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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Manna, Man!

This is the message given in the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, March 30, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Exodus 16:1-20 and Matthew 6:25-34.

We’re in the middle of a sermon series called “Pray This Way”, looking at the Lord’s Prayer.  We’ve talked about “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”, looking at why it’s important in our prayers to acknowledge who God is.  We’ve talked about “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, looking at how, as Christians, we have a responsibility to do our part to bring God’s kingdom and God’s will closer to our world on Earth.  Today, we look at the next sentence of the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”.
            Unlike the first two sentences of the prayer, this is something that appears in both Matthew’s version of the prayer and Luke’s version.  This was clearly something that stuck with the people who heard Jesus give this prayer.  “Give us this day our daily bread”.
            When the people of Jesus’ time heard this, they would’ve instantly thought of the story from Exodus we read today.  The people of Israel were out in the wilderness.  God, through Moses, had led them out of slavery in Egypt.  But now, they’re out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat.  And they’re not very happy about it.  They accuse Moses, and of course by implication accuse God, of having led them out into the wilderness to starve.  They say they’d have been better off to stay in slavery, because at least there they had enough to eat.
            So, God gives them something to eat.  Manna.  Moses refers to manna as “the bread the Lord has given you to eat”.  But, he tells them, they can only gather as much as they need for today.  Don’t try to save any of it for tomorrow.  That won’t work.  God is only giving you enough for today.
            Now of course, people being people, somebody had to test that, right?  Sure enough, some people tried to save some manna for the next day, and sure enough it was no good.  Surprise, God, speaking through Moses, told the truth.  Who’d have thought?  God only gave them enough for today.  They’d have to learn to take it one day at a time.  God would give them enough for tomorrow when tomorrow got there, and not before.
            That’s the story people would’ve thought of when Jesus said this line of the Lord’s Prayer.  And it goes along perfectly with what Jesus said in our reading from Matthew today.  Jesus tells us, don’t worry about whether you’ll have enough to eat or enough to drink or enough clothes to wear.  God knows we need those things.  Jesus says, what you should be trying to get is not food or drink or clothes, but God’s kingdom.  Jesus says that if we get that, everything else will fall into place.
            That probably accounts for the order in which we say these things in the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus tells us to first acknowledge who God is, then pray for God’s kingdom to come.  Only then are we supposed to ask for anything for ourselves.  And when we do, we’re supposed only ask for enough for today, and not worry about tomorrow.
            In fact, it seems to me that the order in which Jesus put things in this prayer is a tremendous example to us about keeping our priorities straight.  Jesus tells us that we need to keep our focus first and foremost on God.  Not on ourselves, and not on the things of this earth.  On God.  
Jesus acknowledges that our earthly needs are important, too.  It’s just that Jesus says they get a lower priority.  Our first priority should be serving God’s kingdom and doing our part to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.  In fact, if you think about it, probably the only reason we pray for our daily bread is that without it, we would not have the strength to do our part to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.  We need food and drink to survive.  But we’re not supposed to pray for those things for ourselves.  We’re supposed to pray for them so we can have the strength we need to serve God.
Which is also probably one of the reasons Jesus told us to pray for bread.  Bread, after all, is one of the staple foods of life.  There’s nothing fancy about bread.  I mean, nowadays there can be.  People bake all kinds of fancy breads now.  But in Jesus’ time, bread was pretty simple.  It was pretty basic.  That’s what Jesus told us to pray for:  just our basic needs.  Just pray for what we need, not what we might like to have.
            That’s not always the easiest thing to do.  There are a lot of times when we’re like those people of Israel who tried to save the manna for tomorrow.  We don’t really want just our daily bread.  We want enough for tomorrow and next week and next month.  
We’re like the people of Israel in another way, too.  Remember, in the book of Numbers, how the people complain about having nothing to eat but manna every day?  They go to Moses and say, “All we ever get to eat around here is manna.  Manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, manna for dinner, manna for supper.  Manna for a midnight snack.  Manna, manna, manna.  Man, oh man, am I tired of manna!  I’d rather eat a banana with my nana in Montana while wearing a bandana than eat any more of this stupid manna!”
And that’s true of us, too.  We don’t want just to just have our basic needs met.  We don’t want just enough to get by.  We want a lot of other stuff, too.  We want to have a nice house and a nice car and a nice home entertainment system and enough money to do some traveling and to have some more nice stuff, too.
Now, before we go any farther, please understand that I am not pointing a finger here.  Everything I just said applies to me just as much as it applies to anyone else.  And I’m not saying we cannot be Christians and have some nice stuff.  I think we can.
But it gets back, again, to priorities.  And it also gets back to what we should be praying for.  Our first priority, in our prayers and in our lives, needs to be God’s kingdom.  Our first priority, in our prayers and in our lives, needs to be serving God.  Our first priority, again in both our prayers and our lives, needs to be to do our part to bring about God’s kingdom on Earth.
And our prayers, in terms of what we’re asking God to give us, is enough to give us the strength to do that.  If God chooses to bless us with other things, that’s up to God.  But God does not owe it to us to give us anything else, and Jesus did not tell us to pray for anything else.  Jesus told us to pray the basic things we need to get us through the day.  No more and no less.
What Jesus is telling us to do, basically, is take one day at a time.  And you know, think of how much less stress and worry there’d be in our lives if we did that.  Think how much easier our lives would be if we just asked God to give us enough to get us through today, and trusted that God would give us enough to get through tomorrow when tomorrow got here.
And then, think about how much less stress and worry there’d be in our lives if we carried that principle into other areas besides food.  I suspect a lot of us have “to-do” lists.  I know I do.  And that’s okay.  For me, it’s the only way I can keep from forgetting things, and sometimes I still forget things anyway.
But you know, sometimes, when we look at that “to-do” list, it’s kind of scary.  We look at all the things we have to do for a week, or for a couple of weeks, and then we look at the amount of time we have to do them in, and we think, “How am I ever going to get all this done?”  Have you ever done that?  Happens to me all the time.
But what if we applied the “daily bread” principle to that?  What if we prayed, “God, give me enough time and energy today to do the things I need to do today.  And I’ll trust you that, when tomorrow comes, you’ll give enough time and energy to do the things I need to do tomorrow.”
How much less would we worry if we did that?  How much less stress would we have in our lives?  How much better off would we be, how much happier would we be, how much more able to serve God would we be, if we just trusted God to give us the time and energy to get done all the things we need to do?
God, through Moses, told the people God would give them enough for today.  Jesus told us to pray that God give us enough for today so we have the strength to serve God’s kingdom.  And Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, because as long as we serve God’s kingdom, God will take care of tomorrow.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”  Acknowledge who God is, do our part to bring about God’s kingdom on earth, and ask for God to give us the basic things we need for today.  No more and no less.  If we pray this way, we can be pretty confident that God will answer our prayer.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mixed Emotions

