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Remember your Lines

Rev. Meg Peery McLaughlin

September 15

Remember your Lines

 

Prayer of Illumination

Jesus, you do love us.

Help us hear it again.

We are ready to be reminded. Amen.

 

Matthew 4: 1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterward, he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
   but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
   and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ 
7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you if you will fall and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’ 
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

When Jarrett and I learned we were expecting twins,

a well-meaning saint sent us an article of 25 practical tips for twin-raising.

Frankly, the article was quite terrifying to me—mostly because it was honest.

One tip was:

“If one of your twins gets sick, infect the other one as soon as possible.

The other twin is going to get sick anyway. It’s inevitable. . . so just

try to manage it.

Take the sick twin’s toothbrush, and brush your well one’s entire face with it.”

Wedged among other such wisdom

that was simultaneously making me laugh and cry, was this little gem:

“Older twin parents will smile shyly at you

and say “I have twins, too. You are doing great.”

They are like unicorns.

Take photos with these people and keep them in your wallet[i].”

 

Unicorns. These fellow travelers along the road:

are beacons of hope who say:

I’ve been where you are, too. It’s hard, but you’re gonna make it, trust me.

 

That’s what Matthew does for us today when it comes to faith.

He takes a picture of Jesus:

so we can keep it close by, stare at it,

and know:

“He’s been there, too. This is hard, but we’re gonna make it, at least, we can try.”

In Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ temptation,

Jesus shines as someone who knows his scripture.

At each challenge the Devil throws, Jesus blocks with a bible verse,

all from the book of Deuteronomy.

 

The devil says “command these stones to become bread”
and Jesus replies with chapter 8:

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

 

The devil says “throw yourself from the temple and see if God will do what he promised” And Jesus replies with chapter 6: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The devil says “worship me and I’ll let you have all the power, all the kingdoms now. No waiting necessary”

and Jesus replies with chapter 10 this time

Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.

 

Jesus is faced with temptation and he, well, he remembers his lines:

lines of scripture which ground him,

give him courage, keep him faithful at every turn.

 

He remembers lines he would have learned at synagogue

lines he would have been read as bedtime bible stories

lines he would have sung as songs.

 

Scripture has a way of seeping into you.

And then it shows back up when we need back up.

 

Be God’s word can indeed carry us through

when life would tempt us to believe otherwise.

Which is why I know I need this place,

where we come together, center ourselves around this text,

come to it time and time again and

to pay attention to what God may be saying through it today.

Paying close attention to Matthew’s telling of this story

reminds us that Matthew was writing to people of deep Jewish roots,

who professed the Christian faith.

 

This meant Matthew’s people were asking questions like:

How do we add our new faith in Jesus to our Jewish heritage?

and how do we incorporate our legacy into our new belief?[ii]

 

So, when we read the Gospel of Matthew,

we will nearly always find connections to what has come before.

Old Testament and New Testament in a big mash-up.

Today’s scripture is no exception. The first hearers of this story would have said: “Hey! Wait! Those temptations sound awfully familiar. . . .”

for they are precisely the same three tests

that the people of Israel experienced in the wilderness after the exodus.

 

The devil tempts Jesus regarding hunger—bread.

The Israelites, too, upon crossing the red sea were tempted to think there would not be enough bread for them either. God sent manna from heaven. They had food enough. But they didn’t trust it, so they took more than needed and it grew foul[iii].

 

The devil tempts Jesus by asking him to put God to the test.

Jump off the temple and prove you’ll be saved.

The Israelites, too, asked: “Is God among us or not?” and forced their leader to “prove” God’s presence for them. This is when a very frustrated Moses strikes the rock with his staff, producing water for the people to drink[iv].

 

The devil tempts Jesus with false worship.

And the Israelites, too, well, gosh, anyone remember the Golden Calf? That “god” the people begged for, then offered sacrifices to?

