Temptation, by Pastor Noel

March 9 & 10, 2019   1 Lent, C        


      Temptation. What images do you get when you hear the word “temptation”?

      For me, it’s anything chocolate. Or shoes. Or sweaters and, OK, earrings. And that’s pretty lightweight compared to what Jesus faced.

      When we have candy and coffee flavoring brands called “temptation,” there’s not a lot of fear when we indulge.

      I think there’s a better word to describe Jesus’ time of trial with his adversary.

      Jesus wasn’t just tempted—he wasn’t invited to do something a bit naughty, or have a fattening food. Jesus was asked to turn his back on God.

      Jesus was tested. And test is a better translation of the Greek. In fact, Luke uses it as “test” in other parts of the gospel. Jesus is tested, and Satan is the tester.

      We can often laugh at temptations, even when we give in to them, but a test is serious stuff.

      We come into this story without hearing what has previously happened. Jesus has been baptized and announced as God’s beloved Son. Then Luke gives us a genealogy—tracing Jesus’ roots right back to Adam. So God’s beloved Son is also a son of the first man and woman. We are their children, too, and we are also all God’s beloved. Jesus’ story is our story.

      Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, and led into the wilderness, the desert. God said, “You are my son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

      Suddenly, here is the tester saying to him, “If you are the Son of God.” If… If….

      Jesus has done nothing yet to show his powers—no healings, no teachings. His ministry is still untried, and Satan is calling him to prove himself as God’s Beloved.

      As a young boy in the Temple, he told Mary and Joseph that he was doing his “Father’s work.”

      Satan says, “OK, show me just how you are going to do your Father’s work.”

      Jesus ignores Satan’s promises of power, prestige and possessions. He knows that God’s kingdom is not based on these—even though they are what many people strive for.

      So, how are we going to do our Father’s work?

      On Ash Wednesday we were invited to “the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

      As to the fasting part—I guess one of my favorite restaurants has a different take on that from me. A Lenten special is “Lobster crepes made with Nero Dill Crepes, Lobster salad, smoked artichoke panache….” Not quite in the “fasting for Lent mode!” I guess if giving up meat on Fridays is your only goal, then this fits.

      Fasting has long been a spiritual practice. Along with self-denial, fasting reminds us of those who are always hungry. It may move us to help them—a good thing. Just don’t let fasting take over and make you sick, because then you can’t be doing Kingdom work.

      Self-denial means recognizing that God is God and we are not. Self-denial means not trying to be God. It means realizing that everyone is God’s beloved child—we are all in this together. It’s not just “me” – it’s all of us. All of us.

      Reading and meditating on God’s holy Word—that is also a good practice, not just in Lent. The Bible is ancient words that can give us new ideas and new insight into our relationship with God and each other.

      This Lent a book group I’m part of is going to read “The Dream of God” by Verna Dozier. The book is about finding ways to follow Jesus, not just worship him.

      Both are important, and reinforce each other. We need worship to give God thanks and be strengthened to go out and do our Father’s work.

      We do the work and take our ministries and God’s strength out into the world. Then we need to worship and be recharged.

      It’s interesting that Martha of Bethany beat her sister, Mary, in the first round of Lent Madness. Mary was praised for sitting and listening to Jesus.

      Martha was criticized for scurrying around in busyness and not listening to Jesus. Martha later recognized Jesus as the Messiah, so she was paying attention somehow.

      Both the sitting and listening to Jesus and the work of the kingdom are important. They are really two sides of a coin, and we need them both to do our Father’s work.

      In a few minutes I am going to invite us to pray together the Litany of Penitence. It’s from the Ash Wednesday service, and it’s a very powerful, and difficult, prayer.

      It may sound judgmental and harsh, but it invites us to consider what we have done and what we have left undone.

      I have made a promise to be more welcoming when I am driving—to let waiting people into traffic, for example. At the end of the day I may remember those I stopped for and feel good—but what about the others that I just drove past? Does the not done erase the done?

      I think God is more forgiving than that. And I can learn from my self–examination about driving, or anything else.

      This Lent I am going to focus on Creation care. One task is to sort all the plastic bags I’ve been stashing to take to recycling. I now know that some of them are just trash, so I will toss them and recycle the rest. And be more attentive to what I bring home in the future.

      I ask us to be attentive to Creation care here at church, and at home too. Please let’s not have plastic trash bags full of plastic trash that will be in our landfills for hundreds of years. Join me in this Lenten devotion to our earth—and let me know how and what you are doing.

      Then there’s all the paper that comes in the mail—much of which gets tossed unopened. I will contact those folks and say that I want electronic mail only, or I won’t support them.

      Is this difficult work?

      Not so difficult, but time consuming, tedious. I can passively receive them mail and get angry, or I can actively take time and effort to stop it and make a difference.

      G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

Our Father’s work is for us to go out and try. With God’s help. With help and support from each other. We are called to follow Jesus and share God’s love in the world.

      That is not very difficult.

      As we pray the Litany this morning, please listen for words or ideas that may upset you. Maybe this is something God is calling you to work on or change.

      Self-denial is not about harming ourselves, it is about living into God’s love that calls us beloved children. It is about sharing that belovedness everywhere. God has an unlimited supply for us!

      Just throw that belovedness around until everyone is doing their Father’s work. What a joy that will be!


The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details