This is the message from the Wednesday Lent Service at the Gettysburg United Methodist Church on March 26, 2014.  The Bible verses used are John 11:1-44.
            Our Lent sermon series is “Jesus in HD”, looking at both the fully human and fully divine Jesus.  This week we’re going to look at the human Jesus.  Specifically, we’re going to look at how Jesus dealt with the death of someone close to him.
            There are not a lot of things more human than that, are there?  One of the certainties of life, some might say the only certainty of life, is that we’re all going to die.  And that means that all of us, if we live very long, are going to have someone close to us die.
            A lot of us try not to think about that.  We don’t want to think about the fact that we’re going to die, and we don’t want to think about the fact that those close to us are going to die.  And to an extent, that’s good.  I’m not suggesting we should go around all day thinking about death.  That’d be a pretty unpleasant way to live, after all.
            But we should not ignore the reality of death, either.  And in fact, we cannot ignore it, even if we want to.  Death has a way of forcing its way into our consciousness, whether we want it to or not.
            As I said Sunday, in the not quite three years I’ve been in this parish, I’ve conducted roughly fifty funerals.  Some of them have been for people who you were close to.  And of course, there have been a lot of other funerals in this community that I have not been a part of.  Every week, when you read the newspaper, there are two or three obituaries, sometimes more.  That means every week, there are quite a few people in this community who are mourning the death of a loved one.
            That’s a hard thing.  Even when it’s the death of someone who’s lived a long and full life, it’s hard.  And when it’s someone who passes away at a young age, due to an illness or an accident or something, it’s even harder.  It’s a tough thing for us to deal with.
            In our Bible reading for tonight, Jesus deals with the death of a loved one.  Lazarus was a good friend of his.  We have no idea how old Lazarus was, but from the context, it seems like he must have been a younger man.  I say that because his illness and then his death are not being treated the way we’d expect the death of an elderly man to be treated.  There’s no sense of Lazarus having lived a long and fruitful life and now going on to his reward.  The sense of it seems to be that Lazarus’ death is considered a sad, even tragic thing.
            And it seems to me, as I read this story and think about it, that Jesus has a mix of emotions about the situation.  When Jesus first hears about Lazarus being sick, he seems to be in complete control, both of the situation and of his own emotions.  He stays where he is for two days, apparently knowing that in that time, Lazarus is going to die.  When it’s time to go, Jesus tells the disciples what he’s going to do.  He tells them that Lazarus has died and that he’s going to raise him again.  When he gets to Bethany, Jesus tells Martha that he’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead.
            That makes sense, when we think about it.  After all, Jesus is the one who conquered death itself.  He did that not just for himself, but for all of us.  We read in Mark’s gospel of Jesus, very early in his ministry, raising Peter’s mother-in-law from the dead.  So it makes sense that Jesus would not get too shaken up over death.  Jesus knew he had power over it.
            And yet, somehow, when Jesus sees Mary, Jesus’ whole demeanor changes.  We’re told that Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled”.  In fact, we’re told Jesus wept.  It’s like, when Jesus was actually face-to-face with the reality of the situation, something inside of him changed somehow.  Jesus, who had seemed in total control of the situation, who knew he had power over death, cried.
            And oddly enough, I could not find a good picture to represent that.  I searched all kinds of things on Google images, and I could not find a normal-looking picture of Jesus crying.  It’s like showing a normal-looking Jesus crying normal tears makes us uncomfortable.  It’s like we don’t want to see the human Jesus crying real human tears at a real human loss.
            And that’s too bad.  Because both of Jesus’ reactions--the composed, in control Jesus and the sad, troubled, crying Jesus--are needed to complete the picture.  In fact, it seems to me that Jesus’ two reactions mirror the way we often react to death.  
As Christians, we believe that we are saved by God’s grace and mercy and through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior.  So, if we’re confident that our loved ones have that faith, we know that when they die, they are going on to heaven.  They are going to eternal life in the presence of God.  They will be in the place of love and peace and joy forever.
            And that belief is a comfort to us.  It can lead us to say, as we sometimes do, that the death of a loved one is a blessing.  That’s especially true if our loved one has lived a long and full life and was more recently suffering in some way.  We know that their suffering is now ended, and that makes us feel better about someone’s death.
            And yet, when a loved one dies, even in that situation, will still cry.  We still grieve.  Despite what we believe about life after death, there is still sadness and pain involved when someone we love dies.
            And sometimes, we feel guilty about that.  Sometimes, we wonder if our tears and sadness show a lack of faith.  After all, we think, logically, if I know my loved one is in heaven, I should be happy.  And I’m not.  Does that mean I don’t really believe my loved one is in heaven?
            No.  It does not mean that.  I think one of the things Jesus’ reaction to the death of Lazarus tells us is that both of those feelings--the belief that a loved one is now in heaven, and the sadness at a loved one’s death--are perfectly natural, normal things for us, as human beings, to feel.  No matter how strong our faith is, no matter how confident we are that our loved one is in heaven, both of those feelings are perfectly natural and perfectly normal.
            We know it’s normal because it was the reaction of the fully human Jesus.  Jesus, who understood death better than any one of us ever will, who knew what heaven is like far better than any one of us ever will while we’re on this earth, who in fact had actually lived in heaven before he came to earth, and who knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, still cried when he came face-to-face with the fact of Lazarus’ death.
We don’t know exactly what the mix of emotions was in Jesus at that time.  I wonder if Jesus himself fully understood the emotions he felt right at that moment.  He may have--I’m not saying that he did not.  But think about it.  As human beings, there are many times when we don’t fully understand our emotions.  That’s especially true when we’re faced with something as serious and traumatic as the death of a loved one.  I think it’s entirely possible that Jesus himself did not fully understand why he cried in this situation.
            What does that mean for us?  Here’s one of the things I think it means.  It means that it’s okay if you and I struggle with the reality of death, especially the death of a loved one.  It’s okay because even the fully human Jesus struggled with it, too.
And what that means is that, when a loved one dies, whatever it is that we’re feeling, it’s okay.  It’s okay if we’re happy at the thought that our loved one is now in heaven.  It’s okay if we’re sad that our loved one is gone.  It’s okay if we feel anger or confusion.  It’s even okay if we just kind of feel numb or if we’re not even sure what we feel.  
All of those feelings and many others are okay.  In fact, all of those feelings at once are okay.  None of those things show a lack of faith, a lack of caring, or anything else.
Dealing with death is never easy.  It was not easy for Jesus.  It’s not going to be easy for us.  There are no rules for it.  But the one thing we don’t need to do is feel guilty about whatever we’re feeling.  It’s hard enough to deal with the death of a loved one.  Don’t pile guilt on top of everything else you’re feeling.
But remember this:  Jesus ultimately defeated death.  He defeated death for himself.  He defeated death for Lazarus.  He defeated death for Peter’s mother-in-law.  And Jesus will defeat death for you and me, too.
Death is a reality in this world.  We cannot ignore it. But it our almighty, all-powerful, all-loving God is always with us, in life and in death.  God never leaves us to face anything alone.  God is always there for us, all the way.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Till Kingdom Come

