I start this day with three texts that make me think about being tempted. (Proverbs 30: 1-9; Psalm 77, Matthew4: 1-11. I know something about temptation and the fact that is ongoing and never ending.
The Matthew Text is an expansion of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. And as I wrote on Sunday, I have certainly preached on this alot. As I sat with it this morning, I thought about my standard three points that are just foundational to my faith.
1. There are anti-God forces at work always. In the temptation of Jesus people can get really caught up in the devil and whether this is "real" or not. I always like to go back to the beginning and the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve and the snake that is in the garden tempting them. And my read of it is that it shows us that right from the start of creation, there was an anti -God force at work. Again, the why questions are a dead end? Why is this? Why is there temptation? Why is there suffering? Why is there death? All of that to me is impossible to answer and all of our answers won't change what is. . What the story says to be is what it is - we live life with temptation, with suffering and with death. That is our reality.
To go back to the serpent in the garden, the temptation was more than to just "eat the apple," the temptation was to disobeying the creator, who shows us the way of life. I think it was Walter Brueggemann who said that in this dialogue suddenly the people are talking about God instead of talking to God.
2. We have times of being vulnerable when we are more likely to be tempted. I remember learning about HALT and addiction - that when we are hungry, angry, lonely and tired we are more likely to succumb to our addiction. And so, part of being healthy is to be attentive to what is going on with us and "get ahead of it." And then maybe we can control temptation?
While this is true, the other reality is that there are times when GOD leads us into places of vulnerability. Matthew 4:"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Jesus..." I suppose you might call this the bad news. It is my experience that to take seriously this way of God is to understand that we are being led into vulnerability and we will be tempted in all kinds of ways.
A really important book to me in the past few years was Ruth Haley Barton's Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. She writes so well of the tension of church life: "There is the tension between knowing how to "work the system" and entering into trustworthy relationships characterized by trust and a commitment to one another's well-being. There is the tension between the need for an easy discipleship process through which we can efficiently herd lots of people and the patient, plodding, and ultimately mysterious nature of the spiritual transformation process. And then there is the challenge of knowing how to speak of these things in fruitful ways in the very inside places of power without becoming polarized in our relationships with one another."
she writes : "The temptation to compromise basic Christian values - love, community, truth-telling, confession and reconciliation, silent listening and waiting on God for discernment - for the sake of experience is very great. In a high performance culture (both secular culture and religious) holding to deep spiritual values in the face of the pressure to perform - whether performance is measured by numbers, new buildings or the latest innovation - is one of the greatest challenges of spiritual leadership"
Believe me, I know that temptation and I know how easy it is to push or dismiss or override or ignore people and important issues in order to get things going or get something done. And I also can see how easy it is to avoid leadership or even involvement in a church because of all of this.
But most of all as I reflect on this - God calls us into places of vulnerability and one of them is the church.
3. The only answer is to trust God - with everything we have. "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." Because it is in God that there is grace when we have the courage to face ourselves in the times of temptation. And it is in God that there is strength to stand in the tension and it is in God that we are able to love others as they are and ourselves too.
Augustine said " Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him." The answer has to be "Be still and know that I am God." and in that we find peace and grace and power to continue on our own paths of service.
Here is a wonderful prayer by Ted Loder which speaks to me this morning.
O God of such truth as sweeps away all lies,
of such grace as shrivels all excuses,
Come now to find us
for we have lost our selves
in a shuffle of disguises
and the rattle of empty words.
Let your Spirit move mercifully
to recreate us from
the chaos of our lives.
We have been careless
of our days,
Our prayer is to change, O God,
not out of despair of self
but for love of you,
and for the selves we long to become
before we simply waste away.
Let your mercy move in and through us now......