"The Many Faces Of Temptation"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - [Date]
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Luke 4:1-13
Think about that time we noticed our daughter and our son-in-law having communication problems. We wanted to give them the values and insights that have served us exceedingly well. Even though they were not asking for any response from us, we nevertheless felt the need to become involved. We cannot stand by and pretend we do not see the tension in their relationship. Temptation! How easily we forget the struggles that produced our own communication skills.
Think about the time we did not like the personal style of a particular teacher who had one of our children in her classroom. We thought to ourselves, "She is not teaching that lesson the way I would do it. She is not creative. Her lesson plans belong to yesterday. My son needs to be challenged and he certainly isn't getting that from her." Temptation! We want to micro-manage our child's environment believing that if we can give him a "more perfect" beginning in his education, we are helping to lay the foundation for a very satisfying future. Maybe so and maybe not.
Temptation has many faces. Our confidence helps us to say, "I have never been tempted to take something that does not belong to me. I have chosen to remain faithful to my spouse. I love chocolate, but I only allow it in our home during holidays." In other words, on many of the "big- ticket items," we have learned a degree of mastery. In fact, our personal ethics are impeccable.
But temptations approach us in forms that frequently disguise their nature. In fact, they appeal to our sense of what is right. They may approach us as a cause that is calling us to become involved. They appeal to our self-righteousness. The temptations that enter the landscape of our lives are often highly specific to us and thus very personal. And those people who disagree with us are simply out of touch with what matters. Very strong emotions always accompany those things that tempt us. That alone should betray their identity but it does not.
The danger, of course, is that we frequently sabotage ourselves when we follow-through on what our desires are suggesting we do. We can fill ourselves with judgments, harsh attitudes, and responses that blur for others what decency, honor, and character look like. Be not mistaken, our faithfulness to God is on display every hour of every day, even when no one is watching.
In our lesson this morning, Jesus obviously possessed a tool that allowed him to resist the many faces of temptation. His tool is mentioned in the first verse. That verse says, "Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was lead by the Spirit into the desert." In other words, Jesus was constantly surrounded with the sense of God's presence. That was the rock upon which he stood to face the endless parade of personalities and circumstances that he experienced during his ministry.
We could look at the temptations of Jesus and speculate about what was happening with each of them. We are not going to do that today. Even though the temptations appear to be different, all three of them were appealing to the same issue. And that issue was this: "Jesus, you will be more complete, more secure, and happier if you command these stones to become bread, if you learn to desire the things of this world, or if you test your trust of God by throwing yourself off the pinnacle of the temple."
What made Jesus reject every one of these promptings was his understanding that God had already made him secure and whole. God made all of us that way. God's creativity would be highly suspect if we were made in any other manner. Jesus did not need anything else to convince him about his identity. Who he was, was not in doubt.
And this is where the rub comes for many of us. Our fears tell us that we are not enough. Those fears create every one of our imagined needs, and the race is on for everything we believe will make us more attractive, more secure, and more engaging. We play to our fears instead of to the strengths God gave us.
Just imagine who we would be if such imagined needs no longer motivated us. People said of Jesus, "He speaks as one with authority." He attracted many kinds of people, from the poorest to the powerful -- beggars, prostitutes, tax collectors, and Roman officers. Jesus had something unique to say and people listened.
We do not find him playing to the peanut gallery out of a need for approval. We do not find him debating whether or not he should continue his ministry because of hearing mixed reviews about his sermons. Rather, he invited his listeners to follow him in order to develop the same abilities. We all have equal access to God who has more than adequately equipped us to sharpen the skill level of each of our unique qualities.
Because temptations have many faces, we can assume with absolute certainty that they came repeatedly throughout Jesus' life. Every one of them approached him with the same message -- "With me you will happier, more complete, and your life will be more satisfying." Because Jesus did not need the illusions that temptation offered, he did not heed their call. He did not allow his imagination to sabotage his life.
Temptations are going to come. They come in forms we often do not recognize. Facing them is made easier when we remember that God made each of us as one-of-a-kind. There is no one else like us anywhere in the universe. There is nothing more that can be added to us. We are well- equipped with enormous potential just as God created us.
It was this understanding that gave Jesus the power to greet temptations for what they were, invitations to cheapen who he was. It would be as if a rose spent most of its life wanting to be a daisy so that it never took the time to be what it was. When we celebrate who we are, we create, we grow, and we become attractive. This is what it means to bloom and bear fruit. This is what it means to recognize the many faces of temptation as the false prophets they are. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and merciful God, many times our attempts at loving have produced confusion. We express compassion to others and resent it when they do not show gratitude. We forgive 70 times 7 and feel used when our forgiveness makes no difference. We have shared personal issues with a friend and have discovered that our trust has been betrayed. We have shown kindness and have been labeled as needing more self-assertiveness. Why is it, O God, that we cannot give without counting the cost? Enable us to place the outcome of all things into your care. As we do that, help us surrender our needing to be rewarded. As we follow Jesus, may we discover that love is the most powerful way of communicating who you created us to be. May that love flow freely from the spirit by which we live. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, that today we continue our walk through Lent with being able to come to the table and remember. The bread and the cup remind us how far Jesus was willing to go to show the power of love over fear, to demonstrate the power of trusting you over the need for self-preservation, and to teach that who we are speaks with more authority than any of our words.
As we enter these days of self-reflection, help us to evaluate each temptation that stands in front of us. Is that voice inviting us to be different from the being Jesus called us to be? Is it advising us about our neediness? Is it telling us how incomplete we are? Is it offering us happiness and untold levels of pleasure if we cave in just a little on some of our values?
Help each of us to remember, O God, the joy of being the only one like us in creation. Help us remember that nothing can be added to us. Lead us to discover by growing from within. Allow us to hear your voice calling us. Remind us that to copy someone else only cheapens who we are. Remind us that it is our kind that the world needs. During these moments of Lent, may we remember that you are with us every moment of every day. As Jesus taught us, so we now pray...