The girl sat praying intently with her Bible in front of her. Then, she picked up the Bible closed her eyes and opened the Bible and placed her finger on the page. Opening her eyes she read: Tomorrow about this time a measure of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” She sighed. The price of meal in Elisha’s day didn’t answer her question.
Have you ever played Bible Roulette? When I was young a friend of mine told me that this was the way she found answers to life. You just had to stick your finger in the Bible and believe. I tried it. It worked less well than a “Magic 8 ball.” With the Magic 8 ball you got random answers – “Yes, No, Maybe” --- not necessarily good answers and I’m not recommending the Magic 8 ball. But it works better than Bible Roulette.
I was recently reminded of this “method” of discernment when I heard the story of young woman whose mother had told her to use this method to solve her problems. It didn’t work for her either. This woman grew up in an immigrant community who had suffered much and endured much – and yet whose faith was strong. They knew their Bible and found great comfort in the promises in the Bible. It helped them on their journey. Yet somehow… in their transition to a new country… they didn’t teach it. Instead, the parents just said: Look in the Bible for answers. But not showing their children how to do it.
So the young woman I’ll call “Jean” tried Bible Roulette and, of course it didn’t work. But she didn’t say anything because she thought that her problem, depression, was a far “smaller” problem than the challenges her parents had overcome. Jean’s friends had the same lack of guidance by their parents when it came to finding answers to life’s questions. But there was one person, Jean considered him a mentor, who seemed to understand. And he helped her tremendously to deal with her depression. However… it turned out that he, too, was suffering silently from depression. When he committed suicide, she realized that she – and people in her community like her - needed to get help.
When I heard that story, I was glad that the young woman decided to get help, but I was really sad that she was not shown a better way to get help from the scripture than Bible Roulette.
Unfortunately, too often the Bible is used simply as a Magic 8 ball. But the Bible is so much more. It can offer insights and strength for living. It gives us the 10 Commandments – and Jesus’ 2 greatest commandments. It provides guidance and poetic inspiration. All these are wonderful. But what the Bible offers that all of the self-help, laws and rules books and even poetry books cannot the Good News message of God. The Bible shares God’s steadfast love for the whole creation including the people of today.
The Bible contains the words that Jesus turned to – and words that we can turn to for hope in the darkest of times and words of grace and mercy that we can rely on – with confidence – regardless of the temptations and the challenges we face. This is the story of God’s love for the world.
Today’s story of the temptation of Jesus not only shows Jesus’ humanity – but also his understanding of his mission. The Israelites were looking for a king who would restore the political status of their people, right the injustices of the world with a mighty army and, in doing so, would bring glory to God. But this is not what Jesus came to do.
In Jesus’ three temptations, Jesus is tested as to whether he would trust God – or himself. The first test comes to Jesus after he had been fasting. For 40 days. He was hungry. Famished. How could he save the world if he died of starvation?! Who would miss one little stone if he turned it into bread. But Jesus doesn’t do it. Instead, he turns to scripture to say, “One does not live by bread alone.” Jesus knows this test isn’t just about bread. It’s about power. But Jesus never uses his power to serve himself. He doesn’t do it here – and he doesn’t do it on the cross.
The second test is about using his power for his own political gain and glory. Everyone in Israel was hoping and eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah to save them from the powers of Rome. But Jesus does not seek worldly power, the power of force and might, glory or worship for himself. Instead Jesus humbly quotes words in scripture: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' "
The final test is the hardest because the Devil uses scripture – the Word of God - to tempt Jesus. One commentator suggested that the word that is translated “If” in “If you are the Son of God” is better translated as “Since” “Since you are the Son of God.” The Devil knows who Jesus is – and is basically giving Jesus a way out of the path of death on the cross. If/Since you are the Son of God.. just jump from the temple. Everyone will see that you are the Son of God. No need to go through the pain and agony of the cross. There’s an easier way. But again… Jesus turns to scripture to choose to trust God. He tells Satan.. . "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
In each of these “temptations” or “tests” Jesus chooses words of scripture to express his trust God.
But…you may say, He’s Jesus. Of course he knows scripture.
Fair enough. However, the scripture is for us too – it’s a gift for us to hear the stories of God’s people – and the love of God. The challenge and opportunity for us is to learn to listen, and not just hear the words but listen with ears of love and mercy and not with ears of judgment.
Martin Luther once said that we should look at Scripture through the lens of the Cross of Christ. Everything that is written in the Bible is not of equal value. He urged his listeners to pay attention to the words and hold onto everything that points to Jesus Christ.
Luther called the Bible the cradle for Christ. The Scripture hold the Christ Child – but some of the words contained within the scriptures are like straw. They may have a purpose – but they are not as important as other words because they do not show Christ.
I’ve found this to be helpful in my study of Scripture. There are portions of the Bible that are part of the history of the people of God – as in how much meal was going to cost in Samaria or how many cubits to build the ark – or whether to wear a coat of one fiber or two. There are other verses that encourage plundering and polygamy. They don’t proclaim Christ. However… rather than cut them out… I let them be – like straw. I know straw is now used in craft projects and decorating but in Luther’s day and in Jesus’ day, the only thing straw was good for was bedding for animals.
However, there are plenty of scriptures that do proclaim Christ. And it is on these scriptures that I encourage you to focus.
In our Roman’s text for today, Paul writes, "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart". He then clarifies this saying, “That is, the word of faith that we proclaim.”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we hear those words with love and mercy, what do they say to you? God’s word is not far off – it is right here. And it is given for you. The word of faith is on your lips and in your heart.” Because, Paul writes “if “ or “when” you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” When we hear these words with ears of love and mercy, we hear good news proclaimed – for you! And this Good News is not only for you. However, if we hear this words with judgment then we hear an if-then statement that excludes. IF you believe.. THEN… you will be saved and if not… you are condemned.
Except Paul never said the “if not” part that our brains so easily supply. It is not our role to judge. Instead, it is our role to proclaim the Good News so that all can hear it.
Paul reminds us that this Good News is for all people. He writes, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”
Jew and Greek. That’s how people were divided in Paul’s day. Today it seems as if we have a whole lot more divisions. We divide ourselves by nationality: Americans and Canadians, Brits and Mexicans, Iranians and Argentinians. We divide ourselves by color and race, by religions and creeds. We divide ourselves by sports teams. We divide ourselves by political parties. We divide ourselves into class and cultures, rich and poor.
But this is not Jesus’ way. Jesus doesn’t divide us up.
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
Let us listen to the Word of God with ears of love and mercy. Let us proclaim the radical welcome of Christ that crosses every boundary and builds bridges and not walls. So that "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith Lilac Way Lutheran Church
March 10, 2019
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone.' " 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11 and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " 12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.