Saturday, February 29, 2020

Year A, Lent 1, Matthew 4.1-11

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Many years ago during my first call at Thompson Falls, MT, we were experiencing the struggles of a small congregation trying to support a full time pastor with all the financial obligations that go along with that. 
Those struggles resulted in significant conflict along the way.
It’s hard for a pastor in such situations.  The most difficult thing is that we often take far too much responsibility for what is happening.  When things are going well we pat ourselves upon the back. 
But when things are not going well it is tempting to think “I have failed.”
And with that feeling of having failed come shame, and guilt, even depression.
It was during one of those difficult times where we were struggling financially and conflict ensued that my Bishop, Mark Ramseth, offered one of the best pastoral words I’ve ever received.
The words were simple.
But the lesson was powerful and important.
“Dave,” he said, “this is not about you.”
The temptation, you see, is always to believe that everything that happens is somehow a referendum on me.
Here we are at Peace Lutheran.
We too, have our struggles.
And as your pastor, the temptation remains to think that it’s all about me.
That happens in both good and bad situations.
When we, against all odds, do very well financially, it is tempting to think that “I must be a fine pastor.”
But when finances are not so good, the temptation is to believe “I have failed as a pastor.”
When a new member comes to our congregation, I am tempted to think “Yes, I’m good at this!”
But when a family leaves the congregation it is so easy to feel personal rejection and failure.
And then the words of my bishop come back to me.
“Dave, this is not about you.”
For good, or for bad, this is not about you.

Jesus was tempted.
As he began his ministry, following his baptism, he went into the desert to fast and pray.
There the tempter came to meet him.
Satisfy your hunger.
Throw yourself from the temple and watch the angels save you.
Worship me, and I will give you all the nations of the world.
“If you are the Son of God,” were the devil’s words.
If you are the Son of God. . .
                Then prove it.
Do these things and demonstrate it.

“If you are the Son of God”, with these words the Devil tempted Jesus to make it all about him.
That’s what I noticed during my studies this week.
That each of the temptations was for Jesus to make it about him.  His hunger.  His safety.  His success.
When I was growing up in Irene, SD people would gather occasionally for family reunions.  And one of the things that they often did as part of those family reunions was to have a worship service.
It was on one such occasion that I was attending the family reunion of one of my friends, Claire Fagerhaug, out on the farm.
Connie, Claire’s mother, gathered us kids together and formed a children’s choir.
The song she chose for us to sing was “He Could Have Called, Ten Thousand Angels.”
The chorus for that song is:
“He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world (the world) and set Him free
He could have called ten thousand angels
But He died alone (alone) for you and me.”
In other words, Jesus could have made it all about him, but instead, he died for you and me.
The point is, Jesus’ own life and ministry was not to be about him, but us.
The devil tempted Jesus to make it about him, but he wouldn’t bite.

Making it all about us.
Making it all about me.
That’s still the temptation.

For us as a congregation that can be a temptation.  A real temptation.
For a while my daughter Katie was involved in a mega-Church out in Puyallup, WA.
I was skeptical about this congregation, as I tend to be about all “Mega-Churches”, but I learned a lot from her involvement.
They did some things right.  I commend them.
One of the things they did right was with respect to their Sunday worship.
Everything they did on Sunday morning was not about them, as a congregation, or about the pastor.
Everything they did was focused on the first time visitor.
Their hospitality for the visitor began with parking attendants, people greeting newcomers, and the entire content of the service and sermon.
Their ministry was not about them, but about the “outsider” seeking a spiritual home.
One example of that is that the sermons were written in such a manner as to appeal to someone with no background in the Christian church, whatsoever.
So much so that one of the criticisms they received is that there is not much on Sunday for a mature Christian.  Their response is that they have Bible Studies and services every night of the week.  Mature Christians should be coming to them.  Sunday mornings are for the visitor.
We are not a mega-Church.
We are a small, struggling little congregation. 
It’s tempting to make it all about us.
We welcome new people because WE need more members.
We focus on our own financial needs and survival.
And we do things OUR way, because that’s the way we like it.
Or at least that’s the temptation.  To  make it about us.
“Dave, this is not about you.”
Those were the words of my bishop.
Jesus was tempted to make it all about him.
And we are tempted to make it all about us.

God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.
I love our mission statement.
Because it is not about us.  It’s about others.
The challenge for us as a congregation is to keep this mission in front of us and not fall prey to the temptation to make it about us.
If we make it about us as a congregation we will die.
If we welcome, love and serve others it will not matter what happens to us, because it is not about us.  What matters is whether we can make a difference in this world. 
Can we be the voice of the Gospel?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not an organizational principle for the development of congregations.  That is, the Gospel is not here to serve the Church.
Rather, the Church is here to serve the Gospel.
If you want to talk about success, then I’d put it this way:
The success of our congregation, or any congregation, is not whether they thrive numerically or financially, but whether they share the love of Christ with one another.

One of the often overlooked parts of the Gospel lesson for today is the last verse:
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Jesus resisted all the devil’s attempts to make it about him, and then the angels came and cared for him.
Likewise, if we resist the temptation to make our ministry about us, and reach out instead to others, God will take care of us.
The angels will wait on us.
Here is the irony.
Our needs will be met, but only in as much as we serve others.
If we are in it for ourselves, we will fail.
Jesus’ final rebuke of Satan was with these words:
“‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
It’s not about us.
It’s about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as our self.

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