Words of Wisdom: I Have a Dream (video)
Sacred Words: Matthew 4:1-17
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So why do you think it is that we can’t seem to achieve the vision of Rev. King’s dream? We all desire a world in which people are “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Admittedly, we’ve made progress but the events of this past year would indicate we still have a ways to go. But even taking race out of the scenario altogether, and looking at interpersonal relationships right here in Condon, it’s clear we have a ways to go before, in the words of Rev. King, “…we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. [and that] … we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together…”

I think our passage from Matthew gives us a hint at our human journey of learning to get along. Matthew’s two-thousand year old interpretation of who Jesus was, reveals that not everyone was good at avoiding temptations then, anymore than now.

This passage comes immediately following the baptism of Jesus in which, “…he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” (Matthew 3:16-17 CEB)

Matthew through this story reveals that Jesus is God’s son…but the original hearers need some evidence, too. Matthew is like an attorney building a narrative about who his client is, in this case the anticipated savior.

And so, to help us see that Jesus is special, the writer of the gospel tells us the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to be tested. And Jesus remains focused throughout the forty days on following the divine dream for his life.

Jesus does more than avoid evil — for these temptations aren’t really all that evil — he avoids temptations that any one of us could rationalize ourselves into doing. We could easily convince ourselves that they are the right thing to do.

Consider, Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days. His blood sugar level had to have dropped to dangerous levels by the second day. Would it have killed anyone if he’d turned a few stones into bread? It probably would’ve helped Jesus to keep his strength up for his work. Nope, not evil to eat. Also, not God’s plan as Matthew describes it.

Jesus remains focused and resolute. This man that Matthew reveals in the temptations narrative, is the messiah for whom the people had been waiting. After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” (Matthew 4:5-6 CEB)

I imagine if the people had witnessed angels lifting Jesus up so he wasn’t injured, they’d have been pretty impressed. I think if we saw something like that we’d be pretty impressed, too, and might be more faithful in following Jesus’ teachings. Isn’t that a good thing?

Ah, but again Jesus remains resolute and focused on God’s dream for his life.

Jesus, Matthew tells us, is not quite the kind of messiah the people were expecting. Jesus will not be a conqueror of Rome. As the story unfolds we will learn that servanthood trumps violence every time.

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9 CEB)

What if Jesus had become the ruler of earth two thousand years ago? I can’t imagine that the world would be any worse than it is now. Jesus would’ve prevented a lot of wars and strife. But as I’ve already mentioned, Jesus is not the military messiah that the people yearned for.

And so the gospel writer we refer to as Matthew interprets Jesus’ life for us through this story and those that will follow in the rest of the gospel. Servanthood reigns in God’s realm, in the kingdom.

Jesus is focused on God’s dream for his life rather than on his own ideas for how to fix the world. Jesus, keeps his eyes on the prize.

***

But I promised at the start that Matthew’s version of the temptation of Christ would help us understand why we’ve not achieved Rev. King’s dream and why we can’t quite get along as a human family — even in Condon.

It’s like this, avoiding evil is easy, avoiding grey-area temptations is not. The real challenge is following God’s dream for us.

Jesus avoided each of the grey-area temptations that the Devil offered keeping his focus on God’s dream for his life. We, on the other hand, fail to keep our eyes on God.

As I’ve reflected on this passage and the I Have a Dream speech, it occurred to me there are three general categories of people who want to follow Jesus. Though, it’s true that we probably bounce between these categories (the hopeful, the faithful, and the risking dreamers), I think this continuum helps explain our relationship with God’s dream for us.

This slide was a part of the sermon, "Dreams & Temptations" preached on January 18, 2015 at the Condon United Church of Christ.
This slide was a part of the sermon, “Dreams & Temptations” preached on January 18, 2015 at the Condon United Church of Christ. The content is the property of Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The hopeful.

They follow the rules. They avoid evil. That’s easy enough. They hope for a better world but generally they define that as a peaceful world for themselves and their friends and family. The hopeful don’t do much unless it directly impacts them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good people. It’s just that, well, rules! Oh, yeah, and not everyone is worthy in their eyes.

Their biggest weakness is they think God will do it all if they just believe enough.

The faithful.

They avoid many of the grey-area temptations, not just the evil. They know that a better world will only come if they consider others when they’re tempted. They never knowingly do something that harms others but they don’t always go to the trouble of knowing. The faithful work at being good people. They genuinely ache when they hear about the massacre in Nigeria or hungry children in Appalachia.

Their weakness is that they often hesitate to give up enough for their faith. “I can’t do it all,” while true, too often becomes an excuse for remaining comfortable.

The risking dreamers.

They live their lives as God dreams. They take risks for God’s realm (the kingdom) every day of their lives, believing that is the unfolding of God’s will that will bring a better world. In every moment, the dreamer considers what the most loving thing is and they do it, whatever the personal risk.

The risking dreamers work at being spiritually-attuned. That is, they know that in order live as God desires them to live, they must focus on the divine. They know that the divine is often found in the places and among the people that society rejects.

They’re not afraid of risking for God’s dream, knowing that within it they will find joy and satisfaction. God leads, they follow by acting.

***

According to Matthew, Jesus followed God’s dream for his life. He starts in the wilderness by rejecting what by human standards might have been good choices — eating, demonstrating his worthiness to be followed, and leading a benevolent kingdom. 

And then he began his sacrificial ministry of abundant love. Jesus is a risking dreamer.

We, on the other hand, spend most of our lives bouncing between being the hopeful and the faithful. It’s not that we’re bad people. On the contrary we are good people trying to do our best but we’re missing the point.

It is God’s dream that we were created to fulfill.

Jesus is the one who models for us how to consistently focus on God’s dream for humanity.  Jesus shows us the way to be risking dreamers. When he was hanging on the cross, what did he do but pray for his persecutors?

We’re not Jesus but there are some ordinary folks who spend more time in being risking dreamers than others.

I think Rev. King risked much to live as God intended for him but he, too, was human. He, too, spent time in the faithful and the hopeful. Like you and I, he sinned.

We have saints in the history of this very church who have spent time taking risks for the furtherance of the realm of God in Condon. We have saints who were risking dreamers: spiritually attuned, listening to God, and acting not as they thought best but as God thought best.

Building this building in 1957 was a risk and needed at the time. Giving away land for the memory care center was a risk.  Leaving the comfort of our eastern Oregon wheat fields to advocate for justice in Salem and in DC was a risk. Calling and accepting a gay pastor in this church was a risk…and you did it a very long time ago.

Some of you, may have taken some risks to live God’s dream but you like me, probably spend more time being hopeful and faithful instead of taking the risks God has laid before you.

Our task. Our task as imperfect human beings is to strive to spend less time in the hopeful and the faithful categories. Our task is to be more like Jesus — not Jesus, we can’t pull that one off — but more like Jesus.

Our task as followers of Jesus is to:

  • work at our spirituality: praying, studying the holy Bible, and sharing our gifts — financial and otherwise.
  • be and act the most loving in EVERY moment — whatever the personal risk.
  • take risks for God’s realm and give up our infatuation with human culture and worry about what others will think.

Jesus, who risked what was ultimately his own life, shows us the way. Jesus, who died on the cross, also rose from the dead because God’s love is that big! What are we afraid of?

In the words of Jesus, Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31,33 CEB

Amen.

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