Temptation

Lent 1C. Trinity Cathedral.

I know I have mentioned from this pulpit several times that I spent part of my sabbatical years ago studying at St. George’s College in Jerusalem and traveling around the Holy Land.  Now I’ll try not to be a bore about this (like people used to be about showing home movies of their vacation!) but I cannot read Gospel passages like the one we had today without reliving some of those experiences. And sharing them with you!

The desert in which Jesus spent some forty days, fasting and in prayer, begins just outside the city of Jerusalem.  In fact, it’s positively startling to drive (or walk) a total of a few miles from Jerusalem’s city center…to crest the top of a little hill…and to find yourself gazing out into some of the bleakest and most dangerous countryside in that part of the world.  This particular desert is not miles and miles of snow-white sand drifts like you sometimes visualize it.

It is bleak, barren, rocky ground…so hot and dry that you must wear a hat at all times, and drink water constantly in order not to dehydrate and suffer heat stroke in a hurry.  Whenever our professor and guide would note one of us yawning, he would shout, “You’re dehydrating, drink some water!”  A person can die in a couple of days in the desert unless you can find shade and drink plenty of water.  My assumption is that Jesus fasted from solid food for forty days (which other people have done), but not from water!

During those days of fasting and prayer, Jesus – as a relatively young man, by our standards, but in those days it may have seemed more like mid-life – Jesus struggles with just what his life and mission were going to look like.  He had inaugurated his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan River, and immediately felt led by the Holy Spirit to make an extended retreat and to get some perspective on his life and to seek fresh energy for what lay ahead.

In doing this, Jesus had to wrestle with several primary temptations to his life and ministry. First, he was tempted to try and meet everyone’s needs by turning miles and miles of rocks and stones and boulders into bread enough to feed the known world! And, as wonderful as that would have been, Jesus came to see that even ending world hunger would not satisfy what we are really hungry for.

Deep down, we’re hungry for God! We’re hungry for God’s word!  We want to hear from our God, and to know that he loves us and cares for us and will, ultimately, make it all well for us!  And so Jesus said, “One does not live by bread alone.” (Matthew’s account makes it even clearer by adding “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”)

Next, Jesus was tempted to “sell out” for this world’s goods: “…the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world…To you I will give their glory and all this authority…if you…will worship me, it will all be yours.”  But Jesus said, “It is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

And finally, Jesus was tempted to do something dramatic, to do something spectacular to prove that he was God’s Anointed One and that God would come through for him by sending angels to protect him just like Psalm 91 had said. But Jesus told him, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” He was not about to “tempt” his heavenly Father just to demonstrate his credentials or to impress his Adversary.

Well, I don’t know what kind of temptations you may be facing in your life. But, if you’re like me, they may not be all that different in substance from what Jesus faced. If you’re a “people pleaser” (one who always tries to make everyone happy, to have no enemies, to avoid confrontation, then you may be tempted to try and meet everyone’s needs, to be available to everybody, all the time. And sometimes that may mean everyone except your own family or closest friends or even taking care of yourself and your own needs. And you may need to learn that you can’t please everyone! You have to say No sometimes!

Or, you may face the temptation to “sell out,” to be “bought” or to compromise your own ideals. That doesn’t just happen in the business world. We’re all tempted to do that. We need to resist that temptation and to stand up for what is right!

Or,  maybe you’re tempted to try and do something spectacular, or even outrageous, to get everyone’s attention, to stand out in the crowd. “They’ll respect me, or like me, if I just take this risk or do this one thing that I know I shouldn’t really do.” Those temptations are common to all of us.

But if we seek to be people of deep faith and people of prayer, we’ll ward off those temptations in much the same way Jesus did.  By being attentive to God’s word…by worshipping God and God alone…and by refusing to put our God to the test.

You may not be able to go on an extended retreat right now like Jesus did in the desert…to sort out your life.  But you are entering more fully today into the holy season of Lent.  Like Jesus’ experience, it is a forty-day period of fasting and prayer.  A time to listen for God’s word in your life…a time for worship and for service…a time to stop testing and challenging God.  I hope you’ve taken on some spiritual disciplines which can help you do some of that.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy told you what some of those disciplines are (and it’s not too late to begin today!).  Self-examination and repentance…prayer, fasting, and self-denial…reading and meditating on Holy Scripture.  I continue to invite you to keep a holy Lent this year by observing at least some of those disciplines.

May our prayer this Lent always be the one we prayed today on this first Sunday of the season:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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