Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent 4 B.O.B. (Born of Blindness)

Lent 4
Readings: Psalm 23, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-14
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, March 26, 2017

This story in John's gospel, about a man who is born blind, invites many different ways of reflection. There are a number of characters, and it almost comes across as drama.

There is, of course Jesus Himself. He is the focus of the account. What He does for the man, and how he is dealt with by his opponents, in a way that shows them up as deluded and confused, makes for one story. Next there is the perception and treatment of the man himself. Both by Jesus and by the council.

There is the account of the mans parents, whose integrity is questioned, yet whose delight must have beyond measure. Finally, there are the inquisitors themselves, who appear angry, intolerant and totally unable to grasp the truth that takes place before their eyes.

One version of the bible describes the man’s problem as “Being of blindness”, which gives us the initials B. O. B. which spells “Bob”. The phrase “Born Ocularily Benighted” also gives us the initials B.O.B. If anyone tells you there is no Bob in the Bible... well there is now!

So, by way of illustrating an intriguing, and in some ways amusingly ironic, biblical tale, I thought... if Bob had a story to tell, how would it go. So for your listening delight and, hopefully eye-opening spiritual unraveling, This morning I present to you...

The Story of Bob

‘Bob’s’ the name.
Used to be ‘Blind Bob’.
Now it’s just ‘Bob’ because I’m not blind any more.

Being born Blind Bob, you learn to see with things other than Bob’s eyes.
You see through sounds
and smells
and touch
and taste.

Blind Bob learned to sense peoples emotions,
And know without being told.

‘Blind Bob’ was often treated as ‘Stupid Bob’.
Because I was non functioning in the ocular area,
The presumption was made that Blind Bob
Was also ‘Dumb Bob’ and ‘Deaf Bob’.

‘Would Bob like this’
‘Is Bob all right sitting there’.
‘Does Bob take cream in his coffee’.

‘Blind Bob’ learned that it was best to play the game of ‘Deaf and Dumb Bob’.
Blind Bob saw a lot going on that others missed.

Jesus came to town.
I could sense in His touch He was different.
He put clay on my eyes.
Vision! Wow.. so that’s what colors are!
He sent me to Siloam Pool.
Good-Bye ‘Blind Bob’.
Hello just plain ‘Bob’.

Now here’s trouble.
The religious folk didn’t care much for Bob.
Didn’t care much for Jesus either.
Particularly as it was the Sabbath Day when He said;
“Here’s mud in your eye.”

So they call me in.
“What did Jesus do to make you see?”
Bob explained about the mud on his eyes and the pool washing.
They get mad.

Some say this.
Some say that.
Bob senses these folk are having a hard time with themselves.
They are... to put it mildly... divided in opinion.

They asked me what I thought of Jesus.
‘He’s a prophet’ said Bold Bob.
Thy threw me out and sent for my Mom and Dad.

The Questions they asked them;
‘Was he really born blind?’
‘You’re making all this up, aren’t you?”
‘How can He see?’
‘Is this really your son?’
‘Are you sure?’

The answers they gave;
‘Sure is our son and sure was born blind!
Why can he see? Well, ask him,
He’s of age.
He’s got a tongue in his head.
He can answer’.

They call me back in.
‘Praise God’ they say.
‘Right on’ thinks much Blessed Bob.
‘No more stories Bob’ said the getting mad religious folk.
‘We know that this Jesus is a sinner, tell us what really happened’

Insightful Bob saw it all.
These religious folk were blinder than Bob born blind had ever been.
They couldn’t see a good thing staring them in the face.
Bob decides it’s time to play the game.

‘I don’t know if he is or isn’t a sinner, good sirs,
All I know is that I was ‘Blind Bob’ and now I’m just ‘Bob’.

Some of them start getting really mad.
Playful Bob starts to chuckle in his heart.

‘Bu-Bu-But what did he do-do-do,
Hu-Hu how did he oh-oh-open your eye-eye-eyes?”
Splutters one of them important folk.

‘I get it’ says Bob, “You guys want to be his disciples as well, don’t you?

