Children’s time: A Jesus Story about choices
I want to tell you a story about Jesus. Before he became famous, and very busy helping people, and telling them about how much God loved them, he spent some time in a very quiet place. It was a place away from the town he lived in. It was a wilderness, where there were no houses, or streets, or other people. He prayed, and thought, and made plans about how he would help people.
The story says that after he’d been in this wild place for 40 days, which is a long time, he met someone called the Tempter, who tried to trick Jesus.
The first thing this Tricky Tempter did was notice that Jesus was hungry. He’d been out in the wild place such a long time, without food. The Tempter picked up some rocks, and said, “Jesus, if you’re so special, and God has such big plans for you, I’ll bet you could get God to turn these rocks into bread, so you could have lunch.
Jesus told the Tempter, “ Nope! I’m not going to do that. It says in the Bible that we don’t live by bread alone, but by what God tells us.”
The next thing in the story was the Tempter took Jesus to a big city, and up on top of a high building, and said, “Jesus, if you’re so special, I’ll bet if you jumped off this building, before you could hit the ground, God would send angels to catch you, and keep you safe!”
Jesus said, “Nope! I’m not doing that either, Tricky Tempter. I know that God loves me, and I don’t need to ask God to prove it.”
The Tricky Tempter tried one more time. He took Jesus to another high place, the top of a very tall mountain. The story says the mountain was so tall you could stand there and see every country in the whole world. That’s one way I know this is just a story, because there is no place like that. The Tempter said to Jesus, “You and your God. You don’t need God. You should work for me, and follow me. If you do, I will make you the Boss, the Big King of all these countries. You just have to pray to me, and I will be your new God.”
Jesus said, “Nope! I’m not doing any of those things, you Tricky Tempter. There is only one God, and it’s not you! You are trying to distract me from my job of telling people how much God loves them. Take a hike.”
The Tricky Tempter disappeared. God sent some angels to see if Jesus was all right, and he was.
Learning Time: Saying No and Saying Yes
Do you have people in your life to whom you have difficulty saying no? We are, in many ways, conditioned to say yes. It’s often seen as the polite thing to do. I appreciate that, especially when I’m the one asking for something.
It’s an important aspect of growth, as we become individuals, to build the capacity to say no. It’s a big deal, to go against the plans and will of the big people in your life, and just say, “No!”. Imagine a little person trying that out for the first time, with no idea what might happen.
Most of us want that for our kids, to be individuals. We may not always appreciate it, when they do begin to demonstrate they have minds of their own.
“Please eat your peas.” “No!”
“Did you break the lamp?” “No!”
“Do you need a time out?” “No!”
“It’s time for bed.” “No!”
The other extreme of course, is not being able to say no. Churches depends on the countless hours of dedicated work of volunteers, who are more likely to say “yes” than “no” when they are asked to help, or even when no one has asked, but they see a thing that needs doing.
This is a two-sided coin. The good side is that’s how we get the work done, keep things going. The less good side is that too often, those who say yes, say yes so often that it is possible for them to be stretched too thin, be over-committed, and exhausted. It can be soul-draining.
Sometimes those who give so much of their time to doing in the church, no longer feel like they have time, or permission, or energy, or the will, to slow down, and sit in quiet, and just be with God.
I have noticed one thing no one has said no to, is the pause for silent prayer we build into Sunday morning worship. Some say it could be longer. That may just mean they’d be happy with a shorter sermon.
Being able to say yes at the right times, and no at the right times, is a valuable skill. It’s something we need to practice, for the survival of our healthiest, most faithful self.
On another day we might talk about the harm that happens when someone in our lives won’t take no for an answer, and what it means when we act like that, and don’t allow others the option of saying no.
In the story of Jesus in the wilderness we can see him engaged in the spiritual practice of saying yes or no, to questions that have power to determine what kind of person he will be.
For today, I’m setting aside interpretive questions like “Was Jesus really talking to an actual Tempter- a spiritual being called Satan, or the Devil?”, or “Was he suffering dehydration and food deprivation and hallucinating?”
I borrowed the following from a sermon that came with a United Church stewardship resource.
Three times Jesus has to make a choice. Three times he can either say “No” or “Yes.”
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread!” “No” or “Yes”?
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the highest point of the Temple.” “No” or “Yes”?
“All these…kingdoms and all their wealth and power I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” “No” or “Yes”?
Each time Jesus says “No!” on account of that to which he has already said, “Yes!”
“Yes, I will trust God to provide what I really need.”
“Yes, I will trust God to care for me.”
“Yes, I will serve and worship God alone.”
I am grateful that for most of us, the yes or no moments are not nearly as extreme as we heard in the Jesus story. We are not going to be asked to jump off a roof, or starve ourselves, or turn our backs on God, in the dramatic way Jesus faced. Even so, we all face choices, and temptations.
Every time I pick up my phone to check my email, or play online scrabble, I am making a choice to give my time to a machine, rather than the people in my life.
Every time I press “buy” or “pay” on an online shopping site, or tap my credit or debit card, I am making a choice about what is valuable to me. Am I shopping for something we actually need? Am I buying something to fill a hole in my heart? Am I trying to get something that money can’t actually buy?
Remember I said I borrowed from a stewardship resource. Stewardship is a churchy word that often comes up when we are trying to raise money to support the congregation. But more than that, we are all, each of us caretakers, gardeners, stewards of our own lives. What will we do with the time, energy, talents, resources God has given us? How do our yes’s and no’s contribute to us being the person we are meant to be?
In order to give deeper consideration to whether our choices reflect what really matters to us, it might help to think about that question. “What really matters to us?”
The sermon I borrowed from included the suggestion that we use the weeks of Lent to try some spiritual practices- to say yes to doing a new thing.
In the temptation story, Jesus exhibits trust in God, faith in his religious traditions, and the courage to stand by his convictions. Trust, Faith and Courage might also be thought of as positive qualities, or values that helped Jesus we face those Yes or No moments.
I have a suggestion for a Lenten Spiritual Practice. You’ll need an index card, or maybe a post-it note.
Make a list of three qualities, or values that are important to you. They could be the same as the Jesus ones, Trust, Faith, and Courage, or you might have others.
You might place a high value on Generosity, or Patience, or Honesty. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, or on your list. Think about it. Pray about it. Keep the list handy during the week
Then, as the week goes on, every time you face a “Yes or No” decision point, take a look at the list you made. See if it can guide your decision-making.