EPISTLE LESSON Romans 5:12-19
GOSPEL LESSON: Matthew 4:1-11
SERMON: “Just Say No”
Years ago when the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. In order to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, “Are you trying to see if we can break this bridge?”
“No,” the supervisor replied, “I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break.”
Our scripture lesson from Matthew has often been called the temptation of Jesus. Biblical scholar William Barclay believes it would more accurately be called “the testing of Jesus.”
Some of us know the story well. It comes up in the lectionary every year at the start of Lent. Jesus came from Nazareth at about the age of thirty to be baptized by his cousin John, called the Baptist, in the Jordan River. Just as we heard last week that a voice came from heaven on the mountain top - so also it was heard at his baptism -- “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” And then the Spirit of God led Jesus out into the wilderness. In contemporary language, “Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: ‘Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.’ “
Jesus passed this first and every test. He came through with flying colors. We might do well to think about temptations as tests. Much as the railway bridge was being tested to prove that it wouldn’t break, the tests Jesus faced weren’t designed to see if he would sin, but to prove that he wouldn’t. Like steel which is tested by fire to see if it can bear the stress and strain of the load that it will be called to bear, Jesus was tested to see if he could carry the burden of humankind on the cross of Calvary.
Jesus passed the test. He said “No.” Author Philip Yancey puts it this way: Satan “tempted Jesus toward the good parts of being human without the bad: to savor the taste of bread without being subject to the fixed rules of hunger and of agriculture, to confront risk with no real danger, to enjoy fame and power without the prospect of painful rejection -- in short, to wear a crown but not a cross.” To all of these, Jesus just said, “No.”
Over the years, we have learned that just saying no isn’t as easy or as pleasant as we might like it to be. We often have to say “no” to our children:
© “No” you can’t run into the street for your ball.
© “No” you can’t reach for that beautifully steaming pot on the stove.
© “No” you can’t have Peanut Butter Cup ice cream for breakfast.
© “No” you can’t have a slightly squashed earthworm for lunch.
When they get a little older it’s,
© “No” you can’t stay out all night.
© “No” you may not get involved with drugs or alcohol.
© “No” we say to our college-bound kids, we cannot afford a new car and tuition.”
I attended a baby shower years ago where the guests were invited to write words of advice to the mom as she raised her daughter. Several people advised “Love her.” Good advice. Some wrote “spoil her.” If by that they meant “love her lavishly,” that’s great. My advice to the mom was to pray for her daughter every day – good days and bad. Looking back, now I would add to my advice – “Learn to say ‘no’ to her.”
We say no to drugs because we have said yes to clean living.
We say no to revenge because we have said yes to forgiveness.
We say no to temptation because we have said yes to self-control.
We ou say no to Satan because we have said yes to the Spirit.
We say no to racism because we have said yes to love.
We say no to oppression because we have said yes to justice.
We say no to crankiness because we have said yes to kindness.
As we begin our Lenten journey many of us will say ‘no’ to ourselves. We will deny ourselves something as part of our spiritual journey. Some will give up chocolate; some will give up sugar or smoking. We will say ‘no’ to various temptations.
Suppose for Lent we say ‘no’ to the temptation to criticize and judge other people. Consider for Lent taking seriously Jesus’ sermon telling us, (Matthew 7:1-5) “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Many of us are ‘umpires’ at heart. We love to call balls and strikes on everyone else, without taking a turn at bat. We just don’t seem to be able to avoid criticism.
The story is told of an old man whose grandson rode a donkey while they were traveling from one city to another. The man heard some people say, “Would you look at that old man suffering on his feet while that strong young boy is totally capable of walking.”
Hearing the criticism, the old man rode the donkey while the boy walked. Then he heard some other people say, “Would you look at that, a healthy man making the poor young boy suffer. Can you believe it?”
So the man and the boy both rode the donkey, and they heard some people say, “Would you look at those heavy brutes making that poor donkey suffer.” So they both got off and walked, until they heard some people say, “Would you look at the waste--a perfectly good donkey not being used.
Finally the scene shifts and we see the boy walking and the old man carrying the donkey. What a shame, that no matter what you do, someone will always criticize. So, how about for Lent this year instead of giving up chocolate, we say ‘no’ to criticizing each other.
Here’s another thing we might consider giving up for lent: jealousy and competition. Many years ago, there was a king of Burma whose potter and elephant keeper were bitter rivals. One day the royal potter came up with a plan to be rid of the man who washed the king’s elephant once and for all. He convinced the king that his black elephant would be worth much more if it were white, and that he should order the keeper to scrub it until all the black was washed away.
The elephant keeper laughed when he heard this, and said that the task would be simple enough, but that first he needed a basin large enough to hold the elephant. The king naturally assigned the task to the potter. Eagerly the potter made the basin as commanded; but it shattered as soon as the elephant stepped into it. The king ordered him to try again. The potter made a stronger bowl this time, but again it broke under the enormous weight. Several more times the potter tried to make a bowl strong enough to hold the elephant, but it broke each time. Finally, the king grew weary of the man’s incompetence, and had him sent into exile.
It’s a silly story, but you get the point. Ultimately jealousy and unhealthy competition are excellent ways to bring yourself to ruin. Instead of giving up desserts for Lent, let’s try giving up jealousy and competition.
Some people will give up a bad habit, like smoking for Lent. Let me suggest something even more difficult. What if we were to give up gossip? Many years ago, Dr. Albert H. Cantril, a professor at Princeton University, conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate how quickly rumors spread. He called six students to his office and in strict confidence informed them that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were planning to attend a certain university dance. Within a week, this completely fictitious story had reached nearly every student on campus. Town officials phoned the university, demanding to know why they had not been informed. Press agencies were frantically telephoning for details. Dr. Cantril observed, “That was a pleasant rumor – a slanderous one travels even faster.”
A young many went to his priest one day and confessed, “I’ve sinned
by telling false statements about someone. What should I do now?” The priest replied, “Put a feather on every doorstep in town.” The young man did it. But then he returned to the priest, wondering if there was anything else that he should do, because it didn’t feel like putting the feathers about would help relieve the pain of the person he had gossiped about.
The priest said, “Go back and pick up all the feathers.” The young man replied, “That’s impossible! By now the wind will have blown them all over town!” said the priest. “So has your gossip become impossible to retrieve.”
You may face some tests this year during Lent. The tests are designed, not to break you, but to show that with Christ in you, you will not break. You likely will be tempted to criticize other people. Just say no. Instead find words to help and encouragement. You may be tempted to feel jealous or competitive. Just say no. For Lent try being co-operative and supportive instead. You may be tempted to gossip. This year for Lent say ‘no’ to gossip. Better to say nothing than to need to go about picking up feathers.