Ordinary Lives Can Be Holy
A few years ago, a journalist from the Guardian was helping her son move into a college fraternity house. She was also trying to mentally prepare him for a major life change as he transitioned into adulthood. That evening, she sent a tweet out to her followers asking “What is your biggest regret. [sic.] Asking for a friend.”
The response was tremendous, although also brief, since Twitter limits your number of characters. Of the responses, some were funny like this one: “Not flying on Concorde to New York with Lionel Richie. He wanted to take me for dinner. I was working. #muppet” But most were true regrets- the kind you look back on forever, rubbing the “if only” over and over until it is smooth like a river stone.
“Not being with Mum at the end. She died 2 hrs after I left her, it haunts me still”
“Not calling my Dad the night before he suffered a fatal heart attack, just because I had only lost ½lb and I didn’t want him to be disappointed”
“Not having the courage to speak up as a teen victim of sexual abuse”
“Never going to University. Left me disadva
ntaged all my life. Never lived my potential”
“My regret: listening to teachers who said I was stupid because I can’t spell. After 2 degrees was told I’m dyslexic. Am currently on 4th degree”
“That my mum died too young to see me turn from an ungrateful, truculent teenager into a person and father I hope she’d be proud of”
“Too scared to risk failing at something I loved, so I succeeded at something I had no passion for”
“Marrying the first person who asked
because I thought no one would ever ask me”
“My regret: being too anxious and not assertive enough”
“Taking far too long to realise that everyone else in the world is also imperfect and winging it – just like me”
“Worrying too much about what other people thought of me – trying to uphold what I thought were their beliefs not mine”
I was thinking about regrets this week as I read through our text from Luke 4. The Evil One finds Jesus in the desert- surely weak and exhausted from fasting, tired and worn down, and presents Jesus with a series of temptations. As I read our text today, through the lens of the season of Lent, and this theme of “Good Enough,” it struck me that the Evil One is tempting Jesus to escape his reality with a series of “if/then” statements. These temptations are not the same kind of regrets, but there is a very similar sense of if something about reality was different, it would be better. It’s a different sort of packaging of regret- and a way of looking at life that is deeply familiar to all of us, I’m certain. These are regrets about your
current circumstances. And surely, when you’re wandering in the desert, tired and hungry, you’re going to have some regrets. For us these wilderness regrets might be something like: “If I had a different job, everything would be okay.” “If I could just shake this habit, I could fix my life.” “If I had money, I would be happy.” “If I had more time, I could get it all done.” We all do it, we all seek to get out of our own ordinary lives and try again with a different version.
The Evil One first challenges Jesus to turn a stone into bread, saying that if he does so, Jesus would prove his identity as the Son of God. Those of us who don’t often deal in miracles are not often tempted to turn a stone into a loaf of
bread, but we are very often tempted to do something else to prove our identities. I recently read about an 8-year-old who takes mini bell peppers to school every day. He has convinced the rest of his class that they are really super-hot peppers so they’ll all think he is tough enough to casually eat really spicy hot peppers. You probably don’t try to impress people with your ability to eat hot peppers (or maybe you do?), but all of us are tempted to act in such a way as to justify our identities. We talk like we know more about something than we actually do so people will think we’re well-informed and smart. We will overextend ourselves beyond our limits so we will seem like we can somehow do everything, all the time, without ever getting worn out. We will play a dozen
different parts so we can prove to ourselves and to the world that we have our act together, we’re a great parent or grandparent, we’re the best employee, we’re the best friend. We might not turn stones into bread, but we sure do try to turn ourselves into something we’re not so people will believe that we are who we wish we were. We’re very tempted to do whatever it takes to convince others of our worthiness.
The second temptation is to worship the Evil One, and in return, Jesus will receive great power and authority. We are living in a time when power is equated with force, when people seem to prefer brash action over contemplative responses, when displays of strength are valued over humility, learning, and forgiveness. And yet,
while perhaps none of us would choose the unenviable task of having authority over any of the kingdoms of the world, let’s not pretend that we do not face the temptation of power. We want to be in control of so much. We absolutely would be tempted to worship an idol if it meant we would be in control of all the things we so desperately want- if you could make your loved one put down the pill bottle, if you could save someone’s job, if you could protect your child from the consequences of their choices, if you could keep your loved ones safe, if you could ensure that the money wouldn’t run out, that the cancer wouldn’t spread. On and on. There are so many things we would change or fix if we had the option, if we were in control.
Learning to love what is, and learning to trust what you love, is a holy activity. It’s human nature to want control, to want to fix. It is sacred to repent of the idolatry of power, to stop worshipping everything that helps us pretend w
e have it all under control. And while we’re at it, we have to learn to turn away from the temptation to put our trust in systems of power that are not governed by God’s call to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. We must look instead to Jesus’ example- one of humility, simplicity, peacemaking, and love. There we will find true power.
Jesus’ third temptation from the Evil One is to jump from the top of the temple to see if God would rescue him from a near-certain death. I’m not one for taking big, physical risks. Are any of you? This particular temptation would not tempt me at all- even if I thought God would rescue me before I splattered on the pavement, I don’t think I’d ever have the nerve for the jump. But I wonder if we could interpret this temptation slightly
differently. What if we asked ourselves this- do I believe I should be exempt from the hardships of life? Do I believe that God should protect me from the realities of being a human? Read like that, this temptation feels very differently. Of course, I’m not going to jump from the top of a high building, but I might (and very likely will) ask “why me?” whenever something hard or bad comes my way. We all want an easy life, a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, an exemption from the work of being a human. Asking “why me?” as if the question shouldn’t be “why not me?” is a fresh temptation every day.
We, who generally live comfortably and expect our lives to work out how we have expected them to, are not necessarily accustomed to encountering hardship regularly. It can come as a shock when life disappoints us or when things don’t work out. Imagine jumping from the peak of a tall building and expecting not to get injured- it’s the same, you see, as thinking you might go through life untouched.
Several weeks ago, we talked about confession. In our small group study, we talked about how much easier it was to confess as young
children. Back then, our sins and temptations were simpler. We were tempted to steal candy, we scratched our sister, we cheated on a spelling test. And now, with life experience and maturity, we see how those temptations have changed to things much subtler, more insidious in the ways they creep up on us. Abandoning God’s grace in the attempt to prove yourself, attempting to control what is not yours to control, believing that you should be exempt from the realities of being a human- all quiet, unassuming was that vanity, pride, and arrogance show up in our daily lives. Each a temptation that many of us likely struggle with.
I want to point something important out to you though. Jesus, who actually already has tremendous power, who could have sent the Evil One away without even breaking a sweat, who could control the wind and waves themselves, does not tap into any of that power. Jesus’ response to the Evil One is nothing special. It is completely ordinary, perfectly human. Jesus’ power in the face of evil and temptation is a power you alrea
dy have. He simply recalls the scripture that informs his faith, he roots himself in God’s word, and his ordinary faithfulness is good enough. You see, you don’t have to have any extraordinary powers, no superhuman strength, no perfection required. Your ordinary faithfulness is good enough. Because of God’s grace, your ordinary faithfulness is good enough.
This week, through the horrific scenes of warfare and violence coming from Ukraine, we have seen the very worst of humanity- we have seen in fact, the manifestation of the temptation to seize power and authority. And we’ve also seen the very best of humans too- the people of Poland have welcome more than 800,000 Ukrainian refugees in what they call “the miracle of solidarity.” People are opening their homes, sharing their food and clothing, finding ways to connect people and get them to safety. Last week, a man from
Romania who owns a small transportation company drove into Odesa to provide transportation for refugees. His mission to shuttle people has grown- he has begun renting vehicles to drive people from the border to farther abroad where they may find safety and refuge. As we carry this people in our hearts and in our prayers, remember this- it is ordinary people and ordinary faith who show up, get to work, do the right thing, love their neighbors. None of these people are miracle workers, and none are extraordinary. They are ordinary people just like us, and they are good enough.
Friends, I conclude with this good word from 2 Peter 1:3, “God’s divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Do you hear that? God has given you everything you need for life and godliness. Your ordinary life, your ordinary faith, it
’s all good enough, it’s perfectly sufficient for everything that lies before you. Whatever challenges we face, whatever heartbreak we must bear, whatever powers we must stand against- we are good enough. And everything that lies behind you? All those regrets and mistakes? The “if onlys”? Grace has covered it all up. God’s grace is good enough to cover a multitude of sins.
Take heart friends. This ordinary life is just as it should be. And your ordinary faith is enough.
 Freud, E. (2017). “W
hat is your biggest regret? Here are people's devastatingly honest answers.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/31/biggest-regret-devastatingly-honest-twitter-bad-choices