 

So, you see, these temptations, they aren’t just what Jesus faces alone

if I understand the text, Matthew is saying

these temptations are what people face

– those from our history long ago, and those right here in this room. All of us.

 

And as a church,

are we not tempted to think there is not enough to go around in this place—

not enough money, volunteers, energy

tempted to try to explain God’s promises –like good heady Presbyterians– rather than experiencing them

tempted to worship our programs, budget, calendar, our traditions

rather than worshipping God.

 

And what about you, and me?

Do we not try to satiate our hunger with things that don’t really fill

test out God’s promise to see if they really work

give our best to the wrong priorities?

 

ALL OF US are tempted to forget that we are satisfied by a God who provides

that we are loved by a God who is trustworthy

that we are called to live a life of worship in response.

 

And to put all that in shorthand,

we’re all tempted to forget who we are.

And who are we? children of God: fed and loved and called.

 

Temptation can’t be reduced to doing really bad things

or eating too much pumpkin biscotti.

No, the temptation is to forget who we are, our most true identity.

 

Which is why it’s no mistake that the temptation story in Matthew

is placed right after the baptism. I didn’t read it but if you pull out your pew bible to our story, and back up a few verses you’ll read of Jesus being baptized

and God saying for the whole world to hear:
This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

 

Then immediately, the tempter comes and says

“if you are the son of God, do this, if you are the son of god, try that.”

 

At the heart of every temptation

there is an appeal to forget who we are,

to doubt who we’re called to be, to try our hardest to be who we’re not.

 

Our moving truck came this week.

Yay! As I was unpacking our boxes this theme kept showing up:
Take our DVDs—all Disney characters, it seems, are on a quest to remember their identities: Elsa with her powers, Cinderella with her glass slipper.

And Simba. . . can’t you already hear James Earl Jones voice: remember who you are!

 

Same in the books I unpacked: Tolkien’s Frodo and his call to destroy the ring,

Shakespeare’s Viola (VI-ola) in 12th Night

Hugo’s Jean Valjean who even has a whole song: Who am I? 2, 4, 6, 0, 1!!

 

In fiction, on-screen, in real life, in the past, in the future,

all of us, every last one of us, is trying to figure out who we are.

And friends, we have been told who we are:

we are children of God, beloved,

claimed in life and in death, sent to share God’s love with the world.

 

We explored this past weekend at the congregational retreat.

In my conversation there, I was asking how UPC celebrates baptisms.

I learned about the banner that each child receives, reading:
I have called you by name. You are mine.

 

And yet remembering that is hard for all kinds of reasons.

 

Yet here we are,

kicking off the program year of the church.

Children gather in Godly Play circles,

and will find their Sunday School teachers

who will remind them of their lines:
I am wonderfully made.

Do not fear.

Where can I flee from your presence?

 

Choirs will start rehearsal and they will sing their lines: Jesus Loves Me This I Know

And he shall reign forever and ever.

 

Youth will gather downstairs, as PCM does this weekend on Fall Retreat

and build relationships enough that they can text each other

on a hard day to remind each other that they belong

that they’re blessed to be a blessing.

 

Adults will study

how these lines of scripture can shape them

as they think about the world around them.

 

We are here – together to remember who we are.

 

And even if we forget our lines,

or our struggle with scripture is too rough right now,

or these lines are so new to us we don’t know them yet,

or our memories are fading,

do not fear:

 

Matthew offers us a picture– one to carry around in our wallet.

 

A picture of Jesus Christ, who smiles shyly at us and says,

“I’m a beloved child of God too. I’ve been there.

Sometimes it’s hard, but you are doing great.”

 

 

[i] http://www.pajiba.com/seriously_random_lists/25-practical-tips-about-the-horrors-of-raising-twins-that-you-will-never-learn-from-movies-and-tv-.php

[ii] Long, Tom Matthew Westminster John Knox Press, 1997. page 2.

[iii] Exodus Chapter 16

[iv] Exodus Chapter 17

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.