Flights of Fantasy

Come with me for a moment. Close your eyes and daydream about something you have always longed to do. Perhaps you wanted to parachute out of an airplane, sing in an opera, go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, climb Mt. Everest, run a marathon, or walk on the moon. Some of these are achievable, aren't they? But what would it take? Time, money, dedication, and a lot of training. But, none the less achievable.

I know, because when I was in my 30's I actually achieved a couple of these. I spent a year running six days out of the week in training and progressed from 2 miles a day to actually finishing the 26.____ grueling miles along the shoreline of Honolulu, Hawaii finishing up and over Diamond Head. A year before that I took the requisite classes, bought the equipment, and actually went diving more than 85 feet beneath the surface suspended in absolute silence over what is known as the Cayman Trench, a two-mile deep crevice under the ocean. I even auditioned for a part in a local version of the musical Funny Girl. For those of you who are old enough to remember the song. I attempted . . . , "Oh my man I love him so." Ummm, needless to say I did not get the part. But while I never made it to broadway, or sing in any great musicals, I did eventually get on stage in several community plays. A dream I had since childhood when I was so painfully shy. I had what seemed like impossible dreams. Some of which are still out of reach. I'm still trying to learn how to sing. ah, hmmm.

Now, of course, these dreams are all self-generated. We imagine ourselves being something else, or something more. If we want it badly enough, we plot, plan, save, practice, train, go to school - whatever it takes to develop that self-image into a self-reality. My son, who has been jumping for six years, has moved from backyard trampoline to competitive team with the hopes of making it to Nationals this summer. Why? Because trampoline is once again an Olympic sport. Why is that important? He can visualize what he might be able to accomplish. Because there is an image he holds out as a goal to strive for. And it grows from there. He already dreams of being able to do a double back flip with a twist off the diving board.

But what happens when someone else challenges us to be different than we presently are? Are we as successful? Is the motivation strong enough to get us through the training? Usually not, unless the reward for change is part of a larger goal we have set for ourselves. Yet, this happens everyday. People expect things of us that we don't feel equipped, prepared, or ready to do. Take Fiona's dreams of a rescuer. While Shrek was more than willing to do the rescuing, his job description did not include true love's first kiss.

Then, let's take the flip side of that. How often do we expect things of others? We challenge them, motivate them, enlighten, envision, encourage, expect, equip, teach, nurture, poke, prod, tease. Why? For the most part our motives are honorable - to develop a loved one to meet their potential, secure independence, and enjoy a full life. But sometimes, we want a hero. Someone who can do what we have longed to do - or someone to do what we simply cannot. We project fulfillment onto someone else. We sometimes live vicariously through our stars in sports, movies, politics, royalty.

Every nation has its folk heroes, individuals that seem bigger than life - King Arthur, Joan of Arc, Robin Hood, and relatively modern ones like Superman, Batman, Xena, Ninja Turtles, Power Puff Girls, etc. We attribute to them powers beyond normal human ability to save the day. They fight against the things of this world over which we have no control. Cheering them on enables us to feel a little less helpless.

Well, the nation of Israel was a whole lot like us. In Jesus' day they were a small corner of a vast empire overrun with Roman soldiers who kept the peace. But they remembered and longed for the glorious days of Joshua, King Solomon and King David, Samson, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These were their heroes. No one lived who had known them personally but the stories were told to the children as they went to bed, around campfires, and to pass away the time walking from town to town. Gone were the days when Israel was a mighty nation formed out of the 40 years in the desert when God lived amongst them and called heroic men for great deeds of valor. Now Israel was subservient.

The scene is set. The scriptures told of the Messiah who was to come. Well, knowing what we know of human nature, what would the everyday Israelite be looking for in a Messiah? Someone who would be like one of their heroes who had proven his worth. The image would have been of a warrior or a great leader of people, perhaps a David or a Moses. For Jesus' entire childhood, youth, and young adulthood the stories he would have heard in the local market, family gatherings, in the town square, outside the temple would have been the great hope of the Messiah - leader, warrior, king.

Oooops. When do you suppose Jesus realized that wasn't his style? Or maybe I should ask, when do you suppose the humanness in Jesus realized he was the one who was to come? Do you suppose Mary and Joseph told their son everyday from the time he could speak who he was? My parents never told me I was adopted. We can only speculate the answers, and it really doesn't matter anyway. We just know that he knew. It seemed that as a youth in the temple speaking with the elders, he knew. And as he approached John to be baptized, he knew. And when he came up out of the waters of baptism, everyone who was gathered there knew without a shadow of doubt.

