Temptations and Wild Beasts
Genesis 9:8-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Mark 1:9-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
There’s a story of a minister whose bike was stolen. He was so upset that he told his wife that on Sunday he was going to preach on the commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”
His wife suggested that instead of such a direct approach, maybe it would be better to preach on all ten commandments, one every week and eventually he would get to the commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”
So each week he preached on one of the commandments until he got to the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and then he remembered where he left his bike.
I suppose it really is no laughing matter when a man abuses his position of power to try and gain sexual favours from a woman, and the Presbyterian Church in Canada defines a sexual relationship between a minister and a Parishioner as Sexual abuse, because the minister who is a spiritual leader is in an unequal position of power.
But to me, the point of the joke for our purposes is really the universality of sin.
Adultery is not something that happens to a couple of bad people, but is very common and very prevalent. Ministers are not excluded.
And if we take the words of Jesus seriously maybe most of us have committed adultery: But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
In fact growing up as a heterosexual man, in our culture and our world and with all my interactions with men, I am not sure I could find a man who hasn’t looked on another person with lust.
I think the point Jesus was trying to make in a culture that stoned adulterers; and let’s be honest, stoned more women than men, because women were considered less than men, and a women’s testimony was not considered as as valid as a man’ testimony….
Jesus’ point was that all of us sin. Who should throw the first stone? The one without sin, which is no one. And even he who was without sin would not throw a stone or condemn someone.
So on this first Sunday in Lent, let’s be clear. Everyone one of us comes short of God’s intention for our live. All of us succumb to temptation. All of us hurt others, do wrong, harbor bad thoughts, find it hard to forgisve…
And Jesus understands that. Today in our scripture lesson in Mark’s gospel Jesus goes into the wilderness.
He is tempted by Satan. And he is with the wild beasts.
Mark doesn’t go into great detail about this. Matthew and Luke go into the temptation story in greater detail.
But good old Mark just states the basic fact. Jesus is tempted. And Jesus was with the wild beasts.
Where are you tempted? It seems to me a great failure of the church at times that we are not free to talk about our temptations unless it is food, or television, or materialism.
But being open and talking about sexual temptation and talking about our bigotries and our prejudices and who we hate and how we screwed someone over… we don’t go there.
Most ministers would not stand up in the pulpit and talk about their sexual temptations and I guess I am not that brave either…except to say this…
Everyone who stands in the pulpit is tempted sexually. Everyone who sits in the pew has been tempted sexually.
And the way to deal with it is not to keep it to yourself but to talk about it with others and draw strength from others.
That is one thing I think is amazing about Alcoholics Anonymous is that sense of openness to talk very frankly and openly about sin and temptation. And there isn’t judgement. Instead there are people who listen and understand and care and lend strength to each other.
What is your big temptation to live other than the way God would want you to?
Who can you talk about it with? How can you get that out into the open? Who can you draw strength from?
And what is your wild beast?
For some their wild beast is addiction. Alcohol or gambling or drugs or food…
For some it is anger that gets out of control.
For some it is manipulation of others…
For some the wild beast is another who is hurting them or abusing them or controlling them.
For some the wild beast is poverty.
For others it is sickness.
What is out of control in your life? Or what controls you?
Jesus goes into the wilderness. He faces temptation. He is with the wild beasts.
Jesus knows what we are going through.
He knows your temptations and your wild beast.
He knows when things are out of control and when you feel like the flood is sweeping through and knocking you over and threatening to swallow you up.
And that flood is not water, but temptation, and sin and selfishness and ego and out of control behavior, and not dealing with life and its problems.
And Jesus doesn’t want to condemn you, but save you. Jesus wants to be the ark to rescue you.
Our Old Testament scripture is about the promise made to Noah after the flood.
8 Then God said, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you… 10 and with every living creature. …that never again shall all flesh be cut off ….“This is the sign of the covenant…. I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. … I will remember my covenant that is between me and ….all flesh; and the waters shall never again …destroy all flesh. I will remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
How many times does it say “all” or “every” or “the earth.”
The universality of God’s love is amazing.
Now we humans like to project onto God the idea that God is there to punish all the bad people and save all the good people and that is often how we read the Flood story or the Book of Revelation.
God kills all the bad people and just a few of us good people are left….even though we know the truth that all of us have sinned.
But there is another reading of the Flood and the Book of Revelation and that is:
Human violence and sin is so great that if we don’t stop we will end up destroying ourselves in a great flood of violence.
But here is the good news: God offers us an ark to save us…
And that ark is Jesus. That ark is Jesus, who is love. That ark is Jesus, who teaches us that instead of violence and selfishness, we should love one another and serve one another.
And Jesus is the proof that God loves everyone. All. The world.
How many times does Paul say the same thing? That God loves and grace is for all.
In him we have … the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… …he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.— from Ephesians 1
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself ALL things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. — from Colossians 1
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.— From Philippians 2
..that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, NOT COUNTING THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST THEM …—from 2 Corinthians 5
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for ALL.– from Romans 5
For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to ALL. – from Romans 11
So Jesus doesn’t go into the wilderness to show us up, or to put us down.
And Jesus doesn’t go into the wilderness to just show us how tough that he is, to show us how he can stand up to Satan and temptation and wild beasts.
Jesus doesn’t say to the wild beasts: “Go ahead, make my day.”
And then say to us: ‘Hey I can defeat them, so do the same thing. Be tough like me.’
Jesus goes into the wilderness and struggles with the wild beasts and Satan and temptation because we are there in the wilderness.
We are there in the wilderness of temptation and wild beasts.
And Jesus comes for us…to save us, to help us… to show us the way…
Because Jesus loves us all… everyone.
And so while we are aware on this first Sunday in Lent that we are all sinners…. Jesus is here not to condemn us but to help us.
There is a very interesting book that came out three years ago or so entitled “Chasing the Scream: the first and last days of the war on drugs.”
Written by Johann Hari, he researches addiction and what he finds is that a lot of what we have been told about addiction is suspect.
He uses the example of the experiments on rats who when put in an empty cage with two bottles, one with only water and one with water lace with heroin or cocaine, most rats will become obsessed with the drugged water and use it and use it until it dies.
It is supposed to prove how addictive drugs really are… But in a later experiment in Vancouver a professor of Psychology wondered what happened if the rat is not all alone. He did the same experiment but made a big rat cage with toys and climbing things and lots of other rats to play in and with the same two bottles of water. But these rats who had good lives shunned the drug water.
In fact even if you hooked a rat in the first experiment on drugged water, but then took the rat out and put the rat in with other rats in the nice rat cage he called Rat Park, the rat was not an addict any more.
Is that just rats? Research shows that during the Vietnam War many US soldiers were addicted to heroin. As much as 20%. However when the soldiers came home 95% of them were not addicted any more, because they were home among family and friends.
And so the theory that Johann Hari comes up with, is that it is not the addictive properties of the drugs by themselves which cause addiction, but the sense of isolation a person feels. If a person feels alone in a cage they are much more likely to be an addict than a person who is happy and fulfilled and connected.
And there is a kind of good news story in Portugal around this whole idea. Portugal about 10 to 15 years ago had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population addicted to heroin.
They tried the War on drugs and things didn’t get better. So they tried something radical. Instead of spending money on fighting drugs and court cases and jail time for drug addicts, they spent the money on helping them with secure housing and subsidized jobs and clinics to help addicts connect with their feelings.
Drug use in ten years dropped fifty percent.
But what does most of the world do to drug addicts? Put them in isolation is a human size cage we call jail, thus increasing their sense of isolation and unworthiness.
The point to all this… is the way Jesus handles temptation and sin is not condemn and point fingers and punish and send people to hell, but to connect with people, listen to people, understand people, help people, love people.
And we as followers of Jesus, as the church can be most helpful to people who sin, to people who are tempted, to people facing the wild beasts in their lives, when we are a loving supportive community that helps people feel connected.
The British writer, George Monbiot known for his environmental and political activism wrote In The Guardian that “the age of loneliness is killing us.”
He wrote that Competition and Individualism is the religion of our time and children don’t want to be nurses and doctors and teachers, they just want to be rich.
What we need to talk more and more about is how to live together and cooperate and care and communicate.
That is what we need for happiness.
And so Jesus comes into the wilderness to join us, to fight against the wild beasts of competition and individualism. …To resist the temptations of material things and money.
And to stand with us and offer us community… …life in him and in his body… …life in his community…
He hasn’t come to punish us, or beat us or exclude us, or burn us, but save us.
He has come to connect with us, to love us…to be our family… our friend.
St. Ignatius of Loyola who developed a whole set of spiritual exercises for people to grow closer to Christ talked about what he called “disordered attachments
Lacking spiritual freedom, we become excessively attached to persons, places, material possessions, titles, occupations, honors, and the acclaim of others. These things are good in themselves when ordered and directed by the love of God. They become disordered attachments when they push God out of the center of our lives and become key to our identity.
And the answer is to simply to connect with Jesus. Attach yourself to something good.
Jesus is here. Jesus is right here now. Talk to him, listen to him. Think about him. Love him. Feel his love and then share it with others, help others and build community.
The answer to your temptations and your wild beasts is not to beat them out of you, or beat them out of others, but to turn your attention to what is loving, to what is good, to what is thoughtful, to being helpful.
Paul wrote in Galatians 5,
For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not allow yourselves to be slaves. …rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The answer to your temptations…
The answer to your wild beasts…
The answer to your loneliness…
Is not self-control, or will power…..
It is connection…
so don’t wait to be loved… God loves you.
Don’t wait to be loved…
instead just get out there and start loving and serving others. Amen.