Sunday’s sermon: The Need for Change

change is hard

Texts used – Psalm 32 and Matthew 4:1-11

  • To be tested. To challenge the relative comfort and ease of the day-to-day. To find out what’s really underneath – underneath the heart and the skin, underneath the excuses and expectations, underneath the conveniences and the cover-ups. To be pushed to the limit … over … and beyond.
    • Boot camp
      • Earliest known use: (~)1916 → Marine training in WWI → used pretty exclusively by the military for a long time
      • Term that has become much more widespread over the last few decades → It seems as though everyone and everything has a “boot camp” nowadays. The term “boot camp” has permeated …
        • Fitness world = “a class focused on intense and difficult training”
        • Corporate world = a crash course in management, orientation, leadership, etc.
        • Self-help world = retreats strictly focused on bettering some facet of your life (marriage, organizational skills, etc.)
        • All cases = boot camp is deep, dedicated, demanding process meant to build you up in ways you may never have even thought possible à And if that means tearing you down a bit in the process to facilitate that rebuilding, all the better.
  • Lent = time of self-reflection, pure/unabashed truth in our innermost places, personal investigation, and contrition – “the intentional work of seeking a change of heart or actions”[1]
    • Call from Ps 51 on Ash Wed.: A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God. You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.[2]
    • Lent = time of repentance → Heb.: literally “re-turning to God” (physical connotation to Heb. word – movement/reorientation)
    • Like boot camp, the work of Lent can be hard and demanding. Indeed, Lent can be like a boot camp for the soul – a chance to turn and return to God, a chance to put some intense and intentional work into some specific area in our lives … an area that we feel could use a bit of a restart.
      • Not all going to have the same need → need for change in …
        • Habits
        • Actions
        • Thoughts
        • Attitudes
        • Relationships
        • But we all have need for change somewhere, and we are all walking this Lenten journey toward change together.
      • Winnie Varghese (Episcopal priest for Justice and Reconciliation at Trinity Church in New York City, author, speaker, blogger, contributor to Huffington Post, all-around crazy-amazing YCW): We walk this season together, demanding the best of ourselves, ready to support one another, and prepared to see truths that shatter our self-understanding.[3] → “Prepared to see truths that shatter our self-understanding” … that’s hard work! But as we go through this, it’s important to remember that we don’t do this for the purpose of shaming ourselves or each other. We don’t do this to feel bad just for the sake of feeling bad. We do it so that we can approach God with openness and sincerity – honest with ourselves and honest with God.
        • Paul in Rom: All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.[4]
        • Today is about taking the first tiny, baby step of this journey, and sometimes, that first step is a doozy.
  • NT reading – Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness
    • CONTEXT:
      • Comes straight off the heels of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River
        • Jesus comes upon John baptizing people in the river
        • Jesus requests to be baptized
        • John is taken aback – text: John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”[5]
        • But Jesus was insistent – text: Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” So John agreed to baptize Jesus.[6]
        • Jesus came up out of the water à heavens opened → voice of God emanated from the cloud: “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”[7]
    • And then just after this great, glorious, uplifting, affirming, literally-heavens-opening moment … Jesus takes off into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights specifically to be tempted by the devil. – text: Then the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him.[8]
      • No food
      • No water
      • No company (no physical ones, anyway)
      • Seemingly no defense
      • And yet this is the path that Jesus chose. True, he was led into the wilderness by God’s Holy Spirit. You probably missed it unless you were reading along, but that Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness is a capital-S Spirit – a Holy-Spirit-of-the-Most-High-God Spirit – not just some open-to-interpretation twinge in Jesus’ gut saying, “Yeah … maybe. We could possibly almost sorta go. Maybe.” True, the Holy Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness … but Jesus made the conscious decision to follow. à chose to take that first doozy of a step
    • Read this text at the beginning of Lent because Jesus’ 40 days/nights IS Lent → Lent = period of 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) → chose 40 because of Jesus’ time of fasting and temptation in the desert
      • Time of removal
      • Time of confronting
      • Time of trial
    • Brutal ordeal awaited Jesus
      • Step 1: depravation – fasting … for 40 days and 40 nights → Let me ask you this: Have you ever fasted? Maybe for medical reasons or personal reasons or even spiritual reasons? It is difficult.
        • My attempt in seminary (part of a spiritual formation group) → became more about how I was doing it than why I was doing it: “Water? Okay. Nutrients? Better choke down an electrolyte drink (Gatorade, etc.) or a V8. Gum as a distraction? Sort of looked at as ‘cheating.’” And so on.
        • BUT lots of people incorporate a fast of some sort into their spiritual practice during Lent – very powerful spiritual practice for some à idea (Guidepost article): “Fasting is less about what we’re giving up and much more about what we’re making room for. When we fast, we exchange what we need to survive for what we need to live—more of God.”[9]
