Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Feb. 26, 2023
“Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
– Matthew 4:10
“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
“No,” Jesus says.
Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.
In some ways, all of this might seem a bit much. Did the devil really think that he was going to pull this off?
Get Jesus to bow down and worship him?
Perhaps the devil was just getting really frustrated by this point, with his more subtle temptations – like trying to get Jesus to turn stones into bread to alleviate His legitimate hunger – failing so badly…
On the other hand, perhaps when we really do consider the appeal of the world’s splendor, or its glory… one can understand this move…
For truly, the world and its glories can be intoxicating, and which man is exempt from its temptations?
There is so much to experience! So much to enjoy!
Who would not like to have more material plenty, wealth, money?
Why not have a grand mansion with lots of well-developed land? Would it be wrong for me to have two or three or four? And I love to play golf. Why not have my own beautiful course as well? And a large swimming pool, some beach front property, a home in the mountains, my own tropical island, and perhaps a fast sports car or two might be nice.
And why not strive to have success and influence in all that I do? Why not dress to the nines and look to impress my friends and neighbors with the skills and gifts that I possess and have developed?
And how about power? Showing that you are able to effectively manage things, others, and the circumstances you find yourself certainly shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing!
And if that leads to increased status, attracting a more beautiful spouse (or maybe two) with whom you can share the great times – the people, the food, the music, the games, the dancing, the entertainment, the fun – why the hell not?
I mean, I don’t need to worship Satan to do all this right? Sell my soul? Even if, yeah, I might need to spend a little less time on all that stuff Jesus talks about…
Yeah, maybe his offer to the man Jesus Christ to worship him seemed plausible to Satan…
There is a popular hymn called “What is the World to Me?” that always strikes me as powerful in its message if not a bit grand in its spiritual ambitions.
It opens with this line:
“What is the world to me
with all its vaunted pleasure
when you, and you alone,
Lord Jesus, are my treasure!
You only, dearest Lord,
my soul’s delight shall be;
you are my peace, my rest.
What is the world to me!”
“You only, dearest Lord…” Gotta love the sentiment…
The hymn also reminds us that
“The world seeks after wealth
and all that money offers,
yet never is content
though gold should fill its coffers…”
“The world is like a cloud
and like a vapor fleeting,
a shadow that declines,
swift to its end retreating…”
What is the world to me? Is it really true that:
“I have a higher good,
content with it I’ll be;
my Jesus is my wealth.
What is the world to me!”?
What does that even look like? Have you figured it out yet?
I know family is one of God’s greatest gifts and is indeed a true kind of wealth, and yet, they too are to play second fiddle to our Lord!
So perhaps the things I talked about earlier were a bit crass, right? While it might describe some of the young and restless, perhaps many more, getting a hold of their more wild feelings and desires…
…just want to really know a sense of meaning and purpose; to know a life that has not been in vain!
Maybe, perhaps, just to be praised – or perhaps just known – as a good person by the ones around them…
Maybe, perhaps just to know the love of one man or woman, and to know the joy of having close family members or friends who will stand by their side, and to have a sense of calling, vocation, in their life…
Here though, I think it is reasonable to say that many increasingly feel like they have no real wealth or very little wealth in this world.
They feel no weight of glory in their life at all…
You probably have not heard of the philosopher Robert Nozick’s rather jarring idea of the “Experience Machine”. I learned about it a few weeks ago. Fifty years ago, this man wrote:
“What matters other than how people’s experiences feel “from the inside”? Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience that you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life’s experiences? If you are worried about missing out on desirable experiences, we can suppose that business enterprises have researched thoroughly the lives of many others. You can pick and choose from their large library or smorgasbord of such experiences, selecting your life’s experiences for, say, the next two years. After two years have passed, you will have ten minutes or ten hours out of the tank, to select the experiences of your next two years. Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think it’s all actually happening. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want, so there’s no need to stay unplugged to serve them. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside? Nor should you refrain because of the few moments of distress between the moment you’ve decided and the moment you’re plugged. What’s a few moments of distress compared to a lifetime of bliss (if that’s what you choose), and why feel any distress at all if your decision is the best one?”
