All Love Needs is You

A sermon based on Luke 4:1-13
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio March 17, 2019
by Rev. Scott Elliott

In Luke Chapter 3 Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and a voice from heaven declared “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Then in Luke 4– as we heard Susie read so nicely– Jesus full of the Spirit, “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” The usual take away from the story is that the devil, a lesser deity being, tempts humans to do wrong, and Jesus models how when we are full of the Holy Spirit the devil’s way is not followed. As someone who came to Christianity unchurched I am fascinated by how that take away has a very polytheistic bent with the deity God battling with the deity devil over us.

I am also intrigued by how “the devil makes us do it” approach to the lesson does not align with theological teachings by Jesus and in the story itself when we actually look at the specific temptations to see what was offered by the devil to Jesus. One of the first things that leaps out of the specifics of the temptations is that none of what is offered are on their own are what our culture and even many religious people would necessarily call a bad thing. The devil offers Jesus self-preservation, “make bread for yourself.” The devil offers Jesus self-advancement, “have yourself some power.” The devil offers Jesus self-rescue, “in risks God will rescue you.”

Much of our secular culture lauds in one way or another what the devil offers – self preservation . . . self advancement . . . self rescue. There are even Christian churches, missions, ministries and religious leaders who preach theologies grounded primarily in self preservation, self advancement and self rescue. Many claim that Christianity is about focusing on individual believers’ being cared for, advanced in society, and rescued and rewarded in the afterlife. The individual becomes Christianity’s aim–YOU will prosper through Jesus and get the bread for self, advancement for self and salvation for self. When set out like that, it can spookily sound a lot like what the devil offered Jesus out in the wilderness.

Many in mainline Christianity actually advocate a very different sort of theology, a Gospel of love decidedly not oriented toward self alone. These followers of Jesus understand self-centering is not Jesus’ Way. Jesus’ Way is a Gospel of Love The lesson today, the very first lesson in Luke after Jesus is declared God’s Son and Beloved, can be understood to support the Gospel of Love theology. Out in the wilderness Jesus, full of the Spirit, rejects self-centered acquisition-ing when he is offered it by the devil. He is alone with God’s Spirit where no human could have heard him plotting for himself, and Jesus rejects the devil’s offers outright.

Tellingly the only character in the lesson that propounds the theology for yourself-alone is the devil. I know that just hearing the word “devil” in a church makes some of us cringe, so I want to make sure to set out the objective definition of the devil, since the word has all kinds of culturally nuisanced meanings for us. The devil being referred to in the Bible is– as my very mainstream Oxford Companion to the Bible (p. 678) describes it is– “the name of the archenemy of God and the personification of evil, particularly in the Christian tradition.”

We can choose to hear that definition referring to an actual lesser deity a real being, or we can choose to hear it as metaphor forces that cause humans to oppose God and personify evil in world. I have mentioned before how I personally do not think there is lesser deity devil or Satan around, so I choose the metaphoric understanding. No one has to agree, but as I already suggested with a reference to polytheism, I think taking monotheism seriously means there can be no greater, equal or lesser deity than God in existence. For me there is only one deity, God.

Just as I understand Christ is the name we give to the personification of God on earth in that which is good, I understand the devil to be a name we give for personifications of the opposition to God, that which is evil. The personification of good in our choices and our actions is God at work. The personification of evil in our choices and our actions is the archenemy of God at work.

Now I also want to be clear, that self preservation, advancement and rescue are not in and of themselves evil. In other words, Jesus and his Way are not about rejecting self-preservation, self-glory or self-rescue per se. Many people come to Christianity for self betterment and that is certainly not wrong. A part of God’s effect on humans, and for that matter all of creation, IS seeking betterment. Self betterment is important, it is as equally important as betterment of others, but “equally important” does not mean more important. Self care becomes wrong when, like the devil’s offers to Jesus, it is care for self alone, or care for self unequally. In short, self betterment on Jesus’ Way includes bettering the world for others, praying for that betterment and acting on it– even when no one else is around except God. If it does not include betterment for the world, it is not Jesus’ Way. Period.

In the wilderness with no one else around the devil offers only Jesus the bread, the glory and the salvation. Worshiping the devil was part and parcel of how Jesus was to get all he ALONE was offered. Worshiping the devil manifests itself when we as a rule care about self above and beyond caring about others. Jesus, in his very first act at the end of his preparation for ministry in the desert, while full to the brim with the Spirit, rejects self-centered theology and worship. That rejection signifies fullness of the Spirit. That rejection by us signifies today that we are on Jesus’ Way in the same manner Luke tells us Jesus started, rejecting the self-over-others way the devil offers.

The Way of Jesus, as Jesus so succinctly states in his teachings elsewhere, is about loving others as we love self, doing to others as we want done to self. That is what goodness looks like. Goodness is how Spiritual fullness plays out. Goodness is Jesus’ choice over and over again. Goodness is supposed to be our choice over and over again too. “Goodness,” is a word that actually has its root in the word “God-ness.” And sure enough, according to my desktop Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms “God is supreme good and thus the standard by which all grades of ‘goodness’ are assessed.”

