Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sermon for February 4, 2007

The Lord’s Prayer: Deliver Us From Evil
1 Corinthians 10:13; Matthew 4:1-11

The Granby Gorge was one of the most dangerous places in town when I grew up there. We all knew the stories about kids who dove into the gorge, broke their necks and never walked again – or unaware swimmers who jumped off the cliffs and got pulled into underground caves by the currents of the waterfall. I remembered the words of my father, who told me what he’d do to me if he ever caught me swimming at the Granby Gorge. Let’s just say it involved his foot connecting to my rear-end, followed by weeks of hard labor on our family woodpile.

So, you may wonder how it came to be that I was standing on the edge of a cliff at the Granby Gorge, toes curled over the edge of the rocks, hands in the air, ready to perform a record-breaking cannonball to the sheers of my high school friends. The temptation was just too great to resist. One jump could put me in the pantheon of gorge jumpers. I’d have friends and fame, and respect, and girls who liked to go out with risk-taking daredevils like me. Yes, I was about to have it all in one 30-foot jump. I took a deep breath and looked to the left. I loosened my neck as the teens below started to chant. “Jump! Jump! Jump!” I looked to the right, and did a quick double take. There, watching the spectacle from the road, was my father. Let’s just say, I never jumped the Granby Gorge that day, but I learned a lot about splitting and piling wood.

Not every temptation is so obvious. Not every failure is so embarrassing. But every temptation presents us with a decision about right and wrong and whom we will serve Not even Jesus was spared this choosing.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus inaugurates his public ministry by going into the desert of Judea and fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. Have you ever fasted? After just 24 hours you get headaches, and feel lightheaded. You get a white coating on your tongue and your breath stinks. Your body goes into survival mode by lowering its metabolism and preserving energy, so you feel lethargic. After a few days, your mind can play tricks on you. You can experience severe pain and swelling. Now imagine how Jesus felt after 40 days. In this weakened physical and emotional state, Jesus faces the tempter who tries to lure Jesus away from his calling as God’s Son. “Jesus, if you’re so hungry, and you really are God’s Son, turn these rocks into bread and eat. Take care of yourself for God’s sake. Jesus, if you are really the Son of God, then lets go the Temple in Jerusalem and you can hurl yourself from the top. Yeah, that’s the ticket. And then you can gently float to the ground and the world will see what a miracle-worker you are. No, I’ve got it. Jesus, worship me, and I will make you more powerful than any other ruler in the world.” Jesus was tempted to satisfy himself rather than remain obedient to God. He was tempted to put God to the test, to see if God would do something spectacular to prove himself.. Jesus was tempted to trust the powers of the world rather than the promises of God. I think Jesus agonized over these temptations. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are (Heb. 4:15). Jesus understands our struggles and temptations. He experienced them himself. That’s why we pray these words every week: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This morning we are going to think about what temptation is and learn some practical ways to avoid it.

Temptation is anything that entices us to use a short-cut to reach a desirable goal. For instance: Let’s say you want a good grade in school. Good grades are desirable. They open doors. They bring scholarships. They make parents happy. Students have to work hard to get good grades. But, the easiest way to get good grades is to let someone else do the work for you. It’s easier to cheat. You get the rewards without having to do the work.

Let’s think about friendship and intimacy. Most people have to work hard at keeping their relationships alive. But, it is easier to use people than to invest in them. It’s easier to get everything you want from others without giving something back.

Maybe you want success and influence with others. Success and influence take time and commitment. But in our world, personal goals are all to often reached at any cost. People will sacrifice integrity, honesty, and even relationships to get what they think will bring some happiness. It is not easy to live a life of integrity. It’s tempting to take the short cut and manipulate others.

Of course, cheating is always wrong, adultery and sexual immorality is always sin, even if our culture romanticizes promiscuity. Betrayal of confidence is always heart-breaking. We will always be tempted to take the path of least resistance, to seek the short cut, to want the reward without giving the effort. The problem comes when we give in to our temptations. Remember, temptation is not a sin. Yielding to temptation is sin.

