Bible Text: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Giving It Up | Good morning again. We are now in the season of Lent, a typically solemn religious observance in our liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately forty days later on Holy Thursday, or sometimes called Maundy Thursday. That Thursday serves as a memorial of the Lord’s supper the Thursday of Holy Week before Easter Sunday. For most people, the purpose of Lent is the preparation for Easter through spiritual practices like prayer, fasting, denial of ego or luxuries, and others.
And I am sure that over the years, many of you and myself included, have given something up for the forty days of Lent. I remember my one grandmother used to give up chocolate pretty much every year, which was a pretty big deal because I think she almost singlehandedly kept Dove chocolate in business in the nineteen nineties. Over the years, I remember giving up candy, soda, and that kind of stuff. I asked my parents when I was in junior high school if I could give up homework for Lent, but that did not fly.
Anyways, many people, I included, believe that giving something up during the forty days of Lent can be a very beneficial thing for many people. So, as we venture into this season, we are going to be engaging a seven-week sermon series beginning today, called “Giving It Up.” This series attempts to take that idea of giving something up for the forty days one step further, though. Each week we will be talking about things that God wants us to give up, and not just for forty days, but forever.
Today, our sermon title is “Giving Up Control,” and we will be focusing on our readings for today from Matthew’s Gospel and from the book of Genesis. Giving up control is…well, it’s something that most people don’t like to do, whether willfully or forced. I mean, who likes to let go of control? Who likes to feel like they have no influence on their situation, or journey, or life? Who really wants to completely trust another person, or maybe higher power as it were, with their life or situation and have no real input or impact on it? I’m guessing very few, if any, people are going to jump at that opportunity. It’s just not in our human nature.
And this isn’t some recent phenomenon. This has been ingrained in humanity for a very long time. Just look at sayings that are pretty old, but we still sometimes find ourselves using today. “A self-made man.” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” How often has our society looked at someone who is poor or homeless and simply stated, “they just didn’t work hard enough” or “they are just lazy.” Or maybe from another perspective, how often have you heard someone talking about taking control of their life and their destiny? How they just need to want it bad enough, and things will change for them?
But do we really have control? Or enough control? Well, I suppose that depends on your beliefs and how you understand the world and humanity and free will and God. But let’s jump over to our Scripture readings for today for a moment. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read about Jesus being taken and tempted in the wilderness. He is tempted three times, yet each time, he denies his own human impulses and instead follows God’s will. And these were not minor temptations. Jesus was out in the wilderness with nothing to eat really, and he is tempted to turn the stones of the ground to bread and eat.
But Jesus pushes back, saying, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He is then tempted to show off the power of God and his divinity as the son of God by throwing himself from the top of the temple, knowing that angels would come to save him. But again, Jesus resists and replies, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Finally, he is tempted to turn away from God and worship his tempter, and he will be given all of the kingdoms of the world and all their treasures. But again, Jesus resists and replies, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” These are some pretty serious temptations. Imagine being so hungry, absolutely starving, and someone allows you to eat something and quell that hunger. That might be hard to resist.
Or how about being given a chance to silence your critics and show them just how awesome or powerful or special you really are? How hard might it be to pass up the opportunity to do something that would show the world that everything you have been saying, in trying to help the world no less, was completely true? That one might be hard to pass up too.
Or, what about the chance to have enough money and power and influence to take care of your family and loved ones for generations? What about being in charge of everything so that you could help correct the mistakes of the past, you could make the world a better place because you would have the wealth and prestige to make it happen? I admit that one sounds pretty good sometimes, especially when I look around and see all of the suffering and pain in the world and sometimes feel helpless to do anything that could really change it.
But Jesus was able to stand his ground, deny these temptations, and ultimately give up control to God and follow God’s will. And for those who think, well of course he did, Jesus is God, part of the Trinity. Well, just remember, that Jesus was both divine AND human, and he still had to contend with his humanity at the end of the day. A human that got hungry. A human that got angry sometimes. A humanity that had been witness, and experienced, the suffering in the world.
