I Am Number Three Genesis 2:1-3, 15-17, 3:1-8 Matthew 4:1-11 Russell Eidmann-Hicks
I recently read a psychologist talking about what it is like to counsel billionaires. He has seen a number of them. (There are about 2,800 in the world – and of course millions of wannabees…) One key observation this psychologist makes is that billionaires believe that the rules do not apply to them; they don’t have to obey them. People are constantly catering to these folks, encouraging them to bend or break the rules. Because of the astounding depth of their wealth, they can do things most people think is impossible. Rules just don’t apply. They feel above them.
In our story today Jesus is being encouraged by the Tempter to act this way. The Tempter says, “Look, you’re the son of God, right? God’s Son! So the rules don’t apply – do whatever you want to do. Make stuff happen, whatever you want: turn stones in to bread, rule the world, lord over others, make it into whatever you like; jump off the tower in Jerusalem for kicks. Angels will come and cushion your fall.” Sounds very tempting, right? Do whatever you want. You’re in charge. The world’s your oyster.
Isn’t that a temptation we’re being sold day after day in our world? Advertisers promote this dream: Do what you want….buy what you want…travel where you want…who cares about rules or boundaries, just put your money down, and whatever you dream can become a reality. Presto! Magic! It’s all for you to get what you want. It’s your dime. Legally it’s fine.
But what about religiously, morally, spiritually? Well, that’s where Jesus pushes back. He steps up to teach us the downfalls. The Tempter says: “Do what you want, you’ve got the power and the resources. You’re a spiritual billionaire!” But Jesus replies: “It’s not just about what I want that matters; it’s about what God intends; it’s about how scripture calls us to live; it’s about obeying the path God has set before us. That’s what gives us a good life.” So essentially, it’s not just about ME, it’s about GOD. It’s not just about my desires, but about what is right and good and true and loving.
Lent is a time for us to step back from our blind and relentless pursuit of personal gratification to seek a higher vision: harmony with God, moral integrity, kindness to others, listening to the hurts and hopes of others beyond ourselves. It means carving out space within our lives for reflection, for prayer, for self-discipline. It can even mean fasting – fasting from selfishness and egotism, fasting from consumer gluttony, fasting from anger and resentment, fasting from petty grudges and fixations, fasting from the frantic pace of our schedules, fasting from ME, ME, ME! Lent can be a refreshing time of cleansing our spirits from the goo and grunge of social media and internet slop, trite TV stories filled with chuckles and nonsense, gratifying our most stupid desires. Lent is getting out from under the deluge of illusion, the waterfall of temptation, the firehose of news and entertainment, and seeking simple truths and higher ground. Lent is inner spring cleaning. Lent is shouting: Enough! “Basta!” Get behind me Satan!
There’s an old saying, “I’m number three.” In fact I’ve seen young people recently wearing buttons that say that. “I’m number three.” So what does that mean? Essentially it means that life works best when we are not always putting ourselves first. As people of faith, life is in balance when we make God number one, other people number two, and then ourselves number three. Maybe that sounds too humble or ascetic – but truthfully, this is what brings harmony and happiness into our lives. God and healthy values and Spirit come first; when we obey them, our souls find inner clarity and sacred rest and peaceful refreshment. We don’t get swamped by our desires and illusions. When we pay attention to the needs of others: our spouses, our children, our co-workers, our friends and neighbors, then we find the satisfaction of living in healthy relationships and fulfilling friendships. Then, as number three, we put a few checks and balances on the endless cravings and compulsions and strivings of our small greedy selves. As three, we can be contented with just what we need, while not running after inflated desires.
Have you heard of the Danish word “hyyge” (hue-gah)? It’s a refreshing notion that is centuries old, coming out of Danish culture. It’s basically about creating a space for simple comforts – especially when it’s really cold outside: a glowing fire, a cumfy couch, hand-made wooden furniture, lovely artwork, natural crafts, warm slippers, hot cider, candles, a good book, satisfying snacks, relaxing music, a friend or spouse to cuddle and converse with. It’s about comfort – security – relaxation – and balance.
It’s about feeling like you’ve got enough – your needs are met – and you can be at ease. It’s also about spiritual clarity and calm and satisfaction and joy. It’s about natural creature comforts. Hyyge.
Perhaps this is the kind of spirituality we need to cultivate in our frantic, wasteful, internet and consumer driven age. Instead of being tempted to make it all about our inflated desires for power, pleasure, prestige and prosperity; we can simplify – pay attention to how God is calling us back to spiritual health and holiness – pay attention to those around us and their trials and hurts and hopes – and then pay attention to our own needs. And because we’re number three, they are not so enormous. We’ve put them in perspective. We can handle them. We can find we have enough.
Our church is offering us an opportunity to practice this in this season. We’re in the midst of our Generosity Campaign, when we are being asked to give to our church’s ministries and programs. We’re being asked to stretch; to take some of our hard-earned dollars and to offer them to God’s work. If it’s all about ME – then that is really tough. Why give to someone else, when I need everything for myself? But if we’re striving to live in meaningful relationships with God and with others, then this comes naturally – sure, we value community life, a healthy world, and the vision of what God intends in each of us. So giving then becomes easy and even joyful. Giving becomes a spiritual discipline that stretches our hearts, and helps to teach us that it’s not just about ME, ME, ME. Giving moves us beyond our small selves to honor our great selves.
This Lent, let’s resist the temptations that the Tempter throws at us to make it all about ME, ME, ME. Like Jesus in the desert, let’s take time to consider what God wants. Let’s obey simple guidelines God has taught throughout the centuries: be humble, be generous, be considerate, be wise, be brave, be disciplined. If we live this way, we will find that we are deeply satisfied, at ease….and even joyful. Thanks be to God. Amen.