February 22, 2010

Jesus can say "no" but I can't

As always, there were some changes in pulpit, but I haven't made them in this text. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't thank Barbara Brown Taylor and the section she "threw away" from her Day1 sermon this week. BBT's trash, is my preaching treasure.
I'm not sure when in started, but at some point in the last ten years, I developed an unhealthy obsession with Chinese Buffets. In college when I went with a group of buddies to visit an old friend in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, we didn't seek out good southern barbeque. Instead we looked for the best Chinese buffet in town. One of the saddest moments in my two-and-a-half years in Foley was the day Cassie and I tried to eat at the Buffet next to Superior Furniture, only to find it had closed. The unhealthy part of all this is not Chinese food, of course, it is the buffet part. I always eat way, way too much; too much lo mein, too many helpings of beef and broccoli, too many friend chicken balls covered in glowing red sweet and sour sauce. By the time the eating frenzy ends, I'm always uncomfortable; filled to the gills, stuffed beyond belief. And yet, I go up one more time to grab a small bowl of the most sugary and delectable Jello ever made; Chinese Buffet Jello, the food of the gods. Even though I am full, I always succumb to the temptation to have just a little bit more.
Jesus didn't eat a Chinese buffets, obviously, but he certainly knew what it was like to be stuffed silly and tempted for more. On this first Sunday in Lent we hear the familiar story of Jesus' forty day fast in the wilderness. Because of a poorly placed lineage list in Luke we miss some of the context, so let's step back a verses and figure out where we are.
Late in his third chapter, Luke us that "when all the people were being baptized [by John], Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." When we then skip the lineage list and jump to the opening of our lesson for today, we find "Jesus, full of the Spirit, returning from the Jordan and being led by the Spirit into the wilderness."
Jesus is full of the Spirit and empty in his stomach when the devil arrives on the scene offering him more and more. "Why are you so hungry, Jesus? If you are the Son of God, turn this rock into bread... Why are you so vulnerable, Jesus? If you are God's Son why would he let you suffer so, worship me, and I'll give you more power... Why do you have to die, Jesus? If you are the Son of God, let him protect you." More bread, more power, more protection... the devil offers Jesus all the mores he could want, but Jesus says, "no, no, no. No bread, no power, no protection."
While I am categorically unable to say "no" when I am already full at the Chinese Buffet, Jesus is able to say "no" to the devil's great temptation because he is already full. Having been baptized by John in Jordan, having seen the heavens opened and the Spirit descending like a dove, having heard the voice of his Father, Jesus entered he wilderness not with a glass half full or half empty, but as a man full to the point of overflowing with the Spirit of God, and the Spirit is more than enough.
Each of us, by virtue of our baptisms, have been filled with the Spirit. Even as infants, we were full to overflowing and needed nothing else. Over the course of time, many of us have acted like me at the buffet and tried to stuff ourselves with things we didn't need; more bread, more power, more protection, more sex, more drugs, more money, more, more, more.
And as if we needed any help stuffing ourselves, the devil remains on the prowl, tempting us at every turn. Luke writes that the devil left Jesus until the opportune time. The note in my study Bible says the "opportune time" comes at 22.3-6, when the devil enters Judas. Others argue that it comes in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus' two wills battle against one another, "take this cup... but your will be done" the devil must have been right there hoping against hope that the human will would win. I have suggested in the past that the opportune time was as Jesus entered the Temple for the first time during what would become the week of his Passion. I think there was a pause while Jesus looked around because he pondered for a moment about whether or not he could really do it all by force. During our lectionary study this week, Keith suggested, quite wisely I believe, that the devil comes right back on the scene in the next story, and then continues to appear over and over again. There are temptations all through Jesus' ministry; to give into the crowd at Nazreth, to let the unclean spirits tell everyone who he was, to let Peter fight his battle. If one believes this logic, and I am inclined to do so, it seems then there is no more opportune time than right now. As the body of Christ assembles around the altar, eats of the bread and wine of grace, and leaves full of the Spirit. As we leave this place, full of the Spirit, before we even enter our cars, the devil will be waiting, offering us more. And though it is hard, though he uses the very word of God, though he knows all our soft spots and all the tricks, we, like Jesus, should be able to say "no" because we are already full, and we need no more.
There is always super sweet red and green Jello on the buffet, and the opportune time occurs over and over and over again. The lesson we take from Jesus is that, as baptized disciples, we are already full, we need nothing else. And so, during this season of Lent, many of us will attempt to live on less; not because what we already have is bad, but because the tempter's modus oporadi is always toward more, and we beat the devil by breaking the cycle of the constant pursuit of more. No more bread, no more power, no more protection, no more calories, no more tv, no more facebook, no, no, no.
This is hard, especially when we find ourselves in Jesus' position, full of the Spirit but empty in the stomach. I hope that we will journey through the wilderness together. I hope we will draw strength from the Spirit as a community. I hope you will learn more about it during our Wednesday evening dinner and program called "Filled with the Spirit" that begins this Wednesday. The fact that telling the devil "no" is hard makes it no less true; those who confess with their lips and believe in their hearts are filled with the Spirit, and encouraged to stay full so that despite the unending assaults of the enemy, we are able to say, "no, I am already full." May God fill us again today, and tomorrow, and every day, that we might be able to join with his Son in saying, "no, Satan, I am filled with the Spirit." Amen.

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