Sermon- Bread Alone (Matthew 4, Deuteronomy 8)

Sermon Series Bread 1110 x 624Lenten Sermon Series: Bread
This sermon series was inspired by the book Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers by Margaret Feinberg.

Message 2 of 5: Bread Alone
Scriptures: Matthew 4:1-4; Deuteronomy 8:1-3
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 3/8/2020 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire contemporary worship service, including the message which starts at the 35-minute mark.

Jesus still wet from his baptism in the Jordan. With the affirmation of the Father ringing in his ears, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) Heads into the Judean wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

Here’s one of the surprises I had in Israel- The Mount of Temptation is really close to Jericho. Everyone for thousands and thousands of years has wanted Jericho because it’s an oasis. It’s rich in people, water, fruits, and vegetables. If you go there be sure to try the dates and bananas and kabob. Jericho is rich in bread.

Jesus chooses to fast for 40 days on the next hill. I suspect he could hear the laughter from Jericho. He could smell their cooking, see the crops growing. I suspect it gave him quite an appetite.

Matthew 4:1-3  
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

The Wilderness
The wilderness will humble you. It will show you how frail and needy and lonely you can be.

Jesus not only chooses to go into the wilderness, he chooses to fast in the wilderness. Fasting is the spiritual discipline for getting serious with God. It’s the spiritual discipline for testing your heart, your motivations. Fasting removes the filters and brings up all the junk. Fasting is roto-rooter for your soul.

The wilderness is also a place to meet the tempter

Temptation #1- Identity
If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

The Devil slides in and questions Jesus’ identity. The Devil does the same to us. If you are a good parent… Are you really a good parent? Are you really a writer? Are you really a ____________? Are you really a beloved child of God? You’re a pretender. You’re an imposter. Those are the words of the tempter.

Jesus knows he’s the Son of God. He was just reminded at his baptism. The Devil knows who Jesus is, too. The question is, do we know who we are?

Jesus is reminded at his baptism as so are we every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows. Look how closely the vows relate to this scripture.

The United Methodist Baptismal Vows
I renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin.

I accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

I confess Jesus Christ as my Savior, put my whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as my Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

According to the grace given to me, I will remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world.

If you are a beloved child of God… Yep, that’s who I am!

Jesus knows who he is and the Devil knows who Jesus is. So the Devil double-dog dares Jesus to prove who he is.

Temptation #2- Power
If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread

Simple, practical, diabolical

Ok Son of God, prove who you are with a display of your power. Command. Fix the situation. You’re hungry. Force the situation, turn stones into bread. Serve yourself. Satisfy your appetite.

Then the Devil turns to us. Ok so you’re a Beloved Child of God, use your power to command. To fix and force. Serve yourself. Satisfy your appetite. Be the god of your needs.

Then there are times we turn to God with a devilish demand. Ok God, you say you love me. Use your power to fix and force this situation. Fix and force to serve me, to satisfy my appetite. Lord have mercy.

Matthew 20, Mrs. Zebedee does this. Her sons are two of Jesus’ most trusted disciples, James and John. The sons of thunder. Can you imagine these guys, much less mama!

Mrs. Zebedee asks Jesus to fix and force, satisfy her appetite. She requests her sons to be given the highest positions in Jesus’ kingdom. Serve me, Jesus, by serving my boys. This naturally upset the other disciples. Here’s his reply.

Matthew 20:25-28
25 Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

It’s not about us being served by fixing and forcing in our own power. It’s not about expecting God to fix and force on our behalf. It’s about humility and service. That’s who I am as a child of God.

Temptations = Misuse. In this case the misuse of our God-given identity, power, and blessings.

bread-and-stone-whittemoreTemptation #3- Blessings
If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread

It is sin and idolatry to twist the blessings of God into something they were never meant to be. Stone was never meant to be bread.

It’s twisting God’s good gift of work into a workaholic.
Love into lust, abuse, pornography, prostitution, enmeshment
Excellence into perfectionism
Food into gluttony, over-processing, eating disorders

In the wilderness, you meet the tempter but it’s also the place to meet God. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness just like the slaves leaving Egypt were led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Into the wilderness and in wilderness.

