Giving Up Control


This week we enter into the season of Lent, and this Sunday we begin the first of our Lenten sermons that invite us to give up more than chocolate or shaving. Check out our intro video here:

This Sunday’s lectionary text brings readings from Genesis and Matthew that both deal with temptation. Read these texts and consider where the primary sense of control lies in the stories.

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
15The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; 17but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!”

1The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”

2The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees 3but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’”

4The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! 5God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.

Matthew 4:1-11
1Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”

4Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”

5After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6“Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”

7Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”

8Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”

10Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Consider these questions:

  • Have you ever felt out of control when it comes to temptation? What did it feel like? What happened next?
  • How did you regain control? Or did you? Was God involved in it?
  • Does being out of control in temptation feel different from giving God control? (Note: I can’t help but hear strains of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” at this thought! Does this connect for you as well? Consider reading the lyrics to see if you agree or not.)
  • What could you do in those circumstances to seek God before you felt out of control?

Post-Sermon Update on 3/7

Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found by clicking this link (will open in a new tab).

Follow-up by Dr. Christopher Carter

Today’s sermon was the first in our series “Giving It Up,” which focuses on the Lenten theme of giving up something that we feel has control over our lives, so to speak. Nine years ago I gave up meat for Lent because I felt that I was literally addicted to it – I craved it at times! Having been a vegetarian for the past seven years, I look back and see how my choice ultimately paved the way for me to help my diet align with my Wesleyan commitment to “do no harm.”

As Pastor Bob noted today fear was one of the biggest obstacles that I had to overcome when I decided to change my diet. I was afraid of what my friends or my family would think about my new culinary commitment. Again, as Pastor Bob noted, fear is often a manifestation of our desire to try and control our all aspects of our lives. I believe that fear is a particularly powerful emotion for those of us who are privileged in some way (race, sex, sexual orientation, financial, etc.). It’s a rare occasion for us to be presented with a situation where we feel as though we can’t control the outcome. However, our desire to control the outcome can have disastrous consequences.

I think Jesus knew this when he was being tempted for forty days in the wilderness. Perhaps he foreknew the sage advice Peter Parker’s (a.k.a. Spider Man) uncle would give him: “with great power comes great responsibility.” In a very real way, being a middle or lower-middle class American (regardless of our various marginalities) gives us some power, social and political. The question that Jesus confronts us with in Matthew 4: 1-11 is how will we use our power? Will we use it with humility as Jesus demonstrates time and time again in the Gospel and as Paul expounds upon in Philippians 2:1-11? Or will we fall into temptation and perhaps, out of fear, use our power in ways that harm other human beings or Creation? But what if we believe that the end-goal of our actions (or the actions we allow) will be positive; isn’t that a good use of power? While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not convinced that the Christian response is one where collateral damage should be acceptable. Rather, I believe that if the action harms the least of these, wouldn’t we be better off giving up our desire to control all aspects of our lives, so that in our humility we might be able to hear how God is trying to lure us in a different direction?

Questions to consider

  1. What are some of the obstacles that confront us when we attempt to give up control over our lives?
  2. What role does fear play in fostering our desire to have control over all aspects of our lives? How might we discern between legitimate concerns (i.e. family finances, children’s safety, etc.) and illegitimate fear?
  3. How might we use our privilege (whatever they may be) in ways that feed our fear of losing control? How can we begin to notice this way of thinking and cultivate an alternative way of living in the world?

One Comment

  1. A 12-step program taught me that I needed to give up control– or rather, the illusion of it, to have any chance of giving up an addiction. Still struggle with it, because control is an enigma. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

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