“No, No, No, No, No, No,
You’re the disciple,
We don’t even know where this man’s coming from?”

Bob looks at them posturing, pontificating, puffed up, pathetic, peacocks.

“Now here’s a strange thing.
A man going round,
Doing stuff that has never been done since the foundation of the world,
And you, the religious folk, who know all about God,
Don’t know where He’s coming from?
Bob finds that rather strange!”

“You, you, you.. sinner,
Conceived in iniquity, scum of the earth,
How dare you lecture us, Get out of here..”

Further down the road,
Bemused Bob meets Jesus again.
‘Threw you out did they?’
‘Yep’ smiled Relieved Bob.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” asks Jesus.
“Point Him out to me, and I will” says Hopeful Bob.
“Don’t you recognize my voice?” says the Good Shepherd.
‘Master’ said Believing Bob.

‘I’m here’ said Jesus, ‘To make things clear;
Some of those who have never seen,
Are going to see it all,
Some of those who pretend to have great insight,
Are going to be seen for what they really are.’

Some Pharisees heard
With their ears.
Just like some who will never see Bob’s point,
They said to themselves,
“You’re not calling us blind are you?”

Bob mused on these on these things.
“If you’re born physically blind,
You learn to see things differently,
How sad to have all your faculties functioning fine,
And never see a thing.”

The End.

Thanks for listening. I hope you gained some insight from Bob's tale. As Bob said,” It would be sad to have all your faculties functioning fine, but never see a thing.” Amen!

To God's name be the glory!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lent 3 My Reality Check Just Bounced

Lent 3
Readings: Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-26
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, March 19 2017

Certain passages of Scripture invite us to take a look at our lives and question our motives, our prejudices, our actions, our decisions and a whole lot more. Such passages may make us feel like the comedian who said; “I just took a reality check. It bounced.”

Last week we were bounced by Nicodemus and were told to be born again and give our hearts to Jesus. This week we have been taken into the desert by Moses and revealed to be people of little faith who grumble and complain against God at the slightest change in our fortunes. Now Jesus takes us to encounter a person convention said He should have nothing to do with.

Please don’t underestimate how scandalous this passage must have appeared to it’s first century readers. Rabbinical teachers like Jesus were not meant to hang around wells with unaccompanied women, let alone beg drinks from them and engage in conversation.

Samaritans and Jews were separated by intense prejudices of both culture and religion. They hated each other. They spoke of each other as feared and despised enemies with whom the least contact would result in them being contaminated and having to seek some form of ritual cleansing.

In Luke's gospel we are given a parable about a ‘Good Samaritan’, a phrase which to Jewish ears must have sounded like an oxymoron. Johns gospel takes this scandalous encounter even further by opening up the Good News not just to one solitary Samaritan woman but to the whole Samaritan community.

Underlying this situation is a statement about the difference between false religion and true religion. Samaritans and Jews were divided about both the right way and the right geographical place to worship God. They had both received a great heritage, they could both lay claim to the intervention of God in their past and they were both a people who could point to evidence of God’s blessing.

Jesus cuts through all of that with a simple statement. 'True worshipers worship God in spirit and truth'. Religion was a matter of the heart, not outward convention. It was a real connection with God that truly affected the way decisions are made and life is lived. It is a matter, as he told Nicodemus, of re-birthing your life in the values and priorities of the Kingdom.

Real worship takes place when we bring our true selves to God. That was a discovery that the Samaritan woman made in her encounter with Jesus at the well. There were things about her life that she tried to hide. She tells Jesus that she hasn’t got a husband. That wasn’t the whole truth. The reality was that she had had five husbands and the man she was living with was wasn’t her husband.

Of greater consequence is simply that, as a woman, in her culture at that time, she was a person with little significance. A woman's worth was measured by her relationship to a man. A woman with no husband or male to relate to couldn’t survive. That’s why in the New Testament letters there are many injunctions for the early church to care for the single women and the widows... to grant to them an independent status and value that the world denied.

