Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No Short Cuts.

A couple of years ago was the 30th anniversary of the tragedy of Jonestown.
I was obsessed with it.
I watched multiple documentaries on it.
I read everything I could find.
I was fascinated to know why so many people would kill themselves and their children.
Why would so many people follow this man to Guyana, away from their families, only to die?
How did they get to that point?
For those who don’t remember Jonestown was the creation of a charismatic preacher named Jim Jones.
He led his followers down to the jungle in Guyana to start a utopian society.
While there, after assassinating a US congressmen who went there to investigate, 909 people drank poison and killed themselves at the urging of Jim Jones.
What fascinated me about this story was not the evil, but the good.
What I kept on thinking while watching the documentaries and hearing the stories of the few survives was that could be me.
The things that the people who followed Jones believed in were good.
In fact, they are some of the things I believe in.
They believed in racial equality, in economic equality, in helping the lease in our society.
Jim Jones offered his followers a utopian society.
What the problem was that Jim Jones won his converts by manipulation and power.
He pried on the week and lost.
He coerced people and threatened them to remain faithful.
For example, he kept his followers up all hours of the night working so they would become fatigued they would have trouble thinking and would not question his authority.
He impressed them with healings, and signs of his supposed godliness.
Jim Jones may have had the right ideas, but he had the wrong methods.

That is what Jesus is tempted within our Gospel story this morning.
He is tempted not with what we would consider bad things, but with obtaining those things through the wrong methods.
Jesus is tempted with three things food, political power, and religious power.
They are all good in and of themselves.
Who would not want a Messiah who could feed the world and end hunger?
Who would not want to see an end to the political back fighting and corruption?
Who would not want to see proof of God’s power on earth?
We all would.
The Devil offers all these things to Jesus, if only…..
If only Jesus takes the short cut.
If only Jesus loses his soul then all the things he wants as Messiah will happen.
Think about the mission that Luke gives to Jesus “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”
This is what it means to be Messiah to reorder the world according the ethics of the kingdom of God instead of the ethics of the world.
But how you get there matters.
And this is what the devil knows, and it is what he tempts Jesus with.
It is the same temptation that Adam and Eve faced in the garden.
They were not tempted with being like the devil…rather they were tempted with being like God.
That is what we are all really tempted with is to replace God with whatever other thing we might see as good.

So too are we tempted not with bad things, but often with good.
We are tempted to do good but in a bad way.
We are tempted to take short cuts to avoid the hard work.

I have always strongly believed in racial equality.
I am not sure why but from an early age I have had a passion for helping others cross artificial barriers of race that get in our way.
Partially because of this out of college I signed up for City Year in Boston that is an Ameri-corp program.
I liked the program because it was intentionally diverse.
My team that year was made up of all kinds of people.
College educated, inner city, suburban, black, white, Latino, Asians, high school drop outs, GED students.
It was what I always dreamed of.
There was only one problem.
It was incredibly hard work to get along with everyone and to try and understand where everyone was coming from.
I just thought we should all think and act the same, but that was not real life.
Building relationships is hard work; it takes time, patients, humility, and love.
All things that I found out I was in short supply of at the time.
It was a lesson to me about short cuts.
There are no short cuts to goodness in the world.
If you want your life to be about God’s life then you are going to have to work at it.
You cannot simply dream it true.
Living out our faith is about putting our sweat and tears into God’s work.
Jesus shows us this in his temptation.

Jesus temptation comes right after his baptism it happens right after God has claimed Jesus as the Son of God.
In fact, the devil mocks Jesus “if you are the Son of God.”
It is clear in Jesus temptation that Jesus is struggling with what it means to be the Son of God.
What Jesus finds out about being the Son of God during those forty days in the wilderness is that his baptismal call is not about using his power to trick people, to get what he wants quickly without hard work.
His baptismal call as the son of God is going to come through sacrifice, love, time, patients, humility, and ultimately the cross.
What Jesus does is reject the devils attempts to give him an easy way out.

Will you?
These forty days of lent will you recommit your life to the hard work of living in the ethics of God’s kingdom?
Are you ready to rededicate your life to love, patience, humility, sacrifice, and the hard work of living the ethics of the kingdom of God?

It is never easy.
Not in a real life context.
Because the truth is that people are not easy.
They disappoint you, they fail you, and they will sometimes crucify you.
Even more we give in to temptation of trying to grab onto the thing we want so bad using any means to get it.
We want the prefect family and when one of the members steps out of line we are fast to cast them out.
We want the perfect job and so we will tell little lies to get it.
We want the perfect church so we will cast out of our hearts those who do not get with our program.
This is the truth that Jesus reveals to us about our lives, it the biblical truth that he calls us back to again and again, there are no short cuts to the kingdom of God.

That year I spent in City Year I was often frustrated with my teammates.
They would often fail to show up to work on time, or work hard once they got there.
Often times I would get upset because they did not do what I thought they should do.
But here is the truth so would I.
I am sure I did things that they thought just as crazy.
What I came to see through the hard work of relationships was that we all needed one another, and not one of us was perfect in any way.
For our team to be the best it could be every one of us had to do the job that we could.
One of my teammates was an excellent organizer.
We learned to rely on her to take our visions and make the practical and doable.
One of my teammates was great at getting us to laugh when we did not want to.
One of my teammates was great at keeping us all humble by telling it likes it was.
By the end of that year we learned to respect and love one another, but getting there was not easy.
There were no short cuts, only the hard work we all put in to understand each other despite our differences.

This lent may we all put in the hard work of living out the kingdom ethics of Jesus Christ.
Let us work to be more loving, humble, self-giving, patient, and Christ centered in our dealings with one another because there are no short cuts with God.
There is no magic bullet that is going to make everything better or more acceptable to us.
There is only the way of the cross.
There is only the way of love, self sacrifice, and the way of Jesus Christ.

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