Matthew 4:1-11; Power! Delivered March 5, 2017

Ok.  I am about to read to you something that appeared in the Daily Progress this week.  I am going to substitute the word “blank,” though, for the name of the person being written about. See if you can guess who it is:  

The title of the piece is “Blank, in other words, the person’s name.  And then a subheading for the piece, is this:   

On the national stage, Blank hedges bets on his political future. 

Ok.  Here’s the first part of the article proper: 

His young aides could hardly keep up as Blank strode through the US Capitol. 

“Anybody from Virginia?”  he boomed at a startled group of tourists.

“Barney Frank!” he greeted a familiar bearded figure.  I haven’t seen you in ages!”

He shook hands with a tour guide, told a Belgian family to “Spend every dime you’ve got in my state” and buttonholed Senator Roy Blunt, Republican from Montana to whisper about a bill.

“Appreciate it buddy,” Blank said as he broke away.  “See?  A good Republican senator.  I get along with everybody.”

In the hallowed heart of American politics, Blank managed to stand out as an alpha politician.  He could out-sound-bite, out-glad hand and simply outlast almost all the big-league professionals around him.”

And I’ll end my reading here.  If you want to read the entire article, it was in last Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Progress. 

Want to guess who the article is about?  If you guessed Governor Terry McAuliffe, you would be right.  The reference to Virginia and a “friend to Republicans” were clues.   It could also have been about Virginia Senators Mark Warner or Tim Kaine, though.  And if I had blanked out Virginia, and the line about Republicans, it could have been about almost any MAN in politics (lots of male pronouns), although admittedly about some more than others.  The trappings of power look pretty much the same whoever is wielding it in today’s legislative halls and state government offices.  The devil of course, is in the details. 

The devil is also in our scripture reading for today.  That’s right.  Power and the devil are front and center in today’s scripture and they are the focus of this sermon.   

Jesus is in the wilderness, having just been baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River.  He goes into the wilderness to consider what has just happened.  As he came up out of the water, remember, God’s voice boomed from heaven, “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” 

“Wow.  God’s son. What does that mean?” Jesus thinks to himself.  He presumably thinks that, because according to Matthew, when Jesus comes to the Jordan River, Jesus has not yet started his ministry. He has not yet performed any miracles.  This, then, was a shocking bit of information for Jesus.  He goes into the wilderness, to think this through. He goes there, ostensibly by himself.  

In that wilderness, though, we read that Jesus meets  up with the devil.  Now before we go any further, we need to address this—the idea of a devil—since he is portrayed here as a flesh and blood entity.  Believe me, in my itinerant preacher days—I did pulpit supply for about a year-- In my itinerant preacher days, I met with, and preached for good Christians who I am pretty sure, believe in a flesh and blood devil. However, my study Bible says of the devil, “The devil and Satan are names for evil conceived as a personal will actively hostile to God.” That’s my take on it, too. It would be great to believe that evil is out there, someone or something we can turn our backs on, or shake a finger at, but sadly, evil does not cut vertically.  Evil cuts horizontally—in other words, we are, each of us, tempted to do and actually commit evil.   Jesus was God, but he was also human.  For that reason, like the rest of us, he was susceptible to evil temptations.   

 So, Jesus thinks to himself out there in the wilderness, “Gee if I am actually God’s son, then maybe I have God-like power. What might I do with that power?” Jesus considers three kinds of power:

“You can turn these stones into bread—Go ahead.”  says the devil, or maybe better, says Jesus’ alter ego—stones to bread--that is material power.  “No, no, I won’t go there,” says Jesus.

“You can jump off the pinnacle of the temple,”—says Jesus’ alter ego.  “Jump off the pinnacle and you will earn immediate fame; “ fame is power.  “No, no, that’s not for me, either,” says Jesus. 

“You can rule over all the kingdoms of the world”—Jesus’ alter ego suggests.  But Jesus decides, “Nope, political power is not my cup of tea either. No thank you.”   

This exchange might lead us to conclude that Jesus rejects all power, and further that is because all power is bad.   But that is not the case.

At least that is what Robert Greene says.  Robert Greene is the author of a book on power. The 48 laws of power.   I skimmed the book this week, looking for some nuggets I could share with you.  Here is one.  Robert Greene says that all human beings crave power.    To not have power means to not have control. We need some control, or power, over our lives if we are to be happy and and independent.

When children feel that they don’t have power, what do they do?  They throw temper tantrums.   When adults feel that they don’t have power, like when they are laid up in a hospital dependent on nurses and doctors, and family members for every little thing, they throw temper tantrums, too. They may not fall to the floor and kick and scream, but adults without power get angry, depressed, weepy.  Again, we human beings crave power and for good reason.

In fact, Jesus himself embraced power; But he didn’t embrace the kind of worldly power we are so familiar with —again, material power, fame, or political power.  The kind of power that Jesus tapped into—for the first time, out there in the wilderness, was/is Spiritual power. 

After he leaves the wilderness and begins his ministry, Jesus uses his spiritual power to heal, save, and change hearts.    

“Ah.  Of course,” you say.  At least I hope you say that.   “Jesus DID have a lot of power.” 

This then, could be a good stopping place for this sermon.  Jesus has spiritual power.  We don’t and never will, so let’s sing a hymn of praise to Jesus and move on to communion.

But wait a minute.  Is it really true that humans don’t have spiritual power?   

In fact, IS it possible for us to have the kind of spiritual power that comes from God through the power of the holy spirit?  That’s what I asked myself this week, and that led me to ask myself a second question: “Do I myself, a clergy person who travels in religious circles, do I actually KNOW anyone who has spiritual powers?” 

 I know spiritual people, of course; that is, people who pray, read the Bible, and who try to lead good and decent lives—you here today, for example, and me, too.  

We could even go so far as to say everyone is spiritual, if by spiritual we mean, the deep seated notion that we are connected to something beyond ourselves. 

You may have already heard this before; but someone has said that humans are not physical beings with a soul, we humans are spiritual beings with a body—I believe that—maybe you believe that, too---but do humans have spirituals powers?  Well that is something else again. 

If someone has spiritual power, we think that someone is able to perform miracles.  Bending spoons through mental telepathy, for example.  Back in McLean, Virginia, where I used to live, I knew a woman who said that through prayer she could make lights flicker—which is way cool. I never saw her do that, though—and I’m not sure that even if she really can, that counts as a demonstration of real spiritual power.

I knew someone else, again in McLean, Virginia, who shared with me that he could communicate with dead people through prayer.  Maybe he could and did.  I will remain open to that possibility.  

Thinking more about this, though, it has occurred to me that since spiritual power is not materialistic, does not draw attention to itself, and does not trade in political favors, maybe there are people around me and around us everywhere, who DO actually HAVE it.  It’s just that since spiritual power doesn’t make a person rich, wildly famous, or politically formidable—like Terry McAuliffe, we don’t see it or hear much about it.   

 I offer this for your consideration.  Could it be that at least some nurses, doctors, school counselors, firefighters, soldiers, grocery store clerks, accountants, teachers, mothers, fathers, grandmothers grandfathers, husbands, wives, children, students, the list goes on, Maybe some of these people DO have spiritual powers—received straight from God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  They just don’t choose to let us in on their little secret.

Or maybe it is, and here’s a shocker for you, and I want to leave you with this--MAYBE PEOPLE WITH SPIRITUAL POWERS who are healing people and saving people, and changing peoples’ hearts in all kinds of ways, all the time, aren’t even aware that they HAVE spiritual power.  Could it be?   

And if THEY have it, and use it, and don’t necessarily know about it, why not us? 

May it be so for you as for me.  Amen