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What If?

Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – February 18, 2013- Lent 1C: Luke 6:27-38

I am just back from a couple of days in Baltimore working with the National Church Task Force on Restructuring the Church.  Now I realize that for some people conversations about structure, governance, and administration (let alone the church’s version of those things) might sound like a wilderness of sorts, a dangerous, dry desert perhaps even filled with wild beasts lurking at every turn. But my days were nothing like that. They were actually very rich – filled with incredibly good people, very creative thinking and faithful prayer.  More like a garden than a desert actually.  But my thoughts upon leaving that meeting and transitioning back to Lent I were about this passage – just not in terms of having been in the wilderness.  Instead, I’ve been considering how much easier these challenges facing our church would be, how much easier life would be if Jesus had done what Satan had tempted him to do.

What if Jesus had said, “Yes,” instead of “No” to everything that Satan offered him? Let’s go there for a few minutes and see how that might have played out. . .

You know the scene.  Jesus was just baptized and was driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.  And while he was the there, the devil tempted Him three times: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread,” the devil said to Jesus.  So what if instead of ‘One does not live by bread alone,’ Jesus had said something like, “OK, great! And while I am at it, I’ll take it upon myself to make sure that there is enough bread for everyone, always.” Sounds great – doesn’t it? If Jesus had taken that opportunity maybe there’d be no more distance between the haves and have nots in this world – everyone would have all the bread they need and we could take questions of how best to distribute our resources completely off the table.

Or how about this, to Satan’s offer of all of the kingdoms of the world in exchange for Jesus worshiping him. . .what if instead of ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,’ Jesus had said something like, “Sure, Satan, I’ll take’m. I’ll rule over all of it, worshiping you and ruling with authority, power, clarity.” In some ways that wouldn’t be all bad – No more wrestling with questions about how best to govern and organize ourselves – all of that would be completely taken care of. No more human error at the helm. No more human at the helm at all – at least no “merely and only human.”  Not all bad!

And finally what if Jesus had taken the leap off the pinnacle of the temple and been caught by the angels, thereby employing the heavenly beings in the constant business of making sure no physical harm could be done?  Again, that’s attractive in some ways – No more hurts to tend to, no more lives dashed against the stones of this world –  Because Jesus (as ruler of the kingdoms of the world and provider of bread and other things for all people) would have also put the angels to the work of protecting us all from getting dashed in any way.  And so instead of a cross as our primary symbol, maybe there would be something up there like a pair of wings.

But as tempting as all of that was and as it still is, Jesus resisted all of those offers – he resisted the temptation to depend on magic as a response to human need; he turned down the offer to wield worldy power as a means to holy rule, and he turned down the temptation of his own personal protection and assurance against death.  And by doing so, he set another sort of vision in motion for humanity.  And that vision is what this season is all about.

It’s the vision of a God who instead of going for a quick fix entered into the realm of human pain and suffering and offered us all a different way to be in this world.  And by this way, God is not the sole provider of bread – or at least the sole distributor of bread – we’re in that business too – our hearts and hands are needed in the work of getting it to all who hunger.  And by this way, God has not fully instituted rule over all of the kingdoms of the world; the vision involves us participating in the building of that kingdom, the ordering of this world in ways that are fair and just and embracing of all children of God.  And finally this way that Jesus opened up is not one that relies on self-protection, instead it’s one that calls for self-sacrifice in the best sense of what that means – and so ultimately, in this story, our understanding of salvation revolves not around wings but around the image of a cross and through God’s grace, an empty tomb.

In some ways what Jesus did in the wilderness over those forty days and forty nights was that he left the world exactly as it stood.  Given the option of supply on demand, complete and utter rule, and immortality Jesus let the stones be stones, left the kingdoms of the world to the people of the world, and worked his way toward his own death.   And I think that’s because Jesus didn’t come into the world to take it over.  Jesus came into the world very simply and unconditionally to love the world.  He came not to fix, but to transform through the most powerful means God could employ.

And so this season, listen to how Jesus loves us.  Sounds like a song, right?  This season notice the “how” of Jesus going about his work in this world because that “how” is for us to adopt too.  It’s how we live into the vision, the way that Jesus offered us.  The governance of the church let alone the world won’t completely change this season, we will still struggle to get bread into the hands of all people, and we will encounter hurt as we do the self-giving, sacrificial things we have been called to do.  But notice that in all of it, love can break through, offering a new way that involves forgiveness, redemption, a cross, and resurrection.

May we give thanks as we walk through this season, that Jesus resisted and showed us another way.