What does God’s goodness standard look like when it comes to care? Does God choose to care for self alone? Or better yet, to put in it Christian terms, does God incarnate in Jesus as a human choose to care for self alone? We know the answer is “No.” See, to choose the good way is to choose God’s way. Conversely, choosing to oppose God’s way is choosing evil.

In the Gospel stories over and over again Jesus exemplifies choosing God’s way, indeed that is essentially what both Jesus’ teachings and his story are about, choosing God’s way. Jesus’ genius includes that he makes the choice simple, choose love. We have magnet on our refrigerator at home that puts it like this “All love needs is you.” Jesus gives love what it needs fully.

Most of us have probably not thought about this before, but Jesus completely giving over to love accomplished what the devil offered him out in the desert, but not just for self. Jesus goes on to miraculously make bread, not for self alone, but for others. Jesus goes on to gain glory and a kingdom, not for self alone, but for others. Jesus goes on to risk his life and be risen by God, not for self alone, but for others. All of that starts with Jesus rejecting the worship the devil asked for. It matters that Jesus rejected worship of the archenemy of God and rejected the personification of evil.

We face the choice to reject the devil as well. We do not have to understand that to mean we face a supernatural being, but what we face is a choice. Do we go with the forces that beckon us to ignore the presence of God and God’s call, and worship and act in ways that place self above others and creation. The forces of Good in the presence of God calls us to reject those forces. In the Bible this is sometimes phrased as choices God’s people between good over evil. In the Garden of Eden humans miss God’s mark, that is sin, by partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge good and evil. One way to understand that story is also as metaphor for how humans appear to be the only beings in existence on earth that possess knowledge of good and evil and must constantly choose between them in life.

While simple, that is pretty theologically intense– so much so, the Bible is in great part about choosing between them and the consequences of the choices made. Basically those lessons boil down to this truth: choosing evil causes hell to break in on earth; and choosing good causes heaven to break in on earth. One choice results in the devil’s way. The other choice results in God’s’s way. One choice results in our incarnating the devil, evil. One choice results in incarnating God, good.

Most religions help adherents discern how to make the good choice how to relate to God in all of creation. We can see that clearly in our Bible verses today. Jesus’ first choice is to either worship the devil or worship God, by choosing between primarily seeking preservation, glory and rescue for self, or seeking them for everyone. That’s a choice humans face over and over again. It’s a choice we discuss at one level or another most every Sunday. It comes up because, truthfully, it is actually very tempting to choose to live and act primarily for self alone.

I wonder sometimes if that is the difference between humans and other life forms we know of. Basically it seems that other animals live for themselves and their family or close knit pack. They do not seem to have a choice to discern, they live to keep self and kin surviving. Something in humanity works on our souls to give us a compelling interest in the corporate whole, not just self and kin or clans.

Humanity has committed terrible violence on others, sadly even on other religions as we saw a few days ago in the tragic New Zealand shootings. But humanity has also committed great goods on others in medicine, civil rights and many other humanitarian efforts locally, nationally and globally. And also in the call to stop tragedies like the mosque shootings and to care for the victims Something compels us toward care beyond self and kin. Like other religions Christians call that something “God.” Like other religions Christianity, at its best, aims us toward care for the rest of creation, and most especially other humans.

The Bible is about choosing to act not just for self and kin to survive but all of creation to survive. That is the we-are-caretakers-for-God lesson of Genesis we discussed a bit last week. But the temptation to keep self and kin only surviving is still a very strong force in humanity, a vestige of what I imagine is our animal nature pulling us to choose to elevate self preservation, self advancement and self rescue and reward.

It is so tempting to make the self first choice that even churches and religious leaders fall prey to weaving it into their version of the gospel. But that is their way. It is not Jesus’ Way. We know that because the very first thing Jesus does in Luke is reject that way; and as harsh at it may sound, Luke pretty much labels it devil worship.

But even more telling is what happens after our lesson that Susie read. What happens after Jesus leaves the desert and the devil behind, is he begins providing a Way for others’ preservation, other’s advancement and other’s rescue. He creates a Way that does all that the devil offers, but not for self alone, rather for everyone. That makes all the difference. And the lesson today is that the difference between worshiping God and worshiping the devil is tending to the well being of others.
It is that simple. Really. We need look no further than the first words quoted from Jesus in Luke 4 after he leaves the wilderness and the devil behind. Jesus’ first words are not about self preservation, self advancement or self rescue that we often hear religious elite of our day preach. Sadly Jesus’ first words are not words we often hear the religious elite in Jesus’ day, in history or in our own era preaching. Full of the Holy Spirit from his baptism, and freshly informed by his encounter with the devil here is what Jesus preaching out of the Book of Isaiah said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

May we be so full of the Spirit that we do as Jesus did and reject self alone actions, and instead desire, pray and act for the preservation, advancement and rescue of everyone. May it be so.