But then a funny thing happened. That very same Spirit that had affirmed Jesus as Beloved Son of the Father, led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. In the back of his mind You know he remembered the expectations and the heroic images of the people he was born to save. How easy it could have been to fall into the trap of becoming what other people wanted him to be. People would have flocked to him if he came as a military conquerer. But that is not the kind of allegiance God desires. But that was the kind of test Satan had in store.

Let's look at the three challenges. Matthew tells us Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights. Most of us would agree that we'd never have made it that long, we would have keeled over weeks ago. But whether reality or hyperbole, Jesus would have been hungry, and yet he resisted the opportunity to provide for himself. He counters Satan with an OT quote that comes from the Israelite wanderings in the desert. Actually, the 40 days and nights are reminiscent of those 40 years. (De 9:9 - Moses fasted 40 days and nights twice to go before God to receive the law.) Deuteronomy 8:2-3. Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, . . . in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." You see, the Israelites, God's chosen people also were tested. Not ultimately to discover if they would pass or fail, but to teach them that they could make it in strict reliance on God. Grumble and complain all they wanted - they were formed in the empty caverns of hunger.

The second test involved challenging God to protect the Son. If Jesus were to place himself in a precarious position in order to prove God's word, it would be manipulating God to demonstrate a point that should already be obvious. Again we can find a counterpart with the Israelites in the desert. They had wandered without water for a long time and began to quarrel with Moses, demanding him to provide their needs - NOW - to demonstrate God's fulfillment of promises. God indeed met their grumbling with water, but Moses reprimanded them highly for trying to manipulate God to know if the Lord was among them or not. Jesus' response to Satan came from Moses' admonition to the Israelites at the borders of the promised land in Deuteronomy 6:16. "Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah (the place of the water incident). For in a covenant relationship reliance is all that is required. Both parties trust - not prove.

The third and final test would have given Jesus public acclaim and power . . . seeming control of the entire earth's population! Surely Jesus could have wielded that responsibility and accomplished the Father's goal of saving all creation. But such an illusion!! Maybe some of you are Tolkien fans and have seen the first episode of Lord of the Rings. You will remember the lure of a similar power in the one ring forged by evil. It draws both the warrior and the wise toward its trap. One by one the great heroes either succumb to the illusion or triumph. Galadriel, queen of the elves, completely encompasses the potential of the ring and in a powerful moment resists, saying, "I have passed the test, I shall diminish."

You see, it's not a matter of power over, but individually, one-by-one free submission to the ultimate good, even if that means you "diminish" or in Jesus' case sacrifice everything. Anytime you exercise power "over" you actually place yourself under the power of Satan. Jesus knew the subtle ways of evil and countered again with scripture from Deuteronomy. "You shall not go after the gods of the peoples who are round about you." Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."

It seems simple enough, yet we sometimes place job, people, possessions, social and economic status, fear of embarrassment above God. We worship all these other things first because people have great expectations of themselves and us. Now, we may never have the opportunity to rule the world, or jump off the Empire State building, or magically turn stones into bread. But we are faced with moments of compromise daily. Moments that show us what we are made of. You know what it is like to triumph over our own weaknesses. It is such a high when we find we can do the right thing for the right reasons. It strengthens us for the long haul.

When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tested, there was no doubt in my mind he would resist Satan - I mean after all he is the Son of God. And yet his humanness knew what lay ahead. His humanness could still feel tired, hungry, lonely, sad, pain. Just as Jesus was affirmed by the Holy Spirit at baptism and bolstered through his hours in prayer, he was also strengthened through trials in which he relied completely on the Father.

We too go directly from baptism into the trials of life. From the moment we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit we are faced with opportunities to rely on it. From the moment we have the Holy Scriptures placed into our hands, we are given opportunities to read it, teach it, use it. From the moment the cross is placed on our foreheads we experience the power of God in our lives. Never doubt that God is with you when you are given temptations and trials. Remember instead that these are moments to shine with God's gifts. the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and the cross. These are chances for you to know that you have the gospel written in your hearts. Do not fly with the fantasies of those who only dream of knowing the Lord for their dream is born of human desires not the will of God. Do not be led astray by those who doubt. Instead, rely on the Word of God - for this is the witness of those who knew Jesus face to face and experienced God in their lives.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan