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Musings Sermon Starter

Temptation with a Capital T

Given the current political climate in the U.S., I’ve been thinking a lot about temptation and how Christians tend to trivialize it. Jesus wasn’t tempted by small things when he was in the wilderness. It wasn’t a question of eating an extra cookie or skipping his time at the gym or engaging in dubious sexual activity. Jesus was tempted by bigger things, not because he was the Christ, but because he was human. The more we focus on the small temptations we face, the more we diminish the power of Jesus encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

Yes, I am inclined to treat this story as metaphor and myth rather than history and fact. It is, nonetheless, a true story. I don’t doubt that Jesus went into a time of fasting and prayer after his baptism. He very likely went out into the wilderness to do so. What better place to encounter God than in a land untouched by human hands? The longer he was there, the more he wrestled with his personal demons. We would do well to follow his example.

The first temptation Jesus faces is his hunger. He could have turned the rocks to bread, but would that have satisfied him? If our hunger is spiritual and not physical, no amount of bread will fill the void. If one is fasting in order to facilitate a deeper spiritual encounter, then bread will not meet that need. Jesus knew something that Eve had not learned when she bit into the serpent’s temptation; knowledge and wisdom are two different things. Jesus knew that feeding his stomach would not prepare him for what lay ahead.

In the modern context, we mistake fasting with dieting. We mistake the physical for the spiritual, especially when it comes to hunger. Those of us with full cabinets and freezers fall back on our Puritanical preset of believing that people who cannot afford to feed themselves are somehow to blame and their poverty is God’s punishment. Even when we say we do not believe this archaic theology, we tend to act as if we do and by so doing, we make physical hunger a spiritual problem. On the flip side, those of us with access to enough food often eat more than we need and just as often use food to soothe ourselves. In other words, we attempt to satisfy our spiritual hunger with physical food. This is no more affective than the reverse. Perhaps it is time we sort this out. No doubt Satan and his minions would rather we continue as we are. Otherwise, feeding those who are physically hungry and nurturing those who are spiritually hungry sounds a lot like Jesus’ response about not living by bread alone.

Having failed in his first efforts, Satan moves on. Jesus’ second temptation is to prove his own value by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus seems to have understood his own worth better than most of us today. He was not concerned with proving how far God would go to protect him. Was he secure in God’s love for him or did he simply understand that the worth others bestow on us means nothing until we bestow it upon ourselves?

We are awful judges of human value today. We foolishly believe that financial and material wealth are signs of God’s favor without giving a thought to racism and other social factors that hold many generations in poverty. While we might be tempted to say that God loves all human beings we are, at core, highly skeptical about our own standing with God, not to mention our neighbors’. Once again our Puritanical preset reveals our lack of wisdom. We can know that God does not favor the wealthy over the poor, the able over the disabled, the healthy over the sick, etc, but our behavior shows something different. Look at the state of this country and it is impossible to deny that we have let outdated-unexamined theology wreak havoc. Perhaps we could follow Jesus’ example and believe that God loves us and all our neighbors and stop trying to prove that we are valued and loved and important.

If we don’t, we will never manage to escape the third temptation. Satan invited Jesus into ownership of and power over everyone. It was simple enough – worship Satan and not God. Jesus saw through this with seeming ease (though I suspect it was more a struggle than the Bible lets on). Jesus chose God over Satan and his time of temptation ended. The power was in the choice.

The unfortunate truth is that we aren’t very good at worshiping God. It is often more enticing to seek after ownership and power. And in a society that frequently mistakes these things for signs of blessings, the temptation is even stronger. Worshiping God is often the harder choice when siren song of society is, “bigger, better, more…” Who wants to be a humble servant to Love and show that by serving human beings and Creation with intentional compassion when the accumulation of wealth leads to power and success? Now might be an excellent time to disentangle ourselves from the pursuit of power and dedicate our lives to serving the most vulnerable among us as Jesus commanded.

If you are among the many who have given up chocolate, coffee, beer, wine, or even social media for Lent, how will you spend that time you would have spent in those pursuits? Will you watch to see if the numbers on the scale go down? Will you browse the internet to fill the void created by the absence of social media? Or will you enter into the wilderness place and chance meeting your demons who will put your true temptations on display? Whatever your Lenten practice may be, may we face our own demons and the demons of our society with grace and assurance of God’s love. In this way, may we wrestle as Jesus did and make the choice that will end our time with Satan with the arrival of angels.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday in Lent – March 1, 2020
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Photo: CC0image by Anja

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Honestly Tempted

When I was 16 someone asked me what I was giving up for Lent. I didn’t have answer I could speak out loud. So many of my friends were giving up desserts, or chocolate, or some other edible treat. That wasn’t going to work for me as I had been struggling with an eating disorder for over a year by then. I did my best to keep my weight just high enough to keep me from being hospitalized again, but no higher. I had essentially already given up all the foods people were giving up for Lent. What I wanted to do was give my eating disorder. I prayed daily that God would take it from me and I could just be healthy and “normal.”

