Temptations

temptation-in-wildernessGenesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Matthew 4:1-11

We begin Lent with two temptation stories. In the first, temptation is given in to – and its consequences are bad. In the second, temptation is resisted – and the consequences are good. The kindergarten level of these stories is that simple: resist evil, do good. But minus just a few of us, we’re well past kindergarten. And minus just a few of us, life is a whole lot more complicated than “just say no.”

In fact, I’d say all of us – including our kindergarteners and those younger – find “just say no” to temptations as easy to do as sprouting wings and flying. We wouldn’t call them temptations unless they actually had power over us. Actually did tempt us.

In Lent, many of us give up something or take on something to help us reflect upon our relationship with God, and to seek reconciliation, to seek atonement, to seek being one with God. These sacrifices of food, time, money, sweets or television or what-have-you… they’re not a sacrifice unless we want them. Not a temptation unless we want them, and they have some control over us.

When we add something –prayer time, journaling, meditation – it can still be a sacrifice as well Because we’re forced to still ourselves, to hold up a mirror, to converse – talk AND listen — with God. It is much easier to just pretend all is fine, to talk at God without listening, and to bury those emotions we’re avoiding under layers and layers of busyness. An honest conversation with ourselves and our God is a huge sacrifice to many of us. It’s much more comfortable to have a quick “Hiya, amen.” And mark it off as a a quick check mark on our “to-do” list. Anything more might lead us into a wilderness. Doing more means a reflection of morality. Thinking of right and wrong.

Fasting, or giving up sweets, giving up meat, or giving up coffee or pop? These are hard because our bodies crave these things. We can live on less than what we eat, and no one needs coffee or pop to survive – but food and drink are good ways to avoid reflection, too. Caffeine, chocolate, sugar, and so forth are drugs to our minds full of feel-good chemicals. When we cut these out, or cut out certain foods or meals, our very bodies remind us, tempt us, back to the way we were. These cravings we feel are a way of reminding ourselves of God throughout the day. It is a way of walking into wilderness. It means reflecting on our mortality. Thinking of time and death.

Have you ever noticed the snake doesn’t do anything other than talk? Just words. And the snake asks them to reflect upon what God has said. But “how often we find ourselves drawn to the non-productive, slick-talking agents of nothingness! Worse: the agents of shame and fear.” (Kathryn Matthews) That is just what the tempting snake gives. Shame. Fear. Adam and Eve knew they had done wrong, they knew shame, they tried to cover themselves, cover their shame, literally with clothes and by hiding from God.

In fear and shame, we know Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden. So what is East of Eden? Maybe a desert, or a woods – some wilderness. It sure isn’t a garden. Surely a lonely place separated from feeling the immediate presence of God.

In such wildernesses, literally as they walked and spiritually as the Lent we walk, “you cannot help noticing how small and perishable you are. You remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. You wish you had someone to distract you from that fact, or at least someone to talk to about it. Anyone but the devil, that is”

These words of Barbara Brown Taylor reverberate in my soul. They mean much to me. In my wilderness, out of the comfortable garden, out with my shame and my fears — I cannot help but notice my mortality. Scientists say we are all stardust, all matter, on a cosmic scale we briefly live and quickly die in less than a blink of an eye to the universe. The Jewish word for dirt, soil, and the ground, is adamah, Adam . Like him and every living thing since I’m going to die some day. Everything I do will eventually turn to dust. Because I, myself, am just animated dust.

Out in the wilderness, you, like me, may begin to think “how vain I am to think I matter, or that anything I do matters.”

You, like me, may look for someone to talk with about this – someone to distract us – give me a reason and a purpose for living… but when we’re alone in our wildernesses, there seems to only be the devil to keep us company. Only the tempter. The accuser. And he wears our own face and uses our own voices and this devil on our backs echoes our own words back to us in the worst way possible.

So many of us are our own worst enemies, and are hardest on ourselves.

What terrible things are whispered to you when you enter into Lent? When you quiet yourself, still yourself, and reflect? What awful things does that devil whisper to you? Tempt you to think about yourself? Tempt you to hate about yourself.

Perhaps…  like me, you think: No one is going to remember me.

And then that accuser in our minds replies, You’re right about that. Do you remember your great-great-great grandma? Do you even know her name?

Another time, like me, you may hear that awful lie: No one truly loves me.

And that devil replies, You’re right about that one, too. Not even you love yourself. So how could someone else love you?

And on goes the accuser, that voice in our head being our own worst enemy – saying : I am worthless.

… After God finds Adam and Eve hiding, what does God do? I’m not talking about the consequences of them falling for their temptation. I’m talking about God personally making them clothes. God takes away their leaves, their symbols of shame and gives them symbols of God’s love.

After Jesus succeeds in his trials and temptations, angels come and collect him up to care for his weary body and exhausted soul. God sends help, sends God’s love in a physical way.

And us? After we have so goofed, and face that horrid devil in us that accuses us of every wrong and sin – those we have done and those we haven’t – those shortcomings we really have and those we imagine – when we are alone in our wildernesses, God seeks us out, takes away that sin, that shame, and gives us the symbol of God’s love – God’s own son.

Life is a wild place. A wilderness. A place full of temptations to do wrong. A place where morality and our own mortality barrage us every hour and every day. But God is seeking us wherever we are struggling, wherever we are hiding, and offering love.

Don’t listen to the devil tempting you to think you are anything more or less than God’s beloved child. Enter Lent to remember who and who’s you are.

And come to this table today, this symbol of God’s love, and be reassured you are known, you are welcome, and you are loved. Amen.

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