Which is exactly what Jesus does for this woman by the well. Her value in God’s eyes is not her relationship to any male, not her gender, nor her ethnic identity, but her ability to be a worshiper in spirit and truth. If you read further in the chapter you see the disciples returning from their downtown shopping trip and being totally astonished that Jesus was granting such rights to a woman.

The intent of this passage goes deeper than just gender prejudice, it is a no holds barred attack on all forms of prejudice, a caution to never prejudge any person or situation on the grounds of rumor or reputation.

Sadly it’s something we all do. Like the people Moses led through the desert, we thank God when all is rosy but complain when our immediate needs aren’t met. Our physical thirst is often a stronger driving force than our spiritual one. To often judgments are made on the basis of outward appearance.

I remember being in school and hating Richard Perry. Richard Perry was born with more muscles than I could ever develop. Richard Perry’s hair was a different color to mine and was always immaculately dressed. Even though we had school uniforms, his made him look good, mine just made me look awkward. Richard Perry was good at sports, good at maths, good at science, good at everything. He never studied for a test but always passed. He never got picked on by the bullies.

Girls loved Richard Perry. He was a babe magnet. Teachers loved Richard Perry. Parents loved Richard Perry. He was rich, he was handsome. In fact everybody loved Richard Perry. Everybody except me. Because secretly... I wanted to be Richard Perry!

How stupid we can be to measure ourselves by other people. The beautiful thing about each of us is that we are all different. We all have unique gifts and talents that we should treasure rather than envying others. For some people, if only they could let go of their desire to be somebody that they’re not and start making the most of who they are, then their lives would be so much happier.

Jesus treats the Samaritan woman as a full human being. He doesn’t talk down to her. He doesn’t treat her as any less of a full person because her circumstances weren’t ideal. He doesn’t treat her differently because she was of a different religion and a different race.

He treats her as a unique and worthy recipient of the grace of God, as He does each of us. If we can but recognize ourselves accepted and loved by God how much freer we are to be individuals that don’t have to live up to anybodies expectations except that of being the person God wants us to be.

The dilemma isn’t just self acceptance. We’ve already seen the hatred that existed between Jews and Samaritans. The problem is the human preoccupation with creating fences and protecting boundaries, our limitless capacity to divide people into 'In-Crowds' and 'Out-Crowds' ; 'The Chosen people' and the 'Rejected people'.

The New International Bible Commentary points out:- “Throughout human history, people and nations have defined themselves over against other groups. The history of race relations in the United States, the notion of racial purity that was at the ideological heart of Hitler’s Germany, the ethnic wars that wax and wane across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe all have their roots in the same fears that divided Jews from Samaritans: the fear of contamination, the fear of sharing one’s gift and privileged call with others.

This passage calls us to turn the heat on our own heart, to dig deep and root out any prejudices that may be there. If we have a prejudice then let it be a passionate prejudice AGAINST all forms of prejudice. If we find our self being judgmental then pass judgment AGAINST being judgmental. If we have a bias then let it be a bias AGAINST showing a bias. If we have a preference than let it be a preference AGAINST showing a preference.

This is not rocket science. Treat others as we would like them treat us. Accept others as we would like to be accepted by them. Take down fences, not build stronger ones. Welcome strangers, for as Scripture says, by doing so some have entertained angels.

Jesus meets a supposed enemy, and accepts her. We are called to respect all people, not because they share our values, or our ethnic group, or speak our language, or belong to the same social class, not because they are ‘our sort of people’ or ‘people with the right connections’.... we are called to respect all peoples because every person is a women, man or child that Jesus Christ hung on a cross and died for as He prayed “Forgive them Father for they don’t know what they are doing”.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, Jesus meets a person whom the society of the day regarded as unimportant and insignificant. He engages her in conversation, He refuses to judge her, He welcomes her presence, He lets her know how deeply loved she was by God. He grants to her life a significance her world denied. This passage functions on so many different levels.
  • It invites us to know ourselves loved of God and so love others.
  • It encourages us to take a reality check on our own life, and if it bounces, make the right adjustments.
  • It beckons us to come before God in spirit and truth and seek for His love to be born from above in each of our hearts. To God be all glory! Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 2 Are you Saved?