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish Sunday, March 23, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Genesis 2:4-15 and Revelation 21:1-7.

            Our sermon series as we approach Easter is called “Pray This Way”, looking at the Lord’s Prayer.  Last week, we looked at the first sentence of the prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”, and we talked about how important it is that we recognize that we’re praying to the holy, perfect God.  This week, we’re looking at the second sentence of the prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’
            And just as with the first sentence of the prayer, this second sentence follows Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, not Luke’s version.  Luke simply says, “Thy kingdom come”.  Nothing about God’s will, nothing about earth or heaven.  I think it’s all implied, though.  
I mean, if it’s God’s kingdom, then God rules over it.  That means that in God’s kingdom, God’s will is always done. And when we say, “Thy kingdom come,” that pretty much has to mean come to earth.  After all, there’d be no reason to pray for God’s kingdom to come to heaven.  By definition, heaven is already God’s kingdom.  What we’re praying for is God’s kingdom to come to earth.  We’re praying for God’s will to be done on earth, just like it already is in heaven.
You know, we pray that every week.  How many of us have actually thought about what that would be like?  What would it look like, what would it be like, if God’s kingdom came to earth?
That brings us to our Bible readings for today.  Our reading from Genesis tells us what the earth was like in the beginning, before sin entered the world.  The reading from Revelation describes the new heaven and the new earth.
Listen to what it says in Revelation.  “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”
Think about that.  No more tears.  No crying.  No pain.  No death.  No mourning.  There will be nothing but love and peace and joy.  We will always be in the presence of God.
That’s what we’re praying for when we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth.  That’s what we’re praying for when we pray for God’s will to be done on earth.
It’s a wonderful vision.  It’s a wonderful dream.  It’s something we’d all like to see.
And it’s absolutely nothing like the world we live in now.  We live in a world where there are lots of tears.  There’s lots of crying.  There’s lots of pain.  And there’s lots of death and mourning.  In less than three years here I’ve conducted about fifty funerals.  And of course there have been many other funerals in the parish that I have not conducted.
Everyone here has lost loved ones.  Everyone here knows someone who’s dealing with a serious physical problem.  Sometimes it’s you, yourself.  Everyone here knows someone who’s in pain, whether it’s physical pain, emotional pain, or some other kind of pain.  And again, sometimes it’s you, yourself.
When we think about the world we live in, and how far it is from the kind of world we pray for, it makes our prayer seem kind of empty.  I mean, yes, of course, we’d love to live in that world we’re praying for.  We’d love to have God’s kingdom, the kingdom of eternal peace and joy, come to the earth.  But it seems there’s about as much chance of it actually happening as there is of my flapping my arms and flying to the moon.
So, are these just empty words?  Are we praying for something that will never happen until that glorious day when Jesus comes back to earth?
Well, in one sense, yes.  As long as humans are what we are, this world will never be a perfect world.  And even if there was a fundamental change in human nature, there’d still be death and mourning.  Our physical bodies, as they’re constructed, will only last so long.  No matter how many medical advances we make, there will always come a point at which our bodies wear out and we die.
At the same time, I don’t think Jesus would’ve told us to pray empty words.  There has to be a reason Jesus told us to pray this way.  In fact, I think there are at least a couple of reasons.
One of them is that we are praying for that day when Jesus comes back to earth.  Because that is the only way this is truly going to happen.  And while Jesus said no one but God the Father knows when that day will come, there’s nothing wrong with praying for it.  The next to last verse in the Bible says, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.”  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with praying for that promise to be fulfilled.  There’s nothing wrong with asking God to have Jesus come soon.
But there’s another aspect of it, too.  I don’t think that, as Christians, you and I are supposed to just sit back, accept things as they are, and wait for Jesus to come again.  I think you and I are supposed to do what we can to make earth more like God’s kingdom.  You and I are supposed to do what we can to help God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
We cannot stop death, of course.  But we can, sometimes, stop tears.  We can sometimes, stop crying.  We can, sometimes, stop pain.  And if we cannot stop it, we can at least lessen it, at least for a while.
After all, you and I are made in the image of God.  We claim to be God’s children.  We claim to worship God and to serve God.  That means that you and I are not here by accident or by chance.  We are not here to passively observe the world.  We are here to change the world.  We are here to do our part to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.
What’s our part?  It’s what Jesus told us to do.  Love our neighbor as ourselves.
Every time we act out of love, we bring God’s kingdom a little closer to this earth.  Every time we are there to wipe the tears from someone’s eyes, we bring God’s kingdom a little closer to this earth.  Every time we ease someone’s pain, we bring God’s kingdom a little closer to this earth.
There are so many ways we can do that.  A lot of times, all it takes is being there.  A lot of times, all it takes is doing something to show someone we care.  A lot of times, all it takes is doing something to show someone that they’re not alone, that they have someone who loves them.
But it takes one other thing, too.  It takes God’s people paying attention to the people around us.
I’ve had two professions in my life--lawyer and pastor.  By the nature of those professions, I’ve had the chance to learn things about people that most people don’t know.  And what I can tell you as a result of that is that pretty much everyone you will encounter is hurting in some way.  It may not look like it.  They may not be letting anyone but their family and close friends know.  In fact, sometimes we don’t even let our families and close friends know.  Sometimes, we suffer in silence.  We think there’s no one who’s interested, no one who cares, no one who could do anything anyway.
As God’s people, we need to be interested.  We need to care.  We need to realize that there is always something we can do.  If the church is not interested in people’s pain, who will be?  If the church does not care when people are hurting, who will?  If the church does not try to do something, who’s going to?
Am I perfect at this?  No.  I’m a long way from perfect at it.  I miss chances all the time to help hurting people.  This is something all of us need to work at.
And in working at it, we need to rely on God.  Part of our caring, part of our doing something, is praying for hurting people.  We should not just pray and do nothing else, but we also should not run around doing things and not pray.  It’s like the old saying.  We should work as if everything depends on us, and we should pray as if everything depends on God.  Because both of those things are true.
We pray to a holy, perfect God.  We pray for that God’s kingdom to come on earth.  And then we work to bring God’s kingdom closer to coming on earth.  And then, we will be that much closer to the day when there truly are no more tears and there truly is no more pain.  We will be that much closer to the day when there will be nothing but love and peace and joy, and we will always be in the presence of God.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Letter to the Gettysburg Congregation