But what about our reading from the book of Genesis? How did things turn out there? Well, we start out with God putting Adam in the garden and telling him the rules about which trees he is allowed to eat from. So far, so good. Simple, clear instructions. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well…our next scene suggests something problematic is afoot. We find the serpent tempting Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge, even though God said not to. And, because Adam and Eve have free will, and because the serpent is, as the text says, “more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made,” Eve eats and gives it Adam, and he eats too.
Once they have eaten, their eyes are opened, and they realize that they are both naked. So, they run off to sew fig leaves together and make loincloths for themselves to cover their nakedness. Many people argue that in this story, Adam and even disobey God, thinking that they know better than him, and find themselves in very disastrous consequences when God throws them out of the garden and places several other hardships upon them.
The question, of course, for many is were they tricked into what they did, or instead did they do so out of their own desire to be equal to God. While I definitely understand the argument for being tricked, and I do not necessarily disagree with it, I also believe that they still made the conscious decision to disobey God and eat from the tree they were told not to. They were not forced to eat; they ultimately chose to do so. But I also acknowledge this is not exactly a black and white situation, so it is not always as simple as we might want to make it.
So, what about our world today? How do we understand the dynamic of control when we add God into the equation? You know, in our modern world, where we are so used to having control over so many things, I think we often fail to seek God’s will for our lives, and ultimately we continue to try to call all the shots ourselves. But is that what we should be doing? Doesn’t God want us to deny ourselves and give God the final say when we are charting out the course of our lives? So, what do we do? How do we let go? How do we, as many a motivational image on social media might say, “Let go and let God.”?
I think the biggest challenge in giving up control is that to do so, to really give up control to God means that we must change. We must change how we think. We must change how we act. We must change our hearts and our minds. And let’s face it, folks, we don’t like change. Throughout the history of the human race, we have resisted change at every turn and every opportunity.
People were critical a long time back about using paper in school because there was nothing wrong with a small chalkboard to write on. People were critical of reading for Pete’s sake at one time. There was a major uproar when Coke 2 came out, which I actually kind of liked personally. When they changed the name of the Sears Tower to Willis Tower there was an audible outcry in the city of Chicago. When Superman died in the comics, and some movies, some people lost their minds. And all of those, all of them were pretty minor if not insignificant in the grand scheme of humanity’s history, but they still were controversial and problematic.
And those are all changes that are nowhere near the level of change we are talking about in relation to giving up control to God. That’s on a level so far beyond the rest of this stuff that I don’t think we could ever accurately measure it. So how, I ask again, how can we possibly make that kind of change in our lives? How can we possibly do it? Even with our best intentions and efforts, I just don’t know that I believe we are capable of. But do we have to do it alone?
I don’t think so. I think we can, and should, always be willing to ask God for help, in all things that we do. I think it is more than appropriate to ask God to help us to trust God, to give up our control, and to give it over to God. But it is not just as simple as asking God for that help and then sitting back and waiting. We still have to try, and a very strong one, one full of our sincerity and truth. It cannot be paying lip service but has to be a REAL, TRUTHFUL, and MEANINGFUL request for God’s help.
And we have to really want it. We can’t just say, “Hey God, I don’t really want to give up control, so could you just you know, make me want to and then do it for me?” I mean yes, at some level we are always going to want to retain some level of control, but we have to be really sincere in asking God to help us to change, and to admit that even though we might be scared or worried, we know that God is in control and God will take care of us and do what God will do. We have to get ourselves, again, with God’s help but really mean it, to the point that we want to give up control to God.
And that is hard. Really hard. Life experiences alone that influence us at some many different levels alone can derail us from getting to that point. But I believe, in the very depths of my being and soul, that if we ask God to help us to grow in our faith, in our trust, in our relationship with God, God will hear us. That doesn’t mean that it will magically become a simple and quick task. But it is one that we will not be alone on. So, take a chance this Lent. Ask God to help you. And work to give up control to God over your life. You never know where it may lead. Amen.