Grace Presbyterian Church
March 1, 2020, Lent 1A
It Is Written…
When was the last time anyone dared you to go up on top of the tallest building in town and throw yourself off to prove that God loves you so much – that you are #blessed, so to speak – that God wouldn’t possibly let you get hurt?
Has anyone ever challenged you to turn a bunch of decorative garden stones at Home Depot or Lowe’s into bread to feed all the people at St. Francis House or Family Promise or Grace Marketplace?
Or have you ever been tempted to sell your soul to some billionaire in order to get bankrolled for a run at public office – maybe even the highest office in the land?
As familiar as this story is – we do read it once a year from either Matthew, Mark, or Luke – one of the things we often don’t think about is that the particular temptations Jesus faces here are not really that relatable for most of us, even in more modern equivalents. And truth be told, it’s just as well. We struggle enough with the far more mundane temptations with which we are confronted on a regular basis.
I could go through a whole laundry list of temptations any one of us might face on a regular basis. A typical preacher might toss out some manner of temptation to some financial misdeed, possibly, or a more sexual temptation perhaps, or the temptation to make like the Houston Astros and cheat our way to whatever “victory” we desire.
I wonder, though, if the most insidious temptation we face on a regular basis – so common, in fact, that we probably don’t even recognize it as a temptation – is what might be called the temptation to ‘let it slide.’ It’s the temptation that comes of seeing a thing that is wrong, and knowing that it is wrong, but choosing, for whatever reason, to ‘let it slide.’
This temptation works a lot of ways. Let’s take what we might call a global example. The world’s economic food system is in many ways riddled with all manner of corruption, abusive or exploitative practices towards workers in the supply down to and including slavery, widely unethical pay practices, environmentally degrading agricultural practices, and a whole load of other such wrongdoing. The practices in question implicate an awful lot of the favorite food brands people, particularly in the USA, buy most often. Now there are in some cases particular brands or companies that take into account and seek to avoid or eliminate such practices; you might see labels such as “fair trade certified” or “rainforest-safe” or something like that on the packaging of such foods or goods. Still, you know, those brands tend to be a bit more expensive and harder to find. And, you know, you really like that particular chocolate bar, or can’t function at all without that particular cup of coffee in the morning. And then comes the defeatist argument: what difference can one person make, anyway?
And so, we … let it slide.
But let’s get more immediate, or more personal. You know something is wrong with the couple next door. You don’t see him, unless he comes tearing in late at night, often with a lot of noisy shouting or arguing. She’s turning much more withdrawn, less approachable, and when you see her she’s clearly trying to hide something and is clearly more fearful and on edge. You have suspicions. You know something is wrong but you don’t know anything. And you can already hear the voices telling you to ‘mind your own business.’ And after all, if he’s willing to be that violent to her, who’s to say he won’t be that violent towards you?
And so, we…let it slide.
All creation suffers, peoples around the world are ground into dust by unrelenting poverty, women are abused constantly and even killed, and we…let it slide.
Perhaps this is where Jesus’s temptation meets ours after all. The Tempter’s challenges to Jesus are a direct attack on Jesus’s relationship to God the Father. Who does Jesus serve with his power for miracles? Does Jesus glorify God, or himself? Who is worthy of worship? Jesus lets none of these challenges slide, to say the least.
And also, Jesus doesn’t get into great theological arguments with the Tempter either. Each temptation is swatted aside, you’ll note, with a statement that either begins with or includes the phrase “It is written…” In this case, all three of these answers are written in the book of Deuteronomy, that great recapitulation of the Law that finishes the Torah.
We do have that resource at hand, you know. We also have a lot more “it is written” resources as well, law and prophets and writings and psalms and poetry and letters and apocalyptic visions and most of all the very acts and deeds of Jesus himself, written that we might have Jesus’s witness in our minds, our hearts, and our lives, that we might know temptation when we see it and might be prepared to rebuff it at every turn. As it is written in John 20:31, “these are written so that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
See, not giving into temptation isn’t about the do’s and don’ts, the “gotcha”s and the finger-pointers. It’s about life; life in Jesus’s name, life in God’s good created world, life in the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It’s about the choice, again and again, to live into our baptisms and our confirmation promises and the commitment we express every time we come to this table. It’s about life in the Jesus who chooses again and again to live for God and for us.
For all this, we have to say Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal unless otherwise indicated): #167 Forty Days and Forty Nights; #—, God, You Wrap Your Love Around Us; #525, Let Us Break Bread Together; #166, Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days