Sermon: Lent 1 RCL C – “Temptation”


A fella and his wife were shopping a kiosk in mall when a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by.  The man couldn’t help himself and followed her with his eyes.

Without looking up from the item she was examining, his wife asked, “Was it worth the trouble you’re in?”

Temptation and sin: every preachers favorite topic.

I feel quite certain that most of us have at one time or another gone out looking for trouble, but I doubt any of us go out looking for temptation.  In most cases, temptation is something that arrives on your spiritual doorstep uninvited, but the temptation is not a sin.  What you do with that temptation will determine whether or not you’ve sinned.  Man sees a pretty girl, he can a) recognize her as pretty—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that or b) let his mind loose with all kinds of desires and fall into sin.  Not all temptations are as simple as that, but in the end, most come down to that type of decision.  You can “Resist the devil [and the temptation], and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7b) or you can give in to its Siren like calling and sin.  Again, the temptation is not a sin.  It is what you do with the temptation that is the determining factor.

Another aspect of our temptations is that they are tailor made.  They suit our weaknesses and passions perfectly.  Some people like fast cars and they can’t help but be tempted to speed.  Others like to gossip and they can’t help but chat away when they’re around others.  Everything from shopping to alcohol to anger to… we don’t have time to include them all, but if you’ve shown a weakness to something in the past, then you know the devil is going to bring it your way again.  As my friend always said, the devil isn’t all that smart because he’s only got a few tricks, only trouble is we keep falling for them.  What’s a person to do?  In the words of Severus Snape (Harry Potter reference for all you muggles): “Control your emotions! Discipline your mind!”  And that really is the answer.

Our temptations are also referred to as “occasions of sin.”  If someone is a recovering alcoholic, then an occasion of sin or temptation would be for someone to unwittingly offer them an alcoholic drink.  There was no malice on the part of the person offering.  They were not some agent of the devil trying to bring the other person down, they were simply being friendly, but it has put the recovering alcoholic in an occasion of sin.  What is the person to do with the temptation?  “Control your emotions! Discipline your mind!”  The controlling of the emotions is something that occurs when the drink is offered, but the disciplining of the mind is something that takes practice over time, before the temptation is presented.  For whatever trick of the devil’s that you find yourself falling for time and time again, you have to know beforehand how you will respond or you stand a good chance of falling.  So, for the recovering alcoholic, they must mentally walk themselves through various scenarios and determine how it is they’re going to react.  “Ok.  If someone offers me a drink, I’m going to say, ‘Thank you, but I don’t drink.’”  And they have to repeat that to themselves over and over again, so that it is ingrained in their minds.  So that their minds are disciplined.  

When we talk about temptation and sin, we are talking about the battle for our souls, so this sounds like a rather dry / clinical approach, but ask yourself, “How’s my current method working out?”  Then look at the example of our Gospel lesson today: the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Jesus did not go off into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  We are told that he was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”  I don’t believe he went out there looking for trouble, but it did arrive on his spiritual doorstep.  Did he wring his hands and fret: “What do I do?  What do I do?”  Nope.  He answered the devil’s every temptation with Holy Scripture (specifically from the Book of Deuteronomy.)  He had control of his emotions and he had disciplined his mind.  He had prepared for just such an occasion of sin in advance.  Perhaps he did not know what the temptation would be, but he was not foolish to think that they wouldn’t come at all.

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  But you’re going to want a game plan for the resisting bit.  Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  Approach your spiritual battles in the same manner and you will be far more successful in defeating the temptations that wander up to your spiritual doorstep.

Above all your preparations, pray.  Pray for God’s strength to defeat your enemies from whatever direction they may come.  St. Paul tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to all. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  That way of escape will be made clear to you through your prayer and your preparation.

One final note: if you fall into sin, learn from your mistakes, repent, confess, and get back in the fight.  You are a child of God.  You have work to do.

Let us pray: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Sermon: Lent I RCL A – “Forgiveness, Pt. 1 – Where to Begin?”

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The Beatitudes.  Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted.  Have you ever read those and thought to yourself, “I am so going to hell!”  There are days when I think that my ticket is already stamped.  This notion  of going to hell is only confirmed when I consider the seven deadly sins.

Pride.  How could I possibly be prideful when I’m the humblest person I know?  Greed?  Yeah.  Here’s a good one, lust.  You know what I think of when I think of being lustful?  Roy Orbison.  No.  Not Roy himself, but that song of his, “There she was just walking down the street, singing do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do.  She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind”  What is wrong with me?  Sloth?  Wrath?  Gluttony?  Please!  Just look at me.  I couldn’t come close to measuring up to a single one of the Beatitudes, but give me the seven deadly sins and I’m batting 1,000.  I am most certainly going to hell and my only consolation is that I can look around the congregation and know that I’ll at least have several friends with me!

In our Gospel today Jesus was able to overcome all the temptations that the Devil threw at him – worldly pleasures, fame, power, everything – but if you were to set a double beef cheeseburger, large fries and an ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of me, I’m fairly certain that I would commit at least half of the seven deadly sins.  If you set that same double beef cheeseburger, large fries, and ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of somebody else, I would probably break the other half.

I know it is Lent and we aren’t suppose to be having any fun in Church, but I’m sure you see the point as it would apply to a wide range of sinful activity that’s a bit more serious than a double cheeseburger.

