Toorak Uniting Church

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Temptation & Me

Luke 4: 1 – 13
Rev. Ian Brown
25 February 2007

Temptation is the butt of many jokes!
That’s normally a good indicator that it’s an important subject.
A man at a bar turns to the stranger next to him and says,
"I just don’t understand it! All it takes is one drink, just one little drink to make me drunk."
"Really, just one?
"Yes, your honour, it’s generally the eighth or ninth one!"

Temptation! - I’m not sure how well we’ve dealt with this subject in the church.
This is a story told to me by an old, strict Presbyterian colleague.
A grief stricken man came to his Presbyterian minister and asked him, "could you do a short funeral service for my dog, who just died?"
The minister was incensed, "we don’t do funerals for animals here" he said, "try down the road at the new denomination."
The sad fellow looked even sadder, "I don’t know what to do, can you tell me what I should offer them – I really loved my dog. I was thinking $500, 000, would that do?"
"Oh, now wait a minute" said the reverend, "you didn’t tell me your dog was a Presbyterian!"
"Temptation," he said, "is like a university, it works by degrees!"

So today we choose to reflect on the sensitive subject of temptation. I’ve tried to avoid any hint of the salacious and I’m trying not to throw any stones. I know that when it comes to this subject we are all living in glass houses.
To avoid misunderstanding, a few clarifications on temptation;

The gospel is a reflection on Jesus wrestling with his future
and how he would go about achieving his ministry. The temptations are to arrogance, misuse of power, to personal glorification, they are serious, confronting, large life questions – things we all face at times.

It would be boorish in the extreme to tell you about personal temptations. No, this subject is a human state we all find ourselves in at times.
And particularly today I want to look beyond the obvious, past the conceit of our culture which tells us that giving in to temptation is natural and probably good for us too.

When we think of temptation, what kind of things come to mind? It might be temptations like greed, dishonesty, jealousy, gluttony, gossip, violence, and the lure of alcohol, drugs or gambling.
These are easily recognised evils, that have tempting hooks for people with particular weaknesses. Some churches who are big on guilt and the wiles of the devil, tend to emphasize these. Some go further to recognise the evil of temptations like racism, sexism, the abuse of power and social injustice.

But all that is well marginalized today. Much of our society seems to be built around temptations. For example, think of the advertising mantra that "sex sells" or the chocolate biscuits full of fat and sugar, that we know we shouldn’t indulge in too often, that are actually named "Temptations".

All the way from the playful to the downright sleazy, it’s fashionable to question the boundaries of good and bad.
What about the temptation governments seem to feel to gather "intelligence" in the "national interest" by spying on friend and foe or this kidnapping for torture they call ‘rendition’?

It is too easy to point the finger at others though.
What about the more subtle, insidious temptations ?
How often do we think about ourselves as "good" people, people who God must surely approve of more than the many cruel, greedy and bad people around us in the world?
Maybe then we have gently yielded, bit by bit, to the subtle temptation of self-righteousness?
In the gospel event we call ‘the temptations’, Jesus turned each time to God’s wisdom for an answer to beat back the temptation:
"It is written" he replies. God was the ground of his confidence and his constant theme as he repudiated Satan.

Today, as we begin Lent consider the core problem;
not so much particular temptations, but the fact that without God we all are "in a pickle." Let’s take the opportunity to re-ground ourselves in the basic Biblical insight then, that we are all flawed and cannot afford to boast about anything except the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Because even more fundamental than this awkward human reality of our temptations, is the reality of God’s grace; God’s love for creatures who are chronically infected by self interest and weakness.
We need to reclaim that bedrock of God’s grace, and rest our souls there. This is the point for us to come back to again and again, we, as Christians come back to this cross shaped central story of God’s grace.

And as followers of Christ perhaps we should start with Jesus pattern of dealing with temptation. We have to start with soaking ourselves in the wisdom God has so graciously given us. There’s the tried and tested wisdom we, like Jesus find in the scriptures. There are more modern sources too, and we can interpret in the light of our day, but we need to beware.
We too easily fool ourselves.
What to do about it then? Some wisdom in the light of the gospel and tradition.

First, we need to realize what is happening, often the hardest part!
Here is a Lenten exercise: Know yourself better, Lent is traditionally a time for self examination


God understands.... I am tempted, you are tempted, Jesus was tempted.

And pray. Pray often.

Lord Jesus, you resisted the temptations in the wilderness,
you refused the lures of worldly successes, we though, are sometimes blinded by the brightness of all the temptations we face;

...save us, O God, from our particular temptations,
strengthen us to seek you first:

Lord Jesus, true brother, our Saviour, lure us on by the beauty of your Spirit.
Give us an energy to look for what we might yet become, in faith, a passion which outweighs our tiredness from past bruising or defeat.

...save us, O God, from our particular temptations,
strengthen us to seek you first:

Give us buoyant spirits, born of a confidence in your resourceful grace as we commit ourselves again to live by your word,
...save us, O God, from our particular temptations,
strengthen us to seek you first:

Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2007


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