First Lesson: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16
Second Lesson: Romans 10: 8b-13
Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 1-13
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
One day, when I was a sophomore in high school, I was in my parent’s driveway shooting hoops. I was going to shoot on this day till my arms fell off. I was in a foul mood for a sixteen-year-old boy. My high school JV basketball team had played the night before and I didn’t receive as much playing time as I felt that I was entitled. What was the most frustrating thing about this effort was all the struggle that I had put in the previous summer?
I was indeed trying hard enough; coaches would constantly comment how I gave it my all when defending. There was a harsh truth though that I wasn’t wise enough to face at sixteen years old. Physically I was never going to be much of a basketball player 5’8 in high tops, flat-footed, and I was carrying a bit of a stomach during my high school years.
As I’m shooting that day, I’m probably knocking down my fair share of looks. I could shoot well without someone taller or quicker than me guarding me. My Dad having to be subject to my whining about the Basketball team sums up the reality of the situation when he says “You’re a decent player, you’re just not going to play in the Big Ten Conference.” It didn’t matter how many hours that I spent in my parent’s driveway, the chances were zero of ever suiting up at Williams Arena for the Gophers. This story makes me think about how much having unrealistic expectations ultimately hurts our lives.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a story that we know. It’s the tale from Luke 4 where Jesus goes out into the wilderness for forty days and is tempted by the devil. The temptations placed upon Jesus were harsh: food when he had been starving for weeks and all the pleasure and power that this world had to offer as life would soon lead to a cross. Jesus is challenging all the prevailing wisdom of the world as he resists these temptations. Jesus uses power much differently than we would use power. We want to use our power as a means of comparison to the weak and less powerful whereas Jesus was willing to surrender every bit of his power even to the point of death. What Jesus resisting the Devil for forty days ultimately reminds me is that we are not God. We are an imperfect people trying to make sense out of the devil’s playground.
Last Sunday evening, Super Bowl 50 was played. The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers. Carolina Panthers star QB and NFL MVP Cam Newton did not have a good game. Newton’s fumble led to the first Broncos touch down, and he fumbled again in the fourth quarter putting the game out of reach. So Newton after the game has to face the media to answer questions. Newton didn’t feel like answering the questions after seeing something that he had worked for most of his life crumble before his very eyes. All Newton could hear in the background of his press conference was his Bronco opponents celebrating. Newton just didn’t feel like talking anymore, so he walked out of the press conference. Criticism was swift. People called Cam Newton’s attitude and sportsman into question by all sorts of voices both young and old alike throughout this nation.
I want to defend Cam Newton though a bit this morning. Losing crushed Cam Newton, no different than we would be if we lost our job, our bride, or our fortune. I think how much we would want to have TV cameras flashing in our face some mere moments later.
Cam Newton was sad, disappointed, and frustrated. Cam Newton was having one of those moments of existence that he wanted to be left alone. Let those who haven’t sulked with huge disappointment, be the ones and only ones that can cast stones. Sure plenty of people can clamor about how they expected better from the NFL MVP just like plenty of people expected better from King David before he committed adultery with Bathsheba.
I almost wonder if our expectations for others often don’t come from a place, where we almost want to see others fall. We often want to always maintain stern standards for others, so we can puff out our chests in comparison. Sure, Cam Newton wouldn’t and shouldn’t win a sportsmanship award, the reality of this though is it makes him more authentic of the normal human experience rather than less.
The thing about the temptation story for today is it does indeed showcase the contrast between Jesus and us. When something goes wrong in our life, for many of us it has to be someone else’s fault because otherwise we might have to face the fact that we all know what it feels like to be on the losing end of the spectrum.
We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”-Matthew 5:48
We often think this is what Christian living is supposed to look. We often tend to think of Christianity as we believe of much of the rest of life regarding how much we should weigh, how much hair we should have, how much sportsmanship we should exhibit.
The truth is as we reflect upon the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness is that we, are not God. Our actual spiritual identity can often frustrate because as soon as we admit that we are not God then we accept that there are areas of life that we cannot control that will always contain degrees of mystery and ambiguity.
