Giving Up Our Control
First Baptist Church · Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 9, 2014
In 1950, Zenith helped instigate the process of revolutionizing early American television by introducing sets equipped with a featured called Lazy Bones Remote Control. This early version of the remote was actually a device connected to the tv by a chord. By 1955, though, Zenith moved beyond the Lazy Bones model to a new remote called the “Flash Matic.” This device was wireless and looked like a flash light. By aiming it at the corners of the set, one could either tune the picture or adjust the volume. While the big advancement from the Lazy Bones to the Flash Matic may have appeared to be the loss of the cable connecting the device to the set, the advertising focused on a different shift. The Lazy Bones unit was about comfort but the Flash Matic was about control. In the original ads, the Flash Matic was said to help you “shut off long and annoying commercials while the picture remained on the screen.” Simply put, the Flash Matic allowed consumers to seize control of the sounds coming from their sets. When it was The Honeymooners, the sound could quickly be turned up but when it was an ad for the Edsel, the sound could be shut off. Ugly Buttons: How did the Remote Control Get So Awful and Confusing, Daniel Engber, June 27, 2012.
Today, the remote remains a modern symbol of control. In 2014, though, it is not simple about controlling the volume, it is also about deciding when to fast forward, rewind or pause. Likewise, today, having the remote gives us the power to decide which of the three thousand channels we will watch in the moment and which show others will be forced to “enjoy” since we are the ones with the controller– which may be one reason that today, according to statistics, the modern home has more tvs than people. This way, if you have the remote and choose a program I don’t like, I can go into another room, gather up my own remote and seize control for myself.
All of this is to say, that we like to be in control don’t we? And, not just when it comes to televisions but when it comes to almost every aspect of our lives. We relish the idea of making our own decisions, charting our own course and being the captain of our own ships. Such statements strike us as both All-American and as very appropriate in our quests to live the good life.
In turn, it is interesting to think about Jesus, the most perfect and the most powerful person who ever lived as someone who over and over again chose to give up control of his own life. Here is what I mean. Our text for today of Jesus’ being tempted for 40 days in the Wilderness is really the extension of the story that precedes it in Matthew—the story of Jesus’ baptism. Both of these stories signal the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
In the story of Jesus’ baptism, God the father affirms Jesus as his beloved son whom he loves and with whom he is well pleased. Before Jesus begins his roughly three years of work in which he would be rejected as much as received and laughed at as much as loved, God the father wanted Jesus to know that he loved him. I suspect, this was a moment that Jesus looked back on regularly as a memory to buoy him as he made his way through those often tumultuous days that were his life during his public ministry.
After baptism, according to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus immediately went into the wilderness where for forty days he fasted and was tempted by the devil. There, we see a second real decision being made. If in his baptism, Jesus was affirming that God’s opinion of him mattered more than that of people, in the temptation, Jesus was affirming that God’s direction of and control over his life mattered more than his own. What I mean is that in three ways, the devil tried to entice Jesus to seize control of his own life. After all, he had the power, he had the ability and he had the means to make things easy. When he was hungry, he could simply change rocks into bread. When he needed to get people’s attention, he could perform a little trick like throwing himself off the temple. And when he needed power and prestige by the world’s standard, the devil reminded him that he knew the ways to seize them. The temptation was to do things his way and in so doing to make these three years easy, simple and much more livable. But, rather than choosing his way, he chooses the way of God the father. Rather than taking control, he handed over control of his life to the will of God.
Today, I want to invite us to wrestle with the question of what it means for us to do the same thing? What does it mean for us to resist the temptation of all temptations, which is to run our own lives? In as simple language as I can offer, I want to suggest to us that in the spirit of Jesus in the wilderness, handing over control simply means for us to live each day and to approach each decision desiring to do what God wants rather than what we want.
When I talk to children about becoming a believer and making their profession of faith, I often ask them to explain to me the game “Follow the Leader.” In their own individual ways and using their own unique words, they generally share the same ideas with me. In “Follow the Leader,” the goal is to do what the leader does. If the leader says jump, you jump. If the leader runs in place you run in place. You are out of the game when you do what you want to do rather than what the leader wants you to do.
Once I affirm their answers, I share with them that the main thing in the New Testament that Jesus asked the disciples to do when he called them to be his friends was to follow him. Rather than living doing what they wanted to do, Jesus invited them to follow his example. Just as Jesus handed over control to God the father, he invites us to hand over control to him as we ask each day and in each decision, what does it mean to follow God here?
So, very quickly, what does this look like practically speaking in our daily lives? Let me suggest a couple of important ideas. First and foremost, I think giving control to God means trying to win the first battle of each day. When I look at this story of Jesus’ temptation in the gospels, I can’t get beyond the very basic truth that basic disciplines of faith are very much a part of the story. According to Matthew and Luke, the tempting happened while Jesus was away fasting. While not said explicitly, we can almost be certain that Jesus was also focused on concentrated prayer as the two practices went almost hand in hand in the biblical day.
Likewise, as Jesus was tempted, every time, he responded to the suggestions of Satan, he did so by sharing scripture with all three quotes coming from the book of Deuteronomy. What does this mean? Well, at least in part we must say that it means that Jesus’ own practice of the disciplines of fasting, prayer and scripture were invaluable to his obedience.
The older I get and the more I live this life of faith, the more I have become convinced that beginning the day with a brief time for prayer, scripture and reflection are imperative to living a successful life of faith. And, I really don’t think I can overemphasize this. Now, I am not suggesting that praying and reading scripture each day will prevent all bad from happening to us. But, at the same time, I do believe that if we can win each day’s first battle of carving out time for these practices at the start of the day, we will have done what we can for God to be able to order our steps.
If this is not a part of how you begin the day, there are few things you could do this Lenten season that would be better for the deepening of your faith. And, if you don’t know where to start let one of our ministers know and we will be glad to assist you.
Second, I think giving control to God also means waking up to each day’s thin line. When we look at the temptations of Jesus, the choices between right or wrong are very obvious because on one side is the son of God and on the other is the devil himself. But, if you take away the two main characters and look at the temptations themselves, it is not that simple. After all, the temptation to take shortcuts in meeting basic human needs—turning stones into bread; the temptation to prove who we are—jumping from the temple; and the temptation to gain power and prestige by sometimes bowing to figures we don’t respect or agree with—worshipping the devil; are not all that clear cut when it comes to basic daily decision making. Without question, most decisions in this life are not between a clear obvious good and a clear obvious evil. No, most decisions are more about doing what seems best to us versus what is best to God. This line is very, very thin and thus the need to prepare carefully and slowly for each and every day is very, very real.
I remember very vividly the first time that I ever traveled to Texas and saw the Rio Grande River. As a boy growing up in Alabama on the Tennessee River, when I thought of the Rio Grande, I pictured the Tennessee but only wider, deeper and more imposing. After all, the Rio Grande serves as the border between Mexico and the United States. What I discovered, however, is that in reality, the Rio Grande is very shallow and not wide at all in most places. In fact, I have read that the Rio Grande is on average 200-300 feet wide and on average 6 feet deep. Very quickly, one can cross it and travel from one country into another with little effort whatsoever.
I would caution us that the same is true with our lives. We conjure up in our minds a huge gulf between the ways of God and the ways of the world. We see the differences as obvious and easy to spot. But they are not. One can easily drift from a life controlled by God into a life in our own control and thus out of control. In turn, our call, as we seek to offer over our lives to God and to follow, is to do everything within our power each day to walk carefully and tread lightly as we do our best to stay on God’s side of the border. Amen.