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The sermon for week February 14, 2016

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Wrong Way

Luke 4:1-13

This year for the season of Lent, which began on Wednesday with Ash Wednesday and will carry us forward for the next 6 weeks until we reach Easter, we are using the imagery of a journey. When we go on a journey or a trip in a car, we encounter many road signs along the way. Some of the signs are directional, suggesting which way to go. Others are cautionary, placed for our safety. Today we consider one of the cautionary ones, the Wrong Way sign.
On two or three occasions in my life, when I was driving in cities unfamiliar to me, I have turned to go down a street only to realize that I was going the wrong way. Has this ever happened to you?

If life were only that easy, with road signs directing us along our life’s journey. Instead of signs we have stories of those who have gone before us, stories that can teach us how to live this life and live it well.

When I was a student studying to become a minister, I was serving a church in Wisconsin. One day as I was visiting a retired couple, the fellow of the house showed me his garden. Not far from his garden was the garden of a young couple who had moved in next door. Interestingly, his garden was doing well but theirs was suffering terribly. The reason that theirs was doing badly was because there was a Walnut tree next to their garden. The toxin juglone, from that tree was killing anything that they tried to grow. He knew about this toxin and what it does to plants.

Clearly he knew the cause of their problem with their garden. Why did he not warn them I asked? His response, “When the time is right I will tell them.” In my youthfulness, I would have told them right away while they were digging the garden. But he was was wiser than me. (Wrong Way sign)

Another wise person who I have learned from over the years is that of Tony Campolo. Tony is a gifted preacher and a person who lives out his faith. On one occasion, he was asked to speak at a graduation ceremony. On that occasion he chose to say the following, “Young people, you may not think that you are going to die, but you are. One of these days, they will take you to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the church and eat potato salad.” He went on to call that the potato salad promise, that is that we all are going to die.

Rabbi Harold Kushner says this of death, “I believe that it is not dying that people are afraid of. Something else, something more unsettling and more tragic than dying frightens us. We are more afraid of never having lived, of coming to the end of our days with the sense that we were never really alive, that we never figured out what life was for.” He goes on to suggest that, “the pursuit of happiness is the wrong goal. You do not become happy by pursuing happiness. You become happy by living a life that means something.”

Today we consider the life of Jesus. We encounter a story that shares with us the wisdom of one whose life meant something. In this story we read of Jesus being tempted on three occasions to do three different things. The first temptation was to turn stones into bread to feed his hunger. The second was to use his power and authority to lead cities and nations. The third was to use his spiritual strength to draw attention to God. As Jesus life and ministry unfolds, we observe that he actually does do these three things. He feeds many who are hungry. Regarding the political world, he brings a sense of justice to a world that was unjust. Regarding the third temptation, his whole life was lived in such a way as to bring others closer to God. The key here is the motivation behind all of his actions. His calling was to turn stones into bread so that the poor would be fed. His calling was to bring justice to an unjust society. His calling was to live in such a way as to bring others closer to God. What we learn from this story is the motivation for doing these must be centered on God and not on himself. Jesus not only knew what his life was to be about, but he also knew that he could not truly live that life unless it was centered on God. If it was centered on himself, he was going to go the wrong way.

Luke – Jesus the new Adam
Last month, Peter Enns was here as part of Chidester Lecture Series. In his earlier book, The Evolution of Adam, he writes of another temptation story, the temptation of Adam and Eve. He shares a tradition of the story of Adam and Eve that most of us have not been introduced to. When we think of Adam and Eve, most of us think of original sin. What we don’t know is that the concept of original sin was not developed until Augustine put it down in writing around 400 AD. Prior to that time, the story of Adam and Eve was most often read as a story of what happens when one does not fear God and follow the commandments of God. In the time of Luke, the first century, the story of Adam and Eve would have been understood as a story of what happens when one chooses badly because one does not fear God. It would not have been understood as the cause for original sin. If the Adam and Eve story was not about original sin then what was it about?

Peter Enns suggest that in that time it would have been understood as a story explaining the reason for Israel being in exile. The basis for the exile was that Israel had not feared God but had gone its own way. Just as Adam and Eve had not feared God had had chosen to go their own way.

These stories give us pause to consider the question, why do we do the things that we do. Do we do them out of self-interest. The wise ones in the room know that a life lived out of self-interest leads to death, whereas a life lived with God at the center can only lead to life. Today let us all choose life.

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