Category Archives: covid-19

The smell of death filling the room

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Of all the stories of Jesus’ ministry that we have heard until this point during the pandemic, this scene may feel the most unsettling. Not because the story itself is strange or off-putting. But because of where we currently find ourselves. Having lived and continuing to live cautious lives and only considered careful measured forays into social settings. 

And the thing that sticks out to me more than anything is that it must have been almost hard to breathe. 

The smell of the perfume would have stuck in the room. It would have overwhelmed the noses of all present at the celebratory meal. In the before times, we all know someone who wears too much perfume or cologne, whether it is that strange aunt in the family, or teenage boys wearing too much body spray cologne. But I cannot remember the last time that I smelled someone else that doesn’t live in my house. Masks and social distancing have had the incredible effect of isolating us from the smells of being in community. 

Smells can overpower us like no other sense can. And certain scents can immediately recall memories long buried to time with incredible vividness. They can remind us more powerfully than a picture of past events, places or persons than just about anything else. The smell of chlorine can take you right back to that first time swimming in an indoor pool. Or the smell of pine trees can take you back to beloved Christmas memories. 

The smell today, the perfume that anoints Jesus’ feet cannot be taken lightly or be overlooked. A pound of perfume is not a delicate scent, and that seems to be Mary’s point. On this day, Jesus, his good friend Lazarus, and the disciples are being treated to a celebratory meal. Lazarus has been raised from the dead and this is the first time that Mary, Martha and Lazarus have seen Jesus since the miracle. Martha, as usual, is serving the dinner. She is giving thanks in her way. But Mary decides to give thanks in a different way. She wants to express her deep gratitude and her love for Jesus. It is the kind of emotional display that makes most of us uncomfortable, like two lovers passionately kissing in public. As Mary anoints Jesus feet, and then wipes them with her own hair, the rest of the guests at the party were probably feeling awkward. Washing feet was something that servants do. And using one’s hair as the cloth… well, that was just strange. Mary’s act is as extravagant and wild and passionate as it seems. Probably something that should have been saved for a private moment with Jesus. 

In the midst of this beautiful moment, this act of love and gratitude that Mary is giving to Jesus, Judas pipes up. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”. The moment is ruined. Judas has re-interpreted this lovely scene to his own ends. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the display of affection, or perhaps as John suggests, he has other intentions for the money. Whatever Judas’ reasons, he wants to disconnect from the intimate and personal moment. He tries to make it about the impersonal and distant and abstract idea of how money should be used. Judas tries to make the moment about practicality and he almost steals away Mary’s extravagant love, diminishing her by rebuking her feelings. Judas tries to dismiss Mary’s love and gratefulness with his distant and impersonal righteous indignation. 

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I can very much get Judas’ discomfort, you probably do too. Having a display like Mary’s  can intrude in our space and feelings and sense of what is appropriate. And like Judas, we can seek to create distance, through power and manipulation, between ourselves and this deep display of affection. We fear what Mary is doing. We fear letting go of ourselves to God’s love and call for us. We fear the ways in which we might be changed, we might be vulnerable and unsafe, the ways in which our world and lives may become uncertain. 

And at the heart of our distancing, is our desire for control. We want to be in control of where we begin and end, to protect our bodies and feelings and tribes from risk and hurt. And we use whatever power we can. Money, judgement, shame. Mary’s act is not safe, it is wild and untamed. It is extravagant and passionate. This is not the way we think the world should work. “Don’t waste the money” we declare because we are uncomfortable with risk. “Don’t be so emotional” we cry out because we know loving so deeply can lead us to getting hurt. 

Our fear of being close, our need for control, gets in the way of opening ourselves to God’s love and call. Our discomfort puts practicality or pragmatism before others, before people. Judas only sees dollars being poured on Jesus feet. We often get bogged down by the resources being expended on our family, on our neighbours, on the church, on ourselves. Judas doesn’t see that what Mary is doing for Jesus is worth more than any amount of money. Often we find it hard to see that the families, friends, neighbours and ministries that we give our time and passion as being worth of the expense. It can be hard for us to let ourselves take  the risk being close, the risk of following and loving Jesus, the risk of being people who care about God’s mercy for the world too much. We know that all of that is very uncomfortable.