Readings: Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:1-17, John 3:1-17.
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, on March 12 2017

I am not a great fan of the sort of Christianity that turns religion into an isolated decision to follow Jesus Christ. I'm not the sort of preacher who punctuates every sermon with invitations for "Y'all to come down to the front and get saved". I consciously try not to manipulate peoples guilt or emotions so as they make a misguided decision to be a disciple of Jesus.
I well remember the lady who told me that she had been saved by Billy Graham five times and she couldn't wait for him to come and preach again so she could go down and be saved once more. I believe that discipleship isn’t that easy or that shallow.

My personal reservations aside, (and being a white, middle class British male I probably have more personal reservations than many of you,) certain texts of Scripture call us to ask the most direct, searching and personal questions about our faith and our salvation. John Chapter Three is one of those passages.

In this passage Jesus tells us that unless we are born again we shall not see the Kingdom of God. That unless we are born of water and Spirit we shall not enter the Kingdom of God. Spiritual birth is related to both seeing and entering into the things of God. We are given some of the most well known verses of Scripture in John 3, verses16 and 17; "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”

These passages compel us to ask the question, "Are we saved?” Do we know the experience of being born again, or as it can also be translated being born "from above"? Have we considered the alternatives that Jesus offers? We are asked to make a choice between eternity or perishing, salvation or judgment, light or darkness, earthly things or heavenly things, to believe or not to believe in the saving work, the name and the person and the witness of Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere we are told that it is by faith that we are saved, and by implication, that where there is no faith in Jesus Christ there is no salvation. Our Old Testament passage gave us the account of Abraham's calling and setting out on his journey of faith.

Abraham’s experience was one of new birth. At birth we are born into a family, a nation and a certain heritage. Abraham is called, by the Spirit of God, to leave behind his family ties, his ties of nationality and his heritage. Those things that were naturally his by birth. He is called by faith to abandon and spiritually lay claim to a new family, a new country, a new life, a new hope, a new vision of who he was, how he related to God and all that was in the world around him.

Through the waters of birth he was born into an earthly heritage. Through the Spirit of God he is born again, born from above, to a different way of being. Just as Jesus called Nicodemus to embrace a new way of life, a way not envisioned by the natural inclinations of man but by the vision of God, so Abraham was called. We also are called to be born again, to embark on a new journey, to leave the old behind and be part of something new.

For Nicodemus it was not going to be easy. He had intellectual difficulties to work through. He had pictures in his mind of what birth was about and what religion was about and how a person should serve God and who Jesus was and what life was all about. He had thought deeply about these things. He was a man with an education, a teacher of Israel, a judge, a ruler among his people. He had his social position and political position to consider. He had economic and religious commitments to take into account.

Then again it wasn't easy for Abraham. He also was a man tied to his tradition and his position. He had commitments to things that made it hard to say "Yes" to God. How could God bless him as being the Father of a new nation when he had no child and his wife was barren? How could he leave behind his established way and venture into the unknown for places he knew not where? You’re born, you make a life for your self, you have responsibilities, you’re settled, things are good... who wants to be born again and have to face all that over again?

Abraham’s journey turned out to be, not one isolated decision, but a continuous coming to terms with all that God was calling him to be. Wrestling with tough decisions, being prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, conflicts with family and neighbors, mistakes and misunderstandings, all this and so much more.

About Nicodemus we know less, but at the end of John's gospel he is one of those who, along with Joseph of Arimathea, comes to prepare the broken body of Jesus for burial; bringing spices and myrrh and laying His body in the tomb. Nicodemus, in time, came to believe enough in Jesus, to sacrifice all that he was, in order that his life may bring honor to that of Christ's.

So what of ourselves? Are we on that journey? The born from above, re-birthed journey? The salvation journey? Every journey has to have a point of departure. Earthly life begins as we depart from the waters of the womb and start to breathe the air and relate to the world around us. Until that point we are an embryo, a human in the making, an unborn child.