      • Step 2: Satan’s temptation → And these temptations were no joke.
        • Tempted with food as his own stomach surely roared with hunger – Satan: “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”[10]
        • Tempted with danger/allure of safety atop the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem – Satan: “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”[11]
        • Tempted with infinite power and prestige with the whole world laid out at his feet – Satan: “I’ll give you all these [kingdoms of the world and their glory] if you bow down and worship me.”[12]
        • Jesus’ continually response = turning and returning to God → quotes Scripture (OT – God’s instruction to Moses in Deut) at Satan again and again
    • Central theme in all 3 temptations: turn from God … follow me … put yourself – your needs, your desires, your ambitions – before anything and everything else → And when we boil it down like that, it doesn’t sound all that different from the temptations that we face today, does it?
      • Temptations to fill our own cupboards to bursting with giant Costco/Sam’s Club multi-packs of this or that … But do we know whether our own neighbors have enough to eat? Do we know how stocked the shelves are at our local food shelf? Are there children walking past our house on their way to school with full book bags but empty stomachs?
      • Temptation to attempt to ensure our own safety not only above the safety of others but at the expense of others (as individuals and as a body – as a church, as a society, as a nation) … We talk about building walls and closing borders, turning away people literally fleeing for their lives – from persecution, from war, from famine … people who have waited years, paid thousands of dollars (for many, literally a lifetime’s worth of wages!), endangered their own lives, left their families behind, and endured an insanely complicated process just be turned away at the last minute because of prejudice and fear.
      • Temptation to grab hold of whatever modicum of power flashes before us and exercise that power whatever the cost – Sir Joh Dalberg-Acton (British Catholic historian, politician, and writer: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” → What ways do we as individuals need to repent of our use/abuse of authority? What ways to we as a society need to repent of the same? As a nation? As the human race? When it comes to power and authority, how have we turned away and chosen to serve not God but ourselves instead?
        • Jesus’ words just a few chapters later in Mt: Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.[13] → And so, during Lent, we examine where indeed our hearts are and turn them back to God.
  • Friends, anyone that’s endured a boot camp, planned a boot camp, led a boot camp, or even watched a little bit of one on TV can tell you that they aren’t supposed to be easy. That’s kind of the point: to take you down to such a level of discomfort that you’re able to be built up again – stronger, better, more knowledgeable, more capable. No one goes into boot camp – military, fitness, corporate, or otherwise – looking to come out exactly the same on the other side. But in order to start that journey toward becoming a better version of ourselves, we have to first acknowledge that something needs to change.
    • Often the most challenging, uncomfortable part of boot camp – 1st step
    • Change = hard
    • Change = unpleasant
    • Change = awkward
    • Change = scary
    • But change is the first step in a beautiful journey.
      • Crucial change for Jesus → after being baptized and enduring those wilderness temptations = ministry began
        • Teaching
        • Healing
        • Introducing people to the Kingdom of God – in all its grace and glory and beauty and compassionate embrace.
        • Ultimately dying on a cross and being resurrected to bring us salvation and God’s everlasting grace
      • Assurance also comes from the psalm we read → 1st-hand acct. of someone who made a change – someone who was at first separated from God but then, after returning and repenting – after not only recognizing but also acting upon that need for change – psalmist = someone who felt the blessing of God’s grace
        • Text: When I kept quiet, my bones wore out; I was groaning all day long – every day, every night! – because your hand was heavy upon me. My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought. Selah. So I admitted my sin to you; I didn’t conceal my guilt. “I’ll confess my sins to the Lord,” is what I said. Then you removed the guilt of my sin. Selah. … You who are righteous, rejoice in the Lord and be glad! All you whose hearts are right, sing out in joy![14]
      • So as we begin our own Lenten boot camp for the soul, let us first take a moment within ourselves and before God to acknowledge that we do, in fact, need and desire change within our inmost being. Let’s take that first doozy of a step together. [PAUSE] Amen.

[1] Winnie Varghese. “Lenten Series: Boot Camp for the Soul – Series Overview” from A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. Compiled by Jessica Miller Kelley. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 21.

[2] Ps 51:17.

[3] Varghese, 21.

[4] Rom 3:23-24.

[5] Mt 3:14.

[6] Mt 3:15.

[7] Mt 3:17.

[8] Mt 4:1 (emphasis added).

[9] Brooke Obie. “5 Spiritual Benefits of Fasting” from Guideposts, https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/health-and-wellness/5-spiritual-benefits-of-fasting?nopaging=1. Accessed Mar. 3, 2017.

[10] Mt 4:3.

[11] Mt 4:6,

[12] Mt 4:9.

[13] Mt 6:19-21.

[14] Ps 32:3-5, 11.

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2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: The Need for Change

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Stepping Up in a Big Way | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Dead Ends and Dramatic Comebacks | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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