February 14, 2016 – 1st Sunday in Lent
February 14, 2016 – 1st Sunday in Lent
Sermon – Temptation
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Well, well, well – we are now officially five days into the Lenten season – one of fasting and abstinence - and lots of people give up stuff for Lent. Anybody out there give up anything for Lent? You don't have to raise your hands or even nod. If you just raise your eyebrows, your Lenten sacrifice will be just between you and me. That is, unless someone sitting in front of you spins around real quickly, and that would be rude and unseemly on their part, right?
As I mentioned up here just recently (that would have been Ash Wednesday), I often give up stuff for Lent – and it's mostly because I have limited self-control and willpower in the time between Halloween and New Year's Day. At any rate, the act of giving something up often then opens up a whole new can of worms, and that can of worms is called "temptation." Here we are on the first Sunday of Lent, you have given up chocolate, and today happens to be Valentine's Day. There is a large heart-shaped box of chocolates with your name on it and now that box will become a temptation tomorrow. It is OK to have a chocolate or two today, because it is Sunday and we know we don't count Sundays as part of giving up things for Lent, don't we? You do know that right? It is the pastor's job to point these things out in case everyone doesn't know. Sunday is the day we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord (yes, each and every Sunday should be a celebration) and it is OK to have the chocolate. If you have the whole entire heart-shaped box however, there might shortly be another heart-shaped thing that has trouble down the road, if you get my drift... What, do I have to explain everything up here?
At any rate, temptation is something we are all more or less familiar with. With some, the temptation can become obsession, and then the obsession can become addiction – and then we are walking down a road that we didn't want to set out on, and a road lots of us cannot find our way back from. Temptation seems the almost innocent first step to initiate our path down the road to perdition.
We all struggle with our own temptations. What is more, the Gospel lesson today tells us that Jesus had similar struggles with His own temptations. Our temptations can come in the form of siren calls to over-indulgence; over-indulgence in the forms of gluttony or lustful desires, perhaps. In difficult economic times, our temptations may come in the desire to cut corners or to deal less that honestly with our business partners, or our employers, or our employees, or even with the IRS. We may be tempted to overplay our significance in the workplace to the detriment of a co-worker who is looking for the same promotion as we are; we might be tempted to call in sick if we have an errand or two to run, or a date on the golf course. Our temptations may be so deeply ingrained into our sub-consciousness that we are unwilling to acknowledge them to ourselves, much less to others:
I don't have a drinking problem
I know how it looks but I'm completely innocent, she was coming on to me
I'm completely innocent, he was coming on to me
That website just popped up on the computer, I don't know what that could be about
I'm just sampling, I'm not stealing (as we make our way through the produce section, or the bins of nuts and candies and dried fruits)
I'm really not addicted, I'm just experimenting with these drugs (it seems as if we have raised a nation of aspiring scientists some days, doesn't it?)
Our Gospel lesson today tells us that whether or not you and I acknowledge our own individual temptations, to overcome them, and to put them behind us once and for all, we need to draw closer to God. Jesus is considered the greatest teacher of all time, and it is in His example today that we can learn our lesson in how to deal with temptation.
When we think of Biblical temptation, we often think first of Adam and Eve. If you are in the mood for homework after this service, you can see that Luke was apparently thinking the same thing just prior to recording this story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Sandwiched between this story and the story of the baptism of Jesus, is a genealogy lesson tracing the lineage of Jesus all the way back to guess who? That's right, Adam. And so, I believe Luke is asking us budding Bible scholars to reflect on the famous story of the original temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the case of Adam and Eve, their temptation had nothing to do with a power grab and almost everything to do with insecurity and mistrust. In the Garden of Eden, more than anything, the serpent sows mistrust in order to call into question the intentions of God. God hasn't told you about the forbidden fruit. So what else has God not told you? What else is God withholding? The story of the temptation in the Garden of Eden is a story of seduction based on mistrust that leads to the dissolution of the relationship between the two humans and God, and then between Adam and Eve themselves (you remember the finger pointing right after God discovered them, right? – she made me do it), and then between Adam and Eve and all of creation (we don't call it the FALL OF HUMANITY because we consider Adam and Eve great folk heroes, do we?).
