Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“Inside Out”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 5 March 2017,  the First Sunday in Lent, by the Rev. Dr. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11.

Good morning.
I’d like to start with a story…I may have told it before, I can’t remember, but it’s one that I’ll never forget, so I tell it again (in case you haven’t heard it or in case you have heard it, and don’t mind to hear it again). Over ten years ago, I was studying a course in journalism at the University of Hong Kong. I work in communications for the HK Christian Council, so I thought I should take some sort of training to sharpen my skills. The professor was talking to the class about what it takes to be a good journalist. And he gave this example.

All the applicants for the journalism program at Hong Kong U have to take an entry exam. The test asks a series of short answer questions to see if you know what’s going on in the world. Then there’s an essay portion. You’re given a news item and asked to write a press release about it to get a sample of your writing. Normally you take the test at the university if you’re living here, which is what I did. But if you are outside HK, the school makes some arrangement for you to take it on an honor system. That means, you get sent the questions to your own computer in your country, you take the exam without talking to anyone else or using any other resource. Just like you would if you were in a classroom. Then you send the answers back by computer within the time limit.

The professor told us about one student outside Hong Kong who took the test and sent it back. But there was something strange about his answer on the essay. It was too good, in fact, it looked like the applicant already knew what the question was going to be and had a perfectly-written answer all ready. It even included some quotes that the teacher recognized came from a well-known magazine. The professor could only make one conclusion. The applicant had cheated. So he called the young man and asked whether he in fact knew the question in advance. The student broke down and admitted, Yes. He had found another friend who had also applied and asked her to tell him what essay question was on her test. And he happened to get the same one.

The young man said that he was so sorry. He hadn’t meant to cheat, but he was so worried his English wasn’t good enough, that he tried to get some extra help. He really wanted to be a journalist, he really wanted to study at Hong Kong University. Could they give him one more chance?

What do you think happened? The professor said No. He told us that this was quite sad as the applicant’s writing from the rest of the exam was actually pretty good. The young man probably would have been accepted if he hadn’t cheated. So why wouldn’t he be given a second chance?

My teacher said, “As a journalist, your integrity is everything. Once you lose that, you have no more credibility. You’re finished. We couldn’t accept him in our program after what happened.”

Those were very powerful words to me and my classmates sitting in that room.

Integrity is everything…not just as a journalist, but actually in almost every area of our life, isn’t it? So what is integrity? One definition says “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” But for Christians, I like a second definition even better: “the state of being whole and undivided.” That means who you are on the outside is who you really are on the inside. Your outside world matches your inside world; your private life and your public life are in alignment or in harmony. That’s what we all aim for, of course, but I think we don’t really know if we have integrity until it’s tested. We don’t know for sure if we’d do the right thing until opportunity knocks at the door to do something else.

So, this morning, I’d like to suggest that integrity is what the Story of the Temptations of Jesus in the wilderness is all about. It’s a test, an entry test to see whether Jesus is the same man on the outside as he is on the inside. Whether his private life and his public life will be in alignment. And the only way he and God will find out is to put it to the test and see the results.

Now, as I’ve said before from this pulpit, the Temptations that Jesus faced are not the same as what you and I have to deal with. His three temptations in the wilderness are unique because only he was tested as the Son of God. Only he needed to prove that he would not fall as Adam fell in garden, that he would not fail as the Israelites failed in the wilderness. And we know that Jesus passed his test with flying colors, A+ A+A+ or 5** as we say in the Hong Kong school system. Yet, even if these three temptations are unique to the Son of God, we still have much to learn from his experience, year after year on the first Sunday of Lent.

Now, preachers are prone to come up with all kinds of explanations of what these three temptations mean. And there are many ways you can legitimately interpret what the stones or jumping off buildings or the kingdoms of the world represent. There’s more than one sermon to this bible text. So today, I offer my own explanation: these three temptations as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew are tests of integrity in terms of (1) our survival, (2) our protection and (3) our reputation.

·         Our Survival: Turn these stones to bread, says the devil, because you’re hungry. God wouldn’t want you to starve, right?

·         Our Protection: Jump off the top of the Temple, because you’re nobody’s fool.
God’s not going to let you get hurt, right?

·         Our Reputation: Grab the glory while you can, because you may not get another chance. God wouldn’t deny you this blessing, right?

Well, you can see three wrongs don’t make a right here but that’s Satan’s favorite strategy. He makes that which is sinful appear desirable and good. And that’s why temptations are so hard to resist. Because they present themselves not as something you don’t want, but as something you do. Take for instance, food. For most people, oatmeal is not a temptation, except maybe being tempted not to eat it. But chocolate…hmmm. And our online habits. How many of us spend too much time looking at religious websites? Maybe only if we get paid for it. But other kinds of programs? Click, click.

Yes, temptations are real and seductive and can even be dangerous to our Christian life. Because the standards that might be OK in someone else’s life, in the commercial world, or the political arena are not OK for followers of Jesus Christ. God’s desire is for you and me to be people of integrity, not to prove we are better than others, but to show others the difference that Christ makes. As Romans 5:19 says: For just as by the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience, the many will be made righteous.”

So, where does that leave us? What are we ordinary mortals to do in the face of so many temptations past, present and future? Let me offer some advice from the Revd M.K.O. Akanni, an Anglican priest in Nigeria. He says the best ways to avoid temptation are:

1.   Flee! You don’t cat-walk when there is temptation, the best strategy is to flee the situation.
2.   Turn your back against it. Sometimes our greatest temptation are those we think are our friends.
3.  Pray. When you are tempted turn to God for strength, make your temptation a constant focus of prayer and rebuke the tempter if possible – get off me!
4.  Memorize and meditate on scripture that combat your specific weaknesses.
5.  Find another believer with whom you openly share your struggles and call this person for help when temptation strikes.

This is all good advice straight from the bible. And I’m sure they’re helpful in avoiding temptation, but what if we’ve already given in to temptation and are living with the consequences now? What if we’re too embarrassed by our temptations to let anyone else know? What if we’re not even sure we want to give up the temptation because frankly we really enjoy it?

When we find ourselves in this kind of wilderness situation, don’t lose heart. Remember that we serve a God who does give second chances – remember King David, the Prophet Jonah, the apostle Peter. We serve a God who promises in the Psalms to be our hiding place, to preserve us from trouble, to surround us with glad cries of deliverance.

So this morning, let me end with the challenge. This week, choose one ‘wilderness’ area in your life – perhaps a place where temptations – physical or spiritual – seem to creep up on you. Invite God into this wilderness and depend on God when you are tempted.

Depend on God, not to condemn you but to send angels to come and help you, to build up you and me to be the persons we were meant to be, created in God’s image, saved by the blood of Christ, a man, woman, child and a church that are glory to God – inside out.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 05, 2017

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