            This letter is being sent to the membership of the Gettysburg United Methodist Church. 

As you know, our church voted several months ago to sell the Christian education building and build an addition to the church.  This addition will have an indoor ramp to the sanctuary, a fellowship hall on the ground floor, a new kitchen, offices for the pastor and the parish secretary, and handicapped-accessible restrooms.  The plan we voted on at that time was to raise the money we needed for the project before we started building.

Since that time, we have been engaged in fundraising.  The total amount of money we need for this project is $740,000.  Of that total, $140,000 will come from the sale of the building, leaving $600,000 we need to raise.  At this point, we have raised approximately $360,000.  That’s an impressive total to raise in that amount of time, but it still leaves us approximately $240,000 short of the total amount needed.

So, the question is, what do we do now?  Do we continue to follow the original plan, and continue to raise money, knowing that building costs will almost certainly go up if we wait?  Or, do we change our original plan?

The church fundraising committee and the church building committee have both recommended that we change our original plan.  What they propose is that the church commit to begin building this spring.  The money raised so far would be used to pay for the initial phase of the project.  While this initial phase is being built, money would continue to be raised to pay for the rest of the project. 

If all goes well, by the time more money is needed, that money will have been raised.  However, these committees recognize that there is no guarantee that this will happen.  So, the plan would also allow for the church to borrow the remainder of the money if necessary.  No one knows, of course, how much money will need to be borrowed at this time.  We do know that it will be less than $240,000.  How much less will depend on how much money is raised between now and then.

If money is borrowed, the church would continue to raise funds to pay the money back.  People would be asked to make annual pledges (or semi-annually, or monthly, or whatever time period people want to do) to pay back the money.  There would continue to be fundraisers as well.

These committees recognize that this plan is a significant change from the original plan that was voted on.  Therefore, the church is going to do the following:

            1)  There will be a congregational meeting held Sunday, March 30 at 2:00.  We encourage everyone to come to the meeting.  You may ask questions, you may give comments, and you may make suggestions.  If you cannot be at the meeting, please talk to someone on the fundraising committee or the building committee, or both and ask those questions and make those comments and suggestions before the meeting.  We want everyone to have the opportunity to be heard.

            2)  There will be a special Charge Conference held Sunday, April 6, after church.  Our District Superintendent, Randy Cross, will be in attendance.  At that time we will hold a vote on the revised plan proposed by the fundraising committee and the building committee.

            Please note that in order to vote, you must be a member of the Gettysburg United Methodist Church and you must be present at the Charge Conference.  This is not the local church's rule, it is a rule of the worldwide United Methodist Church and is set forth in our Book of Discipline.  We do not have the power to change this rule.

Please pray about this and think about it carefully.  If you have questions, or if you have opinions, please come to the March 30 meeting.  Also, we encourage you to talk to members of the fundraising committee, to members of the building committee, or to Pastor Jeff at any time. The names of the members of those committees are listed below.

We do not want anyone to feel that they did not get a chance to be heard.  We want everyone to feel they had a chance both to be fully informed and to voice their opinion.  That way, once a decision is made, we can move forward together to continue to serve God in this community and beyond.

The Gettysburg UMC Fundraising Committee          The Gettysburg UMC Building Committee

Mark Schmidt                                                             Kevin Logan
Shar Eliason                                                                Jeannee Anderson
Bill Fischer                                                                  Kevin Geditz
Kevin Kilian                                                                Randy Kemink
Norm Kostboth                                                           Ronnie Larson
Gail Larson                                                                 Vaughn Larson
Tim Luken                                                                   Bill Wuttke
Jan Quiett

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weighty Decisions

This article appeared in the March, 2014 edition of the Wheatland Parish newsletter.

A few weeks ago, I weighed myself and discovered I weighed 178 pounds.  Now, that’s not terrible for a person of my height, but it’s ten pounds more than I weighed six or seven months ago.  Gaining ten pounds in six months is not a good thing.  At that rate, I’ll gain twenty pounds in a year, forty pounds in two years, sixty pounds in three years, etc.  That’s not a good trend.

So, it’s time for me to start trying to lose weight.  The thing is, I know how to do that.  I know exactly what I did to gain the weight, and I know exactly what I need to do to lose it.  I gained weight by eating a lot of foods I should not eat.  I gained weight because I was eating too many things like chocolate chip cookies and M&Ms and brownies and Dairy Queen blizzards.  It turns out that things like that tend to make me gain weight.  Who knew? 

So, to lose weight, I need to stop eating those foods.  It’s as simple as that.

What makes it not so simple, of course, is that those foods I need to stop eating, the chocolate chip cookies and the M&Ms and the brownies and the Dairy Queen blizzards, are things I really, really, like to eat.  They’re a hard temptation for me to resist, because I really, really want to eat them.  And because I want to eat them, it’s really easy for me to make “exceptions”. 

I come up with reasons why it’s okay to have a few chocolate chip cookies “just this once”.  And they can be really good reasons, or at least they seem like it to me at the time. The first time I make an exception like that, I struggle with it.  I have to work to convince myself it’s okay.  The second time, though, is a little easier.  It takes less effort.  The third time is easier still.  After a while, there’s no struggle at all.  I don’t even bother to come up with reasons why it’s okay to eat those things.  I just eat them, and I start gaining weight again.

As I thought about it, it seems to me that’s kind of the way sin works in our lives.  Don’t get me wrong--I’m not saying gaining weight is sinful.  But think about it.  For the most part, we know what we should do and what we should not do.  For the most part, we know when we’re sinning and when we’re not. 

