Monday, March 6, 2017

Temptation



Matthew 4:1-11
Lent 1
March 5, 2017

As I’ve said before,
When we say the word temptation
we’re usually thinking of two things:
either lust or really fattening dessert.
Either way, it’s one specific moment or action.
Some thing that we want to do but shouldn’t.
And sure that’s part of temptation.

The Temptation
J. Kirk Richards
  
But the devil tempts Jesus with neither of those things.
He tempts Jesus with food, yes, but just bread, basic sustenance.
He’s tempts him with protection, being saved by angels,
which is something we pray for regularly.
He also tempts him with wealth and power.
None of these are terrible things in themselves
But they are significant temptations for Jesus.

In all accounts of this event,
Jesus has just come from his baptism.
The moment in front of everyone
where the heavens opened and the voice of
God pointed Jesus out and said that he was the one.
No one else. He was the son of God.

So at the moment of his baptism,
Jesus has suddenly been given a great
deal of power over other people.
Ultimate power, actually.
Which he could use however he wanted.

Now we know the plan God had in mind for Jesus.
But the devil thought he might be able to tempt Jesus into
following the Devil’s Alternative Plan.
Which was for to use Jesus divine power for his own gain.

The devil tried to tempt Jesus to use the power of God
to make bread for his own hungers instead of making enough
for 5,000 and being the bread of life for all.
He tried to tempt Jesus into using his power
for his own safety, instead of healing others.
And he tried to tempt Jesus to use it to gain
the kingdoms of the world,
instead of for giving us the Kingdom of God.

Of course Jesus followed God’s plan and not the
devil’s alternative plan, but the devil’s alternative plan
is one that has won out with many in this world.

We see it win in so many of our public officials:
it’s almost tough to come up with someone
who hasn’t used their position of power for personal gain.
And while it’s not impossible for leaders to
be both personally wealthy and powerful and serve the public
the temptation is always there to sacrifice
the public need for their individual wants Greed, security,
and comfort.

This is a constant temptation for church leaders,
to use the power and glory of God to fill our own
egos and agendas and desires.
Some have tapped into the ability to become
enormously rich using the power of God.
And the 80’s and 90’s was full of the very public falls
from grace of leaders who took advantage of
the gifts and positions they were blessed with
and used them for their own alternative plans.

If you are given any kind of power, especially in service to God,
you can be sure that the Devil will come to you with an offer
for an alternative plan.

Just when the Civil Rights movement was getting heated up
and Martin Luther King Jr. Started receiving accolades, results,
a following, and death threats, and jail sentences,
he was approached and offered
and alternative plan in a job as chief lecturer for
for an esteemed  world-wide talent agency.
It was a very a lucrative position, well paying, exciting, and most importantly, a safe position for him and his family
It wasn’t a bad or evil plan, but it would have taken him away from the United States and his work as the leader of the
civil rights movement.
Of course he ended up turning down the job,
and pursuing the path that he felt God was leading him on.

Now we might not be Dr. King,
but how many times have we been tempted
to take the easy, more secure,
more immediately rewarding path
instead of the more difficult one?
How many times have we been tempted to give up
on the hard things that God was leading us to do?

I get tempted all the time, by the voice in me
that says, “No one will be interested in this” “what’s the use”
“This is too risky”, “This is too hard” or
“This will take too much time”

God has plans and the devil has alternative plans.
The wrestling between the two takes place
right in the same place that it took place with Jesus,
in the wilderness of the human heart.
We decide every day as individuals and as communities,
how we will live  and use the grace and hope
and new life that God has given us.

As Christian communities, we are tempted regularly
by the devil’s alternative plan.
We hold God’s promises and power in our hands.
But do we use this power to do the hard work
to further God’s kingdom in this world:
to welcome the stranger and defend the vulnerable?
Or do we use God’s church only for our own comfort
and safety and consolation?
Do we only use it to satisfy the needs of the people inside the doors,
or do we focus our work on those not yet here?

And even though it might seem like we’ve
lost some of our power from the past,
white Christians are still a very powerful force in this country,
Are we using that power for the devil’s alternative plan?
Are we just using our power to defend and preserve
the institution of Christianity?
To fight for our own rights, privileges, and dominance in this country?
Or are we using that power to achieve God’s plan
of feeding the hungry and bringing good news to the poor?

Are we using our privilege to spread  a message
of hate, and division, and condemnation,
or do we use our privilege in this country to work for
the rights of people of people of color, and
for people of other religions and other faiths?
The temptation is always there for the church
to serve ourselves instead of serving God.

God has a plan in this world,
a plan of peace, reconciliation, and abundance for all.
and the devil has an alternative plan
of fear, suspicion and  looking out for number one.

The devil’s tactic in achieving that with Jesus
was to make Jesus forget who he really was,
what he was told at his baptism
that he was God’s beloved child.
The devil started off his temptations by challenging
Jesus true identity,
“If you really are the son of God” then prove it.
Test the relationship you have with God,
I can give you more than God can give you.

And that is  the devil’s tactic with us.
To make us believe that we are abandoned by God.
That we always need to fend for ourselves
That we need to fear, and we need to fight
that we are inadequate, that we will never have enough.
But God’s truth is stronger than the devil’s lies.
God’s plan will win over the devil’s alternative plan.

And when we are tempted by these lies,
we can always return to God and our baptismal promises,
That we are God’s children, that God will always be with us,
That even if we give in to temptation,
we are still God’s children, and that we are not alone.
Jesus has felt our hunger, loneliness, and betrayal,
and thankfully followed God’s way,
and defeated the Devil’s alternative plan
and gave his life for us and for our salvation.

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