Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Listen, Remember and Live

Listen. From the very beginning God has been saying we should listen. Our brains are capable of listening to about 125 words a minute, but thinking about 1,000 to 3,000 in the same amount of time. If you search for resources on effective listening, there are 1000’s of entries because most of us are preoccupied or distracted about 75% of the time. So many choices.

Listen, Adam, Remember and live. He must’ve told Eve once she was created. Because when the serpent comes, saying- “So you really think you can’t do that? You think you’ll die?” She remembers, “That’s right, and we’re not even going to touch it.”  

No one told Adam not to touch the tree. Those brains were already thinking. “Are you sure? You don’t really believe that do you? Eat it and you’ll be like God. Then who needs God?” In a modern world, they would have gotten on the internet and Googled trees to see if what God said seemed right. When we want to go our own way, we choose who we listen to.  

Adam and Eve don’t die, but something’s different. They’re ashamed and nervous. They try to fix it. And that’s when they decide to sew together the fig leaves. And I wonder whose idea THAT was. The first generations of people hearing the story would’ve laughed hysterically. “They did what? They used fig leaves?!” Fig leaves on bare skin would have felt like sandpaper. Scratch, scratch, Hurry up before God gets here. Scratch, scratch. We don’t want to be caught, Scratch. Scratch.

Like that would work. While God is angered, God gives them real clothes.

When we humans think we’ve become like God we usually show we really cannot handle the knowledge. Sadly, our track record shows that those scratchy fig leaves are the least of it. God made us to prosper, serve and to care for- but we’d rather control and plunder and take over. Forgetting God’s promise to sustain us. The scratching leads to clawing and fighting and killing. Too many examples abound.

Lent offers time to stop and listen to God and find our way, which is about our identity and purpose. Adam and Eve received an identity and a task, assured they were provided for. But that fruit looked really good to eat, what could be wrong? And that’s how evil works. We’re most often not enticed with things that appear to be bad, but things that seem good.

There are two things at work- God testing and evil tempting. We often see them the same because we don’t want either. We want to go our own path. God’s testing stretches and encourages us. It strengthens us to trust God and to follow a framework for living. God wants to show us that we are able with God’s help to be faithful. And that God desires life for us.

At the same time however, the Tempter’s purpose is to convince us that’s a horrible idea. To try and cause us to make a mistake, to sin. God’s purpose is to strengthen faith. Satan’s purpose is to weaken it. We must always ask-what are we listening to? Will it draw us closer to God or cast us farther away?

And here’s the thing-temptation is not coercion. No one forced the first humans to eat, or Jesus to eat bread. Tempters can’t make us do things, but they can convince us to want to. They don’t take away our will, they try to change it. Usually it’s not about not knowing what to do, just wanting to do something different. And picking who we listen to.

Even worse, the choices are blurred-decisions that can be good involve the wrong timing, or have large scale consequences we might not grasp. If we do not continually listen to God’s word and remember, we lose perspective.

Worship is the key way we listen and to remember God’s words for life. Notice I did not say “church.” Deciding to go to church is like deciding to go to the mall. Coming to worship God is different.

Deciding to go to church is about whether anything really big is happening, or who we want to sit with. We can then choose to not come when it’s not tempting enough. Because we don’t need church to worship God. We can listen to the voice saying spending time with family or catching up on rest is better. After all we won’t die if we don’t come. And worship is not just an hour on Sunday, but every day of our lives.

Is the timing of our choices rooted in worshipping and serving God? Do our choices sustain our relationship or not? Will sports or travel or anything else have the power to save us, anymore than bread alone? What would it mean for us to test our own resolve to truly listen to and serve God?

After Jesus was baptized, the very first thing God says is- This is my Son- listen to him. And today if we do, we see that the core of the temptations Jesus faced, was not about whether he was the Son of God but whether he would rely upon his power in self serving ways that would lead him away from his mission. His responses stay true to his identity and mission. He remained steadfast in believing in God’s power and providing.

The core of what we face is not about whether we are children of God but whether we rely upon self serving ways or God’s power in our lives. Where are we self-serving? Where are we struggling with trust in God? Where are we angry with God for not simply acting according to our demands?

You are probably wondering where the gospel is this day. Here is the good news- 
Jesus after 40 days in the wilderness fasting surely was tempted. But shows not only his identity but his obedience, even to the cross. Knowing what he endured, and what was to come, and knowing our track record as humans, he gave his followers a prayer.

A prayer that meets us wherever wilderness is, and whatever temptation looks like. So we can listen to and remember God’s way. And strengthen our faith. Not only in Sunday worship but every day.

Martin Luther suggested we begin each day by thanking God, then saying the 10 Commandments and saying the prayer Jesus gave-the Lords Prayer. Every day- first thing- to shape the whole day. I imagine how some days, our attention would be caught by different parts of the words. Perhaps not unlike how Jesus felt in those 40 days. Practicing for when the tempter came. So he could hear God’s words more strongly than others.

I invite you on this day we have all lost an hours sleep, to close your eyes, resist sleep, and let’s listen.

“I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your Dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger, and I pray that you would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please you. For into your hands I commend myself, my body, and soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me that the evil one may have no power over me. Amen.”

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery

You shall have no other gods before me,

You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain,

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,

Honor your mother and father,

You shall not kill,

You shall not commit adultery,

You shall not steal,

You shall not bear false witness,

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory

Forever and ever



What if those were the first words we heard each day?

And what if every week when we saw how we did or did not reach those words, we were then here to listen, remember and be strengthened,  wherever the week had gone to hear-

This is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Remember.

This is for us.

Listen, remember, and live.

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