But sometimes, the things we should not do are really tempting to us.  So, because we want to commit a sin, we find it easy to make “exceptions”.  We come up with reasons why it’s okay to do what we want to do, “just this once”.  And they can be really good reasons, or at least they seem like it to us at the time.  The first time we commit a sin like that, we struggle with it.  We have to work hard to convince ourselves it’s okay.  The second time is a little easier.  It takes less effort.  The third time is easier still.  After a while, there’s no struggle at all.  We don’t even bother trying to rationalize our sins.  We just commit them.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible for us to ease away from sin the way we’ve eased into it, any more than I can ease away from the wrong foods the way I eased into them.  The only way I can lose weight is to drop those bad foods entirely.  And the only way we can get away from our sins is to drop them entirely.  We need to ask God for forgiveness and resolve to change our lives.

The good news is that, when we ask God for forgiveness, God will give it to us.  When we resolve to change our lives, God will help us.  We can drop the weight of sin, and get back on the right path again.  Then, we can get on with our lives and be the people God wants us to be.

I’m trying to clean up my diet so I can drop some of that extra weight I’ve gained.  As we enter the season of Lent, let’s clean up our lives and drop some of that extra weight of sin.  Let’s get back on the right path again.  

The Original Transformer

This is the message given at the Wednesday Lent service in Gettysburg on March 19, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Luke 9:28-36.

            I want each one of us to think of someone we’ve known for a long time.  Maybe they’re in our family, maybe they’re good friends, maybe they’re people we work with.  But whoever they are, we’ve known them for a long time.  We’ve spent a lot of time with them.

            When we do that, when we spend a lot of time with someone and we do that over a long period of time, we start to feel like we know pretty much everything there is to know about that person.  We know what they like and what they don’t like.  We know how they feel about things and how they’re going to react in certain situations.  Sometimes, we even know what they’re thinking, and we know what they’re going to say before they even say it.
Got a person like that in mind?  Okay, now imagine if that person said something totally unexpected.  Imagine if they did something that seemed totally out of character.  How would we react?  We’d be shocked, right?  We would not know what to say.  We would not know what to do.  Here’s this person we thought we knew so well, and they do something so completely out of left field that we feel like we don’t really know them at all.
That’s pretty much how Peter, James, and John felt in our Bible reading tonight.  Remember, they’d been traveling with Jesus for a while at this point.  We don’t really know how long, but it was long enough that they were considered Jesus’ disciples at this point.  They’d heard Jesus speak.  They’d heard him tell parables.  They’d seen him do miracles.  They thought they had a pretty good idea who Jesus was.  In fact, we’re told that just eight days earlier, Jesus had asked them who they thought he was, and Peter had answered, “God’s Messiah”.
And then, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up onto a mountain.  They start praying.  And Jesus transforms.  We’re told the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Think how bright that is.  That’s a blinding light.  Peter, James, and John would not even have been able to look directly at Jesus.
Think of how unsettling that would be.  Our sermon series for Lent is “Jesus in HD”, looking at both the fully human and the fully divine Jesus.  The disciples knew the human Jesus, and they thought they knew the divine Jesus, but now they really saw the divine Jesus in all his glory.  This guy they thought they knew so well, and now suddenly he’s completely different.  
The three of them were stunned.  Peter starts babbling.  We’re not told that James or John said anything.  Probably they were in shock.  All of them were in shock.  Here was this guy they’d been traveling with, this guy they’d been following, this guy they’d been encouraging others to follow, too.  They thought they knew him so well, and now, suddenly, they felt like they did not know Jesus at all.
Have you ever felt like that?  I think most of us do, at some point in our lives.  We’re going along, living from one day to the next.  Things are going okay--not great, maybe, but not terrible.  We go to church fairly regularly.  We pray sometimes.  Life seems to be going on more or less as it should.  
We’re in kind of a routine.  We figure we know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.  We think we know God, and we think we know what God has planned for our lives.
And then, something happens, and it all transforms.  It can happen in all kinds of ways.  It can happen in good ways:  falling in love, having a baby, getting a new job opportunity.  It can happen in bad ways:  losing a job, having a health problem, having a relationship fall apart.  
Either way, it’s really unsettling.  Even when the transformation happens in a good way, it’s still really unsettling.  We thought we knew God, and we thought we knew what God had planned for us, and now, suddenly, everything is completely different.  We thought we knew God so well, and now, suddenly, we feel like we don’t know God at all.
Sometimes, when something like this happens, we don’t know what to make of it.  Peter, James, and John did not know what to make of it.  They kept it to themselves, not telling anyone else.  We’re not told why.  Maybe they did not understand it.  Maybe they thought no one would believe them.  Maybe they did not quite believe it themselves.  Maybe they were not sure what believing it even meant.  Now that they’d seen Jesus in his glory, were they supposed to do something?  If so, what were they supposed to do?
And sometimes, when we feel God wanting to transform our lives, we keep it to ourselves, too.  We don’t tell anyone else.  Maybe we don’t quite understand what God is trying to do.  Maybe we think no one will believe it.  Maybe we don’t quite believe it ourselves.  Maybe we don’t know what we’re supposed to do if we do believe it.
Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain with Jesus.  We’re not told what they did.  Except for one thing.  They kept following Jesus.  Even though they did not really understand, even though they were not quite sure what had actually happened, they kept following Jesus.  They went where Jesus wanted them to go.  They did what Jesus wanted them to do.  And they never forgot what they had seen.  And at some point, at least one of them told it to Luke, so he could record it in the gospel he wrote some thirty years later.
And that’s what we’re supposed to do, too.  Keep following Jesus.  Even if we don’t really understand, even if we’re not quite sure what’s happening, we need to keep following Jesus.  We need to go where Jesus wants us to go.  We need to do what Jesus wants us to do.  And we need to never forget the transformation that’s taken place in our lives.
Transformation is what the period of Lent is all about.  When Jesus was transformed on the mountain, he revealed to Peter, James, and John, who he really was.  When God transforms our lives, God reveals to us who we really are, too.
You see, it does not require a whole lot of faith for us to just keep living our lives the same way we’ve been living them.  It does not require a lot of faith to have tomorrow be pretty much like today.  But a change of life requires faith.
And that’s true whether the change is a good change or a bad change.  It takes faith to leave a comfortable job and take a new one.  It takes faith to let someone know you’ve fallen in love.  It certainly takes faith to have a baby.
And when the change is a bad change, when we do lose a job, or have a health problem, or have a relationship fall apart, that takes faith, too.  It takes faith to believe that God is still there.  It takes faith to believe that God is with us in the bad times just as much as in the good times.  It takes faith to keep trusting God when all the things we counted on, all the people we trusted, all the things we thought were fixed in our lives, are suddenly not there for us any more.  It takes faith to keep believing that God is still in control when it feels like we’ve lost all control ourselves.
When God transforms our lives, we find out whether the faith we claim to have is real.  When God transforms our lives, we find out whether our faith is strong enough to deal with that transformation, no matter what it is.
Because transformation is really what the whole period of Lent is all about.  If we go through the period of Lent and nothing about us changes, if we get to the end of the period of Lent and are still the exact same people we were when the period of Lent started, then the whole point of Lent has been lost on us.  Easter is not a glorious recognition of Jesus dying for our sins.  It’s just a nice springtime holiday, a time to look for eggs and eat chocolate bunnies.
Don’t get me wrong--I have nothing against Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies.  But if that’s all we’re getting out of Easter, then the whole period of Lent has been wasted.  Nothing about us has changed.  We have not truly repented of our sins.  We’re no closer to God, we’re no closer to each other, we’re no closer to being the people God wants us to be, than we were before.
Jesus did not come to give us a nice springtime holiday.  The fully human yet fully divine Jesus lived and died so that our sins could be forgiven.  But our sins can only be forgiven if we repent, if we ask God for forgiveness and resolve to change our lives.
God wants to transform our lives.  Let’s open ourselves up to that transformation.  We may not understand it.  We may not know what we’re supposed to do.  But let’s keep following Jesus anyway.  Let’s go where Jesus wants us to go and do what Jesus wants us to do.  If we truly do our best to do that, our lives will be transformed in ways we will never expect.  And we’ll come to know God in a way we never have before.

