Privilege, Power, and Vegetables

Inspired by Matthew 4:1-11

I love Lent. It’s my favorite time of the church year—more than Easter, and yes, even more than Christmas. I love the music, which in my opinion is the most beautiful music the church has produced. I love the drastic change in liturgy that occurs here, I love the visual imagery, I love its use of all our senses, even our sense of smell. If you were at our Ash Wednesday service and wondered what you were smelling after you received your ashes, the anointing oil that I used to mix with the ashes was frankincense and myrrh, the gifts given to the baby Jesus, making this beautiful connection between Lent and Christmas and Epiphany. And I love the full-stop that it gives us. Advent does something similar but in Lent it seems even more pronounced. Lent urges us to stop and reevaluate and take inventory of our lives.

Which also makes Lent my least favorite season of the church year! I don’t want to stop and reevaluate my life Jesus! I don’t want to take an inventory of how badly I’m failing at life Jesus! Let me just put my head down and keep moving forward! Aren’t you always telling me how much work we have to do. Let’s just go and do it. I know I’m not perfect Jesus. I don’t need you throwing it in my face! And Jesus is standing there in my life like, “Dude, I didn’t even say anything yet. Calm down!” As much as I love Lent, it can be rough, depending on how deep we go with it, and how honest we are with ourselves. As much as I may not like it, I can appreciate the need for Lent in my life. Sometimes faith is like eating your vegetables. You know what I mean by that?

So, every Lent my family and I give up something for Lent together as a family, as well as something individually if we feel so inclined. This year, we are committing to eating healthier this Lent, by reducing many of the unnecessary things in our diet, like carbs, sweets, eating out, etc. So, on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, day one of Lent, God decides to be cute, and as I get in Chuck Anderson’s car because he took me out for lunch, I ask him where we going? We’re going to the Rat Trap he says. Ok, what’s that? Well, it’s really called the Newcastle Cheese Shop but we call it the Rat Trap because of the amazing sandwich. It’s basically a deli with a sandwich shop. Lord have mercy, I thought to myself. Here we go!

We get there and quickly scan the menu, praying for a healthy item on the menu, remembering my wife’s text a moment before that read, “Don’t forget! Low carbs!” Yeah, yeah, I know. Get off my back Jesus, I mean, Sara. So, I find salad on the menu. Now, I don’t have anything against salads but it’s salad. I look at a salad and think, what’s the point here? This looks like a bowl of wasted life.

I’m the guy at a buffet that just skips the first third of the buffet. No longer do I succumb to the societal pressure to put salad on my plate at a buffet. I’ll look people dead in the eye, like, yeah, that’s right, I’m skipping this part. They look at me like, “You can do that?” I’m like, “I don’t care, I’m doin it.” Like there are rules at a buffet? We’re all just a bunch of cows at a feeding trough anyway, right? Gimme a break. But I still put on my rebel face as I boldly skip the wasted life section of the buffet. So, yeah, that’s your pastor at a buffet.

Now, I know in my mind that I need to eat healthier. I know I need to eat more salad. That’s hard to even say. But do I do it? More often than not, no. So then what? Well, there are consequences to all our choices, aren’t there: weight gain, back pain, decreased energy, decreased physical activity, clothes don’t fit, not to mention a decreased life span. So, Lent is like the doctor who tells you bluntly that you need to eat healthier. Lent is like the text from your spouse to stay away from carbs. Lent is like the pair of jeans that remind you all day that they don’t fit like they used to. Lent is like being reminded to eat your vegetables, even in the form of salads. It’s not something that we may choose to do on our own, but we do because we know it’s good for us.

And I already know that many of you love salads, you don’t need to tell me, I’m so very proud of you. Faith, particularly in Lent is hard work. It’s that time of the year when we are asked to address things that we really would rather not. So, I’d like to point out one of those things that comes from our gospel reading for today. Here we have this well-known story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. But rather than taking a look at each of the three temptations and relate them to our own lives I’d like to take a look at one thing that is common in all of them. One commentator wisely pointed out that power and privilege is in all of these temptations.

The temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to throw himself off a roof, and the temptation to take the kingdoms of the world for himself, all had to do with how Jesus was going to use his power and privilege. Jesus could have done all these things according to Matthew. Jesus had the power and privilege to eat bread that day, to be caught by angels that day, to be the emperor of the world that day. But he did not. Why? Because that is not what he was called to do. Those all would have been self-serving goals. And Jesus was not called to serve himself, but to serve the world. Which got me thinking about our own power and privilege that we have and how we use it.

But first we have to name our privilege, own it, and acknowledge it’s power, before we can even begin to think about how we will use it. Simply as American citizens we have privileges that others don’t, both here in our own country and abroad. Male privilege in our society still exists, the wage gap between men and women is evidence of that. Speaking English as your first language is a privilege that has it’s perks in our society.

And yes, it’s a privilege because, like being male, we didn’t do anything to achieve it, we just happen to be born in a family that taught us English and we enjoy those perks. Likewise, being heterosexual in our society, being born with light colored skin, being middle class, being without a physical or mental disability, being Christian, having a higher education, all privileges that have corresponding perks in our society, but let’s call it what it really is, power.

Our job, like Jesus’ in our gospel story for today, is to recognize, name and own the privileges that we have, and decide what we are going to do with the powers that come with them. Will we choose to serve ourselves with them? Which is by the way the human default. Or will we go against those natural instincts and choose to use our power and privilege to serve others, to assist those who have less privilege than us, to help those who don’t enjoy the perks we do, to be companions with those who have less power. I’m guessing right now many of you are having a negative reaction to my use of the words power and privilege today.

If so, then allow me to be so bold as to suggest that that may be the vegetable that we are being asked to eat from this story about the temptation of Jesus. If we are serious about bringing the kingdom of God to this world, if we are serious about leaving this world a better place than we found it, if we are serious about being a welcoming church that serves our neighbors, if we are serious about being called to a life of death and resurrection that springs from our baptismal waters, then we have to be serious about eating our vegetables.

Doing the hard work our faith calls us to, asking the hard questions of ourselves, tackling our hang-ups face on with words like power and privilege, and allowing those hang-ups to die so that new life, resurrection can come. The world is waiting for the church to respond to many needs. And it’s not waiting for money, or our time, or our talents. First and foremost, it’s waiting for a change of heart, or in the words of John the Baptist and Jesus from this Gospel of Matthew, to change our hearts and lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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