Likewise spiritual life has to have a point of departure. For Abraham it was a movement out from all that he held dear, to embrace a vision that he couldn’t precisely define. For Nicodemus it was having to choose between all that his life had so far taught him and to embrace the teaching of Jesus Christ.

That process of moving from a position of unbelief to a position of faith is what Jesus describes as being born from above or being born again. It is seen as a different kind of birthing to human birth, because it is a response to the work of God’s Spirit upon a persons life. It is a super-natural thing, dependent upon the initiative of God.

In Matthew’s gospel (16:17) when Peter came to make his confession of Jesus as being the Son of God, Jesus praises him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonas, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”. Simon Peter is praised for showing evidence of spiritual rebirth by testifying to those things God was revealing in his heart.

Spiritual rebirth takes place as we draw near to Jesus. It takes place as we hear His words and act upon them. It takes place as we pray and open our hearts to God’s influence. It means asking Jesus to be at our center, not as a one off and once for all decision, (although that may well be our point of departure,) but constantly seeking for His love to be at the heart of all things in our lives.

From my standpoint, which admittedly is extremely biased for I am after all a Presbyterian minister, I can only see what you have to gain by committing your life to Jesus Christ. It is a marvelous thing to have the assurance that your sins are forgiven. It is such freedom to not have to live with the guilt of past mistakes and daily lapses into sinfulness, because Christ died for our sins.

It is a liberating thing to know that my life and my death are in God’s hands. Whilst I don’t always understand and often become frustrated with God for the injustices, the personal failures, the annoying things, the things I don’t understand, it is like a rock below the surface to know that despite my questions there is a God who knows all, sees all and loves us despite it all.

At times I do become pessimistic, when I think of the state of the world, and all the stuff that’s wrong with it, but at other times I get excited at the prospect of the world as it shall be and what Scripture calls the hope of Glory. I don’t have all the answers and a lot of the time don’t even ask the right questions, but God let’s me in on all that I need to know, so even my ignorance is something God is working on.

I’ve heard people say sometimes, “Well, I would be a Christian but I can’t take all that giving up stuff... all those do’s and don’ts are just so repressive.” Personally I don’t have a problem with giving up death, which is where my life would be heading without Christ. I don’t have a problem with giving up on doing stuff that is ultimately life cheapening or addictive or sometimes just plain stupid.

May God forgive us for at times portraying God as somehow being the invisible policeman, the great Mr Kill-Joy in the sky. The prohibitions that Scripture presents us aren’t for any kind of sadistic divine pleasure, they are there because we are fallible, unpredictable and certainly misguided creatures, with a tendency to make bad choices and wrong decisions. Christ came that we may have life.... so we can really live.

I can guarantee you that as you draw near to God, God won’t force you into giving up or taking up anything that’s against your will. God's Spirit will work on you and change you. Things you once thought really mattered will become of minor importance. Relationships will form with the most unlikely of people and situations. Life won’t be the same... but who wants more and more and more and more of the same?

I said at the start that I am not a "Y'all to come down to the front and get saved" sort of
preacher. At least not usually. But a text like John 3:16 invites a response.
Because it could be you are one of those who has never consciously made the decision to be a disciple of Christ. You know others have, but you have never really invited the Spirit of God to be the driving force of your life. Don’t fool yourself.

Till you take that step of commitment you are in the womb of the world but have not yet started to enjoy the life of the Kingdom. You will neither see the point nor feel the need to do things God’s way, but mistakenly believe that you know best.

Maybe you presume your sins are forgiven, but are not really sure. You hope your headed for somewhere good when you die, but you’re not convinced. Could be you blame God for as many things as you thank God for. All this might be an indication that you have never really opened your heart, never really asked Jesus to come in, never seriously considered His call to follow.

It doesn’t have to be that way. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Maybe you have taken that initial step, but have become bogged down, like the good seed that fell among the weeds. There was a time when it all seemed so clear, but now... well time has extracted a heavy toll. Today would be a good time for renewing your commitment. Why not join me in this commitment prayer.

