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Last Sunday's Sermon: Temptation and Sin

The Readings

Old Testament

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

The Gospel

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The Sermon

The reading from Genesis is familiar to all of us. It gives serpants a bad rap but I suppose somebody had to be the temptor and why not have it be something many people are already afraid of. Adam and Eve have just one thing they have to stay away from and they will live in paradise forever. They cannot do it. They cannot resist the temptation to gain the knowledge of good and evil.

In the gospel reading Jesus goes into the desert to meditate and to pray. He spends forty days without food. He has become weak. He is hungry. And, Satan tempts him. Satan offers him the whole world and Jesus tells Satan to leave and not bother coming back.

So, what do we learn from each of these stories? In Genesis Adam and Eve are given almost everything but they want it all. In the reading from Matthew, Jesus deprives himself of life sustaining food for forty days and he triumphs over Satan's offer to be given the whole world.

We are all tempted. Paul addressed his own demons in his letter to the Romans.

 15For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.20But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

It is our choice to go with what might seem to be the fun easy path or take that road less traveled and really find our better nature. How do we get there ? How do we reject our own demons. How do we train ourselves to make the choices that allow us to grow spiritually.

Fasting and meditation is a wonderful tool for some. When I was a young man I would fast for twenty four hours once a week. At first I was miserable. All I could think about was food and a voice inside me would say, “Fred, just get a little something to eat. This is pointless. You aren't growing spiritually at all.” Well, I hung in there and surprisingly, after about four weeks of twenty four hour fasts, I could go hungry and not feel the urgent need to eat something, anything.

Fasting also taught me that there are other things in my life I could do without and I think reflecting on our lives is what the lenten season allows us to do. Conquering mundane desire is easier to talk about than it is to do.
We should never forget to pray to God for spiritual strength. After all, we are not alone on this journey.

I recommend that we all spend some time during Lent thinking about what we want and what we need. Maybe, just maybe we will come up with some surprising insights about ourselves.  

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