March 9, 2014
Rev. David A. Davis
Away With You!
On Ash Wednesday our family was having lunch at a traditional restaurant in Salzburg, Austria where our daughter is spending the year teaching. Okay, it was a traditional Beer Garden at the foot of the fortress in Salzburg. It was there around the table as one in the family picked up their phone, that we received the first installment of Nassau Presbyterian Church’s Daily Devotional for Lent 2014; Bill Gardner’s reflection on being reconciled to God. Today, the First Sunday of Lent, the devotion is offered by Professor Darrell Guder. Dr. Guder selected as his devotional text the reading from Matthew 4 that I just read to you. Darrell writes, “the forty days of Lent echo the forty days of Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Both episodes focus on what it means to worship God and serve only Him.” ….Away with you, Satan! …..Worship the Lord your God and serve only God.” Away with you.
This morning and each of the next four Sundays in Lent, we will be turning to gospel lessons that tell of an encounter with Jesus. Today from Matthew; Jesus and his encounter with Satan in the wilderness. The next four from John’s Gospel; Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind, and Lazarus. I will say a bit more about John’s quartet of characters next week. But on each of these Sundays of Lent, I would like to invite you to be drawn into these texts that tell of a conversation with Jesus. These conversations, this particular literature in Matthew and then in John, it ought to have a place in the church’s sacred imagination, almost iconic status. The kind of line, the dialogue you remember. Away with you, Satan!… No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above… Give me this water so that I may never be thirsty…One thing I know, though I was blind, now I see….Lazarus come out Unbind him and let him go. Literary encounters, that as you allow yourself to be drawn in, drawn into the gospel narrative, pieces of it might become not only memorable, unforgettable, etched deep within, it might even become transformative for us and our encounter with Jesus.
Our mental archives are so full of memorable dialogues in film, on stage, in music, in literature. I am suggesting that these conversations with Jesus deserve that kind of status when it comes to your life of faith and your perception of the world. You ought to be able to click on them, bring them up on the screen of your soul as you try to find meaning, and honor your God given identity, and experience the extraordinary presence of God in your life, naming the ordinary parts of your life as holy and sacred. When I was lecturing at Montreat back in January on preaching the gospel texts in Lent, the group and I kept a running list over the few days of those unforgettable dialogues, scenes, encounters that keep coming up in family banter, around dinner tables, between parent and child. Over the Christmas holiday I asked our children what movie or book scenes they knew by heart. In preparation for that conference I was wanting my own list to be a bit more relevant, maybe from the Hunger Games, or from Mumford and Sons, or even Harry Potter. I wanted to look hip. So I expected my 20 something kids to give me a little something to work with. I explained the kind of material, the quotes, the kind of iconic dialogue I was looking for. My son Ben, didn’t miss a beat. His example: “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey! That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon , Mary! (It’s a Wonderful Life..George Bailey/Jimmy Steward). Timelessly relevant I guess. That’s what I hope for when it comes to…. Away with you, Satan!… No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above… Give me this water so that I may never be thirsty…One thing I know, though I was blind, now I see….Lazarus come out Unbind him and let him go.
Away with you, Satan! …..Worship the Lord your God and serve only God.” Jesus’ signature line here in his dialogue with devil. One can approach this temptation story as an example of the uniqueness of Jesus; a gospel example of what writer of the Book of Hebrews must of meant “we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Or one can unpack the symbolism of the 40 days and Jesus quoting from Deuteronomy and therefore make the comparison to Moses and a Torah-like affirmation of “you shall have no other gods before me”. Or one could easily find oneself distracted by trying to wrestle with the role or the meaning or the personification of Satan here, tumbling into that endless loop of trying to wrap your head and your heart around questions of evil and the devil and therefore finding not much relative or timely to take away. “Oh, it’s that strange old world of the bible” and thus, easier to write off or set aside or even make fun of…the devil, really…. Or, you could allow yourself to be drawn into the dialogue in a literary way.
The tempter came to Jesus and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” So the devil took Jesus to the holy city and placed him at the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” and with a quote from the psalmist, the devil temps Jesus with angelic protection. But Jesus said, “It is written, ‘do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, saying “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This time Jesus said to the tempter, “Away with you, Satan!…Worship the Lord your God and serve only God!” And the tempter, Satan, the devil, had not another word to say. He just left. The devil left him as Jesus was left to be cared for by angels.
Jesus snapping in a Z-formation and the devil exits stage left. Jesus telling Satan, “you can’t handle the truth”. Away with you is what he said. Away with you! Away with you!!! Or as Darrel Guder puts it, “The forty days of Lent echo the forty days of Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Both episodes focus on what it means to worship God and serve only God.” What it means to worship God and serve only God. Jesus iconic conversation with Satan in the wilderness. It’s not about our morality, or our piety, or our doing battle with the devil. It is an invitation to affirm that God alone is worthy of our worship. Away with you. For us as God’s people, Jesus and his encounter with Satan in the wilderness, it’s about more than finding the strength to battle this sin or that sin, rather it pushes for more of an existential affirmation, like “I belong, body and soul, in life and death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” That dialogue between Jesus and the devil, its more than a primer on temptation and the wiles of the devil, it ought to take you to the broadest, macro, cosmic affirmation you can muster; a Book of Joshua kind of exhortation. “Choose this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Away with you. As a follower of Jesus, you ought to file it away and then click on it every time you find yourself confronted by the worship of mammon and the lust for power and the faith statement of winning at all cost. When you see ivory towers becoming sacred and corporate ladders divine and extreme wealth a divine right of the few. When you feel yourself being blown back and stomped on by how the world defines you and how the powers and principalities want to shape you and how so many forces other than God demand your devoted attention, your worship, your life. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. So, away with you… Worship the Lord your God, and God alone.
Several of you have asked me if I have seen the Cadillac commercial that was running during the Oympics. Apparently it re-aired during the Academy Awards last week.. Maybe most of you have seen it by now. It starts with a man looking into the camera and saying “Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? (as he looks at the infinity pool at his house) For stuff?” Then he goes on to comment on other countries that take the whole month of August off and the American value of hard work that offers such reward. And he names some achievements and some achievers. As he unplugs the electric luxury car, he says “You work hard, You create your own luck. You’ve got to believe anything is possible.” Then there at the end of the commercial, he says, “As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off.”
Now with all due respect to a good old fashion work ethic, and with no criticism intended for a healthy patriotic spirit, and with an appropriate acknowledgement of all that the American car industry represents, and even with a shout out to any in the house who may drive a Cadillac….from strictly a theological perspective, asking the most basic of questions, like what is being touted as important here, from the least common denominator among us like what does it mean to be human, and what is our purpose in life, in a season of Lent when the focus is on what it means to worship God and serve only God……when you see that commercial, after you say “oooh” to yourself, then maybe you ought to say “away with you.”
It is an everyday acclamation, an every morning exhortation, a moment by moment affirmation. Worship and serve only God. Away with you. That’s what Jesus said to the tempter out there in the world’s wilderness. Unforgettable, it ought to be. And to you and to me, he says, Come, take, eat, this is my body broken for you. I know you remember that one.
Come to the Table. It’s his table and it is your act of worship.
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