Social Worker Brene Brown comments “Perfectionism is not about striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield”. Perfectionism will ultimately not protect us from the realities of life such as grief, pain, blame, and judgment. What perfectionism rather does is turn all of one’s focus inward, when it rather should be focused outward.
Perfectionism leads one’s soul to all sorts of horrible anxiety. Perfectionism will ultimately destroy us because it is impossible leading to either pride or despair.
Let me tell a story this one involves my Grandma. Grandma would always give unwanted Christmas presents. One time when I was in 7th grade, Grandma bought me some Barney the Purple Dinosaur slippers. No 7th grader could own such a thing was what I thought. I was going to be the laughingstock of the whole school if the other kids found out that I had such an uncool thing in my wardrobe. I had to make a big show of throwing these in a waste-basket that was in the living room of her house. Grandma to her credit at my temper tantrum merely laughed off this incident. My outburst highlighted the problem with how a lot of us ultimately deep down view our God. We think we need some of the chart “spiritual cool” factor like we’ve never left middle school. We can never get out of our head that we’re not quite enough and can never quite come to grasp that God’s grace and mercy for actual people like Cam Newton and us.
I think the problem with so much religious thinking is an obsession regarding what God might think about us if he truly knew our secrets and our pain. The great spiritual hope that we encounter on this day is that God declared us to be worthy through his temptation, God has said that imperfect people are worthy of grace and mercy. We may feel helpless, we may struggle to admit our powerlessness, we might struggle to come to terms with our woundedness, yet as Jesus rejects and overcomes the devil’s power on this day, he is ultimately pointing the way to our eventual healing.
At the root or the center of the imperfect church is confession. Lent, which we began on Wednesday, is a season of saying to God “This is who I am.” Lent brings to my mind the famous Prayer of the Tax Collector, who like Cam Newton was so distraught about himself that he could barely speak as he began to mouth the words “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Looking back, we all have regrets in life. I didn’t play Basketball my junior or senior year of high school. I figured that it wasn’t worth the time or effort that I previously put into it. Whether I played or not wasn’t going to make too much of a difference to the final win total. A few weeks ago, Michael Fisher joined the 1,000 point club for the Mariners got written up in the North Shore Journal and Chronicle. I might have been able to make the 100 point club.
The regret that I have is I stopped doing something that I enjoyed that I will never have the opportunity again because I was too consumed with how success should look. For me, it wasn’t just enough to stay in shape and enjoy being part of the team, to be a part of something bigger than myself. We cannot limit ourselves on this day to how God might be pointing us to his Gospel even in the midst of our imperfection.
Our Gospel reminds us on this day is you will not be judged for the rest of your life because of whatever mistakes that you might have made in the past. We remember above all else that we continually gather not as a museum for saints, but rather as a hospital for sinners.
There is something that we can say in closing about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus could have figured it’s not worth it; they are not worth it. Jesus’ ministry though was about grace, not judgment. Jesus was seeking to claim people for who they are faults and all. We are members of an imperfect church, made for imperfect people, who will soon be declared to be “worthy” through God’s perfect grace. Amen
 Luke 4:1-13
 Lewis, Karoline. “Filled With the Holy Spirit”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 7.Feb.2016. Web. Feb.9.2016.
 Espenshed, Howie. “Cam Newton: Show Me a Good Loser and I’ll Show You a Loser-An Ash Wednesday Reflection”. MBird. 10.Feb.2016. Web. Feb.11.2016.
 Really powerful reflection that I came across written by Trish Rohr entitled “Cam Newton. Still a Role Model?” posted on Feb.8.2016 on Trish Rohr.com
 Espenshed, Howie. “Cam Newton: Show Me a Good Loser and I’ll Show You a Loser-An Ash Wednesday Reflection.”
 Brown, Brene. “Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect.”CNN.Com. Atlanta. 29.Nov.2010. Web. Feb.9.2016 taken from Zahl, David “The 20-Ton Shield of Perfectionism”. Mockingbird Online
 Brown, Brene. “Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect.”
 This is a correlation of perfectionism and spiritual growth as laid out by my mentor Meg Madsen.
The ideas of perfectionism and worthiness are influenced by Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
 Luke 18:9-14