Finding the way (from Jan. 17, 2016)

When we moved twelve years ago, we decided not to subscribe to cable. The installer who came to set up internet service had not read the work order closely. I was in the basement with him, and he asked where the television would be, so he could measure line to run to the converter. It took a few minutes to explain we wanted internet, but had no interest in paying to watch television.

A lot of people are unplugging. The availability of internet based content is part of the reason. Another is cost. A major factor for us was when we had cable, we watched a lot of things we did not actually need or want to watch, just because they were on, and we happened to be sitting in front of the screen. Mindless, end of the day vegging out. Everyone can use some, but we decided it wasn’t worth the cost, in time and money.

Our kids were very young when we pulled the plug on cable. They have grown up without hundreds of channels- and settle for what comes over the airwaves. We get about 10 channels using our attic antenna. We also keep the tv in the basement. Our living room is filled with musical instruments, and the stereo. I think the musicality of both kids can be connected to that choice.

We still watch television at our house. We find things online, and we use Netflix. Recently I added an app to my ipad that allows me to watch shows from the Global Network when I run on the treadmill. I did that the other day, and noticed some things.

I was wearing Bluetooth headphones, so I was very aware the people at Global pump up the volume for the commercials. I hate that. It’s another reason I don’t like regular television.

I also noticed the content of the ads. During “Angel from Hell”, and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the same three ads cycled over and over. They reminded me of a story:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

 The devil said to him, “Get thee over to Subway, where every day is Sub Day. Thou shalt purchase the foot long of your choice for $5.99.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a car dealership. And he said,” This 2016 Subaru with assymetrical all-wheel drive shall take thee anywhere you might possibly want or need to go. You will be the envy of all who see you in this beauty, and every place you drive will be sunny and warm. Just having this car in your driveway will make you look trendy, smart, and attractive.”

 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

 The devil led him to the lottery kiosk, and said, “Dost thou realize what you could do with 50 million dollars? If this desert was in the United States, we could hook you up with a Power Ball ticket, and the prize could be 1.3 billion dollars. Just think how much better your life could be. Nothing bad or uncomfortable could every touch you. Anything your heart desired, would be at your finger-tips. After winning this amazing, wondrous, miraculous prize, people would flock to you.”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Fast food, fancy new cars, and ridiculously large pots of money may not be what tempts you or I. There may be other things. Popularity. The thrill of gambling. Sex. Gossip. Cheesecake. The reckless abandon of just a few too many drinks. The superiority of judging everything, and everyone, and finding fault.

We each have our personal temptations, the bright baubles or special perks, or unmet hungers, or unquenched thirsts, the buttons that can be pressed to capture our attention, to tap into our obsessions, to convince us life would be so much better, even if only for the time it would take to eat that Cadbury Easter Crème Egg.

The things that tempted Jesus, and that may tempt us, may not, in themselves be good or bad. In the story, the devil tempts Jesus to use food, or power, or miracles, to prove himself.

In Luke’s Gospel, after he was baptized by John, in the river Jordan, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Some authors suggest this was like a spiritual retreat, or a vision quest.

The Spirit came down in bodily form like a dove when he was baptized, and Jesus heard a voice from heaven naming him as God’s beloved son. Jesus needed time and space to sort out who he is, what his life woud be about, and how he would live. How will he be the person God intends?

The question is acted out in dramatic ways. The tempter offers options, and each time Jesus has to decide, is this right for me? Jesus will face similar choices his whole earthly life, as each of us does. We have to find the best way to be ourselves, in little moments, and with big choices, every day.

It is not easy. Many of the actual things that tempt us in our daily lives, food, the things money can buy, the hope of easy and simple answers to hard questions, are not bad in themselves. But they can sure distract us.

In a wild and barren wilderness, away from daily distractions, Jesus wrestles with questions of what his life will be. He is tempted with visions of food, of power and prestige, and with security. In each case he answers his tempter with words of scripture, that point toward God.

It is good to bring God into the decision making process.

I went to a meeting this week at another United Church, where the leaders are wrestling with hard decisions about the future of the congregation. The people in that meeting room seemed afraid, and deeply worried. I was there because they had wanted a quick and easy solution to their problems, and for some of them, the quickest answer seemed to be to let their minister go. My role was to make sure they knew the proper process, and the full implications of their choices.

As I listened, and talked with them about possibilities they might not have looked at, in their fearful desire to resolve the issues yesterday, or sooner, I found some lines of scripture rising in my thoughts. They are from Matthew’s Gospel, in the version called The Message, a paraphrase written by a scholar named Eugene Peterson. They come from a part we call the Beatitudes, in which Jesus describes how we are blessed. We will come to a different version of this speech as found in Luke’s gospel in a few weeks. In Matthew Jesus says,

 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. Amen




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