,
The Lord above made liquor for temptation,
BUT, with a little bit of luck,
with a little bit of luck,
When temptation comes you'll give right it.

We all know about temptation, and there is a sense in which we like to trivialize temptation.

We whittle it down to things like,  “Oh, I’ll just take one piece of chocolate cake – I know it is against my diet, but it won’t hurt to yield to temptation.”

Or…  “I’m going to fudge on those numbers just a wee bit on the tax return.”

Or… “Honey you look fine.  Of course that suit isn’t out of style.  Now let’s go before we miss our dinner reservation.”

White lies, cheating on diets – those are temptations, but to think only of temptations in those terms trivialize the power and danger of many temptations.
It is, in fact, almost frightening how often we encounter people whose entire lives are destroyed or forever changed because when temptation came, they gave right in.
In spite of the song of My Fair Lady, temptation is no laughing matter. It destroys us and even the people around us.
Early in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encounters evil and faces temptation. 
When we look at the New Testament lesson, we find Jesus successfully resists temptation, and by doing so, he gives us a model.
First, we need to remember that temptations often begin in forms that, on the surface, seem very innocent, very subtle.
Temptations don't come like a hurricane, but like a gentle breeze. They come as subtle and almost innocent opportunities.
To help you to understand what I mean, remember that the temptation of Jesus takes place when he has been in the desert for 40 days. Now, that is a long time. Where were you 40 days ago? That was back on January 28th.  A lot has happened to you since then. Imagine how you would feel if you had been in the desert since January 28th. Imagine having very little to eat or drink.
Now, imagine you are Jesus and the thought crosses your mind -- You could, by the sheer power of your will, turn the stones in front of you into bread.
What would have been the big deal?
That is the real problem with temptation. It is so easy to respond to the temptation with the phrase, "It's no big deal."
If you jump to the end of the temptation passage you see Satan telling Jesus, "Worship me!" Now it is easy to see why that is wrong, and it is simple to understand that this is something Jesus should not do. Satan worship is a big deal!
But that first temptation is such a subtle one. It doesn't come bursting into Jesus' life with hurricane force winds, but more like a gentle breeze. It doesn't come with the face of evil, but with an air of innocence.
You're hungry.
You have the power.
Turn these stones to bread.
It's no big deal.
During the height of the Cold War, a former FBI agent described Soviet spies working in Washington, and how the KGB would solicit workers in the FBI and CIA and in the military to work for them. The writer said the KGB would never start by approaching an American and asking him or her to steal "top secret" documents. Instead, they would start with something simple.  It usually began with providing something that was public information, such as office telephone directory. It was no big deal. It was something the American worker would justify as no big deal because it was public information. But it would still be a thrill!  It would also put some extra spending money in the American's pocket. It would also be just enough to hook the American into doing it again. Next time it would be a file. Then it would be something confidential, and finally it would be something very secretive.
That would come later, however. At the beginning, it would be nothing more than that telephone directory. No big deal.
And so it is with temptation.
Read stories about people who embezzled millions of dollars. It never starts with the desire to embezzle a million dollars. It starts with the worker needing a few extra dollars. He or she takes it, thinking, "I'll just borrow this. I'll put it back. It's just enough to buy a lunch, or a book. No big deal."
Or think of the man or woman who commits adultery. It rarely starts with a full-fledged affair. It starts with a simple, innocent conversation. Or a meeting over lunch in which there is nothing wrong, it's just never shared with the spouse. It's no big deal.
Jesus faces his first temptation, and it is no big deal. Turn these stones into bread. He has the power. As far as I know, God the Father never told The Son not to turn stones to bread. But Jesus is able to realize that there is something about this suggestion from Satan that makes it a big deal. He resists because He is always on the watch, understanding that temptations can appear so innocent at first.
We learn a lot about how to face our temptations by looking at Jesus in the way he faces his temptations. The first thing we can learn this morning is that you have to be very, very careful. Temptations sneak up on you very subtly. It is easy to yield to them because they come across as "no big deal."

Another thing about resisting temptation is that the Word of God is the greatest power in resisting temptation.

And every time Jesus responds, he doesn't resist by the sheer force of his will. Nor does he resist by engaging the devil in eloquent debate. He simply says, "The Word of God says..." and then he quotes Scripture.

