Last fall I went to hear a woman named Kimi Werner speak here in St. Cloud. I didn't know anything about her before I went except that she was from Hawaii, but I was immediately drawn in to what she was saying. She was one of those people that speaks directly from the core of who they are. There was no pretense, no show of being important, and no hiding. She talked about growing up in Hawaii and knowing that she wanted to do something creative. She loved working with different materials to make art, she loved to cook, she wanted to be an artist. Everyone in her life, however, tried to talk her out of it. Through a course of events, she eventually got her degree in teaching art and began teaching at an elementary school. And she loved it for awhile. She loved the kids, she loved using her art; but she found that while she was teaching so that she could do art on the side, she of course never got around to doing her art at all. There just wasn't time. So one day she went to her principal and told her she was going to stop teaching and try to make it by creating and selling art. Her Principal tried to talk her out of it, but Kimi knew she wouldn't be happy if she stayed. For several years, she barely made it. She was hungry, she was picking up odd jobs, it was hard. She decided to put art on things people needed-- like shoes and clothes and socks-- and she did make it a bit here and there. And because she was hungry, she decided to learn how to spear fish like her Hawaiian ancestors had done. Like her art, it was slow at first, and frustrating, and she was hungry a lot of the time. But when she speared her first fish and gained the satisfaction of bringing it home and eating it for dinner, she was hooked. She began spending more time spear fishing than making art. And at some point someone suggested she enter a competition for spearing shark. So she entered, and she won. And she began to win time and time again until a year later she found herself on the other side of the world, very successful at what she was doing and now she was selling a lot of art because everyone wanted to buy art from a championship spear fisher woman! And yet she had the same feeling that she'd had when she was an art teacher. She wasn't feeling whole, even though this time she was successful. So she stopped competing and went back to spear fishing in Hawaii and creating her art. As I listened to Kimi's story, what I admired about her wasn't her creative talent or her strength at spearing sharks or her kind spirit, although they were admirable traits. What was really amazing about Kimi, is that at each step in her life, when it was so very tempting to do something really good, something even really successful, Kimi was able to resist the temptation when it wasn't what she knew in her core she should be doing. She has since moved on to make an impact on environmental issues, to make several films and TV shows that highlight why we need to be respecting this beautiful planet. It wasn't enough for her to have personal success. She wants to make a difference for our planet and continues to follow her heart.
So often when we think of temptation, we think of really bad things-- drinking, smoking, gambling, sex, sugar-- whatever it might be for you. And for many people who find these things addicting, these are real temptations. But for many of us, these are actually just distractions. The real temptations that we deal with are often actually good things-- things that are beneficial, helpful, maybe even life changing for other people, but for whatever reason, they fall short of our deepest dreams-- they fall short of all that God is calling us to.
Let's look at Jesus. We often think of weak people being tempted, but here we see that Jesus goes into the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit and that is when he is most tempted. He has just been baptized. He has heard God's voice affirming him. He is on a high-- ready to start ministry with a bang. And it is here that he is tempted-- the time, perhaps, when he is strongest. And what is he tempted by? So often because the name of these temptations come from the devil we think that these are horrible things. But look again. Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread. Living in an area of great poverty and hunger, how bad would it be to create some more food for the people? Then he is tempted to gain all power and authority of the city-- to be the Messiah they are actually looking for. How tempting that would be to overthrow Rome, to fulfill the prophecy of his people in the way they are expecting. And then he is tempted to throw himself off of the Temple Mount, to astound the people by showing them a miracle like they've never seen. Surely this isn't bad, to give people a sign that they can count on rather than having to believe.
These temptations for Jesus are only temptations because he can do them. We aren't tempted to do things we can't do. And it is frequent in our lives that we are tempted to do the good things that offer a quick fix rather than focusing on the more fulfilling things that take time, and energy, and faith in God. It is tempting to do the things that we think we can do by ourselves rather than to follow the God sized dreams that God gives us-- dreams that can only happen if we rely fully on God.
A few years ago there was a church down in Florida that as shrinking as the population got older until it was down to about six older women and one man coming regularly to worship. A new pastor was appointed there to help them sell the building and decide where their assets should go. But when he arrived, three of the older women stopped him in his tracks. "We may be small," they said, "but we're not dead. It would be easy to close the doors and turn out the lights, and maybe that's what we should do. But this year a school opened next door, and we think we have something to offer those kids. The school isn't going to buy this building, but we are still here, and they need an after school program." "I don't know how a dozen of us can start a brand new after school program," the pastor began. "Oh, we know it's crazy," another woman piped up. That's why we think it's probably God's idea and not ours."
Jesus did end up feeding people with bread in his ministry. Jesus used the power and authority he had to question and challenge the rulers and authorities that were using religion to make themselves rich instead of following God. Jesus performed miracles that caused some people to believe and others to feel threatened. But he did all of these things not to prove who he was or to force people to love God. He did so in order to be faithful to who he is and who God is. He lived his life with complete integrity and love, healing the world as he went. He lived so differently from how most of us live our lives, that he was able to show us what Gods love actually looks like. He chose to live a completely faithful life, choosing to follow God even into his own death. And then through that death to resurrection. It wasn't something he could do on his own. He had to trust in God and follow his calling.
What awesome and frightening dreams has God given you? And how are you tempted to ignore them? What great things are you doing that you need to say no to in order to say yes to God?
Jesus faced his own demons that day, and when he came out of the wilderness he went straight to his local synagogue and read from the book of Isaiah-- the same one we read today--
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
And then he told them it was fulfilled in their hearing. You see Jesus came out of the wilderness knowing who he was and knowing what he was about. And from that time on, nothing could persuade his otherwise.
As we begin this new year, may we have the courage to follow those dreams God has placed on our hearts. May we have the wisdom to trust that God will be with us to do far more than we could ever imagine. And may we stand up to the temptation to settle for doing something good, when God is calling us to follow Christ into new life for everyone.
*This sermon was written with the influence of Brian McClaren's book, "We Make the Road by Walking," Fred Craddock's commentary in the Interpretation Series on Luke, and Eric Elnes' book, "Gifts of the Dark Wood."