The Joys of Temptation

I have come to a conclusion. That conclusion is probably well-known to most of you.  But I have noticed that mostly sermons on the first Sunday in Lent generally have a particular theme, a particular tone. That particular theme in particular tone is dictated in part by the lessons. It is also dictated in part by what I see as exigent pastoral necessity.

 For the lessons in the first Sunday in Lent always are about the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In that regard this year see is no different from any other. The story is probably fairly familiar to us. Following his baptism at the Jordon River by John the Baptist, our Lord was driven into the wilderness where he was wrestled with temptation for 40 days and 40 nights. The pastoral necessity and exigency of this story is this: temptation is a normative part of what it is to be a human being. We all wrestle with temptation at some point or another in life. And if that is true of us generally, as we strive to go about life deciding between right and wrong, it is particularly true of us when we enter those moments in our lives where we try to grow in the grace and holiness of the love of God in Jesus Christ. For when we try to make headway in the growth of the love of God, the tempter is always there at the elbow. And that is particularly true if we take upon ourselves some beginning of public office as did our Lord. His baptism was the beginning of his public ministry, and in short order the encountered temptation. Should we strive for some office of public visibility there is always that same dynamic at work within us. Temptation then begins to become a voice ringing in our ears this is folly. This is madness.

 So it becomes a function of pastoral caring to mention that temptation is not sin. From our point of view, temptation is not pleasant, but a thing to be endured, a demon with which we must wrestle. But from God’s point of view, temptation is a tool, a powerful tool, to teach us something about growth in the spiritual life.

 Temptation teaches us humility. We cannot deal with it by ourselves. Human nature being as it is; our ability to rationalize almost anything as a good idea; our preference to be obstinately self reliant; temptation is the tool that breaks down all of that and it teaches us instead of the necessity of our reliance upon God and God’s grace.

 All jokes about it aside, God does not lead us into temptation. We find our way there most easily on our own. But what we may find while we are there is the power of God to deliver and to save us. Temptation instructs us that we indeed need a savior to speedily help and deliver us.

 Our culture trivializes temptation. The big temptations have little to do with the remaining pieces of chocolate left from Valentines’ Day. The big temptations are those things that draw us from our vision and our purpose in life. So while we are putting our energy into resisting that little stolen pleasure in life, sometimes we miss the really big things:

 Here we might do well to have an acquaintance with the 58th Chapter of Isaiah the prophet. The bulk of the chapter deals with the idea of fasting, both true and false.

 Isaiah 58 reads:

[5] Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
[6] “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
[7] Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
[8] Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
[9] Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.
“If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
[10] if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
[11] And the LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your desire with good things,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.

What Isaiah has to say about fasting is also true when it comes to dealing with temptation. We can become so focused on those things that are small that we lose sight of the real temptations: despair, mistrust in the grace of God, doubt in the love of God,  and how it is that He calls and commissions you to be his agent, his presence of grace in the world.

Faithfully,

Canon Greg+

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About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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