Harrowing Of Hell
March 9, 2014

Audience of One

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Christian way of life has rhythms and seasons and the dance between that and our personal journey can be quite beautiful.  We have times for waiting and times for celebration.  There are periods of joy and periods of introspection.  Likewise, our individual spiritual journeys are marked by different phases and moods as we navigate the complexities of life.  More often than not, it is nothing short of divine inspiration that these rhythms sync in just the right way when we need it most.

From now until Easter, we are invited into the holy season of Lent.  That means turning inward and intentionally working on being the person God wants you to be.

Another way in which Doyt often says this same thing is, “live your life the way Jesus would if Jesus were you.”  In this sermon, I am going to build upon an idea that Doyt preached on Ash Wednesday and that is this: “Lent is a season where we seek to change God’s mind” about the person God sees us to be.

Drawing from the Apostle Paul and theologian Dallas Willard, is this idea of an “Audience of One” and that is God.  Are we “living for an Audience of One”?  Not, are we living for our boss as we seek that next promotion….or our spouse or children as we strive to keep them happy…..or our possessions as we acquire that next thing?

Those things are irrelevant and at the very least, secondary.  Are we living for an Audience of One, and if not, what changes need to be made right now?

Today’s gospel story of Jesus being tempted in the desert by Satan exemplifies how there is conflict between the ways of this world and the ways of God.  Here, Jesus is tempted three times and in three ways.  In the first, Satan tempts him with a desirable object.  We know from the text that Jesus has been fasting for 40 days and is famished.  So, Satan tempts Jesus to simply turn stones into bread.  “If you want it so badly,” Satan seems to say, “then, just take it.”  It’s your right, your prerogative, and you are able, so why not?  The second temptation is to leverage God and abuse that relationship by putting God to the test.  The final temptation is all about domination and violence, to which Jesus says, “NO! Away with you, Satan!”

These temptations represent for us the powers of this world and reflect the underbelly of human existence.  “Satan” embodies the things which render us powerless before the immensity of the world’s problems, such as war, homelessness, and hunger.  As stated by retired Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta, “The powers of this world are characterized by domination and violence, relentlessly seeking to have their own way regardless of the costs, even to the point of death. These are the powers that Jesus resists in the wilderness temptations, and they are the powers that will eventually crucify him.”

Jesus resists Satan three times, and each time he reinforces the message that faith and obedience to God are our security.  Materialism, manipulating God, domination, and violence may be tempting, but that is not the way of God.  If we are serious about living our lives in a manner that is pleasing to the Audience of One, then our behavior must be characterized by faith and obedience to God.  For Jesus, each temptation is a stumbling block on the way to Jerusalem. By resisting each temptation, Jesus comes closer to the cross.  Like Jesus in this moment, we are living in the in between, the space between temptations and the crucifixion.  Like Jesus, we have choices to make and God’s hope for us is that we choose life over the destructive powers of this world.

The Christian way is confession and by that I don’t mean an event, like making confession on Ash Wednesday.  I mean confession as a process.  It is a process of continually looking for Jesus.  Through Jesus we hear the whisper of temptation for what it is – the desire to build barricades of entitlement, not relationships of transformation.  Giving into temptation is living in Kate’s kingdom or Ann’s kingdom, or Bob’s kingdom.  It isn’t God’s kingdom. But when we resist temptation, we choose to engage God and build relationships.  These temptations of Jesus invite us to move more deeply into the isolation and solitude of our own experience. They are invitations not to avoid, but to wrestle with our own demons and confront the relentless temptations that are unique to each of us.

That brings us back around to the How?  How do we become the person God wants us to be?  How do we live our lives the way Jesus would live them if Jesus were you or me? That is exactly what Doyt talked about in his sermon on Wednesday, adopting the disciplines of Lent in an effort to change God’s opinion of us for the better.

The four spiritual exercises he outlined are these:

1. Prayer
2. Self-Examination
3. Fasting
4. Reading Scripture

If you want to know what Doyt had to say about each of these, you can find his sermon on our website.  But the key points are this:

Daily prayer.  It is a discipline that we aim to make a habit.  It’s like teaching an infant how to sleep.  Good sleep begets more sleep.  It doesn’t always make sense, but when a baby is well rested, they will sleep better.  The same goes with our prayer life. When we pray regularly, consistently, and with an open heart, it molds us.  Frequent prayer begets more prayer which in time changes our soul and orients our minds on God.

Fasting. This might be food or drink or possibly forgoing bad habits for a period of time.  Figure out what it is that distracts you from God and will yourself to cut it out for a while.  Allow the soul to override the body and through that, see how the body is changed.

Reading Scripture. This is one is fairly self explanatory.  Join a minyan. Ask me about joining a small group.  Attend more +TEC forums.  Commit yourself to learning more about Jesus and examine the character of God.  Keep asking yourself, “How would Jesus live his life if he had been born me?”

And lastly, Self-Examination. During these next 40 days, we are invited to be introspective.  That means intentionally working on being the person God wants you to be through critical reflection and self awareness.

In closing, I would like to share this prayer written by another retired bishop, Steven Charleston:

“May God watch over you in the quiet hours,
the private moments in your daily life
when your thoughts slip sideways into the still spaces of your soul.
These are the times when you are most with yourself.
They are a place where only you can go, that inner sanctuary of every life, the deep center, where we are who we are when no one else is watching.

In good days and bad, we return.
In deep thought and peaceful dreaming, we find our inner home, the source and the vision. May God wait on you there, to speak if needed or to sit in silence,
the heart of your contemplation.”