There is something important about being so nurtured by the Word of God that it becomes part of your soul.  It becomes your heritage.

One of my friends in the ministry recently told me about being on vacation one day and attending church with his family.  Instead of being up in the pulpit, he was in the pew with his wife and children.

It came time for the Apostles’ Creed. 

Everyone stood.

They started into that holy murmur.


My friend says he suddenly became aware of a voice he had never heard at that point in the worship service.

It was the voice of his 11-year-old son, David.  David, who had a wad of bubble gum in his mouth. David, who could barely pass 5th grade. David, who in the presence of a congregation stood and confessed Trinitarian theology.  My friend says it was a moment of great parental pride.  And because this minister is a close friend, he admitted to me that it was also a moment of great theological confusion. Where did David memorize that? They never taught David to recite the Apostles’ Creed. They never sat around the kitchen table showing flash cards…

“I believe in God the Father almighty”
            “Maker of heaven and earth”

Where did he pick this up?

He picked this up by participating in life of worship. He picked it up by Sunday after Sunday hearing it said in the family of faith. And when he was old enough to speak, by saying those phrases with everyone else.

And one day, the words of faith became his own words.

And now when David becomes a man and life pushes him against the wall he has somewhere inscribed in his heart, “I’m the kind of man who believes in God the father Almighty.”  He doesn’t invent it on the spot.  He doesn’t try to figure out something new on the spur of the moment.  He calls it out of his tradition.  And that is what Jesus does.  He calls out of Scripture creedal statements of faith.
Study of the Word of God is important in giving us the strength to resist temptation. Psalm 119 asks and answers the question in verse 9, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word."
Further in that Psalm, the writer says, "Thy word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you."
By immersing ourselves in a reading and understanding of the Word of God, we are able to be more successful with resisting temptations. Jesus met every temptation with a response from the Word of God.
In many ways, we have forgotten the Word of God. We do not read it. We do not memorize its most important passages. We do not try to answer temptation with the power of God's word.
We have forgotten even the stories of the Old and New Testament that can serve as examples for our lives. We have become like actors on a stage of life who have forgotten the lines from the script.
I was a member of the stage crew when I was in high school. That was a great job, because we worked on all the plays and shows and programs. I was in charge of things like lights and sound effects and opening and closing the curtain, so I had this feeling that the play could not start or finish without me.
One year, Miss Sorrells was in charge of the Senior Play. She was a brand new teacher and she came to our school full of enthusiasm and a love for teaching. She was young and fresh and bright, and she would pour herself into this play. She would teach all day, and then in the afternoon she would rehearse with people in their lines, and then she would go home and put on some jeans and would bring in some hamburgers and start painting the sets and the backgrounds.
I worked on a number of programs each year, and most teachers took all this in stride, they'd directed class play because it was part of their job, something to endure.  But with Miss Sorrells, she took all of this as a personal challenge.  She really believed in the importance of this play and she threw herself into it with great energy, imagination, creativity and love.

On the day of the play, everything went well.  Or at least, it started well.
Then somewhere in the second act, Tommy lost his place.  He had some line to say, and he couldn’t remember the line. He just stood there. His face grew suddenly pale. The actors stood around him, and no one knew what to do. It was a moment of panic.
I looked at Miss Sorrells and she was the face of calm and confidence.  She was standing at a podium, with a small light illuminating her copy of the script. 
She had the words.
She was just about to whisper them to Tommy when all of a sudden Tommy spoke.
It wasn’t the words from the play. But they were funny words and everyone laughed. And everyone relaxed.  We had gotten through a crisis moment, and now the play could continue.
But with the sound of the laugher still ringing in his ears, Tommy said something else that was funny.  Those words were not in the play either.  But they were funny.  People laughed.
And then he said something else.  The audience was still laughing.  But the actors were panicking again.  Tommy had left the words.  He was making this up as he went along.  This play was collapsing.  It was out of control.
I looked at Miss Sorrells.  She was no longer calm.  She was no longer confident.  She was in tears.
We face the crisis moments in life, and when we do we often make up these words as we go along.  And when that happens, life spirals out of control.  And God is in heaven, in tears.
We have the script.
We have the Word of God.
We need to stick to the Word.

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved. 
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