St. Peter implores us, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”  As a Christian people, that is the goal, but so often we end up in the same boat as St. Paul, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Pride is at the top of the list of the seven deadly sins, because it takes a great deal of humility to admit that we have sinned.  Think how difficult it is to go to confession, how much humility it takes to confess your sins to another –  many can’t even make themselves practice this sacrament, but if we do humble ourselves, we can recognize that we have sinned, that we have damaged our relationship with God.

But the committing of the sin is not the saddest part?  We can discuss the fact that we have sinned.  We can identify times in our lives that we committed horrible acts.  We can identify times in our lives when someone committed horrible acts against us.  We will gladly beat ourselves up time and time again for something we did wrong even if it was years ago.  I can stand up here, point you out, and say, “You are a sinner.”  With the exception of the very proud, most, in humility will hang their head in agreement and defeat.

During the Ash Wednesday service we recited the 51st Psalm and we can agree with the words David wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.  Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.”

But you know what?  That’s not the sad part.  The sad part is that in the next sentence after I have said you are a sinner – in the very next sentence – I can tell you that you are forgiven – you are forgiven – and the sad part is… you won’t believe me.

Jesus said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  Again “Jesus said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” And again, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Peter declares, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”  St. Paul writes, “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  St. John confirms, “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name.”  All that and many still won’t believe those words, “You are forgiven.”

Not only that, but believing that we are forgiven is almost as difficult as it is for us to forgive others.  That whole bit about “forgive, that you may be forgiven.”  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.”  Yeah, there are days when I definitely don’t want to pray that!  Do you really always forgive others?

Forgiveness, in every form, is key to the teachings of Holy Scripture.  We know that it is a large part of our Christian identity, but what does it really mean?  I should probably spend Lent beating you over the head with your sins, but most of us don’t need any help with that.  So I’ve decided that during this Holy Lent we are going to look at the various aspects of this rather illusive topic.

To begin with, you have an assignment for this week: think about forgiveness.  No.  Not about who you should forgive or anything like that, but consider your ideas about forgiveness.  What do you think Jesus means when he says we should forgive?  How can we forgive ourselves?  Next week we will begin with many of the myths out there about what true Christian forgiveness is all about and see if what we believe is right or wrong.

In the meantime, consider these words Mahatma Gandhi: “The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

 

Sermon: Matthew 5:21-37

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Foxes’ Book of Martyrs tells us the story of Telemachus, a Christian monk who, in 391 AD, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there he noticed crowds flocking to the Coliseum to see gladiators do battle. He followed them in, only to witness a sight that repulsed him.

Emperor Honorius was celebrating his triumph over the Goths. Gladiators armed with spears and swords reenacted the battle.  After their reenactment the bodies of the dead were dragged from the arena and its bloodied surface covered with a fresh layer of sand.

In came a new series of gladiators. Some were armed with swords and spears, others with nets. The crowd watched with excitement as they sought to outdo each other. When a gladiator was wounded, his opponent would loom over him, waiting for the crowds verdict on whether to slay him or let him live. So great was the bloodlust that at times wealthier spectators would climb down to get a better view of the execution.

Telemachus watched with horror as people died, battles raged and the crowds cheered. Prompted into action this bald headed, robed figure found his way onto the arena floor. He ran toward two gladiators locked in battle, grabbed one of them and pulled him away. He exhorted the two gladiators to abandon their murderous sport. He appealed to the crowd to not break God’s law by murdering.

The response was anything but favorable. Angry voices drowned out Telemachus’, demanding that the spectacle continue. The gladiators prepared to do battle again, but Telemachus stood between them, holding them apart, urging them to reconsider. Driven by the anger of the crowd and their rage at Telemachus’ interference, the gladiators cut Telemachus to the ground, as the crowd threw missiles at him. Telemachus was killed.

Legend holds that when the crowd saw the little monk lying dead in a pool of blood, they fell silent and then began leaving the stadium, one by one.  Because of Telemachus’ death, three days later, the Emperor by decree ended the Games.

In this brief history we can see the work of a saint, but what struck me today was the crowd.  Most, I would hope, were opposed to the violence of war and murder.  However, having entered into the arena they were swept up in the event.  They cheered on the violence and encouraged the murder of the innocent monk.  They voluntarily subjected themselves to witness these horrors, they engaged a temptation, and in the process became complicit in then sin.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus makes several statements where he ups the standard, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, `You shall not murder’… But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”  He speaks in a similar manner with regard to adultery, lust, swearing and more.  Like the crowd in the arena, these are offenses that we voluntarily subject ourselves to.  We walk into them knowing full well what we are doing.  Someone might anger us, but they don’t cause that anger to swell into a rage.  I may see a pretty girl walking down the street, but she is not the cause of lust rising up in me.  However, like those in the crowd, when we engage with a temptation instead of immediately walking away, then we may fall into sin.

St. Josemaria Escriva put it this way, “Do not enter into dialogue with temptation.  Allow me to repeat: have the courage to run away and the moral strength not to dally with your weakness or wonder how far you can go.  Break off, with no concession!”

When temptations arise in your life, do not entertain them.  Do not consider the “what ifs.”  Immediately set the temptation aside, not giving it the slightest edge.  In this way we can all live holier lives.

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