Undervalued Disciplines in Overwhelming Days: Boundaries

by | Mar 6, 2022


Meg Peery McLaughlin
Undervalued Disciplines in Overwhelming Days: Boundaries
March 6, 2022
Luke 4: 1-13

Prayer for Illumination

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where 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. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

In the hours after Russia invaded Ukraine,
I saw this image, this prayer.
It is a simple drawing of the borders of Ukraine
with an invitation to trace a finger along the curves
and pray:
God, protect your children who dwell within these borders,
keep these borders safe, keep their lives.

And if we were take the global
and touch it down here,
I wonder if as part of our Lenten discipline,
I wonder if we could trace the edges of our own boundaries
and whisper a similar prayer.

(And frankly if everyone did this, I wonder how it would transform the globe).

For the next 40 days, this church will be considering
some off-the-beaten-path spiritual practices
acts of embodied faith that don’t get as much air-time in pulpits
but are nonetheless
ways in which we connect to God and deepen our discipleship.

Today, we consider what it is to express healthy boundaries
in this story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Fred Craddock suggests that this is the scene
where Jesus is figuring out what it really means to be about God’s business.
We are only in chapter 4— he hasn’t yet started his ministry.
The first temptation is social– will Jesus’ ministry be one of turning stones to bread? (Hungry people would certainly hope so).
The second is political – will Jesus compromise his soul in order to achieve good for the people of this world? (Oppressed people certainly hope so).
The last is religious– will Jesus win Jerusalem by coercing faith,
avoiding death by the display of supernatural power?
(Anyone longing for proof of God’s power hopes so).

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, Luke tells us,
Jesus turns to scripture at every turn.
And refuses to allow anyone restrict his ministry.

But more than that, what strikes me about this story,
is that Jesus remembers who he is, who he really is.

Notice that 2 out of the 3 time the devil speaks he starts the same way:
If you are the son of God, he says.

As those borders define Ukraine, so boundaries define us.
But as distinct from human-made borders,
boundaries are God made—they are part of who we are created to be.
Boundaries define what is me and what is not me.
A boundary shows us where we end and someone else begins.

A brief aside: I’m aware that most likely, in church—or at least in a Presbyterian church– you’re used to understanding boundaries as negative;
because Jesus is always breaking boundaries in the gospel,
tearing down the boundaries between who’s in and who’s out.
But those are human-made ones and you better believe Jesus will keep on ripping them to shreds. What we’re talking about here are the boundaries in us,
around us, around our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our souls, our time,
and they are holy.

When the devil says to Jesus “If you are the Son of God”
He’s saying: If you are really you.
He’s pushing at Jesus’ boundaries—
and Jesus responds to the challenge with integrity.
The word integrity has taken a slightly judgmental nuance in modern English,
but the word comes from the Latin “integer,” which simply means “intact. ”
To be in integrity is to be one thing, whole. Boundaries clear.

Trace the boundaries of your own life for a moment in your mind
—are you in integrity? are you whole?
Or have you parceled parts of yourself out
to please other people or rescue them,
or to avoid the reaction in someone else
that inevitably comes in expressing your boundaries.

Luke tell us this story to show us Jesus’ steady response.
But I’ll tell you it’s hard. That’s why we call them spiritual practices,
because they are really art, not science,
and they take effort and so. much. repetition.

How many times have you said yes when you wanted to say no
or not allowed someone else to say no?
How often have you felt responsible for something that wasn’t yours
or felt the need to control someone that wasn’t you?
How frequently have you noted the feeling of resentment
with your family, with your colleagues, with yourself?

Sometimes the violation of a boundary is swift and sure.
The Christmas of 1992, some teenagers broke into our home
while our family was spending time in Montreat.

I remember walking in
and seeing the contents of our Marimekko trash can spread all across the linoleum.
I can see it plain as day, down to the coffee grounds.
Immediately, I knew something was wrong.

Other times, boundaries get eroded over time.
One choice here, another compromise there,
one moment after another moment, where you’re measuring your sanity or worse, your safety, over what you know is right in your very body.

And if I may, let me just take a beat—

One of the insidious things about boundary breaking—
especially when it comes to women in this Women’s History Month,
and especially when 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence–
one of the insidious things is the distorted thinking that if you’re friendly,
the broken boundary is your fault for accommodating the situation.
If you’re tough, well, you might as well decide that it’s no big deal.
If you’re ambitious, you wanted it.
If you’re affectionate, you seemed like you were asking for it all along.
If you’re smart, there’s got to be some way to rationalize this.

But here is the truth for all people. Who you are is a gift—the whole fullness of it.
You are God’s beloved child, created in God’s own good image.

Let me say more about that.
I could have chosen from three different scriptures today.
It’s the first Sunday of Lent and the 40 day temptation of Christ in the wilderness is
in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
So why pick Luke? Here’s why:
In all three versions of this story, Jesus is baptized RIGHT before the temptation.
Jesus is claimed by God as God’s beloved child.
(Same thing that happens right there in that font.)
But Luke wants to double down on highlighting Jesus’ identity.
Because Luke, and Luke alone, slides the genealogy of Jesus in here too.

At the baptism, God says: Jesus is my child.
Then in the long family tree recitation, God says: Jesus is my child.
It’s like Luke is shouting it: THIS IS WHO JESUS IS.
Like Luke is taking a bright yellow highlighter to trace the boundaries around Jesus.

So that when the devil challenges Jesus’ identity saying
IF you are…..
Jesus is ready to say “Not IF…I AM God’s child.”

And dear friends, I want that readiness for us too.
You see, boundaries just are, like our identity.
We are children of God. That is who we are. That is what defines us.

So we don’t have to set boundaries,
we don’t have to keep boundaries, we get to express them.

And it’s a gift, not a chore, a gift:
for who doesn’t want to delight in their baptism?
who doesn’t want to love neighbor as you love yourself?
who doesn’t want to live free in their own skin?

I know I do. There is joy in that.

There is an ancient movie with Al Pacino called Scent of a Woman.

Al Pacino is a completely blind cantankerous Army Colonel,
whose nearly given up on life,
until he spends Thanksgiving weekend with a young prep school student
who took a job “watching” him–
The two run into a young woman waiting for her date,
and Pacino convinces her to dance the tango with him.
But remember he’s blind and they are in the middle of a fancy New York restaurant.

Pacino stands from the dinner table and reaches out his hand to the young woman.
Then he leans over to the student and says:
Charlie, I’m going to need some coordinates here, son.
The student responds:
The floors about 20×30, you’re at the long end,
there are tables on the outside and the band is on the right.

Pacino gives Charlie his walking stick and takes the floor
with that great Italian swagger.
And on display is smooth choreography,
fancy foot work,
dips so low that hair falls loose,
grins from ear to ear.
It’s unbridled joy—

Know the coordinates of your lives, friends,
trace the lines
and pray:
Lord, protect your children who dwell within these boundaries.
Give them life.
Oh, give them life.