Sunday, March 4, 2018
Week 3, Sacred Thirst Sermon Series
Scripture: Matthew 6:7-13 & Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Jill VanderWal


The content for this morning’s meditation is from a book by Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus”.  Henri Nouwen was a priest, professor and one who writes deep and practical insights about servant leadership and about being honest about our own failings and shortcomings.

He spent 20 years of his career at Yale, Notre Dame, and Harvard where he was teacher of pastoral psychology, theology and Christian spirituality. And, after 25 years of priesthood, he found himself “praying poorly” and living “somewhat isolated from other people.”

He moved from Harvard, from the best and the brightest wanting to rule the world, to live in the L’Arche community near Toronto, with men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society.

In our passage this morning Jesus is baptized then immediately set out into the wilderness to prepare for his public ministry. He spent the next 40 days in the desert, where he was faced with three temptations universal to us all: to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful.

1) The Temptation to be Relevant

Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant-  to turn stone into bread and break his fast. For any of us who have been in places of poverty where children die of malnutrition this seems like an honorable temptation. Wouldn’t we all love to turn rocks into tables covered with the best breads and baked goods for our neighbor who is hungry. We all have a deep desire to be relevant in who we are. To be relevant is to be valuable. Jesus responds to the temptation saying, “humans live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Invitation to make space in prayer:

“In prayer we find a place to be completely irrelevant and to stand in the world with nothing to offer but our own vulnerable self” (Nouwen, p. 17). Contemplative prayer, “in contemplative prayer we learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to
address whatever issue presents itself.”

2) The Temptation to be Popular, even Spectacular
“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

“Jesus answered, ‘It is said: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Deut. 6:16

The temptation to be spectacular – we are all walking the tightrope, waiting for applause. We want to be the best, get good grades, be seen as unique, special, get the promotion, to stand out – to be somebody.  Nouwen labels this our “individual heroism.” (describe experience of feeling like a “nobody”). What disciplines help us overcome individual heroism? Turn, in prayer, to confession and forgiveness.

“Through confession, dark powers are taken out of their carnal isolation, brought into the light, and made visible to the community. Through forgiveness, they are disarmed and dispelled and a new integration between body and spirit is made possible.”  We are invited to harmony in a community of equals.

3) The Temptation to Be Powerful

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.’”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”Deut.6:13

This is the original invitation to make a deal with the devil.The Legend of Faust was written about a man who makes pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

What makes the temptation of power seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love” (p. 59).  It is easier to be God, than to love God. It’s easier to control people than to love them.

Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Then he said, “feed my lambs.”  Jesus asks us again today, “Do you love me?”

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus knows our desires. To be relevant, spectacular and powerful. If we live to serve these desires, we will be ruled by a ruthless master. Jesus in each case show us what it is to serve God, to rely upon God in the face of temptation, and Jesus invited us to bring our desires to Him. This is prayer.  

Power of Prayer

Contemplative prayer, prayer walks, prayer journals, guided imagery prayer, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, forgiveness. There are so many ways to pray.  

Fear…drives our need to be needed, to be unique and to be powerful or valuable.

In prayer we find our true identity in Jesus. We find freedom to be irrelevant, to be humble, and to be powerless. This is freedom, this is what it is to experience unconditional love.

Yes…we will still be relevant, spectacular and powerful in seasons of life. Yet there is a whole new relationship with these things as they are not core to our identity. We can hold them in a different place, as we realize they come and go just like wind blowing through our life.

In Nouwen’s words…

“Jesus invites us to abide in this love. That means to dwell with all that I am in him. It is an invitation to a total belonging, to full intimacy, to an unlimited being-with. The light of the Spirit reveals to us that love conquers all fear. “