February 15, 2010

How Well Do We Let Scripture Claim Us?

by Jenny Williams
Luke 4:1-13

One of the interpretations of this text that I have favored in recent years is that Jesus resisted temptation to do even things that have good results.  If he turns stones into bread, he can feed the hungry people in the whole world.  If he gives his allegiance to the devil, the whole world will belong to Jesus in an instant.  If he jumps from the temple pinnacle, God will perform a flashy miracle, which could show people who Jesus really is.  This interpretation has served me well in the last few years, as I am person who is tempted to commit to or engage in too many things—especially endeavors that will produce good results. 

And yet, in a week when I am confronted with this text, I have too many things to do.  I live in an out-of-the-way place in West Virginia yet am part of a connectional church, and so I have to drive pretty far to get to mandatory meetings and events.  So this week, I have a pastors’ meeting on Tuesday (a 2 hour drive time one way—and that’s without any new snowfall) and on Friday an all day workshop which touches on an area of continuing education that I really need (3 hours one way.)  In between I have a Shrove Tuesday event at my church followed by hosting the speaker overnight in my home; an Ash Wednesday service the next night (for which I still have things to prepare); a Church Council meeting Thursday night. In fact, the week is so busy with these and my regular responsibilities that I have asked my husband to preach for me this Sunday because I had no idea how I was going to write a decent sermon this week.

The irony of facing this text this week produces for me more questions than answers.  I’m doing too much, but following the way of the cross means suffering.  Is doing too much pastor-stuff the right kind of suffering?  Are the things I am doing a distraction from my purpose as a servant of Christ, or are they the fulfillment of that purpose?  Have I failed to let scripture lay its claim on me?  Or maybe I am exhibiting the same lack of understanding of Scripture that the devil does in his scriptural smackdown with Jesus.  Should I—a person who has come to be pretty good at discerning whether or not to take on new commitments—cut myself some slack for this one unusually busy week, especially given that this week in the church year has greater demands than most other weeks?    I’m certainly not practicing what I would normally preach this week.  Which raises the question of pastoral integrity for the preacher.       

Any way you slice it, I’m tempted by something similar to what Jesus was tempted with:  doing things that are good.  Thankfully for the most part, I’m not involved in these events because of the results they’ll produce (with the exception of the continuing ed event).  Worship on Ash Wednesday is not for “results” but for the gathered people of God to acknowledge both our mortality and sinfulness in the face of God’s holiness—a message I clearly need to hear.  Only God can redeem our broken and sinful lives.  I suppose God has a lot of work to do with me this week.   


Unknown said...

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the gospel reading for this week. As I prepare to preach this text as well, I also have been struck by some of the same questions you ask. But I have also been wondering if naming Jesus' temptations a bit more specifically might be helpful in this instance. It's true that many of us (or many people--I wouldn't include myself) are tempted by trying to do too many good things, to achieve too many good results. But I'm not sure that Jesus is being tempted only with that. Is it possible that he is mainly being tempted with using means that may look as though they will result in the same desired end, but will in fact undercut that end? Yes, jumping off the pinnacle of the temple may seem like a good idea. Why not offer an unambiguous display (if such a thing is possible)of his messiahship? Doesn't he want as many people to accept him as Messiah as possible? But what if the way they come to see him as Messiah is coercive? What if it sets them up to misunderstand what kind of Messiah he is?

So for me, this text forces me to ask some questions that are even more uncomfortable than the ones I need to be asking about whether I am too busy trying to acheive good results. They are questions about whether I am tempted, for example, to think that God could use me "more" or "better" if I were serving in a bigger church or a more pretigious university. Couldn't I do more for God if I were a famous author?

Or am I content (or am I willing to ask God to help me be content) with being a little person in the kingdom?

Thanks, Jenny, for letting me think outloud with you.

Grace and peace,

Phil Kenneson

Jenny said...

And thank you for thinking aloud with me!

To be sure, I was being a bit general with my view of Christ's temptations. And of course you are right that the kind of death he died (and the kind of temptations he resisted) displayed his messiahship more accurately than performing any of the feats that to which he was tempted.

I have struggled in the past with your same questions. Actually, going through CFI with the church I previously served helped me solidify some answers for myself. I have learned some incredible lessons serving churches in small towns, and have come to realize that what *I* am made to do is devote myself to the people in the church I serve. In the UMC there are so many opportunities to serve in "larger" contexts, namely at the district and conference level. Sometimes, when I have participated in ministries in those types of settings, I have felt as if I am serving the institution which has been built up around God's called out people, rather than God or those same people.

People are given different gifts by the same Spirit. Perhaps we could paraphrase Paul's words to say, "to deans, the gift of administration; to professors at big schools, the ability to contend with committee work; to professors at smaller schools and pastors in small communities, the ability to develop relationships with individuals or small groups, for the purpose of being a sign of the kingdom."

Unknown said...

Hi Jenny,
From across the other side of the world, I say 'Be kind to yourself!'
This past week has indeed been a busy week and I don't have long drives on snowy roads to contend with. Yes preaching is important but I gather all your other committments were important also. Your congregation have a preacher - surely for this one week delegating is okay. Maybe your Lent is about caring for yourself in the midst of your many responsibilities.
Lenten Blessings

Pr. Sheepherder said...

Jenny ... I just came across your site for the first time and really appreciate your transparent reflections on the Gospel for this week.
It's been one of those weeks for me, too, and good Spouse would just LOL if I asked him to preach. A temptation nevertheless ... but I digress.
What looked like a good preaching path earlier in the week kept hitting dead ends. Your reflections and those of your readers have helped me remember that
1) the spiritual struggle of willingness over willfulness. struggle is the soil in which temptation is rooted; and
2) the tyranny of the urgent is well disguised in the distracting temptation of the urgent.

I'll know now to check in on this site earlier in the week ....