Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mercedes Benz

Thursday, October 1, 1970. Sunset Sound recording studio in Los Angeles, California.

Janis Joplin, 27 years old, and already a towering figure in the rock and roll scene of the 1960s asks producer Paul Rothchild to roll tape. She will not need her band Full Tilt Boogie for this one.

Joplin steps up to the mic and says, “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “It goes like this.”

She sings, in one take, a song destined for legend. It is the last recording Joplin will ever make. Just three days later, she will be found dead in her hotel room on October 4 from heroin overdose.

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. 
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends. 
So oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. 

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a color TV. 
Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me. 
I wait for delivery each day until 3. 
So oh Lord won’t you buy me a color TV. 

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a night on the town. 
I’m counting on you Lord, please don’t let me down. 
Prove that you love me and buy the next round. 
Oh Lord won’t you buy me a night on the town. 

Everybody, Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. 
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends. 
So oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.

Many people misunderstand this song and think that the singer is genuinely asking for these things. In truth, it is a satire and a rejection of the worldly goods that these lyrics request.

Joplin once said, “It’s the want of something that gives you the blues. It’s not what isn’t, it’s what you wish was that makes unhappiness.”

I thought about this today as I listened to the readings. From Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7, the cunning snake tempting Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit so that they could be “like gods.” Adam and Eve lacked for nothing in the Garden of Eden but they were tempted because they wished to be like gods. They wanted even more than they needed, even more than the love of God.

We heard this same theme of temptation later in the reading from Matthew 4: 1-11 of the temptation of Christ by the Devil. Christ was weakened by his fast of 40 days and 40 nights and that is when the tempter struck.

He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

These temptations are very familiar to us because they are the ones we struggle with routinely: Sins of the flesh (food, drink, physical pleasure of all types); the sin of pride (prove who you are, show me what you can do); and finally the sin of covetousness (wanting things for yourself - power, wealth).

And as we begin this season of Lent, once more we have an opportunity for greater spiritual growth. An opportunity over the next 40 days and nights to grow closer to God through prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter.

And just as certain, we should expect the tempter to come for us. To challenge us in whatever goals we have set for ourselves for this Lent. To accuse us when we fall short. To try to shame us into thinking that we are not worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. And, in our guilt, perhaps we should just give in and no longer make the attempt – because we are just too weak.

The devil has been doing this for a long time and his cunning has taken countless people from the salvation of Christ. The Devil knows what works.

Yet we should be comforted knowing that Christ knows exactly the challenges and temptations we face because he faced them too. More importantly, we don’t have to make ourselves worthy because Christ suffered and died for us precisely because we are unworthy. Christ knew we were too weak to save ourselves so he came to save us by sacrificing Himself. God gave us His Grace because He knew we could not earn it.

So the Devil is right – we are weak, we will be tempted, we will come up short – and none of it matters. God loves us anyway! We cannot make it to Heaven by ourselves but we can with the love of God – and we have it!

Be encouraged this Lent! Take advantage of this opportunity to grow closer to God. It doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve all your goals – it is the genuine attempt that matters the most. If you stumble in your walk with God, it doesn’t matter. He is there to help you up and to continue your journey with Him. 

Don’t quit! Your reward is not in this world. It is not a Mercedes, or a color TV, or the next round of drinks – it is far better! Eternal life in Heaven where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Lent is here! Let’s go!

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