The writer Rod Dreher quoted this in an article he wrote that goes on to talk about the increasing popularity of psychedelic drugs that many younger people are looking to for comfort… Pointing out how these drugs seemingly allow one to “escape” the world, he sees the “Experience Machine” as being a similar escape and asks:
“Would you plug in? This is the concept behind The Matrix — the idea that everybody lives inside a mass hallucination, when in fact their bodies live in a kind of suspended animation. This is the substance of the red pill vs. blue pill choice in the movie: would you prefer to live within a pleasant lie, or within the unpleasant truth?”
Now, many of you would no doubt argue as Nozick did and say we want to be people who are not dependent, people of great character and strength who are not just hooked up to a tank but hooked up with reality, and what is really real.
Dreher points out however, that someone he would not expect to be interested in this wrote him to say that she was…
In an article titled “Young, Christian, And Eager To Escape”, we hear about an an orthodox Catholic Gen Z reader, 26 years old, who “says she would plug in to Robert Nozick’s ‘Experience Machine’”
This young woman says things like “the social impetus of going out and making it for yourself doesn’t really affect us anymore…. In a declining economy, housing costs are through the roof, full-time decent work hard to come by without higher college degrees and connections, and stifling health insurance costs discourage her and many… Because of the economic struggles, she feels her outlook as far as marriage and family go is “overwhelmingly bleak also” and she worries about declining fertility the longer it takes to find someone…
Many in her generation
“…feel stuck in lives we didn’t want, didn’t choose. We feel failed by the voices that told us things like ‘just get your college diploma, it’ll work out’ or ‘life is always hard when you’re young’. We see peers older than us still living barely making it every day, and we see our parents pushing off retirement. And the meaning has been sucked dry from our lives for the most part…”
She says her generation feels it was lied to and that this largely explains the increasing drug use in our country. And “Given a bleak enough outlook, most people would choose not to think about, feel, or come into contact with any of life’s problems…”
She shares these chilling words as well:
“This generation knows “that their efforts will never produce the results in material wealth those same efforts might have in their parents and grandparents generation, so they instead cling to a darkly pessimistic outlook, and consider it to be virtuous that they reject the idea that they will ever be happy, fulfilled, etc. in life. Nihilism As Virtue is a strange sense of being, because Gen Z wears it with a smile on its face, becoming almost giddily addicted to the latest trends re: escapism and compelling others to do the same because, after all, life is meaningless, and it will never get any better, so we may as well, right?…”
She ends by saying this:
“To come full circle, I myself find that I spend a great deal of time engaging with escapism. I also spend a lot of dreaming about what life could be like, if only things could be different, or alternate universes existed where my worth in terms of the world was higher. So I can’t honestly say, considering that, and all the problems I’ll likely face in the next five years, that I feel confident I wouldn’t say yes to the Experience Machine. And I highly doubt a lot of Gen Z would, either.”
Rod sums things up again, sharing his own confidence in this woman’s faith:
“What struck me so hard about this letter is that I know this young woman’s parents, and I know that she received a solid traditional upbringing in a faith-filled home. She has faith herself, and not just a notional faith. And yet, the bleakness of her generation’s prospects are grinding her down.”
Again, many feel endlessly discouraged… for they feel like they have no real wealth in this world.
…that they have nothing of the world’s splendor.
Well, they are surely not all innocent here. Critiques could be leveled against them to be sure. But let’s leave them alone this morning…
Because the Western world – a wild West if there ever was one – is certainly a mess like never before…
I mean, look at their Gen Z’s wider cultural context.
They see young women cutting off their breasts and men their members and our educated elites and popular media influencers swoon with approval. Even pre-pubescent children are taking hormones, without their parents knowing. Grooming pedophiles who would prey on children are increasingly present and grow bolder and more open about their designs. They were forced to mask up and go to school online for two years and many had to take a “vaccine” that was known to have particularly bad side effects – myocarditis and the like – on their age group (at least the men). Race-baiters exist around every corner. Any of those wise enough to be concerned about rapid amounts of cultural change due to things like a surfeit of immigration and dearth of assimilation are shamelessly called racists.
Of course, increasing problems have been picking up steam for a while. Should we talk about all the fruits of that “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” revolution that killed folk culture, high culture, church culture?
One child of the sixties writes about the “rapid removal of all landmarks, signposts, objective measures and maps which left us where we are now, lost boys and girls trying to invent our own ideas of the good, condemned to repeat every stupid mistake in human history, which really defines our age…”
My own generation has been divorcing like mad since we were born. 1/3rd of us were aborted, and there is no way we, much less the Millennials or Gen Z, will be collecting any social security. And to top it off, fewer and fewer of those who get married want many kids – or any kids…
Men and women.
The Daily Mail reports:
“The famous American work ethic helped the United States become the economic superpower of the 20th century.
But experts warn the decision to prioritize careers over families has set the country on an irreversible path to economic destruction. The reason? People do not have enough children anymore.
A baby boom in the mid-20th century saw the average woman give birth to between three and four children. Today, just 1.6 children – the lowest level recorded since data was first tracked in 1800.
This could lead to economic devastation in America down the line – as the federal government would need to collect more taxes to fund programs such as Medicare and Social Security – while dishing out less benefits to each person.
The downward trend of American fertility has accelerated in recent decades, as the ‘Instagram generation’ of millennials and zoomers prioritize their careers, travel and relaxation over building families.”
Feminism, often popularly felt to be the belief that a woman can do most everything a man can – has not helped here… So many thinking it was a good idea for both parents to work – so a bigger piece of the American Dream could be attained – has really been a disaster for the American family.
Men, for example, by nature programmed to be protectors and providers, are increasingly no longer seeing the incentives or the point of getting married. Or even going to college, as colleges don’t want them (particularly if they are white) and women continue to graduate at far, far higher rates.
Many of them themselves did not know stable marriages growing up… and they see that upwards of 70-80% of marriages end when the wife ends it… and with the law being stacked against them in ways that are often shocking…
Maybe some better politicians who also lead and inspire could be of help here.
At the same time, what should we think when a majority of citizens no longer trust the electoral process?
And, when a wildly disproportionate amount of newly college-educated women vote en masse for the politicians who say they’ll make provision for them and any children they might bear…
…much like any husband would have been expected to do previously?
Like everything else, it is now just a responsible and reasonable choice you make in the Experience Machine that is yourself.
Me, myself, and I.
Who else matters, really?
I don’t know about you, but I am looking for some answers. Even if we surely don’t have all the answers.
What is a better way to live?
Now, I would never be tempted to join the Amish.
In fact, I worked with a guy this past week who lives in the country, and is close with a young Amish family.
They want out, he says, as the community’s legalism suffocates them. I do not know if it is true of all Amish communities, but I know for many that if you leave the group, you will be shunned and told that you are sealing your damnation by leaving the group. This was the case with the community of my co-worker’s friend.
That said, this past week I heard a report about a group that seemed a bit like the Amish, but much better. They are called the Danthonia Bruderhof.
This group of about 200 from the state of New South Wales in southeastern Australia has a large farm and lives off the land in a commune-like fashion, evidently somewhat successfully.
They live, work, and serve together because they believe that God has called them to do this… even as they recognize this kind of life is not for everyone (it also seems you can here without having to worry about leaving your salvation!)
I heard a podcast program which in part talked about this community helping to cater a wedding featuring the food grown on their farm… meat, dairy, veggies, and fruit. This is not unusual for this community that has their church, neighborhood, and workplace “all rolled into one.”
The article reports that
“It’s a self-contained village, complete with school, a sign-making business that provides income, an on-site doctor, and 5,500 acres.
The Bruderhof have 24 communities in seven countries. Because of the women’s skirts and head coverings, people sometimes mistakenly think of the Bruderhof as Amish. But unlike the Amish, the Bruderhof have all things in common and personally own nothing—except clothing and toothbrushes. They resonate more with the early Hutterites, who believed strongly in the Great Commission and welcoming new neighbors…”
They use technology judiciously as they will often carry the latest cell phones in their pockets. Some are also responsible for recording all their agricultural data, for example.
