Jesus’ Third Way: Firmly Rooted in Love 2-14-16

Today is the First Sunday of Lent, and my sermon, as promised, is an introduction to our Lenten sermon series on Jesus’ Third Way. Jesus’ Third Way is the title of a book by a professor of mine named Walter Wink. He was a great leader of creative Bible study and read the stories of Jesus closely to understand their meaning. He printed hundreds of copies of his little book “Jesus’ Third Way” and smuggled them into South Africa, because he believed that Jesus’ teaching about non-violence and creative responses to conflict would help people there to end apartheid and learn to live together.

I believe that Jesus’ Third Way is a way to live, a way to structure our lives. I would like to challenge us as a congregation to try learning and living toward Jesus’ third way during Lent, as our lenten discipline. We begin our exploration of the third way on Valentine’s Day which is also on Evolution weekend. I’m trying to put all these complicated themes together into this introductory sermon. Listen to the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness – the word of God in your hearing today.

Luke 4: 1-13 Jesus returned from the Jordan filled with the Holy Spirit, and she led him into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the Devil. Jesus ate nothing during that time, at the end of which he was famished. 3 The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are God’s Own, command this stone to turn into bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “Scripture has it, We don’t live on bread alone.’” 5 Then the Devil took Jesus up higher and showed him all the nations of the world in a single instant. 6 The Devil said, “I’ll give you all the power and the glory of these nations; the power has been given to me and I can give it to whomever I wish. 7 Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it will all be yours.” 8 In reply, Jesus said, “Scripture has it: ‘You will worship the Most High God; God alone will you adore.’” 9 Then the Devil led Jesus to Jerusalem, set him up on the parapet of the Temple and said, “If you are God’s Own, throw yourself down from here, 10 for scripture has it, ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you; 11 with their hands they’ll support you, that you may never stumble on a stone.’” 12 Jesus said to the Devil in reply, “It also says, Do not put God to the test.’” 13 When the Devil had finished all this tempting, Jesus was left alone. The Devil awaited another opportunity.

February 14, 2016

Jesus’ Third Way: Firmly Rooted in Love

I can’t say that I’ve ever been much of a scientist, but when I was in third or fourth grade, my parents bought me a chemistry set of a sort that were kind of popular at that time. I had a microscope, I remember and I looked at small organisms wriggling around on a slide. I loved mixing chemicals together – especially baking soda and vinegar to make bubbly concoctions, especially a white powder and clear liquid, neither of whose names I remember, which, when combined, made, like magic, a gorgeous magenta color.

These were great experiments for a young mind, really fun, testing things and being tested. Our passage from Luke on this first Sunday of Lent is an important story of Jesus being tested. We call it the story of the temptation of Jesus. It is a wonderful story for Bible study. If anyone wants to study it more in depth, I’ll be glad to stay after church today for Bible study and Journey Class.

That’s my offer and my excuse for not dealing with this great passage in depth in my sermon this morning. In our Bible study, we will see Jesus’ third way in action. Jesus constantly finds creative ways to deal with conflict. Living in a violent time dominated by the oppressive power of the Roman empire, Jesus taught his followers ways to fight back without using violence. He wanted to give disciples alternatives to running away or fighting, both options likely to get them killed. Stories about Jesus illustrate that he used this creative third way to respond rather than in all kinds of situations, including in this confrontation in the wilderness with the devil.

We’ll notice in our Bible study that the devil is the first character in Gospels to take a quote out of context from scripture. This is in the Matthew version of the temptation story, by the way. The devil tries to take a passage taken out of context and rigidly use it against Jesus to tempt him to act in his own selfish interests rather than following God’s way. Jesus uses scripture creatively, rooted firmly in love, to stay on track with God.

All of us are tested often in our lives. All of us are challenged in these times  of prosperity, provision and a secular worldview to think God is no longer necessary to protect us in our privileged world from hunger and hostile threats. But it’s not true. Now more than ever, now in times of isolation, spiritual forgetfulness, denial, & fear, we need a covenant relationship with the divine more than ever.

You see, this is how I’m intertwining all of the themes together today – the theme of Valentines Day, Evolution Weekend, and Jesus’ Third Way. You know that I always contend that there is no contradiction between science and our faith. We are people of faith, who respect scientific understanding and the scientific method. We celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin this weekend because the truth of the theory of evolution has brought us tremendous understanding of our world, and of our faith.

Our understanding of evolution has changed our understanding of the Bible, and has enhanced our relationship with the living God. What I’m trying to say here is that I don’t think that Jesus would stand with rigid fundamentalists or with rigid secularists. In the same way that Jesus contends with the devil in this temptation story, refusing to buy his rigid view of scripture, refusing to settle for the better instead of the best, refusing to be the Messiah that the devil (and everybody else expected) Jesus insists on his own way – a third way between the expectations of the most overtly religious, and the doubts of the most skeptical.

Here let me stipulate that in Jesus time there was no such thing as a secular world view. There was no such thing as science. We just can’t know. I think there is room in our time though to apply Jesus’ third way – not the way the creationists do that denies science, but in way that respects both science and the power of a faith tradition.

I often say to my atheist friends, “You know, I don’t believe in the same God that you don’t believe in.” That usually makes them have to stop and think for a bit. When I read the books of the so-called new atheists, they are usually arguing against an old man in the sky who zaps people when they’re bad and rewards them when their good.

So here’s my Valentines Day connection. The God that I do believe in is a God of love. In fact, I believe, as the Bible says, that God is love, not the romantic, cupid kind of love that endlessly gets promoted as the god of Valentines day, but the love that Brian was talking about, the love that lasts even that kind of excitement fades, the love that is a covenant bond, a steadfast connection, the kind of love that sticks with people and cares for them even when dementia starts to take its toll (or Parkinson’s or some other disability) the kind of love that says, “let me get you a drink of water. Can I fluff up that pillow for you. Let me help you with those pills, dear one.”

That’s what we’re going to be talking about during this Lenten season, the third way of Jesus that finds a way out of no way, the third way that refuses to fight or run away, the third way in our relationships, in our work, in our everyday lives – and it is always the way of love, the way of the living God.

Jesus lived out that love of God in every part of his life and even into his death, a love that transcended even death, that found a third way even at the end.

This is God’s good news.

Thanks be to God.