Of course that didn’t happen. It wasn’t that God didn’t want me to be whole. It was that I could not let go of my overwhelming fear to make room for wholeness. Every year at the beginning of Lent, I remember those days. And, truth be told, I still don’t give up anything for Lent. I try, instead, to be mindful of my spiritual practices and let go of those thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that prevent me from being whole. Since I’m being honest, I will say that these are things that I am very likely unwilling to say out loud. This is where our greatest temptations gather power – in our silence.

When Jesus went into the desert, still dripping with baptismal waters and the echoes of “my Beloved” ringing in his ears, he was faced the Tempter. There was nothing silent about those temptations. They could not be ignored or unheard. That which tempts us to leave behind holy ways often fits into those things taunted Jesus so long ago. Food, power, and ego. Who among us hasn’t given into at least one of these things?

mirror-1547919_1280.jpgWe easily forget that food alone does not nourish and sustain us. We need God. We need God to call us beyond the immediate needs and desires of our bodies. We need God to remind us that there is more to life than what we eat and drink. Our value as human beings is not dependent on our bodies. If we are thin or fat, disabled or abled, healthy or sick, old or young, God’s love for us remains the same. For some of us it is quite a challenge to remember that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit no matter what shape we are in. Satan’s promise to Jesus of more bread than he can eat, sounds appealing. Yet, when we remember that food does not satisfy all our hungers, God enters in to nourish our spirits and wholeness becomes possible.

If are among those who are clear about what nourishes us, then perhaps power is what tempts you. It’s understandable. Some of us have not had a lot of power in our lives. There is always someone around to disempower us or to treat us as if we were not among God’s beloved children. We tend to believe that our situation of powerless means that we have no value. So when there is opportunity to grab power over others, we do so without hesitation. This doesn’t do much to fill the achy void within us, though. We think bullying-3089938_640it will, but then we discover that we need more and more power and there is no amount of power over others that will satisfy us. Like food, power is a demanding god just waiting to consume us. Yet, when we recognize that power over those around us does not satisfy our desire to be seen, heard, and valued, God enters in to affirm our worth and the possibility of wholeness grows.

chess-1483735_640Perhaps neither body issues nor a desire for power lures you away from God’s ways. Then you might be among those who tend to think we are self-sufficient, that we do not need God or anyone else. Our own egos can be demigods for sure. We’re good. We got this. There’s nothing we cannot do when we set our minds to it. We don’t need to ask for God’s help. We don’t need to ask God or anyone else for forgiveness. We overcome the obstacles our past; everyone else should be able to do the same. Usually, we end up falling off our self-imposed pedestals or becoming completely overwhelmed by all the things we’ve taken on. Our own sense self-importance or self-sufficiency will lead us far away from all that God desires for us. Yet, if we acknowledge that we alone are not enough to fill the emptiness within us, then God enters in and makes way for healing and wholeness.

The story of Jesus facing the Tempter in the wilderness is an invitation for us to face all the tempts us away from God and wholeness. If you want to give up something for Lent, try giving up something that keeps you from being whole by intentionally strengthening those practices that bring hope and healing into your life. Also, to whatever extent possible, name your temptations out loud in the presence of another person to lessen the power of the demanding gods in your own life.

Blessings on your journey through the desert, the wilderness, the barren places, the pain-filled places, the wild and untamed places.

RCL Year C – First Sunday in Lent – March 10, 2019
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Top Photo: CC0 image by Stephanie Ghesquier

Middle Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by svklimkin

Categories
Poetry

Temptation, Again

snake-1322240_1920.jpg

Lent has begun and we’re all left wondering where those “extra” weeks of Epiphany went to (Epiphany was 4 weeks longer this year than last year). Since my wife and I moved from an apartment to a house last week, I’m feeling the appropriate sense of journeying through the chaotic, wild, untamed places as we begin this season. Since I am on sensory overload, I’m sharing with you a poem appropriate for the day. It is from my book, Barefoot Theologypage 153-154. If you are looking for sermon help, you might want to try here.

