Sermon: Lent 1 RCL C – “Dirt, Greed, Sex, and Other Temptations”

The podcast is available here.

Coming quickly on the heels of “Hey, Siri”, the Apple virtual assistant that allows you to ask everything from the weather forecast to “Why is the sky blue,” is the virtual assistant from Amazon: Alexa. Alexa is this little device that you can setup in your home and she’ll do everything from tell you a joke to arm your security system. As she is from Amazon, she’ll also help you shop and let you know when your packages are delivered through her notification system. For example, you ask Alexa, “What are my notifications?” and she’ll respond, “You have one new notification: such and such is in.” Such and such can be anything from the title of a book to a 12 pack of canned mackerel. “You have one new notification: 12 pack of canned mackerel is in.” Hold that thought…

Just like any other book, theological books will often have catchy titles in order to get you to take more than a cursory look, especially when it comes to exceptionally dry topics such as moral and ethical theology, which is more a logic game than anything. Well, as it turns out, Janie ordered a book from Amazon on just that topic, so when I got home on Monday, Alexa had a new notification. I asked: Alexa, what are my notifications. She answered: You have one new notification: Dirt, Greed, and Sex is in. After spewing coffee across the kitchen, I told Alexa, You’ve know idea!

Dirt, greed, and sex are in, they are always in, and in one form or another, they are what draw us from God and into a life of sin; and they have managed to bring down so many, because they always wanted more or something that they couldn’t have. To one degree or another, that is true for all of us.

I look at the sins that Jesus was tempted with while in the wilderness: turning stones into bread, authority and power over the nations of the world, throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple… I look at these sins and realize they are not the sins that would really trip me up. They are above my pay grade and I know it, but as one of my friends in Montana liked to point out, the Devil only has so many tricks, the problem is that we so often fall for them, time and time again. So if that is true, then perhaps the temptations of Jesus are in fact my temptations.

Turning stones into bread, I’m not looking to accomplish that unless Harry Potter teaches me a spell of transfiguration, but I am guilty of seeking ways to serve myself instead of relying on God to provide. I have no aspirations to rule the world, but there are times when I would be very pleased to have free reign over my own microcosm of the world, taking what I want and doing with it as I like. And I’m not going to throw myself off one of the downtown towers, but I can be easily tempted to abuse the gifts that God has given for personal gain. So, in truth, we are all tempted as Jesus was, but those temptations are tailor made for each of us. Whether it be dirt, greed, sex, or so many other forms, the one who tempted Jesus will come after us, and if he is not successful at one time, then he will come calling again. As the Scripture said after the Devil tempted Jesus, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” He is relentless in his pursuit of you and although his tricks may be limited, he’s got one tailor made for you that will fit perfectly. So, when he comes our way, how are we to overcome the temptations as Jesus did?

From Jesus example, I think there are three main areas of focus, and the first is not to argue with the Devil. He’s been at this business of deception a lot longer than you have and he knows all the tricks and when we begin to argue with him, instead of defeating him, we more often than not will end up justifying our actions. Simple example: Hey, Fr. John, have a cookie. I can’t, trying to drop a few. But you did already. You weighed this morning and you were down several. One cookie won’t hurt. Think of it as a reward. And… one box of Girl Scout Cookies later, I am sufficiently rewarded. Eating a cookie isn’t a sin (thanks be to God!), but when we are tempted to sin, we can’t win by arguing, that is only entertaining the idea even more, instead, as soon as we recognize the temptation, we must quickly and without hesitation dismiss it and move on.

The second way of overcoming the temptation is to listen to the voice that is speaking to us and learn to discern who it is directing us. This can at times be difficult, for as Paul teaches us “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” At times, the voice that is directing us can sound very much like God, when in truth, it is not. Discern and test what you hear against what you know of the nature of God. Is this word, are these actions in concert with the Word of God and the teachings of Jesus, or is there some subtle discord?

Finally, and this is what makes the first and second way to overcome temptation possible: fall deeper in love with God. St. James spells it out nicely: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Enter into a deeper relationship with God and God will do the same for you. He will be near to you on the day of battle and assist you in overcoming evil.

Alexa is right: dirt, greed, sex, and many other temptations are in, so don’t argue with the Deceiver, listen for the voice of the Lord, and draw into a deeper relationship with Him who loves you and was able to overcome all temptations. From St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” So that on the day of trial, you may stand.

Let us pray: Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

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