The wilderness is both dangerous and holy. The Spirit doesn’t just drop Jesus off and say, “Bye-bye. See you in a few weeks.” Imagine how many encouraging, inspiring, intimate conversations the Father, Son, Spirit have those 40 days in the wilderness. I want to see that on the jumbotron when I get to heaven.

Jesus, affirmed by the Father, led by the Spirit, answers the tempter with the word of God. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 and Deuteronomy 8:3)

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:1-3
God speaking through Moses, 1 This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.

Notice the command is not self-serving. It’s not about control. It is for our good so that we may live.

2 Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.

People of God were led by the Spirit in the wilderness from slavery to freedom.
The same is true for us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus. The wilderness humbles us. Fasting tests what’s in our hearts and reveals it.

God tests us to reveal what’s in our hearts so we may draw closer to God. It’s always for our good. Testing calls us to the higher road and to life. God never tempts. The Devil tempts us away from God and our true selves.

3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Am I Living Life by Bread Alone?
My appetites rule my life. I’m misusing my identity, my power, and the blessings of God.

My Motivation is to satisfy my appetite. I will use my power to get what I want. “I need it. I want it. I crave it.”

I control. I force. I cut corners. I manipulate. I will justify my actions as practical, “just doing business.”

It’s idolatry and sin to separate the practical from the spiritual when it’s all spiritual. It’s idolatry and sin to take my God-given identity, power, and blessing and twist it into something it was never meant to be.

No! I’m not going to live by bread alone. I live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord!

I know who I am in Christ. Do you know who you are in Christ?

Have you recognized the power God gives you and are you using it for the glory of God?

Do you respect God’s blessings? Can you see them all around you? Are you using them for the common good?

Prayer
Jesus, help us to see who we truly are. To see the power and blessings you’ve entrusted to us. Give us eyes to see. Help us to see how we are misusing these gifts. We confess it. We ask for your forgiveness. Turn us right. Untwist us. Do not let the Devil deceive or tempt us.

Jesus, thank you for the ways we are cooperating with you. Using what you entrust to us for good. We know there’s good in us because of you. Overcome the evil with the good. Overcome the temptation with your power, your resurrection power, your new life. Forgive us and make us new, Jesus. Use us for your good. I am a Child of God. Glory to God. Amen.

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Sermon- Bread Alone © 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Prayer: Our Home is in You (Genesis 17)

Abraham-and-the-starsFaithful One
Your covenant is steadfast
Your promises are true

You fulfill, even when we fail
Forgive us and renew a right spirit within

We hear you offering relationship again
How great is your heart
Your patience
Your desire for the everlasting to be made real in us
We bow in awe
We stand to proclaim and welcome

Yes!
Fulfill your desires in our Yes
Fulfill your desires in our obedience
Like the sand, so many brothers
Like the stars, so many sisters
Together heirs of your grace and generosity
Together heirs and family
Together
Our home is in you

Based on Genesis 17:3-9
God’s covenant with Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants (physical and spiritual) 

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Our Home is in You © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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A prayer for moving (Genesis 12)

Snoopy-movingJune and July are often months of moving, especially for United Methodist pastors who are appointed to new congregations. This prayer is for them and all who find themselves heading to new places. It’s based on Genesis 12:1-9.

The Lord God calls Abram (and Sarai)
Pack your things
Move your family
Travel far, to a place unfamiliar

He/She/They obey
Yes, they are established
Yes, it is difficult

He/She/They trust
They keep listening
They keep praising the Lord God
as they move farther and farther into the unfamiliar

Help me to trust you as well
You do not call and abandon
You are ahead of us on the journey
You are the journey- the way, the truth, the life

You guide and guard
You encourage and reassure and show signs
You and your way brings blessing for me
for my family
for the world

Deepen my trust
that I may be faithful in all things
and a blessing for the generations
Amen

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A Prayer for Moving © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Quotes: Deny Yourself

Quotefancy-217426-3840x2160Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, and Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Self-denial is not a mask for self-contempt, but the necessary means for achieving self-mastery; for self-mastery makes possible our self-giving and self-fulfillment. Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment. -Scott Hahn

You will soon be asked to let go of some part of your false self, which you foolishly thought was permanent, important, and essential! You know God is doing this in you and with you when you can somehow smile and trust that what you lost was something you did not need anyway. In fact, it got in the way of what was real. – Richard Rohr 

Follow me. One of the most compelling sentences in the Bible. Two words, when spoken by Jesus, create a sense of power and mystery and awe. To follow is to enter into the unknown, to give your life over to another. We rarely want to do this. Yet at the same time it is exactly what we desire: to be led into a better place, a better world, a better life. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God

Following Jesus does not mean imitating Jesus, copying his way of doing things. If we imitate someone, we are not developing an intimate relationship with that person. Instead, following Jesus means to give our own unique form, our own unique incarnation, to God’s love. To follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is extremely important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life.
~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian

Lord, spare me from my wishes, that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self, that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying, I may become yours.
– Excerpt of a prayer entitled Spare Me by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. For more on the ideas of denying our “little self”, ego, and false-self click over to another reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Deny Yourself

“Denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law.
– Simon Yap, What is the meaning of “denying yourself”? 

Yap invites us to consider Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 16:31.

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr

In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. -Henri Nouwen

Extended Quote from Steve Garnaas Holmes
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, or to take on misery. It’s not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. We falsely see ourselves as finite, discreet individuals, separate from the world, in danger at any moment of disappearing back into the abyss. It’s not the real truth, but an image of our “self” that the ego uses to manage our consciousness. And we believe it. We spend our lives—mostly unconsciously— protecting that little “self,” and in particular its power, security and esteem. (Hence Jesus’ temptations in the desert.) It’s what St. Paul calls “the flesh.” He doesn’t mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites.

But we aren’t such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. We are sustained not by our own protection of our little lives but by the life-giving fountain of grace welling up within us to eternal life, flowing with perfect, infinite compassion.

To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God’s love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness. You are love; you are Beloved. Deny anything less, and love without limit.

Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber
Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy

This saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like “If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.” Or “deny your dignity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.” Or “deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.”

I wanted to convince you that when Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others. Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program. Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is. Deny the self that thinks it can do itself. Deny the self that is turned in on the self.

Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.

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Click here for another incredibly honest and faithful sermon on the “deny yourself, take up your cross” passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, entitled “A Sermon on Addiction and the Problem with our Me-based Solutions.”

Click here for a reflection on how denying yourself intersects with social justice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.

For quotes on “taking up your cross”, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this post in other settings, please leave a comment

Parable of the Talents: Fearless or Fearful? (Matthew 25.14-30)

Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30

John of the Cross wrote that “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” The two servants, probably more experienced in loving, fearlessly invest their portions of love. Heedless of sheer foolhardiness, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master’s wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point, and like sinning against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:32) the poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness for clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground. John Wesley comments, “So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation.”
– Suzanne Guthrie, The Edge of the Enclosure

The Lord challenges us to suffer persecutions and to confess him. He wants those who belong to him to be brave and fearless. He himself shows how weakness of the flesh is overcome by courage of the Spirit. This is the testimony of the apostles and in particular of the representative, administrating Spirit. A Christian is fearless. –Tertullian

Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once.
– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (II, ii, 32-37)

Only those who risk going too far will ever know how far they can go.
– T.S. Eliot

Whatever you do you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you into believing your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories but it takes brave men and women to win them. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Moving ahead requires us to face the present with its hardships and afflictions, knowing that these, too, are part of the way. To do this requires a measure of courage, that word formed from the Latin cor, or heart. In such circumstances, the challenge before us is not simply to avoid losing our heart. Rather, it is that of finding our heart, of living “heartfully.” – Mark S. Burrows and John H. Ohlson, Love is a Direction from Weavings, Aug/Sept/Oct 2012

Click here and here and here for three thoughtful reflections on this passage by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Zephaniah 1:12
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.”

Philippians 4:13 (NRSV)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
… and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love. Amen.
– Henri Nouwen

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