Temptation

The Tempter showed up in the wilderness
hoping Jesus would forsake his God
     to eat and be satisfied
     to prove his power beyond argument
     to receive the world without effort
Jesus turned down all offers even after days of fasting
He knew what he would lose—
     himself and his God
          the relationship would be destroyed
          and the world would lose all hope

Consequently we can be reminded that Jesus
withstood the pain of facing the Tempter
He is acquainted with how seductive
     appetites can be
          avenues of escape
          promises of satiation
          false idols of fulfillment
He knows the enticement
     of great power
          illusions of control
          appearances of respect
          a mirage of being more worthy than others
He recognizes the dazzle
     of tremendous wealth
          a life of endless possibilities
          a way to fulfill every desire
          an implausible way to widen the needle’s eye

The next time the Tempter pays a visit
talk to the Christ who has resisted
and can show us how to turn away
from all that would cost
more than we can afford to pay

Let us not forget that when the Tempter wins
Christ stands with the tormented soul
watching, waiting for a moment
to step in and open the door
to wholeness, forgiveness, and grace

RCL – Year A – First Sunday of Lent – March 5, 2017
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Photo: CC0 image by Denis Doukhan

 

Categories
Poetry Prayer Uncategorized

A Prayer at the Start of Lent

2013-02-17 11.10.32Holy One,
Will you be disappointed if I confess my unreadiness?
It seems I can still feel the creekiness in my knees
as I regain my feet after kneeling at the manger.
The trek to Bethlehem was long this year.
Yes, despair gave way to joy as your Light
danced from horizon to Bethlehem to my heart.

Then there were days of Light, an opportunity to see
you, my neighbors, and myself through your eyes,
with better vision than I am accustomed to.
Yes, I heard Beloved echo down through the centuries,
touching, transforming, claiming countless lives,
including my own.

And just a few days ago, I watched with Peter, James, and John
as you were transfigured to show forth your glory and repeat
Beloved for those of us who might have missed it.
Your glory was enough to cast out demons
and fill a fickle crowd with awe.

Now you are in dust and ash,
reminding me of my frailty,
inviting me into repentance,
into the fullness of life as your beloved.
I should want to travel this road with you,
knowing that new life waits at the end.

Forgive my reluctance.
This journey seems too close to the last.
I’m travel-weary from the trip to Bethlehem and not
sure I can make it through the wild places, the desert places.
I feel the weight of my humanity –
the pain, the grief, the reluctance that slow my steps…
The moments of judgment, racism, fear that have gone unchecked…
The impulses to hide, to run, to clothe myself with apathy…
Forgive me.

Holy One,
My intentions are good, you know they are.
I know there will be times when what I intend will not be what I do
and I will give in to the temptation to hide in the familiar, shadowy places.
Find me there.
Accompany me through it all
until I come to the cross
when I will endeavor to watch and wait for you
so that once more I may rise to the new life
you offer now and always to your
beloved.

I’m lacing up my boots for this journey.
I’m trusting you to show me the way.
And, yes, I’m grateful for your patience and your love
which hold me fast
in the moments when I could fall apart.

I’m almost ready.

In your mercy, O Lord, lead the way.

Amen.

RCL – Year C – First Sunday in Lent – February 14, 2016
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Something about Temptation

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin, repentance, and temptation in preparation for Lent. When people gathered in the small hospital chapel for the Ash Wednesday service, it would do no good to point out their sinful state or their need for forgiveness. People in an psychiatric hospital know this on a level that most people do not. I had to be very careful how I approached this season of penitence.

2014-03-05 14.01.40I had heard lots of questions about what to give up for Lent. None who gathered in this little sanctuary needed to give up anything more than they had already lost. What they needed to let go of was the internal burdens they carry that keep them in the shadows. We each had a stone that I’d placed on the seats before worship.  Before receiving ashes, I invited everyone to name the deep burden, the thing they really want to let go of during this season to make room for the new life of Easter. I heard some half-whispered words of shame, selfishness, anger, anxiety, worthlessness and others as each stone was set before the cross on the altar. Sacrifice took on a new meaning for me in this moment.

The idea of giving up the deeper burdens for Lent appeals to me and it ties right into temptation. We are tempted by the things that solve a problem for us, cover over an unspoken sin, perhaps. During my adolescent years when Lent came around I tried to give up the eating disorder that plagued me. It never worked the way I wanted it to. If I had worked to give up the feelings of worthlessness and fear I had, I might have had more success but

 I was too focused on the scale and calories to acknowledge the real problems driving the eating disorder. Food and weight lost the power to tempt me when I made peace with those inner demons years later.

Sure, if you want to give up something in order to spend time in service to Christ, I’m all for that. Let’s not take the easy route out and give up candy or cake or French Fries or Facebook because it’s relatively easy and ultimately isn’t much of a sacrifice.  Lent is not meant to be a diet plan or time management corrective; it is more than that. We are supposed to experience the discomfort of sacrifice. Challenging those negative voices in our heads, giving up those self-destructive ways can be a painful sacrifice but one that will lead to new life in Christ. And who better to ask to lift those burdens from us than the one who gave his life so that we might fully live?

As I drew cross after ashy cross on foreheads, the words I spoke were, “Remember that you are a child of God and that through all darkness and sin, you are loved.” Whatever demons or temptations we face this Lenten season, may we all know the truth of these words.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday in Lent – March 9, 2014
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11