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For five weeks we have been immersed in the season of Lent. Immersed in this journey exploring the relationship of power and love.  We began with the powerful reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday. We hear the stories of temptation, lament, another year of grace, and prodigal love. We have kept from singing Alleluias, we have sung Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy instead. And on this final Sunday before Palm Sunday, the deep symbol of death enters into our sanctuary. 

There is a pound of pure nard on Jesus feet. This perfume is one meant to keep the smell of death at bay. It is suppose to disguise the smell of a decaying body while it waits to be buried.  

Yet, so often the thing meant to distance and disguise, to protect us from reality comes to symbolize the very thing it is trying to hide. The perfume becomes the smell of death.

Jesus does not miss the symbol. Mary has anointed his feet with the smell of Good Friday, the day that we are slowly building to as we get closer to Holy Week. 

Jesus does not see waste, Jesus doesn’t need to distance himself from Mary. Jesus sees love, lavish, wild and untamed love. Jesus sees the future. “Leave her alone” he says, ”She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”. Mary is not anointing a king, or prophet. Mary is anointing a friend, teacher and son, who will be soon prepared for burial on Friday evening, and Jesus is reminding his disciples and friends one more time of all of this. The ministry, the parables, the miracles, the teaching in synagogues, the traveling the countryside. None of it is about the bottom line, none of it has been about being practical with money, none of it was about God staying distant and safe from creation. This moment is a foretaste of God’s imminent future.

When the time comes for Jesus’s body to be put into the ground, God will be accomplishing something new, something never seen. Something glimpsed as Lazarus stepped out of his tomb. God is accomplishing something new before the women even have the chance to anoint Jesus’ body on that Easter morning. God is about to turn the world upside, to bring new meaning to creation. Preparing for burial will no longer be preparing for death, but preparing for New Life. 

Here in this perfume filled room, where passionate and impulsive Mary has shown her love and thanks in her way, Jesus gives the whole world a new sign. God’s future is now about us. Jesus burial is about us. On Good Friday Jesus will be anointing the world with New Life. And God is bringing us all right into the middle of it, God crossing the bounds of our discomfort in order to love us.

What a contrast the walls and obstacles we put to protect ourselves, to our seeking to distance from God’s wild and untamed love. We try to protect ourselves by appealing to power, money, and supposed morality all because we are uncomfortable with God’s love. God risks it all, even death, to come close, to take on and wear our flesh, so that we will know love. 

Judas is uncomfortable with the perfume filled house, he wants to step back and distance himself. Make things about money, or poor people, or whatever else that is safe to feel. But Jesus stays present and near for Mary’s gesture of love, and then Jesus tells us that God is only coming closer. Coming in the familiar smells of Holy Week. 

Like any powerful perfume, there is no distancing ourselves from God’s love after this. Today God’s Love comes near to us in perfume that anoints Jesus feet, it will come on palms branches next week, it was waft from the table at Maundy Thursday. And it will comes so close on Good Friday, we will nail it to the cross to distance ourselves from it.

But after three days, God’s love will burst forth, uncontrolled, untamed, wild, passionate, extravagant. And it will be love that we can see, touch, taste and of course, love that we can smell.

Changing how we practice faith or practicing faith to change us – Pastor Thoughts

I  have always found the juxtaposition between Lent-Holy Week and Spring a little odd-feeling. 

Lent walks us through a somber and solemn season toward the darkest point in the Christian story. Meanwhile our season is changing as winter ends, snow melts, days get longer and, if we are lucky, the greens of spring start to appear. Mid-week evening prayer services in particular start out in dark evening settings but often by the end of Lent and because of the time change are taking place in full daylight. 

Now this is a particular feature of the Northern Hemisphere, as our Southern Hemisphere siblings experience Lent and Easter through fall into winter (and Christmas in the middle of summer!). For my seminary cross-cultural component, we travelled to visit CLWR projects in Peru. It was odd to arrive on January 1st – the middle of summer – to Christmas Lights, Santa displays and many, many nativity scenes and Feliz Navidad signs during the 12 days of Christmas.

The way that our local contexts impact our experience of faith can change how we practice being church together. Most church folks don’t really notice however because you have to move from church to church to see it. 

My first congregation in a rural farming community told me that the best time to have bible studies, meetings and other programs was after harvest in November and before seeding in April. 

With all the cottagers here in Manitoba, I know some churches have just cancelled summer Sunday worship altogether or tried mid-week services. 

And of course these past two years, the way we have practiced our faith has been deeply impacted by the pandemic and all the measures we took to keep one another safe. 

This week while reading an article about pandemic faithfulness, some of my own thoughts were clarified by this article in The Christian Century entitled ”My spouse is also my pastor (it is not about pastor-dynamics ). Here is an excerpt:

I began to realize this after almost a year of worshiping online, sometimes attentively chatting and liking and humming along, sometimes watching on my phone while Arsenal FC flickered on the big screen, sometimes listening while riding my bike. I wasn’t worshiping; I was going through the motions. I began to realize that my pastor was no longer a mediator but more of a proxy. As long as she was doing the work, I didn’t have to.

I wonder if this is one of the scars or fears or possibilities COVID has laid bare. Stripped of the presence of people, we are left to ask questions of what we believe and do and are beyond the simple act of showing up at a building on Sunday.

Because I pre-recorded worship for much of the past two years, I was also watching worship in my PJs with a coffee on Sunday mornings. Even though I was the one presiding and preaching, I could feel that watching worship was missing the essential element of being active and engaged. That person on the screen was doing my faith for me. 

(Don’t hear this knocking down online services. They were essential during the past two years and continue to be essential means of making church accessible in ways that we weren’t before). 

Without an ounce of judgement, I also know that as a pastor, becoming a proxy for faithfulness has been happening for years if not decades. I know that the line between helping people grow in faith and practicing faith on their behalf has been an ever blurring line. Reading the bible, praying, serving the community and telling people about God’s love has been shifting from something that pastors help people to do into things the pastor does for people. There are a lot of complicated reasons behind this, from the clericalization of the church to a world that doesn’t know Christianity as it once did. 

The result is that even as life-long church goers, it is becoming more and more difficult to make space and room for the practices of our faith to shape and form our lives. Because there is this other direction that things can and should go on this two-way street of faith. Yes, things like geography, history and culture, local traditions and community affect how the church goes about its day to day, season to season ministry. 

Yet there is also the way in which the rhythms and patterns of our Sunday to Sunday lives, our season to season journey of faith changes and shapes how we live the rest of our lives. Whether it is finding time to read the bible, pray or watch a devotional on YouTube each day. Whether it is giving something up for Lent. Whether it is joining a small group, signing up to give rides to church, volunteering to bake cookies for the Urban, or to be a sponsor for the splash program. Incorporating faith into our day to day lives takes on many shapes. 

But there is also the way in which our faith reminds us how God’s loves makes us worthy, God’s grace and mercy reconciles us, God’s Kingdom has room for us, the Body of Christ needs us. And that this changes how we are in the world with family, friends, at work, in the neighbourhood and beyond.

We are in a place of destabilization and deconstruction as individuals, as a society and as a church. As the structures that undergirded our lives are stripped away, we are left to start again building up our world and our lives. And that begins by understanding anew who we are – our identity. 

In Christ the foundation of our identity is assured – beloved children of God. Now figuring out what it means to be beloved children of God in this Northern Hemisphere, spring has sprung, zoomed out, extremely online, pandemic weary world as Winnipeggers (or people from wherever you are from) trying to live this life of faith together in 2022 and beyond. 

I am excited to find the answer to where God is leading us together. 

Recency Bias and Future Planning – Pastor Thoughts

Human beings have this habit of thinking that the things that just happened will keep happening forever. The official name for it is called recency bias.  (Forgive me if I have talked about this before.) 

Your favourite sports team wins the first game of the season and you feel like they will go 82-0 the rest of the season. 

Gas, housing prices, inflation etc… goes up and we think they will go up forever. 

Peace breaks out in substantial parts of western world, and we think it will endure forever. 

Then the sports team loses, the stock market crashes, prices change and fall, war breaks out and our recency bias is disproven – often causing consternation.

