By The Rev. Sherry Deets
1 Lent – February 17, 2013
So, today, this first Sunday in the holy season of Lent, we heard from Luke about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. I wonder if temptation is one of those things we have a hard time talking honestly about in church. We tend to jump to the cultural racy topics of sex, power and drugs, or we move to a more traditional view and get all full of moral vim and vigor. Neither approach addresses our real and honest, daily battle with temptation.
When most of us think of temptation, we think of Genesis 3, and given that Luke closed our preceding scene by tracing Jesus’ descent from Adam, perhaps Luke is thinking of that as well. I’d like to point out that the temptation of Adam and Eve had next to nothing to do with a power grab and almost everything to do with insecurity and mistrust.
We sometimes refer to the devil as “the great deceiver” and with good reason. In our scene from Genesis, the serpent does not so much deceive as much as he sows mistrust. Adam and Eve do not, in fact, die when they eat the fruit – the serpent has sown mistrust. He distorts the commandment of God and plays upon the insecurity of Adam and Eve (yes, they’re both there together), in order to call into question God’s intentions. God hasn’t told you everything about the forbidden fruit. So what else has God not told? What else is God withholding? It is a story of seduction based on mistrust that leads to the dissolution of the relationship between the two humans and God, then between Adam and Eve themselves, and then between them and all creation.
So let’s go back to our gospel scene for today – a story that portrays different concrete temptations yet revolves around the same dynamic. The devil again attempts to sow mistrust: you may go hungry; you do not have enough; how do you know God is trustworthy. In each case Jesus replies with Scripture. Over the years people have made a great deal about that, inviting us to respond to life’s challenges by remembering or quoting Bible verses. And while there may be something to that, I wonder if it’s not so much that Jesus quotes Scripture to deflect temptation as it is that Jesus finds in Scripture the words to give voice to his trust. Because at the heart of each reply is Jesus’ absolute trust in – and dependence on – God for his identity and future.
There is a crucial link between trust and temptation. To the degree that we trust God for our daily needs, to the degree that we trust God for a sense of purpose, for the degree that we trust God for our identity as a child of God, the temptations of the world have, frankly, little appeal. But to the degree that we allow our natural insecurity, natural insecurity, to lead us to mistrust God, we are open to the possibility, appeal, and temptation of the proposition that it is all up to us, that God is not able to provide and so we’d better take matters into our own hands.
Of course, I know that’s much easier to say than to do. So, I invite you to practice it. Because trust, like anything else, is strengthened through practice. Toward that end, here’s a three-step exercise you might consider.
There are index cards at the end of each pew and some pencils. Grab a card and something to write with. Write down on one side of the card something that is important to you for which you feel confident of God’s support: maybe it’s the love of your family, or a job, or your relationship with God. These things shouldn’t be “givens” – stuff you never worry about, but rather things that matter, that you do worry about, and yet you trust God with them. Label this side of the card, “trust.”
Then, 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 school decision, or something challenging at work or home, or an uncertain future. Label this side of the card, “mistrust.”
Now, take a moment to compare these two things: why is it easier to trust God with one of them and not the other? What makes the challenging one different? Are they different, or might we be able to trust more than we thought.
Now I invite you to take the card with you from church and perhaps carry it around for the week, taking just a moment or two each day to pull it out so as to give thanks for what you trust and to pray about the thing you are having a hard time trusting God with.
Trust is at the heart of our relationship with God and with each other. It’s not always easy, and when it’s missing temptation is regularly just outside our door. For this very 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. Notice that Jesus goes into the wilderness just after his baptism and while “filled with the Holy Spirit.” One of the ways we remember our baptismal identity and can be renewed by the Spirit is in fellowship with each other.
As St. Augustine writes about God in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1
I’d like to close with a poem by Courtney Cowart about the spirit of Lent as she understands it:
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from criticism; feast on praise.
Fast from self-pity; feast on joy.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from jealousy; feast on love.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from selfishness; feast on service.
Fast from fear; feast on faith.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.