“A Journey of Love”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “Lent – a Journey of Hope, Faith, and Love”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
March 24, 2019
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
2where 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.
3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
6And 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.
7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
9Then 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,
10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Today more than ever we are facing a crisis in Christianity. It is the crisis of temptation. Those temptations are outlined for us in the Scripture we read this morning but it boils down to whether we are going to let those who limit the love of God to those they feel qualify, because that satisfies their understanding of God, or are we going to trust the love of God for all people and let that love form, guide, what we put into daily practice in our relationships at the personal, community, national, and eternal levels.
There are many ways to understand this story of Jesus and the temptations. One of the things I have never really heard emphasized it that in essence this was a story about a journey of love. In this passage we see Jesus on a journey through the wilderness. It is a time of testing. He is being tested by the Tempter, he is testing his mission and ministry vision – is it real, is it from God, does it have the right priorities. But it is also a testing of love. It is a test of Jesus’ love for God, and his trust that God’s guidance, and God’s love are his first priorities. It is a test of God’s love for Jesus, to stand by and let him struggle and suffer – no one wants to see their child tested, tempted, hungry and facing all the spiritual enemies of the universe alone. But God chose to step back and let Jesus test his love for God and his trust in God’s love for him. It is a symbol of the journey of testing each of us has to take to decide on the love of God over self.
Ethical choices are in essence choices about love. Will we love God over self? Will we love others over selfish desires? Will we love what is an eternal good over what feels good for a moment. These tests happen every day to virtually every one of us. And in a larger sense we are facing an incredible ethical testing of our love for the greater good because of the technology abilities we have to do incredible things. I was reading something this week that lifted up how our ethical reasoning and commitment to a greater good for all of society is being challenged in new ways because of the speed at which technology is advancing faster than our ethical thinking.
Cary Neiuwhoff, in a recent blog, writes, “On everything from DeepFakes, to autonomous cars (do you program a car to choose to hit a pedestrian or alternatively crash into a cement wall, which may kill the driver?) to genetic engineering, we don’t really know what we’re doing to ourselves.
On DeepFaking, for example, consider this: Pair VR [ virtual reality ] with the concept of DeepFake technology and you’ve got a frightening prospect: anyone could virtually take on an identity not their own, complete with a digitally projected physical appearance, voice, and movements indistinguishable from those of the individual they are impersonating.
In a distant-future era, with [ virtual reality ] constituting a majority of human experiences, and with such shape-shifting abilities at everyone’s fingertips, it will become increasingly less possible to verify the identities of those around us.”
What is the outcome of all this? She predicts, “Distrust will infect all social interaction, along with the intense mental strain of living under constant threat of identity theft, if not loss of identity entirely. New authentication techniques will be imperative if we are to maintain sanity and order in society, and we will need to be constantly vigilant in verifying the identity of those we interact with.”
Cary Neuwhoff adds, “The post-truth culture we live in just got more complicated. Technology is outstripping ethics, and in an era where consensus around ethics and morality is splintering, the field is ripe for theologians and philosophers to speak meaning into our present and future.” Then he goes one step further: “One more question before we leave this point: who exactly owns your DNA? If you think the answer is clear, think again, particularly if you used a DNA service to learn more about your health or ancestry. The crisis we’re facing today isn’t a crisis of information or technology, it’s a crisis of meaning and ethics.”
The heart of that question is what will we love more? Profit? Power? Doing something simply because I can? That is a question of love and of freedom. Jesus certainly had the power and freedom to choose to do any of the things the Tempter challenged him with. He could have fed himself. After all he fed 5000 people and more just a short time later. He could have chosen to use his power to rule over all the world’s kingdoms. And by the way many over-interpret this to mean that Jesus did not want to change earthly things – that he didn’t care about what governments do or do not do. That is a false reading. Jesus simply chose not to rule as humans rule, with force, by manipulation, and by other unethical means humans have used to rule since the beginning of time. He chose instead to trust the love of God as a rule of life –his and others. Ultimately the Tempter realized that Jesus was choosing to trust the love of God and he used that too. He tempted Jesus to prove God’s love for him to others by throwing himself off the Temple, trusting that God loved him so much God would send angels to swoop in and catch Jesus before he hit the ground. But by that point of the journey Jesus had already found the faith to trust the love of God for him and for others over every other option.
Camille described her journey and the love that sustained her then and the love that sustains her now. Even her way of using her name as a acronym for who she is is a way of defining the love she feels that has been given her, from family, from friends, but ultimately from God because every form of real, authentic, freely given love is from God. All others are ultimately tainted by some level of selfish motivation. But God’s love for us is free from that and our journey of faith should be a journey to seek to every more fully believe in, trust, and live by that self-LESS love of God for us and to show that love to everyone we can. That, for me, is what defines being a Christian.
This afternoon we have an interfaith potluck. Not many of you will choose to go. You have busy lives and it doesn’t sound as fun as a nap or whatever else we may HAVE to do. But I am going because we live in a world where every faith is under attack by those of other faiths and those who belong to each faith. The attack on the Islamic Mosque in New Zealand, just a few weeks ago was an attack on the love of God. It was an attack on the Christian faith just as much as it was an attack on those of the Muslim faith. We live in a culture that has become much more vocal about hatred for those who are other. People of other religions, races, nationalities and gender seem to be encouraged from the highest levels of our national government and other nations as well. I believe that every attack on “the other” is an attack on God, and on those of us who say we believe in the love of God and seek to follow Jesus Christ. I choose to go and show my willingness to learn how to better know, understand and hopefully come to love those who are “other” than me – Muslims, Latter Day Saints, Presbyterians, etc., as God loves them.
For me this is a witness to the love of God which is for ALL PEOPLE and for ALL CREATION because God is the CREATOR of ALL PEOPLE and ALL CREATION and to hate any part of that it seems to me is to hate God. So I don’t say this to cause anyone to feel guilty. Believe me I know how busy everyone is these days. I say it for the same reason Jesus bothered to even answer the Tempter instead of just ignoring him. I say it to remind myself of God’s love for me, and for my sisters and brothers who are OTHER than me.
Each of us on this journey of life faces the same temptations Jesus faced. Each of us is living in an age when the crisis of faith is greater than ever. Each of us must choose every day what it means to trust the love of God over the love of self. May your journey be one of growing in love for God, for the other, and in that way discover the true meaning of God’s love for yourself.