“Lord Jesus Christ
I ask you to come afresh into my heart this day
Forgive me and renew me
That I may know Your salvation,
To the Glory of God. AMEN!”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent 1 Temptation

Every time we say the Lord's prayer we use the phrase “Lead us not into temptation.” In our reading from Matthew this morning, being led into temptation is exactly what happens to Jesus. Following His baptism by John in the River Jordan, Jesus is found in the desert traveling through a 40 day period of prayer and fasting. It is during this intense preparation for the ministry, that the Devil is pictured coming to Him with three distinct propositions, the refutation of which would shape the ministry He would offer to the world.

In Matthews gospel the temptations appear to escalate in their attractiveness, beginning with satisfying personal hunger and culminating in world domination. Words of Scripture play an important part in each, indicating that words are precious, especially God's words. Words are easily twisted and taken out of context.

What did these temptations mean for Jesus? How can they challenge us, both as a church community and as individuals? Let's think about that as we come to a table laid with bread and wine.

The tempter came to Him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'

Jesus appears to be secure in the knowledge of who He was. The tempter twice uses the phrase “If you are the Son of God” in a way that suggests... “Hey Jesus, You know who you are.. but do You really think anybody else is going to believe it? You are going to have to do some spectacular things if anybody is ever going to swallow that one!”

From the outset Jesus makes it clear that He had come to lift up the poor, heal the sick and feed the hungry. On a number of occasions, such as the feeding of the 4000 and 5000 He shows that He wasn't beyond using unusual methods to meet peoples immediate need.

But turn stones into bread? That wasn't going to happen. Jesus places Himself among the ordinary people of God. For Jesus, being the Son of God meant accepting His humanity and depending, like the rest of us, on God for daily bread. He quotes the scripture “Man shall not live on bread alone...” indicating that His mission was going to be about more than satisfying peoples physical needs.

For a church community the plight of the needy is always before us. We are doing a good and great thing whenever we seek to meet peoples physical needs. But we need to balance that, by also proclaiming that there is a Savior whose name is Jesus Christ and He alone can satisfy the deepest needs, not just of stomachs, but of souls. Throughout church history there has always been a tension between what has been called the “Social gospel” and the “Spiritual gospel”. But it should not be an either/or choice. If we are to be the body of Christ we will seek to embody both.

On the table, is physical bread and wine. We are reminded that we need to meet the needs of our bodies. Yet we know those elements are pointing us to a deeper truth. And it is here that it becomes personal.

We live in a society that is blessed beyond measure in terms of physical provision. Many of us have never experienced real physical life threatening hunger. Yet we can be so desperately empty in our inner life and seek for a myriad of solutions to meet such emptiness. 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' To reallylive” the abundant, fruitful life that God invites us to we need the Word of God.

We need to worship. We need to pray. We need to be in community with other believers. And we need to understand the temptation to deny that need is a Devilish suggestion that Jesus rebuked.

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' " Jesus answered Him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

After his first failure to lure Jesus into misusing His status, the devil tries again, taking Him to Jerusalem, to the very highest point of the temple. This time the devil challenges Jesus to prove His identity by throwing Himself down and letting the angels rescue Him. If you’re so dependent on God, he seems to say, why don’t you take it a step further? You trust God to feed you. Do you trust God to protect you from harm?

Again Jesus appears to have no lack of confidence in either His own identity or His Father's ability to take care of Him. He is not called to display, with or without angelic help, super-human flying abilities. Such would not only be a denial of His humanity, but more significantly, it would be an abuse of the power and authority invested in Him.