We know the best strategy is to buy low and sell high, yet we keep selling low and buying high. 

And so too it is the case in the church. For close to 50 years churches followed a steady trajectory of growth. The population boom of the 1950s and 60s turned into a frenzy of church planting and building, into growing staffs and budgets through to the early 2000s. But then things start to level out, some congregations even started to shrink a little. 

And it seemed impossible. After seemingly endless growing, of adding more and more staff members, calling additional pastors, renovating church spaces to hold more people and allow for more programs, adding worship services to accommodate growing crowds, churches who were planning for more of the same were not prepared for something to contradict their recency bias. 

If you went back in time to 1962 to a church and told the folks then that within their lifetime churches would age and shrink and begin to seriously struggle, they would have laughed at you!

But here is the thing. If you took a 1962 person back to a church in 1912 and described the church of 1962 to that 1912 person, they would laugh too! In 1912, you would likely find a hastily constructed barn serving as a church on the corner of a farmer’s field. There might be a pastor who was riding a wagon or train around the countryside preaching at several congregations a Sunday, being paid in eggs, milk and chickens. Churches would be struggling to keep up, putting out herculean efforts just to gather together for worship. That person from 1912 would recognize the church of 2022 more than the church of 1962. 

Christianity and local congregations have been enduring boom and busy cycles for hundreds of years, and what we are living in now has been more of the norm for most of history. The golden ages of the middle 20th century was the blip. 

Now, if someone from 2052, maybe even 2032, had shown up in our pews in 2019 and told us that the church of the future will be lively and vibrant and growing in surprising ways, we would have laughed at them too. 

But today in 2022 with the world in as uncertain and topsy-turvey as it has ever been in most of our life times, maybe a vibrant future church doesn’t seem entirely out of the question. If the Ukraine way keeps escalating and further threatening our own safety, if (when) another variant of COVID-19 emerges causing widespread illness, hospitalization and death, if our economic troubles create even deeper hardship, if climate change continues to streek our infrastructure… it is easy to imagine people turning to religion for hope and support.

Change is upon us, and what has just happened to us is extremely unlikely to continue on forever. In fact, knowing what we know about the cycle of history, a vibrant and growing church in 2032 is more likely than a church that fades completely into nothingness. It is hubris for us to think we are going to be the last generation of the faithful. But our recency bias is often so strong that we cannot believe it – more of the same decline “feels” like our future. 

However, the church of the next 10 to 30 years will be a church dramatically changed from even what we know now. As different as my grandfather spending Sundays riding the train across the country side in 1948 to 1951 to preach at small rural congregations to growing multi-pastor, multi-staff program corporate churches of the late ’60s to early 2000s. 

This week we will hear the story of the Prodigal Son which (spoiler alert) is not so much a warning against dissolute living, but a story about undoing expectations. The younger son expects condemnation and the older expects vindication. Neither gets what they expect. Instead God provides something else entirely. 

I don’t know what the church of the next 10 to 30 years will look like (I have lots of ideas!) but I do know that it will not be what we expect. Instead, at the guiding of the Spirit, we will be transformed for this new and changing world again. God has always been changing and making us ready for the world we find ourselves in, even when we have no idea what that will look like. 

Love that couldn’t care less for power

Luke 13:31-35
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

King Herod was not a well liked King. 

He was a puppet King for the Roman who didn’t really care about who was King over the backwater province of the empire, Judea. The people of Israel didn’t care for Herod, knowing that he was all about power. But like most people in power, Herod made the right allegiances; with Rome and with Hebrew the religious authorities. 

So when the Pharisees come to Jesus with a Message, he knows they too are puppet authorities, doing the puppet King’s dirty work in order to hold on to their own power and privilege. 

Today, on the second Sunday of Lent we continue with Jesus who can’t help but be confronted by people who think they have power. Last week, it was the Devil tempting Jesus to misuse the power of incarnation, the power that comes along with being God and being God in flesh. The Devil’s temptations set the stage for the recurring theme that Luke’s gospel holds up for us this Lenten season. The Devil tries to offer Jesus power. And now the Pharisees come to Jesus with a warning. They sound sympathetic, maybe even concerned for Jesus. Herod is out to get you, they warn. And it just so happens that getting rid of Jesus might also be convenient for them. 

