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The Unmistakable Mark

3/10/2019 First Sunday in Lent  The text is Luke 4:1-13.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

There one was this eight year old boy who went with his family to visit an uncle who lived on a farm. He always looked forward to these visits because his uncle had horses that he let the children ride.

When his turn to ride came up, the young lad got on and rode the horse until he was out of view of the house. Once he was sure that no one could see him, he slipped to the ground. For, you see, he had wanted to try mounting the horse as he had seen cowboys on TV do it. So, he got behind the horse and took a running start toward the beast. He jumped as high as he could, but his feet barely left the ground. As he landed on his feet directly behind the horse, he looked up at the horse’s tail and wondered how he would ever get back up on this animal.

Well, it was about this time, as the young lad stood there pondering his plight and feeling kind of bummed about not being able to duplicate the moves he had seen on TV, that the horse became acutely aware that there was something in back of it. Calmly, the horse turned its neck to look at him. Then, it reared and kicked him with its hind legs. This time, when the boy landed, it wasn’t on his feet. He found himself on the ground on the other side of a ditch beside the road.

Quickly, the boy got up and raced home crying. When he got to the house, he told his uncle that the horse had kicked him. His uncle insisted that the horse wouldn’t have done such a thing. He was absolutely sure the old mare was too gentle to kick anyone. With that the boy took off his shirt and showed his uncle his chest which displayed two bright red circles that looked conspicuously like the hoof prints of a horse.

All this goes to prove that we are easily tempted by what we see and hear to do some pretty foolish things. And, our foolish choice can leave an unmistakable mark on us.

Life is full of choices. Like the one you made today – to come to worship on time change Sunday and in less than ideal weather conditions. Each of us makes decisions every day and every good choice is surrounded by temptations that would have us move in a different direction. That’s just the way it is. We can choose to do things our way. We can choose to ignore the truth about our limitations, or we can see ourselves for who and what we are and seek God’s help. A decision here…a value judgment there…all reveal what we believe about ourselves, our world and our God, and all leave unmistakable marks on us.

We are tempted to go it alone. We are tempted to stand in the place of God, assuming that we know what it best. Self-preservation trumps self-sacrifice every day of the week. But, thanks be to God who made a choice for us in sending his Son into the world.

Through Jesus, God knows what it is like to be tempted. Jesus, of course, was never tempted to commit murder, mayhem, or immorality. He never saw a TV show to emulate. But as a human being, Jesus was tempted to wrongly use his powers, to give in to easy solutions, and to achieve great things by means which were below him and what he stood for. The choice to follow the will of his Father and to go to the cross was not an easy choice for Jesus to make. For, Jesus, like us, was tempted to think about himself first, his preservation, his life, what he could have and gain in this world. In facing these temptations, there would be no shortcuts, no easy way out, and no favoritism shown Jesus because he was the Son of God. Instead Jesus had to accept the fact that there was the long, lonely, difficult road ahead of him as he was obedient to his Father’s will, fulfilling his mission and ministry to a world in need.

There are to be no shortcuts for us either, as we live as children of God and fulfill the ministry handed down to us. For while none of us may never be tempted to commit some real crime, we are tempted to seek popularity, to be comfortable, to never go against the grain, to see only our side, to live for what will give us the greatest pleasure, and to put our faith and our practice of it on the back shelf whenever it suits us. We are tempted to reduce life to its lowest levels and never look back.   And because we often give in to these temptations, we need a Jesus who understands the depth of our failure, our sin, our giving in to that which tempts us, and who takes all our shortfalls to the cross and grave with him.

Choices and temptations will always be a natural part of this world in which we live…and we never know what decisions we will make until we are faced with the options. Through Jesus, God understands this. For, before his appearance in Galilee to begin his public ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness to prepare himself for his mission and while there was challenged by temptation. Unlike the reality show, “Survivor,” there were no safety nets for Jesus in this wilderness and there was no one there with whom he could share the burden of meeting basic needs. Jesus spent 40 days alone, in meditation and prayer and fasting, in order to prepare himself to assume the mantel of messiah.

In the beginning, all went well, but as time passed, Jesus faced some tough choices. Jesus was tempted to accept what comes naturally, like food when hungry, water when thirsty. And yet, Jesus understood that the real hungers in human life are much deeper than providing food for the belly. So, he responded to the temptation with the word, ”Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Jesus was tempted by power, all the power in the world. And yet, Jesus held fast to the Jewish tradition which held that all earthly kingdoms belong to God alone – so God alone is to be worshipped. Jesus was tempted to test God’s promise of protection. And yet, Jesus would not put God to the tests.

Nothing, nothing in this world would shake Jesus away from the mission that was set before him. In the wilderness Jesus had to choose between lunch and God, between faithfulness to God and wowing the crowd, between faithfulness to God and being second in command in the whole world. Jesus had to choose between what was good and the better, between what was better and the best.

As we face temptations in everyday life, may we follow the example of Jesus and be so bold, so courageous, so faithful, so as to choose God and God’s will over all other things. May the unmistakable mark of the cross be on our foreheads. And may peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.




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