All Saints' Deacon, The Rev. Paul Higginson, usually preaches when I'm out of town. Here is his fantastic sermon for the first Sunday of Lent! (March 13th, 2011)
Well it's been quite a week here in Littleton, the Lake Wobegon of the East. Monday's storm hit us yet again with another blast from the Winter that won't go away. Snowbanks so high now you need a neck like a giraffe to see over them. Down at the Coffee Pot, on main street, the 6:30 AM boys, also known as, counter intelligence, are still debating the results of last Tuesday's ballots. "Pastor Wiesner" and his wife Darlene left town for Texas the other day to spend time with the in-law's, leaving the Episcopalians in the hands of the Smother's Brothers, AKA, the Rev. Phillips and the Deacon. Then just as we started to get used to a little sunlight in the morning we get to spring forward, back into the darkness.
As if that weren't enough the Church hasn't made life any easier with Ash Wednesday coming in the middle of last week launching us into the somber season of Lent. Even the use of my favorite Church word, dare I say Alleluia, has been put out to pasture until that far off Easter day. Then this morning we are met with lectionary readings that bring us up short with a dose of our short comings in the form of temptation, be it the fall of Adam and Eve, St. Paul's going on about his failings, or Jesus' own confrontation with the Devil himself. It's enough for us, the hearer, to be tempted to ignore the words altogether.
If we choose to ignore what we've just heard isn't that an idea that would make the Devil jump for joy, as temptation is such a primary tool in his kit? We are faced with temptations from the time we wake till bedtime and even then I would guess they continue in our dreams. I've heard it said that opportunity knocks while temptation knocks down the door.
With that thought in mind consider times when you've been confronted with big time temptation. Like a fishing lure, temptation is what attracts you. Inside your head is the notion of how much better off you'll feel if you take the bait. That voice inside screams at you to go for it and the voice of conscience doesn't sound nearly so loud.
What if Jesus had jumped from the pinnacle of the temple, the ride to the ground would have been a rush, but the landing a disaster. That's just how we are tempted daily with thoughts of pleasure, power or attainment that come to a sudden halt on the rocks below. The bait of temptation is just that, bait, luring us into believing what we want is better than what we have.
There is nothing wrong with wanting, be it for a better life, or self improvement, but when our wants move beyond our needs that's when the trouble begins. Do we need or just want a bigger house or fancier car. If we had the winning Power Ball ticket would that bring us all we ever wanted or is what we have enough already? If elected to a position of power is it for the common good where you could make a difference or will the position of control only tempt you to want more. When we choose to take what we want, like the people of the garden, the fruit that is not meant for us, that's when the devil wins, and we, made in God's image, become the losers.
One only has to look at the turmoil going on in North Africa or the Middle East to see examples of what happens when power over a people is used to hold another down. A pile of money will not guarantee stability, for as psalm 49 says, “Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their house increases, for when they die, they will carry nothing away, their wealth will not go down after them.” As Kurt read in his commentary Ash Wednesday service, "a funeral car has no luggage rack." (From a George Strait song, used by Maryetta Anschutz)
Twenty first century temptation then leads us into the pitfalls attributed to the abuses of power over others, the accumulation of materials, and the false idea of security. When we step over the boundaries of the garden of God's grace that he has set us in and direct our energies toward more than what we need, life becomes headed for a train wreck.
Those who know me well understand that if you share a conversation with me you are almost guaranteed, in a very short time, to be subjected to some sort of pun. It can't be helped, it's just happens, a defect inherited from my mother. As I was preparing this week the words in the prayer book from the confession used in both morning and evening prayer got to me. “ we have erred and strayed like lost sheep.” That phrase coupled with Kurt's instruction to weave something in from Episcopal Relief and Development, or the acronym ERD into today's sermon gives us “erred and ERD”.
This Sunday has been designated by the national church as ERD or Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday which is the Episcopal Church's worldwide charity arm, formerly known as the Presiding Bishops fund. It provides funding and relief both here and abroad for the betterment of the human condition at almost no administrative costs allowing for 99% of a dollar to go where needed. Funding and help goes to rebuild after disasters and empowers by offering lasting solutions that fight hunger, poverty and disease.
Events the last couple of days in Japan underscore the frailty of life on this planet. Earthquake or tsunami don't make exceptions for the wealthy, powerful or those who've stored away goods in barns for tomorrow. No doubt, although I haven't heard it yet, someone from a pulpit will be claiming that the people of Japan have brought this disaster on themselves. No way, and if that nonsense were so, what as a people have we to look forward too? No!!, again, sssssh-It happens.
There is no question in my mind that ERD will be there offering aid and comfort towards recovery. The temptation of course will be for us to turn our heads and claim, it's not our problem. Temptation says I need it more than the guy next door, but God says, “where your treasure lies there your heart lies also”. Again it comes down to what our needs really are verses our wanting.
So I ask you this morning if you could change the stones beneath you feet into bread, throw yourself recklessly into life with disregard, or command all that you can see, can any of that compare with what God has in store for those who are faithful to the call. Short lived satisfaction in exchange for Eternity!!!
What we are given beyond our needs is to be shared so that no one goes to bed tonight dreaming of what they need, but instead to dream of how they can wake in the morning and bring relief to those clinging to the tsunamis of this life.