Wednesday, May 22
Sunday, February 13, 2005|
Genesis 2:1-15, 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-`19, Matt. 4:1-11
Pastor Kwanza Yu
The little word, is NO!
Fyodor Dostoyevksy once said, “If every copy of the Bible were destroyed, and we had only the single page which tells the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, it would be enough.” Enough what? Enough to save us, to heal us, to make us whole? How can that be?
We do not need books and sermons to teach us of temptation or evil, for we can see and hear and feel evil everyday. The awful power of evil threatens to overwhelm our confidence in the goodness of God. The question is this: Can evil be defeated? Can it be trampled under foot?
Dostoyevsky was celebrating the fact that this single page of scripture announces that evil has met its master in Jesus of Nazareth. We have in this story of how Jesus refused to serve himself or the devil and relied totally on God. Instead of power or glory, the path that Jesus chose led him to the cross.
At the beginning of Jesus ministry, Satan encounters him in the wilderness. In the wilderness, Satan makes Jesus a number of tempting offers. He does not attack Jesus, assault him, or abuse him. Rather, he offers Jesus gifts. And they are good gifts.
First, Satan offers Jesus bread. Jesus has been hungry for 40 days, and 40 nights, a very long time. So what gift is more basic, or necessary for life than bread? Most of us spend most of our day working for bread. Millions of millions people in the world have no bread in spite of working long hours of labor every day. Yet we have live through an incredibly affluent time for many North Americans. There has been a lot of bread, more than we needed. Jesus’ response to Satan’s offer of bread is “NO”! He refuses.
Second, Satan offers Jesus power. Satan tells him that if Jesus would just pay him appropriate homage, he can have power and authority over the entire kingdom of this world. Power can be a good thing. Satan is not offering Jesus greed or lust or anything evil. Satan is offering Jesus a good thing—power.
And of course, power in Jesus’ hands would surely be power to do well. I never heard anybody said that he or she wanted power in order to do bad things. It can be used to right wrong, assure peace and guarantee justice. Power can be given for noble things like “power to the people” or “economic power in the Third World”, or “the liberation of women” or some other noble causes.
We live in a culture that values power. Because, for most of us, we have enough bread to spare, we spend much of our time trying to get more power. We want power to live our lives as we please. To make the choices that we want to make. We admire people who have power and who know how to use it. We have contempt for leaders who can’t seem to use power wisely. Satan offers Jesus all the power one could want- power over every kingdom in the world. And Jesus refuses. Jesus says, “NO!”
Finally, perhaps knowing the sort of person Jesus is, Satan offers Jesus religion. Having failed at bread and power, Satan offers him religion. Throw yourself down from the tower and the angels will catch you so that God’s miraculous power is within Jesus. Satan is offering to Jesus the opportunity to be a superstar – to take control of people’s lives- protect us and provide for us everything that we want.
There is a great deal of interest in our day in such spectacular religion, religion that works. We spend so much of our time trying to secure health and happiness through bread or through political power, so why not use religion in the same way? We have so many different ways to get what we want- hard work, therapy, investing in stocks and bonds, why not religion? Isn’t religion a good thing? Would it not be a good thing to have so much faith that one could jump off a tower, confident of divine protection? And yet, even when faced with Satan’s offer for miraculous religious stardom, Jesus says, “NO!”
For now, here is an occasion for us to consider all that we know about Jesus on the basis of that which he renounces. In his three renunciations Jesus is with three of the most wonderful passions of our cultures - first, money and possessions, second – power and third – religion. Jesus stands in sharp contract to culture like ours with our slogans like, “Go for it!” or “You deserve it!” or “Yes!”
Do you know someone who has turned his or her back on this world and all that it has offer? Such people can be a real threat to this world and to those of us who may have too easily surrendered too much to this world.
And yet, sometimes we are attracted to such people and their ability to renounce. Dr. William Willimon at Duke University told preachers at Luther Seminary: “What can we do to get Mark in our fraternity? The student asked him. Mark was a first-year student who sang in their choir. He was from a little town in Maryland and did not impress him as the fraternity-boy type. Dr. Willimon was a bit surprised that this student would find Mark to be such a catch for his fraternity.
“He is one of the coolest people I’ve met here at the university,” said the student. “Cool? “Yeah, cool. How many people do you know here at Duke University who will tell you that they are here to pursue their lifetime ambition to be a pastor of a small rural church in Maryland?”
He could see the student’s point; just one person running loose who is able to renounce all that we are giving our lives to, can attract a crowd. Such a person becomes a monkey wrench thrown into the clanking machinery of the present order. In a world where most of us go along to get along, just one person with the strength to sound off and say the little word NO, becomes incredibly interesting.
As I struggled with this text I also learned about myself from this story. The temptations that Satan placed before Jesus were not uniquely designed for Jesus. They are perfectly suited for all humanity. Just as Jesus was vulnerable to Satan’s promise of power, pride, and plenty so we are.
The difference between Jesus and us is that we cannot resist the seduction of pride and power, the temptation to “play God.” When Satan comes calling, left to our own devices, we will give in like Adam and Eve in today’s first lesson reading. We might say “In God we trust.” But the truth of the matter is that we trust most in ourselves.
On this first Sunday in Lent we begin our walk with Jesus toward the cross. And Satan is working on us, scheming to prove to us that we do not really need God, that we can work things out for ourselves and only need to turn to God when the going gets tough. The most important thing we can learn about ourselves from Jesus’ temptations is that the power to resist comes from God.
While we may not be able to, like Jesus, have just the right verse of Scripture on the tip of our tongue, while we may not be able to fully articulate the theological rationale for our decision, we will be able to offer one little word. That little world will be “NO.” It will be word enough.
In our hymn of the day, in Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” remember when it says, “The world’s prince may rage, in fierce war engage. He is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.
”What is that “one little word”? I have always assumed the one little word so devastating and defeating to Satan was the work the name “Jesus.” Now I wonder if the little word that defeat Satan is even simper. That little word, spoken in the name of Jesus is, NO! We need no other. Amen.