Notice about these temptations that although they present themselves in the wilderness, they come back to challenge Him again and again. Peter would try and talk Him out of going to the Cross and Jesus would tell him, “Get thee behind me Satan.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus pleads with His Father, “Surely there has to be some other way than this cup of suffering...” In the end He resists taking another way and declares “Yet not my will, but thine be done.” And that's why there is a cup, representing the blood of Christ and the New Covenant brought about through His death on this table. His power and authority were harnessed to service and doing God's will

Sadly, over the centuries, the church has often stepped over the line when it has come to authority. There is a reason why, in this land, you expect a separation of church and state. Religion has power. A famous quote attributed to Lord John Acton. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Whenever a church community starts to perceive themselves as gatekeepers and power-brokers rather than disciples and servants it seems trouble is not far behind. 
On a personal level maybe, for us, it comes around to this. We are all people of influence and power. This is Howard County! Happening people, decision makers, and change-bringers are our neighbors. We have a voice that others will listen to. We have a say. We have a vote. We have wealth that allows us to make choices about everything from where our children are educated to where we spend our leisure time. We are a privileged people.

And with great privilege comes great responsibility. We can abuse that power. Power can create false feelings of superiority and pride. We can feel that somehow our opinions matter more than others because we are at the top of the food pile. We can see the needs of the world around us and rather than seek to do something about them, complain to God, “Am I my brother's keeper?” We can presume that because we are already blessed, God will, naturally, continue to bless us. 
What was it Jesus said? "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' Jesus was given a place of authority and influence in order that He may serve. He became the Servant King who washed His disciples feet and told them, “As I have done for you, so do unto others.”
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

The final temptation of Jesus points to the subtle attraction of doing the right thing using the wrong means. The devil was saying to Jesus, “Hey, c'mon, we don't have to be enemies. Achieve your objectives by facing reality. The reality is this world operates by my rules. You give in a little, and I'll give you the whole thing. Let's cooperate. Why make it hard on yourself?” But Jesus says “No deal. No way. ” "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

What's going on? The devil is saying to Jesus, “You can accomplish your goals, you can win the world, you can fulfill God's purposes, but do it my way. Do you have to be so honest and candid all the time? If you are going to get along in this world, you need to compromise now and then. If you are in business, you have to cut corners sometimes to make a go of it. After all, that is the way most of the world does business. If you decide to be a person of integrity one hundred percent, you may lose the shirt off your back.”

The challenge for the church is as to whether it will do its work in the spirit of Christ and in response to the demands of the kingdom of God, or will it operate by the policies and practices of this world? Is any style or method of being the church acceptable as long as it attracts a greater following? Do the ends justify the means?

How we treat each other, how we treat those who use our facilities, how we treat our employees and how we treat those less fortunate than ourselves speaks far more than the words can say about where our true priorities lie. Are we God-serving or self-serving?

The price that Jesus would pay for His unwavering obedience to God was incredibly high. It would cost Him His life. Why was he prepared to take such a risk? The answer is laid before you, in these elements of bread and wine. There was no question in the mind of Jesus. He would remain steadfast in His absolute obedience and surrender to the will of God. 

The Devil challenges the very first commandment. “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul” by adding a little get out clause that says... “Well, at least most of the time.” That's the temptation right there. See how far you can push it. Acknowledge that if you want to get on in this world you are prepared to play the game. You can have it all if you want it. "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

Then we read “The devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him.” We should pray not to be led into temptation because temptation is quite capable of finding us without needing our help! And the temptations Jesus faced, and which the church in every age faces, are not dissimilar to those we face every day.
  • We are tempted to live by bread alone and dismiss our need for the things of God, for worship and fellowship and prayer. But we cannot live by bread alone. When we try, we forget who we are and lose sight of our status as daughters and sons of the most High God.
  • We are tempted to misuse the privilege, power and authority God has placed in our hands, by using it to serve only ourselves, rather than harness it to task of building God's Kingdom. We are presumptuous of God's grace and blessing and act as such are a right, rather than true privilege.
  • In the light of the ways of this world we easily compromise on our faith and fail to live with integrity.
Take courage. We will be tempted. We will fall. But here on this table are symbols that remind us that every day is a new day. Here are symbols of forgiveness and comfort and help. Here we are reminded that we are not alone. We are not the first to fail. Christ died for our sins that we may start over again. Set free. Made new. Clean. Fresh. Righteous. Not through anything we have done, but through His death upon the Cross for us.

Come to this table and nurture your life for temptations that lie ahead. Consider these words from Hebrews 4:15-16 “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

To God's name be all glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.