Stones to Bread (The Temptation of Control)
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 4:1–4:4
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4-5, 2014
2014 Fall Stewardship Series: “Stones to Bread” (The Temptation of Control)
Tend your vineyard, O God, with love and mercy, so that all who follow you might bear fruit for your kingdom. Teach us again and in a new way that we are not the owners of your vineyard, but we are the stewards, the managers, the tenants of what belongs to you. Help us to relinquish our need to control, turning this over to your gracious care; in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
So, let’s ask the obvious question here that many of you are probably wondering: what in the world does Jesus’ temptation have to do with stewardship? And why is this important? With all the problems we’re facing in the world right now – the Ebola outbreak, battling ISIS, wondering if the President and first family are safe in the White House or not, hoping that the Nats will make it to the World Series, why should we think about stewardship? Good question! Let’s see if we can get at this. Here at St. John’s, we are accustomed to a stewardship focus in the fall – we do that every year. But what’s the link-up between this and Jesus’ temptation? Beginning today and over the next two weekends in worship, we will be focusing on the temptation of Jesus by Satan as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Today we look at the first of those three temptations: the temptation to turn stones into bread. As the sermon title in the worship bulletin indicates, this is sub-titled “The Temptation of Control.” Ah! Now we’re starting to get somewhere in connecting Jesus’ temptation to stewardship, and maybe answering that question of why this is important. Control – for good and for will – has quite a lot to do not only with stewardship, but with life. An operating definition of what Christian stewardship is this: “Christian stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God, and God’s family, the church, in managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes” (http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=394). And so as we begin this 3-part series on Christian stewardship, we focus on that first temptation of Jesus under the theme, “Stones to Bread: The Temptation of Control.” Much of the background for this stewardship series comes from the book, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, by Gary C. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer (ECFA Press, 2014). May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus’ first temptation is not just about his physical hunger; it’s really about control and who is in control. From the deceiver, the father of lies (John 8:44), comes this first deception: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). Would anyone have blamed Jesus for getting something to eat after fasting 40 days? But at what price? And in satisfying that hunger, who then is in control? “The first deception plays on our natural desire for self-determination. We like to be in control, manage our own affairs and determine our own destiny” (The Choice, p. 16). How often in our own lives, in our stewardship of managing God’s gifts, do we echo those words of Satan? When we’re up against the wall, facing difficult and challenging circumstances, do we say something like: “Jesus, if you really are the Son of God, I need you to command ____ to be done in my life…” Here’s the thing: “With this first deception comes the first conflict between the world’s values and the values of God’s kingdom. The former relies on self-determination and places our destiny on our shoulders; whereas the latter calls us to a posture of dependence on God, surrendering control and following Him in obedience as He determines our future. This is a fundamental conflict. God’s people do not have the option of both/and” (The Choice, p. 18). And we don’t like this because we want to keep our feet in both worlds. We want to keep the option open to go by the world’s values when it suits us, and we want to keep the option open to go by God’s kingdom values when it suits us. But we can’t have it both ways. Either we are living according to the values of the world, or we are living according to the values of God’s kingdom.
There’s a whole lot of vineyard imagery in today’s Scripture lessons: the Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7, the Psalm (Psalm 80:7-19) and the Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:33-46). In that Gospel lesson, Jesus’ parable of the tenants in the vineyard, we see this conflict between the world’s values and God’s kingdom values. The tenants came to view the vineyard as their own personal property, to do with as they wished, and to take whatever means necessary to protect it – ironically, from the owner himself. Hello! They were the tenants, the renters, not the owners! All of this seems crazy and upside-down; pretty unbelievable to our ears, but are we guilty of doing this very thing? We say things like, “It’s my life, my career, my house, my time, my money…” Certainly how we develop and use our life and career, our time and money, are choices that we do make. But the truth remains that we are – all of us – tenants and renters of what belongs to God. As Dr. Harry Wendt of Crossways! puts it: “God is the Maker and Owner of heaven and earth.” Dr. Wendt has long advocated that our confession of faith in the Creed ought to state this truth. How would our thinking and living as stewards change if each week we would confess: “I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker and Owner of heaven and earth?” God has never relinquished his ownership of what He has created, and that includes us! Scripture is very clear about this (Psalm 24:1). As the crowning glory of God’s creation, we as human beings who are created in God’s own image are stamped with this message: “God’s personal property to be used for God’s glory!”
As the authors in The Choice point out, there are at least three insights revealed through Jesus’ first temptation by Satan. “First, the enemy will attack us where we are weakest, most vulnerable, and often where we are not expecting it: in the little things!” (The Choice, p. 28). And isn’t that what life is made up of: many little things? To be sure, there are big things that do come our way in life, but the bulk of our obedience in following Jesus will be revealed in the small, everyday things. The way in which we respond to the little things will be prelude to how we respond to the big things. The one who is faithful in small things will be faithful in big things (Matthew 25:21). “Second, this temptation surfaces when there are opportunities for us to grab control for ourselves” (The Choice, p. 29). It would have been very easy for Jesus to grab control and change stones into bread. And how easy it is for us to do the same. The question always to be asked is this: “For whom am I grabbing control: myself or God?” “Third, this temptation urges us to focus our attention on immediate needs and lose sight of what God desires for our lives and service” (The Choice, p. 29). How frequently do we give in to the tyranny of the urgent! What we have to learn as God’s stewards is that the most pressing and immediate, the need with the loudest voice that cries out to us, may not, in fact, be the most important and necessary. “God always has a bigger story going on than what we can see. The strategy of the enemy is to get us to focus on the immediate, the urgent, and the necessary and to take small matters into our own hands. The temptation is to lose sight of the greater work that is taking place” (The Choice, p. 26).
My friends, there is good news here. The good news is that when our obedience to Jesus falters, when our stewardship of God’s gifts fumbles, when we fall into sin and temptation, when we fail to see the bigger picture of what God is trying to accomplish in our lives, there is One who has remained obedient to the will of God. There is One whose entire life demonstrated constant and unwavering stewardship in all things. There is One who did not fall into sin and temptation. There is One who submitted himself fully to the big picture of what God sought to accomplish through him. This One is Jesus. He is that Son who entered into the vineyard that was claimed by greedy and sinful tenants, and poured out his lifeblood on the cross to redeem us all. He died for us that we might live for him. As one stanza of our opening hymn put it: “No gifts have we to offer for all your love imparts, But what you most would treasure – our humble, thankful hearts. All good gifts around us are sent from heav’n above. Then thank the Lord, oh, thank the Lord for all his love” (Lutheran Book of Worship #362, stanza 3). May God help us to do this as stewards of his gifts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
More in Stewardship 2014: Jesus Tempted
October 19, 2014Leap of Fame (The Temptation of Pride)
October 12, 2014All This I Will Give You (The Temptation of Idolatry)