Herod, the unpopular King and the righteous yet conspiring Pharisees, are concerned about their power. They are concerned about Jesus’s impact on their power and privilege. They have worked to build alliances, with their unpalatable overlord Romans, and with each other. Their power is tenuously held and only maintained by fear and division. With soldiers who intimidate, with control over money, over the temple, over the city of Jerusalem. 

Yet, no matter their work to maintain their power, they cannot gain the confidence and support of the people. Yet, Jesus who doesn’t seem to be looking for any power, is wandering the countryside, living off the generosity of others. Jesus is popular and therefore powerful in the eyes of Herod and the Pharisees. And while he hasn’t made a play for their power yet, they know it will come. And so they conspire. They will frighten Jesus off. Just as they frighten the people with soldiers or unrighteousness. They see Jesus as a threat who must be dealt with. 

Like the Pharisees, our world too is full of misuse of power. As we watch an awful and tragic invasion of Ukraine, we see a desperate despot casting about for power and former glory. Closer to home we also see politicians and corporations pandering to our consumerist desires in the hopes of acquiring our votes and our dollars. We also look about and see our unhappy neighbours, friends and families lashing out at the world, frustrated by all the ways they feel their power and freedom slipping from their grasp. We look at this community and other churches like it, and we see something that once occupied a place of central power and importance in the world, being slowly sapped of energy and resources, crumbling before our very eyes. 

Power does that. Power makes the powerful manipulate and play games. The loss of power splits, divides and demoralizes. 

And in all of that, the powerful King Herod, the power hungry Pharisees and we who feel as though we are leaking power, all share in one thing:

We all feel threatened by Jesus. 

There is a something inside of all of us that gets anxious and concerned when Jesus starts talking about what God wants for us. A thing inside of us that is tangled and twisted. That thought in the back our minds, that feeling that makes our blood pressure rise. It is the thing inside of us that makes us fearful of our neighbours. It it the thing that makes us resentful of having to change our lives for the sake the world around us. It is the thing that inside of us that closes us off to people who think differently than we do. The twisted tangled thing makes us shout our opinion louder, makes us wall ourselves off to the other, makes us fear difference, makes us angry when we feel aggrieved. 

The twisted, tangled thing is what Martin Luther called the Old Adam, the Old Sinner.

It is sin. 

And the sinner inside of us bristles when Jesus starts talking about the first being last, and losing our lives to save them. The sinner doesn’t like the idea that God’s forgiveness isn’t deserved, that we aren’t entitled to it.  

The twisted tangled sinner is the part of us that thinks power will save us. That controlling the world around us will keep us from being hurt. That protecting ourselves from anyone different from us is the way to be safe. 

And when Jesus starts talking about giving up power, the old sinner feels threatened. And when Jesus starts talking about prophets being stoned and hinting at crucifixion, the old sinner will have none of it. Like the Devil who thought power was the purpose last week, the old sinner thinks power is our salvation. 

The pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is willing to kill Jesus for the sake of power. 

Herod is worried that his power could be taken by the popular preacher Jesus. 

How wrong can Herod and the Pharisees be?

How completely off the mark can the twisted, tangled sinner inside of us get?

Jesus has come in weakness, not power. 

Jesus has come to be open, not closed off. 

Jesus has come to be vulnerable, not fearful. 

Jesus has come to show love. 

Love that will change us. 

Love that will undo the twisted, tangled thing inside of us. 

Love that risks being hurt, being unsafe, being weak in order to come close and near. Love that gathers and holds us together under its wings. 

Love that couldn’t care less for power. 

Herod and the Pharisees don’t live in a world of love. They don’t know how to let go of the little power that they have. They can’t see that Jesus hasn’t come for power, they cannot see how Jesus is trying to show God’s love to the world. 

And Jesus knows this. Jesus knows that the same crowds will chant “Blessed is He who comes in the same of the Lord” on Sunday, will shout crucify by Friday because they want a King of power, not a King of love. 

Jesus knows that the Pharisees who are warning him to get away will soon cry to Pilate to do their dirty work. 

Jesus knows that the King Herod will defer to the power of Rome to finally rid his Kingdom of this popular preacher. 

Jesus knows that their desire for power will lead to death. 

It is the way of the Old Sinner. 

But Herod and the Pharisees don’t know that Jesus is willing to die for the sake of love, willing to die to save the world. 

But we do. 

And still this Jesus who saves the world, who endures our greatest power of death to show love, still threatens us. 

Because the old sinner within us who pushes us to fear, to resent, to be closed off, to divide and to control… this old sinner, this twisted and tangled thing knows that the love of Jesus will change us. That love will untwist and untangle. That love will forgive and show grace. 

And Jesus knows that love makes us anxious, that old sinner, the twisted and tangled thing doesn’t want to be loved. Jesus knows that loving us will transform us. Jesus knows that loving us will make us care less about ourselves and more about others. Jesus knows that love will make us less afraid, less closed off, less divided, less controlling, worry less. 

Jesus knows love will make us let go of power… 

Herod wasn’t a well-liked King and the Pharisees weren’t well-liked religious rulers. We are people threatened by love.  

And Jesus isn’t either of these things either. Not puppet King, nor religious overlord, nor symbol of power and influence. 

Jesus is a mother hen with nothing but love to give. Love for sinners who feel threatened. Love for tangled and twisted people who get anxious. 

And just like stubborn chicks who need their mother hen, Jesus love will gather and change us too.

Jesus in the Wilderness and Temptations that aren’t Temptations.

GOSPEL: Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”…

Here we are, on the doorstep of the mysterious season of Lent. Mysterious because unlike Christmas and Easter, Lent is mostly a non-event outside the walls of the church. Beginning with Ash Wednesday – a Wednesday hardly noticed by the world – we enter into this strange springtime season when we know that we are supposed to be more solemn, more serious than usual. 

When I first started as a pastor, the congregation I served only vaguely knew about Lent. The colours changed at the front of the church according to some kind of calendar, but for what reason wasn’t known. 

And at times in my time in ministry, people have pushed back against observing Lent. 

“Can’t we just have one song with an Alleluia Pastor?” 

“Do we have to give something up?”

“Can’t be a little less serious and more happy?”

Of course we *can* do those things, it isn’t about what we can and cannot do. Rather the question is what ought we to do as ones who belong to the Body of Christ, as a world -wide community of practitioners of this common faith in Jesus and how we walk together through the different seasons of our life and witness. 

And so, as we step into this season of Lent, we so do following paths trodden by the faithful over centuries. Paths towards a deeper understanding of faith, towards a growing awareness of God’s mercy to be poured out for us in Christ. 

Each year on the first Sunday in Lent we journey into the wilderness with Jesus. We hear how Jesus is tempted by the Devil. This is the place where our Lenten journeys begins. In the wilderness, on the road to Jerusalem and Good Friday. We are being made ready for a transformed life in Christ. But this is only the beginning. 

We stand by while Jesus and the devil interact. We watch as Jesus is offered things that the devil hopes will divert Jesus from his mission. 

As we watch Jesus, the model resistor, this familiar story is often upheld as a formula for Christian living. Jesus’ responses are said to be sure-proof ways to avoid temptation, as if two people slapping each other with bible verses prevented anything. 

Of course there is no manual and this is not a video guide demonstrating the right techniques of temptation avoidance. 

In fact, as we hear this familiar story today there is a strange tension about these temptations. They are things that have caused all the prophets who have come before to fall: 

Moses  committed murder, 

Elijah  stuck his neck out and then last all hope, 

And Abaraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 

And King David and Solomon… 

even God’s chosen prophets, especially God’s chosen prophets and kings fell for one reason or another. 

And yet, Jesus is different. It isn’t that Jesus has some kind of super human will power, it is that these temptations for Jesus, the son of God, the prophet of the most high God, are not really temptations at all. 

The Devil has forgotten or doesn’t really understand just who he is speaking with. 

Jesus has been declared God’s chosen, God’s son. The Devil thinks he is dealing with another prophet, he does not understand that this Prophet is not only one who speaks with God’s voice, but is the very Word of God made flesh.

The devil is trying to sell power that the devil does not have to give and Jesus knows it. The devil is really doing something that we do on a regular basis. The devil is trying to act as God, trying to be God in God’s place. To control and handle God. To make his will, God’s will. 

The devil asks God to bend to creaturely concerns, to the whims and desires of the finite and created. The devil’s temptations are not offers of power, but demands that God act according to the devil’s desires.

And if we are honest… the temptations that the devil offers aren’t really temptations to us either, because we all too often seek them our shamelessly.

If we could command the angels, we would! It would be a virtue, we would feel like superheroes. We would wish this pandemic way, we would send them into the hospitals and grocery stores, to provide childcare and senior-care we would find a million places to put them to work. 

If we had the power over kingdoms… we know well the pursuit of power in this world. Power on any scale from families, neighbourhoods, workplaces all the way up to cities and nations requires controlling others, taking away their power. We are watching the worst of it unfold before our very eyes Ukraine. The Power over Kingdoms and armies sought by one unstable dictator means violence, destruction, war and death. It means sending our young to sit behind tanks and guns to destroy cousins and neighbours. 

If we could turn stones into bread… it is the most seductive temptation of them all. The temptation to survive at all costs, to seek our own satisfaction, to put ourself first above all others. A temptation that looked like convoys rolling down Portage Avenue in protest of masks and vaccine passports, while at the Jets game the Hoosli choir sang for freedom in front of Winnipeg and the whole world.

These temptations that are presented to Jesus are things our world simply strives for, often at all costs, often proclaiming the virtuousness of power, control, of being satiated and comfortable, of putting ourselves first. 

At their core, these temptations are about getting Jesus to set aside his mission. To set it aside in favour of just being, just striving, just existing. But at the cost of giving up something of himself, to be less than the full Son of God, less than the full Messiah sent to save. 

The same thing that these temptations do to us…by asking us to set aside our callings and purposes, in order to just be, to just exist, to just take up space without moving forward.

And yet, there in the hot, dry, sandy landscape of the wilderness, there tired, hungry, thirsty, chapped lip, windblown, and dusty Jesus sticks to the mission. 

As the Devil says to the same God who spoke all of creation into being from nothing…  If you are God, turn this rock into bread and Jesus says, “One does not live by bread alone”. God in Christ reminds the devil that the Word is standing there in the flesh.  

And then on top of world, the devil offers Jesus power over all nations if he would only bow down to chaos and confusion personified. The devil offers earthly power to the same God who has just been born in a manger as powerless baby, who has come to live in the created world, to play in the mud and sleep over at the neighbour’s house, to stub his toes and hug his parents, to go to weddings and learn the torah in the temple as a teenager. 

Then the Devil says worship me, and Jesus says “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” God in Christ reminds the devil that being God is not about power, but rather about giving up power in order to love and to love deeply. That being worshiped is not about being on top, but how God comes down to us.  

And then from the top of the world to the temple of Jerusalem. The devil asks Jesus to prove who is. The devil asks Yahweh Elohim, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph. The God of Moses and Elijah. The devil asks this God to prove who he is on top of his own house, on top of the place that God’s chosen people come to worship the one true God.

The Devil says throw yourself from this temple, and Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. God in Christ reminds the devil that there is no need to prove who he is… that this whole mission, that incarnation, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection are about God showing us who we are  – God’s beloved children. 

Jesus sticks to the mission. Because Jesus has come to fulfill God’s love and mercy given for us, to bring us back from being less than and to reclaim in us our calling and purpose. Jesus has come to pull us back from the brink of temptation and set us again on the way. The way to God. 

And so we begin each Lent in this same way. This mysterious, mostly unobserved season meets us in the messy world. In the world where we are seeking the satisfaction of bread, reaching for all power, looking to worship and follow the wrong things… and this year especially in all the worst ways. 

And Jesus reminds us that he has come into our world for a purpose. For a purpose revealed last week on the mountain of transfiguration, but soon to be revealed again on the mountain of Golgotha. Jesus has come not to prove who God is to us, but remind us again and again and again who God says we are. 

So as we set out on our Lenten journey today, God in Christ sets out with us knowing that we will forget who Jesus really is, but God never forgets who we are.