This sermon was preached on the first Sunday of Lent, March 5, 2017, at Knox Presbyterian church. The Scripture for the week was Matthew 4:1-11.
A while ago, I went shopping and tried on a new jacket. It went on fine, once it got zipped up, I couldn’t get it unzipped. The little track “thingies” were stuck and the the slider “thingy” wouldn’t go down.
Do you know this feeling? The zipper won’t come down, and if you’re in the store you start sweating and worrying, like, “oh, no, do I have to pull it off over my head” and, then if it’s just a smidge too tight, it’ll get stuck. Then, what, do you go get the salesperson to get unstuck? How embarrassing, to wander out onto the sales floor with a jacket half stuck on you, like a toddler that can’t dress herself.
I got to thinking about zippers because I got scrambled up on the Matthew Scripture for today. I needed an image to help me understand how God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Devil all fit together in one Scripture story.
For example, the key players in the story are the Spirit who takes Jesus into the wild, Jesus son of God, the Devil, and God. Except - if you’re familiar with the Christian trinity - then the Spirit is God, and Jesus is God, and God is God, and the Devil is the agent of God.
If the Spirit-God takes Jesus-God into the wilderness, and Jesus is tempted by the Devil-who-works-for-God, then how do we make any sense of the story?
Well, going with a zipper metaphor, you’ve got three basic parts that have to work together in just the right way. You’ve got the left and right sides with the teeth that interlock and the zipper pull that locks the together. Each part separately isn’t a zipper, but all three parts working together make one zipper.
Three parts, working together as one: God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. Father/Son/Holy Ghost. Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer. Three parts, one God.
In zipper metaphor: two halves of the zipper with the connector between. Jesus, as the Son of God, to fulfill his work as the Son of God has to stay in relationship with God. They’re two halves of the same thing. Father/Son. Creator/Redeemer. And the Spirit is the connection between them.
Keeping with the three-in-one zipper metaphor, then the Devil might be the little bit of fabric that jams up the whole zipper works. If we look close at the word “devil” in the Bible here, we’ll see that it means literally “back-biter” or “slanderer”. Another word for “devil” is “The Adversary”, which I like because it sounds like an opponent in a “courtroom drama” and less like a cartoon character with little red horns and a pitch-fork sitting on Jesus’ shoulder.
(By the way, that’s the Devil’s job - whether you believe in a devil literally or metaphorically - to get in the way between you and God.)
Anyway, here in the wilderness with Jesus, the devil or adversary in the story is the one getting in the way between Jesus and his relationship with God.
The Devil first tries to get Jesus to turn a stone into bread. Then, he tries to get Jesus to jump off a cliff. Finally, he tries to convince Jesus to worship him in order to gain power over all the earth. Jesus doesn’t fall the for the temptation. He quotes from Scripture to make his point and finally tells the Devil to “Beat it!”.
When I look at all three temptations together, I think that they’re all different versions of the same thing. I think the main, umbrella temptation is for Jesus to step out of line and start acting like he doesn’t need God-the-Father/Creator.
For example, the Adversary tempts Jesus to do things that would show amazing super-Creator-God powers (like turning stone into bread or falling off a cliff and not dying). If Jesus were to do this, he would no longer be the humble-he-walks-among-us-human (aka “Immanuel”). In the biggest temptation of all, the Adversary wants Jesus to worship the Adversary himself in exchange for power. In my opinion, the Devil mainly tempts Jesus to get him to act as is Jesus can get along without God-the-Creator, and Jesus refuses.
Paul and some theologians say that when we say that Jesus was without sin this is what we mean: that Jesus was tempted to go his own way away from the Divine Creator and he didn’t. And when we talk about sin, that’s one way to look at it: that when we sin, we are doing something that tempts us into believing we are separate from God and can get along on our own without God, and without one another.
These Lenten days before Easter are the time in the Christian church when we reflect on Jesus’ time and temptation in the wilderness - and Lent invites us to contemplate the temptations in our own lives.
Many of you may have grown up in Christian churches with the tradition of giving something up for Lent such as sugar, caffeine, television. This Lent let’s challenge ourselves to not simply give something up but to consider seriously what is making us stuck in our relationships with God, in our relationships with other important people in our lives. Maybe even consider what is stuck in our lives with the church. And then let’s take one small step towards changing that.
If we return to our zipper metaphor: the question is: what is jamming up your zipper, keeping you from connecting from God and other people?
If you’re like me, and you’ve gotten stuck in a zipper before, you know in the moment, it might feel like you’ll be trapped in a jacket in the teeny little dressing room forever, but your rational mind knows you aren’t really stuck. What you have to do is take a deep breath and not panic.
You have to take a closer look at the zipper and see what’s making it stuck.
Maybe there’s some fabric caught, and you have to gently pull it out. Maybe the teeth aren’t lined up correctly, and you have to gently coax the zipper pull, while you line everything up.
It’s such a relief, too, when you do finally work that little piece of fabric out of the teeth and you’re free! There’s a sense of accomplishment and freedom, too. Like a kid: Look mom! I did it! All by myself!
A zipper metaphor has its limits, of course. It can only take us so far...but, the good news is anything in life that gives us the idea that we are separate from God, or unloved is false. God loves us you. The apostle Paul said it best:
“In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!