So in the story from Luke today, the devil again attempts to sow mistrust – you may go hungry; you do not have enough; how do you know that God is trustworthy? Every time, Jesus replies to the devil with Scripture. Some preachers will bring this to your attention as a model of exemplary behavior, and it very well may be. When in doubt, seek out a Bible verse to throw at your foe. I would suggest to you that perhaps it is not so much that Jesus quotes Scripture to deflect temptation as it is that Jesus finds in the Scripture the words to give voice to His trust. Because, at the heart of each of His replies is Jesus' absolute trust in – and dependence upon – His Heavenly Father for His own identity and future.
So now we are at the very heart of the teaching. There is a crucial link between trust and temptation. To the degree that we trust God for our daily needs, for a sense of purpose, for our identity as a child of God, the temptations of this world have very limited appeal. But, to the degree that we allow our natural insecurity to lead us to mistrust God, we are then open to the possibility, to the appeal, and to the temptation of the proposition that it is all up to us; that God is not able to provide for us, and so we had better take matters into our own hands.
Are you still with me? Have I made anyone feel worse? I do apologize if I have; that is surely not my intent. Why would you feel worse? Because very few of us trust God as we should. Don't feel bad – trust me, you are not alone. Trust, like anything else, can be strengthened through practice.
I want you to take the 3x5 card you were given on your way in this morning and a writing implement. On one side of the card, I want you to write something that is important to you for which you feel confident of God's support. This could be something like the love of your family, or your job, or your relationship with God. This item should not be a "given" – in other words, something that you never worry about; but rather something that matters that you do worry about, and yet you find that you can trust God with this item or issue. Done – good. Label this side of the card with the word "trust."
We started here because sometimes it's easy to forget what trust feels like and that we are capable of trusting. But we are. All of us. So let's start with something we can trust God with.
On the other side of the card, write down one thing that is difficult to trust God with right now. Maybe it's a particular relationship, or a job, or a school decision, or something challenging at work or at home, or an uncertain future. Let's label this side of the card with the word "mistrust." All done?
Take a moment to compare the two things you have written down. Why is it easier to trust God with one of them and not with the other? What makes the challenging one different? Are they different? Or might we be able to trust more than we thought? If you are feeling brave, you might invite people into conversation (NOT NOW!), so that we can learn from each other about what makes trusting God easier or harder for you and for that other person.
Now I am going to invite you to take the card with you and keep it with you during the upcoming week. Take a moment or two each day and pull the card out. First, give thanks to God for what you trust Him for and then pray about the thing you have a hard time trusting God with. If you like, you can e-mail me during the week to share what it has been like lifting these matters up in prayer.
Trust is at the heart of our relationship with God and with each other. It's not always easy to trust, and when trust is missing, temptation is just outside our door. For this reason, we need the support of the community to grow in our ability to trust and live out of a sense of abundance and courage, rather than scarcity and fear. Here at Emory, we have set up many regular opportunities for fellowship and growth of our trust – we currently have two weekly Bible studies, and we have our community breakfast and our community dinner each month.
So the beginning of Lent is a time to consider temptation and also to be somewhat retrospective in the examination of the lives we have been leading. When we learn to share with others our trust in them and our trust in the Lord and our trust in the Word of the Lord, we can offer hope to those who suffer in silence from depression, shame, isolation, guilt, and lack of joy or hope. The Word of God can be a resource for building one's strength and character and can be empowering for individuals and families affected by debt, incarceration, addiction, unemployment, divorce, eating disorders, and many other issues that have them questioning their worthiness or ability to ever be made whole.
As I mentioned earlier, following the call to simple temptations is often the first step down the road to perdition. Learning to trust God and trust in the Word of God are steps to lead us away from the lure of the temptations.
It is not enough to know the Word of God and to be able to quote the Word of God. If you think back to the reading of the Gospel, Jesus was not the only one in the wilderness able to quote Scripture. The devil, who quotes from Psalm 91, also knows his Scripture. Scripture must be read rightly in the light of God's nature and the life He envisioned for His children. Such a life is rooted in God's narrative of deliverance and a response of His people of faithful obedience to God rather than in self-reliance. Self-reliance is the story of the devil. You can properly put that guy on the side of your card labeled "mistrust."