Monday, March 17, 2014

This Changes Everything

This is the message given at the Oahe Manor service on Sunday, March 16, 2014.  The Bible verses used are John 3:1-17.

That reading contains one of the best-loved Bible verses.  John 3:16:  “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.”  The verse that comes after it, John 3:17, is not quite as well-known, but to me it’s just as important:  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
In fact, it seems to me that to really make sense of John 3:16, we need to do what we did today:  read the verse in the context of when Jesus said it.  Jesus said this to a man named Nicodemus in the context of saying what it takes to see the kingdom of God.  And Jesus said, as you just heard, that to see the kingdom of God, we need to be born again.
Nicodemus, of course, did not understand this.  And we struggle to understand it sometimes, too.  Some people understand being born again as meaning we have to have a big, dramatic conversion, that we have to know the exact date and time at which we felt the spirit of God come into our lives.
Now, if that’s your belief, I’m not here to argue with you.  I’m just telling you that it’s not my belief.  I know some people have had that big, dramatic moment, and that’s great.  It’s a wonderful thing.  But I think it’s also possible to be born again through a process that lasts over a period of time, and that never involves that one big, dramatic moment.
I think what Jesus was trying to say here is that his coming, his life and his coming death, changed everything.  Before Jesus came, people looked at salvation as something that came through following rules.  The rules were based on the Old Testament, but also involved lots of explanations and interpretations.  If you belived in God, then it was your duty to follow those rules.  People thought if you followed the rules perfectly, God would smile upon you and you would see the kingdom of God.  If you did not, well, you were in trouble.
What Jesus was saying about being born again is that what matters is not how well we can follow the rules. What matters is what’s in our hearts.  What being born again means, really, is having a change of heart.  It means having hearts that love God and want to serve God.  It means having hearts that love the people God created and that want to serve the people God created.  Being born again means that we don’t act out of duty, but out of love.
We need to act out of love because that’s how God acts.  God does not act out of duty.  A duty, after all, is something we’re required to do, whether we want to or not.  God is not required to do anything.  God is God.  God does what God chooses to do.
But the thing is that God loves us.  God will always love us.  Not because God has to love us, not because God is required to love us, but because that’s who God is.  There will never be a day when God does not loves us, because God is love.  And every action God takes is a reflection of that love.
And of course, that includes sending the divine Son into the world.  That has to be one of the most loving things God has ever done.  God sent the divine Son into the world.  Why?  That’s why John 3:17 is so important.  It tells us why.  God did not send the divine Son into the world to condemn us.  God sent him into the world to save us.
And that may be the biggest change of all.  Remember, before Jesus came, people were scared of God.  Think of all the verses in the Old Testament, even in the Psalms, that talk about the fear of the Lord.  That’s why people were trying to keep the rules.  They were scared of what God would do to them if they did not.
Jesus said we don’t have to be scared of God.  God is not looking for reasons to condemn us.  God loves us.  God wants to save us.  That’s why God sent Jesus into the world.  It was an act of love, maybe the ultimate act of love.
God wants us to do good things, of course.  God wants us to treat each other well.  But God does not want us to do that because we think we have to.  God wants us to do that because we want to.  God wants us to act out of love, because that’s how God acts.  And God wants us to feel the joy that comes from acting out of love, just as I think God feels joy from the love God has for us.
It seems to me that, in this time of Lent, this is an especially important thing for us to remember.  Lent is the time we ask for God’s forgiveness and re-dedicate ourselves to being the people God wants us to be.  As we do that, let’s re-dedicate ourselves to loving God and loving the people God created.  Because when love God and love others, that’s when we are truly born again.  Because when we love God and love others, we are truly created in the image of God.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Who Are You Talking To?

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish Sunday, March 16, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Revelation 4:1-11 and Matthew 5:38-48.

