Who remembers the WWJD Christian marketing campaign of the late 90’s? It’s still around. You can still find bracelets and hats and shirts that ask you “What Would Jesus Do”? I think it’s a good question. As followers of Jesus we should be constantly examining our life against the example of Jesus.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that Jesus would have been in a lot of the situations that I find myself in. I don’t mean to say that I’m that terrible of a person. No, it’s more that Jesus never had a car loan or a mortgage. And I think that Jesus would be more concerned about the fact that there are people that lack bread than my moral dilemma over the cost of the bread I buy. I think Jesus would be more concerned with economic systems that oppress workers and food production systems that are dependent on migrant workers who are often treated as criminals.
No, I don’t think Jesus much cares which bread I buy, and I think there are a lot of things I do that WWJD is simply not the right question to ask or statement to make. So, a while back I began to look for some other way to demonstrate my faith through a kitschy acronym, and I found this hat. It has a cute little frog on the front and says, “Fully Rely On God” on the back.
Indulge me if you will, but I think that the truth of the gospel today can be revealed if we think of FROG as the answer to WWJD? That is, of course, a broad generalization, and there is a lot more to the gospel than that – especially on this the first Sunday of Lent!
I say that because in this story we have Jesus facing temptation at the end of his 40 days of preparation, whereas we are just beginning ours. While it certainly should encourage our devotion at the beginning of Lent, there really are two other issues at stake here – and they aren’t the choice between giving up red meat or chocolate.
The issues at stake here are the identity of Jesus, and what God is doing in and through him. Jesus was just baptized by John and named and claimed by God. Then God’s Spirit lead him into the wilderness for the purpose of temptation. OK, already we’ve got all kind of stuff to unpack here. The first is what does it mean for Jesus to be the Son of God? Then, why would God tempt him? Was it to test him, or teach him something? Is it to prove something to us? For that matter, what kind of hat was he wearing?
Ok, so he wasn’t wearing a hat. But he could have been – metaphorically speaking. We all wear different “hats” from time to time, depending on the roles that we fill. Sometimes it can feel like there are too many, other times maybe not enough. In fact, H.A.T. (since we’re going with the acronym thing today) is also a way to describe the situation that Jesus may have found himself in after 40 days of fasting and prayer: Hungry, Angry, and Tired.
I can remember being told in a seminar years ago, that those three were a recipe for bad decisions, and while they don’t line up exactly with the temptations of Jesus they do make a pretty good connection between his experience and ours. In his story, Jesus encounters the Tempter directly, something he tells us to pray that we never should face.
Even so, Mathew’s Gospel does not mythologize the Devil or give him some purpose here beyond misleading Jesus. In fact, the word translated as “Devil” literally means “One who misleads”. His only role is to try to drive a wedge between God the Father and Jesus the Son. For that reason, we really just have to focus on the humanity of Jesus in this story. And although the Devil seems to expect Jesus to be able to make stones from bread, call angels into action, and shift the authority of God to him through worship what we see in Jesus is a man who refuses to do anything that does not give glory to God.
Over and over he is tempted, but (as one author put it) these are just variations on a theme. Again and again Jesus answers the temptation to be like God with the recognition that he is already involved in what God is doing. And in this story God is demonstrating that power is held in trust by Jesus. Power is kept in check by the trust in something beyond his mortal flesh.
And this power drove him to turn to scripture and proclaim that a person is more than what she or he can consume. This power drove him to turn to scripture and say that our actions do not call God’s will into order. We do not test God. Instead we move in response to God’s grace and mercy. And this power drove him to reject the idea that there is anyone or any power other than God that has authority over God’s good and broken creation!
And for all of that, Jesus is rewarded and taken care of by God’s angels.
So, here’s the thing. As much as I want this to be about us, it’s really all about Jesus. As much as I want Jesus to be some spiritual version of a ninja who sneaks in and sends the devil packing, this story is not about us. None of us will be challenged with the chance to re-order the cosmos to satisfy our needs, or call angels to our aid, or exercise dominion over all we survey.
We are, however, called to examine our lives against the one who was tempted and yet did not sin. Just as the gospel bears witness to Jesus as the one who fully relied on God, so the Psalmist echoes our stories throughout history. And we can be assured that these words are true – that God will forgive us and redeem us and protect us even when the waters rise!
That’s easily said when your house wasn’t flooded, yet it remains the truth. I know because I’ve seen it in the work that we are doing with our PDA Teams! I know because I’ve heard it in your voices when we visit in the hospital and when we share prayer requests. I’ve seen it in the passion for supporting our ministry partners at CUPS by selling parking while everyone else was partying at Mardi Gras, and then again in the care many of you took for God’s property when all was said and done. And I saw it last Wednesday when we came together with our sister congregation, Grace, on Wednesday to receive ashes and remember how limited we are.
Yet in our coming together we find out that we, like Jesus, are already wrapped up in what God is doing in the world. And the more we can rely on God the less we will be misled. The more we can recognize the value of people apart from what they produce, what they consume, and how they seek satisfaction in the world, the more we can recognize how God is already providing for us all. The more we can recognize that being vulnerable is what opens us to God’s presence, the less we will see those who are different as threats. And the more we can let go of our need to control, the more we can see that God has already entrusted us to care for the earth and all the resources that we share.
In the end, fully relying on God is not the same as being dependent – even though sometimes we act like we just want God to take over and fix everything for us. In the words of Paul Tillich, “We long for a Christ of power. Yet if He were to come and transform us and our world, we should have to pay the one price which we could not pay: we would have to lose our freedom, our humanity, and our spiritual dignity.”
Fully relying on God does not mean that we expect God to do everything for us. It simply means that we don’t expect that we can do everything ourselves. It means we make it a point to become less self-absorbed and more connected to what God is doing in the world, and the best place to start is with the person closest to you now. Then the next place to go is to the one that you would rather be furthest from.
That may be a scary thought, but you are God’s beloved, baptized child. And when you go out wearing your various hats, even the ones that leave you hungry, angry and tired, just remember to fully and completely rely on God.
I pray that it may be so with me, and that it may be so with you. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen!