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Sermon for 10 March 2019

First Reading                       Deuteronomy 26:1-11

1{Moses said to the Israelites,} “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. 3And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. 5And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. 7Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. 9And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.”

Psalm                                                   Psalm 91:1-13

1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, abides under the shadow of the Almighty. 2He shall say to the Lord, “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.” 3He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter and from the deadly pestilence. 4He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings; his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler. 5You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day; 6Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, nor of the sickness that lays waste at midday. 7A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you. 8Your eyes have only to behold to see the reward of the wicked. 9Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your habitation, 10There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. 11For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. 12They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone. 13You shall tread upon the lion and adder; you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.

Second Reading                           Romans 10:8b-13

8b“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Gospel                                                        Luke 4:1-13

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 5And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” 9And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 12And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.


In the book Vital Statistics, the author tells about incident that occurred in January of 1996.  This incident–which might be every child’s fantasy and every parent’s nightmare–involved two brothers, Antony and Jerome who live in Quebec, Canada.  It seems that the two boys wandered off from their backyard and went to a nearby Toys R Us store.  While amusing themselves in the gigantic toy store, Antony and Jerome slipped into a playhouse where they promptly fell asleep.  When they woke up, the lights were out, and the store was closed.

Now think about it, if you were two young boys locked in a toy store, what would you do?  While some 150 adults searched for them nearby, the boys were happily playing inside the store.  They were discovered by the store manager the following morning.  When asked why the store alarm system didn’t go off, a Toys R Us spokesman said: “They never tried to open the doors to leave.”  A trail of toys and empty chip bags were proof of that.

It’s no wonder they didn’t try to leave.  They were in paradise.  Two youngsters alone in a toy store–what greater temptation could there be than that?  We all know what it is to be tempted, don’t we?  And of course, we know from our gospel reading this morning, Jesus also endured temptation.  Luke tells us that immediately after His baptism, Jesus–full of the Holy Spirit–left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.  Luke further tells us that Jesus ate nothing during those days, and at the end of the 40 days He was hungry.  That makes sense.  That’s a long time without food.  That’s probably why the devil’ first attempt at testing Jesus was, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  Of course, Jesus responded by saying, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”  Now before we move on to the next temptation, we need to stop and look at this first one for a moment.

In reality, there are two temptations here.  The first is the temptation aimed at the ego.  If you are the Son of God.  In other words, prove to me you are who you say you are.  We’ll hear this temptation again later when the Jews ask for a sign to prove Jesus is from God.  This is a common temptation we all face, one that involves pride, focusing on the self rather than on God as our provider.  You might say it’s the temptation to put up or shut up.  Satan comes at us in so many ways and one of those ways is in the form of pride.  Maybe Jesus should have also quoted Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The second part of this temptation is for Jesus to provide for Himself rather than to rely on God to take care of Him.  On the surface this is a seemingly innocent test, you have the power, feed yourself.  But in reality, satan is saying, don’t trust in someone else, in this case God the Father, take care of number one.  This too ends in the same place as the first temptation, pride, self-centeredness and putting something else before God.  Next, we have the second temptation.

The devil then led Jesus up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to Him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.”  Then the devil added, “If you worship me, it will all be yours.”  Jesus responded, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Here again, as with the first attempt to test, there’s more than what we see on the surface.  Want power, authority, money, riches, praise in this world?  It all can be yours.  All you have to do is worship me [the devil] and you can have it all.  This sounds familiar doesn’t it?  This temptation goes to the heart of every human; covetness.  We always want what someone else has. 

We want to be in charge, important, a person of influence, a person who is noticed everywhere we go and admired.  What we actually want, is the one to be coveted.  Again, it’s about pride.  Satan wants us to take our eyes off God and focus on ourselves; in other words, to continue to repeat the sin from the garden.  Eat and you will be like God (Ge. 3:5).

Finally, the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and has Him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.  For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”  But Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  With this test you can see that the devil is getting desperate, because in reality, it’s the previous two temptations repackaged into one.

If you are the Son of God, prove it and if you want attention, notoriety, power and fame, jump off this temple and let everyone see that God really works for you.  You could even be the boss, since you can command the Father.  All of Jesus’ refusals and proper responses obviously frustrated satan, for Luke tells us, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”  Again, here’s something we need to take note of; Luke doesn’t say that the devil quit tempting Jesus.  He says that the devil in essence made a strategic retreat–to tempt Him at a more opportune time–for example, when He was confronted by the religious leaders (John 2:18) to show them a sign, or in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46) when He was tempted to forsake His mission.  All of us, Jesus included, know what it is to be tempted, it’s part and parcel of the human condition.

Somewhere I read about a young woman in Colorado, a few years back, who had herself sent to jail in order to avoid being tempted.  However, her situation was a little different than most.  Her temptation was to get married.  This young woman asked a juvenile judge to place her in jail in order to prevent her wedding from taking place–a wedding that was scheduled later in the month.  She was only 17 at the time and was in love with an older man.  She knew that it wasn’t in her best interest to marry him, but she also knew she couldn’t resist him when she was in his presence.  Jail seemed to be the only answer.  We don’t know what happened to her after she was released from jail.  We can only hope that she made a wise decision.  Each of us knows what it is to be tempted, and for our sake Jesus endured temptation as well. 

And what’s even better news, is the fact that Jesus also knows how to deal with temptation.  Jesus is aware of the powerful connection between thought and deed.  In that beautiful prayer we recite each week, The Lord’s Prayer, we find the words, “lead us not into temptation . . .” (Matthew 6:13a).  Have you ever stopped and considered what Jesus meant by this?  Surely God doesn’t lead us into temptation!  The answer to this question is absolutely not!  St. John is very clear in his 1st epistle, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5b).  God does not tempt, but does allow temptation to happen.  How else would we learn to depend on God?  What Jesus is saying is, it’s one thing to pray for forgiveness.  It’s quite another to be so earnest in our commitment to Christ that we pray passionately, “Please, Lord, keep me from even being tempted.”  This is a hard prayer for some people to pray.  

Let’s be honest; some people really enjoy being tempted.  Several years ago, there was a popular country song by singer Lari White, the chorus of which went like this: “Lead me not into temptation, I already know the road all too well; Lead me not into temptation, I can find it all by myself.”  The woman in the song sings, “Lead me not into temptation,” but by the time you get to the end of the song, it’s clear that temptation is obviously what she’s looking for.  Contrast that with the idea of being so earnest in our devotion to God that we pray passionately, “Please, Lord, keep me from being tempted.”

In Matthew 6 we read those thought-provoking words from our Lord, “You have heard it was said, you shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  I believe that we miss the point if we try to make this into an example of unattainable perfectionism.  Rather it’s a recognition on Jesus’ part of a truth about human nature–the deed begins with the thought. 

The story is told of a young married woman sitting in her pastor’s office.  She describes to him a marriage gone stale, a husband with misplaced priorities, a situation in which she has excessive time on her hands and a longing for romance in her heart.  “Yesterday I had lunch with a fellow I almost married,” she confesses.  “I hadn’t seen him in years.  Did I do wrong?”  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a simple lunch with an old friend–or is there?  Wrong, probably not; a danger, that is a possibility. 

Someone else once said that opportunity knocks only once, but temptation bangs on your door for years.  Jesus knew the power of temptation over the human soul.  Listen again as He instructs His disciples on the night He was betrayed.  Luke writes, “And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.  And when he came to the place he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-40).  Note the link here–prayer and temptation. 

What follows is a description of Jesus’ own battle with the tempter.  It’s here He prays, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me . . .” (v. 42).  The description of His struggle in Luke’s gospel indicates that this prayer was no mere formality.  “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (v. 44).  He knows what it is to battle temptation.  His humanity was engaged in a great contest with His divinely appointed task. 

It’s interesting, that when He returns to the disciples and finds them sleeping, He wakes them and instructs them once more: “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  Once more He links prayer and temptation (v. 46).  The lesson here is, the best way to deal with temptation is to stop it before it starts.  The Lord taught us to pray, “keep us from the time of trial.”

Of course, anytime we pray that we shall not be tempted, we confess that the fruit of temptation–that is, sin–is destructive to our lives.  Sometimes we’re like a train engine that decided it was tired of running back and forth on the same boring track.  The unhappy train thought of the adventure and excitement it was missing because it had to run on tracks.  So one day he decided to jump the tracks.  The result was a horrible crash.  The truth is, terrible crashes take place when we decide that we can ignore God’s laws. 

In 1973 Dr. Karl Menninger published his important work, Whatever Became of Sin?  In it he expressed his concern about the way sin is being ignored in our society today–or even made to be respectable.  In his book he said, “There is immorality: there is unethical behavior: there is wrongdoing.  And I hope to show,” he continued, “that there is usefulness in retaining the concept, and indeed the word, sin.”  That was nearly 50 years ago.  I wonder what Dr. Menninger would say about today’s world?  Let’s face it.  There are practices that once were frowned upon that are now readily accepted even by most church people.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of the best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, exposed the true nature of sin when he noted that “evil” is “live” spelled backward.  What a revealing insight that can be if you are mindful of all the implications.  Evil is anti-life.  Or evil, according to popular opinion is to live.  Simply put, sin is that which is destructive to healthy relationships, destructive to healthy bodies, destructive to healthy souls.  Sin is that which puts us, our desires and things, above love of God and others.  Sin ultimately means death to everything that is good, wholesome, lasting. 

We snicker when the actress in the Broadway musical Oklahoma sings, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no . . .”  We smirk with Mae West when she sighs seductively, “To err is human, but it feels divine.”  However, in a day in which one out of two new marriages will end in divorce, when a record number of children will grow up in broken homes, when white collar crime is counted in the billions, when young lives are being drained and often destroyed by drugs and alcohol, when untold millions live in emptiness and despair, guilt and brokenness, it’s time we deal with the power of the tempter in our lives.  Most of us can handle the big crises in life.  It’s the little foxes that eat the vines, as Solomon noted thousands of years ago (Song of Solomon 2:15).  Seldom is it the big things that get us, it’s the little things that trip us up. Temptation has the power to destroy.  The good news is, we haven’t been left to our own resources.  

There is One whose power is greater than that of the tempter.  “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,” says I John 4:4.  In Greek mythology there are many stories about the island where the sirens lived.  The sirens were beautiful but dangerous creatures that lured the sailors with their beautiful voices to their doom.  When ships sailed close to their island, the sirens sang so beautifully that the enchanted sailors would steer their ships upon the rocks to their destruction.  The sirens then would collect their spoils from the wreckage.

However, one day a ship came past on which the sailors didn’t heed the song of the sirens and sailed on in safety.  The reason the sailors weren’t interested was that Orpheus, the god of music, was on board and he sang a sweeter song than any known to the sirens.  It’s an imperfect analogy of what happens when we entrust our lives to Christ.  The best antidote for temptation is to be so filled with God’s songs–His salvation–His service–that there’s no room for temptation.  However, that doesn’t relieve us of the burden of praying daily for His divine care. 

Some are fooled by the notion that we’re going to suddenly arrive at a spiritual plane where we will be delivered from the wiles of the tempter.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Consider God’s warning to the Israelites concerning their enemies in the Promised Land, “I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you.  Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land” (Ex. 23:29-30).  That’s the way God generally works in life–little by little.  We need to remember that despite the trials that come, God does work.  Our prayers are answered.

And if our prayer is for God to deliver us from temptation, then we shall prevail.  Paul tells us in Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  And in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  Relief for the trial may not be according to our time table or it may not be handled exactly according to the desires of our hearts, but God is faithful in answering our prayers. 

St. Augustine, before he became a saint, had a real problem with temptation.  But he had a mother named Monica who prayed for him daily.  On one occasion Monica prayed that God would block a trip her son planned to make to Italy.  Monica was a devout Christian, and it broke her heart to see her son wasting his life in undesirable indulgences.  She knew that there were many temptations in Italy for a young man.  But while she was praying, Augustine sailed for Italy.  However, here’s the ironic thing.  It was in Italy that God worked a great miracle in Augustine’s life.  He fell under the influence of a preacher named Ambrose and became a Christian–in the very place that his mother was praying he wouldn’t go. 

We have to be careful in giving God His orders for the day.  There is that temptation to assume that we know more than God knows–that we care more than God cares–that we can see the future better than God sees the future.  He does know, He does care, He does see, and He does answer prayer–though His answer may come in a form that we don’t recognize at first. 

Temptation is very real in our lives–as it was real in the life of Jesus.  We need to heed Christ’s teachings.  Thoughts are connected to deeds.  It’s in our best interest, and in the interest of those we love, to pray that we should not even be tempted.  We need to recognize the destructiveness of sin in our lives and confront our susceptibility.  Finally, we need to learn to rely on God, as Jesus did, whose power is greater than the power of the tempter and can give us victory over every evil.

Amen o

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