Our sermon series leading up to Easter is called “Pray This Way”, a look at the Lord’s Prayer.  We started last week with a general overview of the prayer.  This week, we’re going to start taking a look at the specifics of the Lord’s Prayer, beginning with the first sentence:  “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
If you remember last week’s sermon, you remember we talked a little about the differences between Matthew’s version of the pray and Luke’s version.  In the first sentence of the prayer, we use Matthew’s version.  Luke does not say, “Our Father”, he simply says, “Father”.  Luke also does not say, “in heaven”.  He leaves that out.
We don’t know if Luke left that out for a reason, or if it’s just a different way different people remembered the prayer.  Remember, these gospels were probably written thirty years or so after the death of Jesus.  It would not be at all surprising if, that many years later, there were slight differences in the way people remembered exactly what Jesus said.
I think there is a point to be made here, though.  God certainly is in heaven, of course.  We heard about that in our reading from Revelation today.  But God is also present on earth.  That may or may not be a physical presence, but as Christians, we believe that God is active in our lives through the Holy Spirit.  In other words, God is in heaven, but God is not only in heaven.  God is here on earth, too.
The part of the prayer I want to focus on today, though, is the part Matthew and Luke agree on.  They both tell us that Jesus said of God the Father, “hallowed be your name”.
We’ve talked about this before, but that word “hallowed” is an old English word.  We rarely use it outside of the Lord’s Prayer.  The only reason we continue to use it there, really, is out of tradition.  There’s a more common word we could use.  That word is “holy”.  Something that’s hallowed is holy.
So what does it mean to say God is holy?  I mean, just because we use that word more does not mean we necessarily know what it means.  What it means, in this context, is “being entitled to worship as being sacred”.  So when we say that God is holy, we mean that God is worthy of worship.
Why do we need to start our prayer with that?  I mean, God certainly already knows that God is worthy of worship.  God does not need to hear it from us.  But Jesus told us we need to say it to God.  And Jesus told us it was the first thing we need to say in our prayer to God.
I think at least part of the reason is that, when we begin praying by saying God is holy, it focuses our prayer.  It forces us to think about who it is we’re praying to.  We’re praying to God.  We’re praying to someone who is greater than anyone or anything we can imagine, in every sense of the term.  God is more powerful than anyone or anything we can imagine.  God is wiser.  God sees more.  God knows more.  God is stronger.  God has more ability.  God is more caring.  God is more loving.  God is better than anyone or anything that ever was, ever is, or ever will be.
In fact, God is perfect.  That’s what Jesus says in our reading from Matthew.  God is absolutely perfect, in every way we can imagine and in ways we cannot imagine.  God is so perfect that God even loves God’s enemies.  God is so perfect that God continues to try to change even those who persecute him.  Those are the things Jesus told us to do if we want to be perfect.  The reason he said that is that those are the things our perfect God does.
When we begin our prayer by saying God is holy, we remind ourselves that we are praying to a God who is worthy of our worship.  God is worthy of our worship because God is perfect.  And I think, when we remember that, it changes the way we pray.
How many of us, when we pray, include “the list”?  You know what the list is.  The list is the list of stuff we want God to do.  Now, the list may or may not be things for ourselves.  It may be prayers for healing for loved ones.  It may be prayers for our country or for our world.  And if it is things for ourselves, it’s not necessarily because we’re greedy or selfish.  There are times when we need to turn to God for help with things.  In fact, there are times when we have nowhere else to turn but to God.
Using “the list” is not necessarily a bad type of prayer.  After all, Jesus told us that if we ask, we will receive.  But I think a lot depends on our attitude.  
If we come to God with a list of demands, if we start treating God like some sort of cosmic vending machine where all we do is put in a little money and press a button and out pops whatever we want, well, I don’t know that God really appreciates that type of prayer.  And I think that if we start out our prayer by recognizing who God is, by saying that we worship God because we know that God is better and greater than we can imagine and that God is perfect in every way, including ways we cannot even think of, we’re a lot less likely to treat God that way.  We’re a lot less likely to demand that God do this or that.  
We’re a lot more likely, instead, to come to God humbly.  We’re a lot more likely to recognize what a privilege it is that God allows us to come to him.  We’re a lot more likely to see that it’s an honor to be allowed to pray to God at all.  And we’ll see how arrogant and foolish and just downright ridiculous it is for us to come to God and try to tell God what to do.  Instead, we’ll very quietly and humbly ask God to consider doing what we ask.
And we’ll also be a lot less upset with God when God does not do what we’ve asked.  Because we’ll realize that God, being perfect, cannot make mistakes.  When God does not do what we want, it’s not because God messed up.  It’s because God knows better than we do.  It’s because what we asked for is not what’s best, or because the timing is not right, or because God has something else in mind for us.  We’ll see that it’s we who’ve made the mistake, not God.
That does not necessarily make things any easier to accept, of course.  There are those among us who are suffering very serious medical conditions.  There are among us who’ve lost loved ones recently.  There are those among us who are dealing with family issues, or broken relationships, or family problems.  There are all kinds of things that happen in this world that just seem wrong.  And when we pray about those things, and we ask God to take care of them--not out of selfishness on our part but because we honestly want those things to be made right--and nothing happens, or sometimes the situation even seems to get worse, well, it’s hard to understand why God does not seem to be taking care of things.  And sometimes, we get upset or even angry with God for not taking care of things the way we think God should.
I understand that.  I’ve done that.  I’m sure God understands it, too.  But here’s the thing.  When we get upset or angry with God, what we’re really saying--whether we know it or not--is that God owes it to us to take care of us.  We’re saying that we deserve to have God take care of things for us.  We don’t necessarily intend to say that.  In fact, we probably don’t realize we’re saying it.  But if we think about it, that’s what we’re saying:  that we deserve to have God take care of things the “right” way, the way we want God to take care of them.
But the other aspect of recognizing that God is perfect is recognizing that you and I are not.  We are flawed, sinful people.  Because of that, God does not owe us anything.  We don’t “deserve” any good things from God.  In fact, the truth is that all of us, most definitely including me, are very lucky that God does not give us what we deserve.  Pretty much anything God gives us is much better than what we deserve.  God does that for us because God loves us, not because we deserve it.
Jesus told us to begin our prayers by remembering who God is.  God is holy.  God is worthy of worship.  God is perfect.  God does not owe it to us to even hear our prayers, much less answer them.  God allows us to come to God with our prayers because God loves us.
So when we pray, let’s pray this way.  Let’s remember who God is.  Let’s go to God humbly.  Let’s go to God knowing that prayer is not a right, it’s an honor and a privilege given to us by God.  And no matter what happens, let’s trust our holy and perfect God.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Let's Give It Up!

This first appeared in the March, 2014 edition of the Wheatland Parish newsletter.  Even though Lent has already started, it's not too late to do this.

            Do you give something up for Lent?

            It’s a tradition, after all.  Lent, as many of you know, is supposed to be a time of prayer, repentance, and sacrifice.  Although Lent is not mentioned in the Bible, it seems to have started to be celebrated very early in the history of the Christian church.  Originally, it was supposed to be a time of fasting.  Now, we don’t fast much, but there still is a tradition of giving something up for Lent, something that’s going to be a sacrifice for us.

            To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever done that.  I never really saw the point, actually.  How’s it going to make me a better person, how’s it going to bring me closer to God, to give up something that I enjoy?  I could not see how it would.  So, while I have certainly supported the rights of others to give things up for Lent, it’s not something that I’ve personally done.

