Rev. Meg Peery McLaughlin
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,
“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.”
[ii] Long, Tom Matthew Westminster John Knox Press, 1997. page 2.
[iii] Exodus Chapter 16
[iv] Exodus Chapter 17