The power of evil wants to jeep is as far away from God as possible. The devil is not an imaginary foe with a red tail and pitchfork. The devil is not some harmless but gruff little person who sits on your shoulder and whispers bad things in your ear. Jesus’ battle against evil was quite real, and I believe that ours is as well. The tempter meets us every day. Any time we have a decision to make, any time we need to make a moral choice about what is right or wrong, good or bad, we will always think of a way to get ultimate benefits with little sacrifice. The temptation may sound positive. The tempter says, “Do it my way, and I’ll teach you something interesting, something pleasurable, something that will give you a glorious thrill, something that will help you live your life to the fullest.” The problem is that the tempter also lies to us. We are told how wonderful life will be, but we don’t remember that evil’s pleasures lead us away from God.

A Native American legend tells about a boy who felt ready to become a man. The tribal chief said, “To become a man you must first survive the high mountains for one week. If you survive, then you will be considered a man. So, the boy set out on his quest. Climbing the highest mountain, he noticed a rattlesnake lying in the snow. The boy was startled when the snake began to speak. “Please help me,” said the shivering snake. “I’m cold and lost. Pick me up and carry me to the valley where it is warm. If I stay here, I will surely die. They boy drew closer, because he knew this snake was deadly. “I know your kind,” said the boy. You will bite me when I pick you up.” The snake said, “I won’t bite you. I will be your friend if you carry me down the mountain, trust me.” The boy thought it over, and decided that a talking snake must be special. He picked up the snake and carried it down to the warm valley. As he placed the snake on the ground, the snake coiled up and struck the boy in the neck. They boy cried out with a scream, “You bit me. Now I’m going to die.” With a hiss, the snake slithered off into the grass and said, “I can’t help that. You knew exactly what I was when you picked me up.”

That’s the way sin is. It tempts us. It draws us in for a closer look. It tells us lies. It persuades us to go against our better judgment. We follow our impulses. We think that if we give into temptation just this once, there will be no consequences. That’s when the tempter is most deadly – when we think that sin can be a friend who has our best interests in mind.

So, how do we fight temptation? Our first scripture reading reminds us that God will always give us a way to withstand temptation. The best thing we can do is to look at how Jesus resisted the luring power of sin.

The first tool we have to ward off temptation is God’s word – the Bible. Each time Jesus is tempted, he quotes scripture as a way to remind himself of the truth. Jesus quotes Hebrew Scripture three different times to get the right perspective on the situation. God’s truth is always more powerful than the lies of the world. If you are presented with a choice between right or wrong and you’re tempted to take a short cut, then take a moment to reflect on God’s promises. You can’t remind yourself of God’s promises if you don’t know them. We need to study the Bible regularly to familiarize ourselves with who God is. We need to set time aside to learn God’s perspective. If you don’t get anything else out of this sermon, please, go home and find that Bible of yours or get an online translation, and set some time aside to explore who God and refresh yourself on God’s promises.

Another strategy for avoiding temptation is prayer. Temptation tries to pull us away from God. When we pray, God draws us close. In prayer, God reminds us that we won’t be spared suffering, but God is by our side. We won’t be freed from the burdens of life, but God will help us carry them. We won’t be sparred from walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but God walks with us. In prayer, we are reminded that Jesus comes right down to the frontline trenches and joins us in the fight against the hostile powers of death, suffering, and sin.

Another tool in our arsenal against temptation is action. We are called not only to know God’s commandments, but also to obey them. Doing the will of God always triumphs over temptation. There are plenty of Christ-professing, Bible-carrying church going people who also lie, cheat, and have affairs. God calls us to make out lifestyles conform to our beliefs – to make our actions obedient to God’s will.

The one sure way to avoid temptation is to make the tough choice to not accept the prevailing wisdom of the world without careful reflection. We aren’t called to pleasure, but to obedience. We are not called to do whatever we feel like, whenever we want, to whomever we want. No, we are called to conform our consciences and our actions to God’s word. We aren’t called to take feverishly take care of ourselves. We are called to trust in God who supplies all of our needs.

“Leas us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God will do it. God gives us everything we need to make it happen. May God draw us closer as we seek to do God’s will without taking short cuts.

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