One member of the community says, summing things up:
“Our way of life, our expression of faith community, is not about retreating from the world, but actually being an encouragement both to the church at large and also to people that don’t share faith that another life truly is possible. And clearly, that starts with our faith and a life that’s centered on Christ…”
Sounds pretty good, huh?
Some tough questions though…
1) I mean, is it a good thing to leave your parents overseas, 10,000 miles away, as one couple did? Are your parents taken care of? Are they able to see their grandchildren? Happy with the arrangement?
2) I know I’d have to think twice before joining something like this! On their website, we read “Once someone has become a member, all of his or her earnings and inheritances are given to the church community, and each receives necessities such as food, clothing, and housing.” And if someone does decide to leave the community – and with it their vows of poverty and obedience – and decides they want to leave their child who is also leaving the community an inheritance like the Bible says would be good to do, that is too bad…
One can perhaps see why monasteries in the past were for single persons…
3) And really – no property except for clothes and a toothbrush? Is that really wise? Do these communities ever work on larger scales?
OK, I don’t want to come off as too immediately critical!
There is no doubt something here with these folks, and it got me wondering if some Lutherans – especially struggling younger folks – might feel called to communities like these..
After all, we remember that even when God gave his law to Israel in the Old Testament, he specifically said that other nations would be attracted to the way of life of the Israelites!
What this tells us is that communities that approximate obedience to God’s law in one way or another, will find themselves surrounded, in general, by Earthly blessing. His commands really are for our good, our wellness, our health… because He cares.
We dare never forget this or even that the early church was in fact commended in Acts for trying to live in a more communal fashion!
With that said, we dare not also miss the bigger picture. When Jesus talks about worshiping the Lord Our God and serving him only, He means to direct us to something more than just directions about how to live in this world, even as living by every word that comes from the mouth of God certainly does not exclude this kind of thing…
People loved by God, whatever we strive to accomplish in this world culturally and politically – whatever kinds of earthly communities we find ourselves to be part of – there is something we must know above all.
The Bible readings this morning tell us that the true history of the world is critical for finding our place in the world, being able to navigate in a broken environment, and understanding where we are and whose we really are.
God made Adam and Eve and they turned from Him and fell. As the Apostle Paul most unpopularly sums up the matter, “[Eve] the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”
And when Adam went along with this and listened to his wife – for whatever reason – we are told in our Epistle reading that he took all of humanity down with him. In Adam’s failure we all sinned and sin and die…
God however, has begun to reverse the curse. For if we have ears to hear, we will also hear where we need to go during such a time as this…
What does Paul say right after his words about Eve’s deception?:
“…women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
I know this sounds crazy and wrong to so many but think on this. Children are always a gift and blessing and bring joy. Children grow up to be those who serve others. And it is God’s intention that we all grow to be those who serve one another with His good news.
The One who fulfills this to the nth degree – the One who we should think of first and foremost when we hear these seemingly insensitive and shocking words from Paul, is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This is the Promise we read this morning in Genesis 3:15, about the woman’s offspring crushing the head of the Serpent.
And here, I think I can do no better than echo the words of one of the most beautiful Christmas hymns I know:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby;
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Mary is quite satisfied with this arrangement. And so looks you in the eye and says “Listen to Him”.
Everything He has said. Through His Apostles and Prophets. In His Holy Scriptures.
Repent always, receive His forgiveness always, and treasure every word from His mouth.
And you will reign forever in glory and splendor with Him.
Delwyn Xavier Campbell Sr.
February 28, 2023 at 1:06 pm
This is a thought-provoking sermon masquerading as a blog post. I am always intrigued when preachers say that the early Jerusalem Church’s move to a shared assets community was a failure. The text says no such thing. Instead, persecution forced the congregation to scatter after the death of Stephen. That is the only thing that ended the experiment, not some sort of internal failure based on a human’s supposed need to own things independently of others.
March 5, 2023 at 11:17 am
Thanks much. I did talk about this a bit more here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2021/04/11/resurrection-life-communist-life/
Communism kind of fills a void that we should be better at filling, I’d say…