            But this year, I thought, “Maybe I could give this a point.  Maybe I could give up something, and take the money I’m saving by giving it up and give it to some sort of worthy cause or goal.”

            So, that’s what I’m going to do this year.  I’m going to give up Diet Coke.  Maybe that doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to you, but I really like my Diet Coke.  There are very few days that go by that I don’t have at least one, sometimes more.  When I drive out of town somewhere, I grab a Diet Coke to drink on the way.  When I go to a ball game, I have a Diet Coke.  When I go out to the Manor to visit, I have a Diet Coke.  I suspect I’m going to be surprised at how much money I’m spending on Diet Coke, and how much I’m going to save by not buying it.

            That’s not the only benefit I’m going to get, of course.  While drinking Diet Coke is not sinful, and I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to do, it’s hard to argue that it’s actually good for me.  I suspect I’ll see some health benefits from giving up Diet Coke, too.

            I challenge each of you to do the same thing.  Give up something you spend money on, something you enjoy, for the period of Lent.  Then, take the money you save, and give it to a worthy project or cause of some sort.  In fact, in discussing this with some people, we’ve come up with some things we’d like you to give the money to.

            In Gettysburg, we’d like you to take the money you’re saving and give it to the church construction fund.  In Onida, we’d like you to take the money you’re saving and donate it to the community swimming pool project.  In Agar, we’d like you to take the money you’re saving and give it to the volunteer fire department.

            I don’t know how much money we’ll raise with this.  I suspect, though, that like me, you’ll think of something that you don’t really need and that you’re spending a lot more money on than you realize, and you’ll be quite surprised at how much you save by not doing it.  If, like me, you can think of something to give up that’s not particularly good for you anyway, so much the better.

            If giving up something for Lent helps you be a better person and brings you closer to God, that’s great.  If, though, you’re like me and need a little push to get you to do it, let this be the push you need.  Let’s all give up something for Lent and help out our churches and help out our churches and communities at the same time.

Resistance Is Godly

This is the message given at the Oahe Manor communion service Thursday, March 13, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 4:1-11.
            These verses we just read are often called the Temptation of Jesus.  Think about that word “temptation”.  Have you ever tried to define it?  Have you ever thought about what it is that makes temptation so hard to resist?
            To me, a “temptation” is when we have the chance to do something that when we really want to do, but which we know is wrong.  That can happen in a lot of ways.  They don’t all necessarily have to do with sin.  After we’re done here, I’m going to go have coffee with you and I’m going to be tempted to eat something I know I should not eat.  I won’t be sinning if I eat it, but I will be eating something that’s not particularly good for me and will cause me to gain weight.
            That’s one kind of temptation.  But there are lots of others.  We can be tempted to be lazy, to not do things we know we should do because those things would take effort or work and we just don’t feel like doing that.  We can be tempted to be selfish, to keep things for ourselves rather than sharing them.
            There are lots of other ways we can be tempted.  The point is, though, that the things that tempt us look very attractive to us at the time.  Temptations attack us at our weakest points.  Temptations lead us to focus on short-term pleasure rather than long-term satisfaction.
            Look at the things Jesus was tempted to do in our reading for today.  Turn stones into bread.  Jesus had been fasting for forty days.  He was very hungry, obviously.  Bread, or any kind of food for that matter, would’ve been really welcome.  It would’ve given Jesus a lot of pleasure, in the short-term, to have something to eat.  But Jesus did not fast for forty days because he could not afford food.  He fasted to prepare himself for the start of his ministry.  He fasted to get ready for what was coming next in his life.  Cheating on that, turning stones into bread, would’ve destroyed the whole purpose of why he had fasted in the first place.
            Throw yourself down from the temple.  The angels will protect you.  That would’ve been a really cool thing for Jesus to do, you know?  Think how awesome that would be to throw yourself down from the temple and land gracefully without a bruise or even a scratch.  Everybody would’ve seen it.  Word would’ve spread instantly.  Think of all the people who would’ve come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, just like that.  No need to go around and work miracles.  No need to preach.  No need to think up parables.  This one act would’ve been all Jesus needed to make thousands of people believe in him.
            It would’ve given Jesus a lot of pleasure, in the short term, to have that happen.  But Jesus knew that was not the way it was supposed to be.  He also knew that people who came to believe in him that way would not be true believers.  They would not understand who he was or why he had come or how they should live their lives.  They would’ve just come to believe because of the spectacle.  And that was not the kind of followers Jesus wanted.  Jesus did not want people who just believed in him because he was powerful or because he was a celebrity.  He wanted people who were willing to serve others as Jesus served them.  He wanted people who would follow him all the way, even when that way led to the cross.
            You can have control over all the world.  That must’ve been the hardest one of all.  Because if Jesus could control the whole world, think of all the good he could do.  He could cure all diseases.  He could feed all the hungry.  He could stop all injustice.  The world would be good.  It would be right.  It would be as it should be.  It had to be very tempting to Jesus to do that.  It would’ve given Jesus a lot of pleasure, in the short-term, to be able to make that happen.
             But to do that, Jesus would’ve had to worship Satan.  In other words, to do that, Jesus would’ve had to give up being who he was, the Son of God.
            And that, really, is the point.  When we give in to the temptation to sin--and I’m not talking about eating an extra cookie or something, I’m talking about serious sin--when we give in to the tempation to sin, we’re giving up being who we are.
            You and I are God’s children.  As I’ve said before, there’s nothing we can do to make God stop loving us.  But when we give in to the temptation to sin, when we commit serious sins as Jesus was tempted to do, we are no longer acting like God’s children, just as Jesus would not have been acting like the Son of God if he had given in to Satan.
            The thing is, of course, that we are not Jesus.  We are fallen, sinful people.  As Paul said, each person is a sinner.  Each of us has times when we do not act like God’s children.
            That’s why this time of year is so important.  Because this is Lent.  This is the time we confess our sins to God and ask for God’s forgiveness.  When we do that--when we’re serious about it and do it--we receive God’s forgiveness.  And then, even though we have not acted like God’s children, we can claim to be God’s children again.  Not because we deserve to make that claim, but because God forgives us and purifies us and allows us to call ourselves God’s children even when we don’t deserve to be.
            Temptations are hard to resist.  Sometimes we cannot do it.  But if we ask for God’s forgiveness, God will give that forgiveness to us.  So let’s ask for God’s forgiveness.  And lets again be able to call ourselves God’s children.