Sermon: When the Tempter Quotes Scripture

March 5, 2017: First Sunday in Lent

Matthew 4:1-9

Did a quaking pulse accompany
You to the Temple’s zenith, Jesus?
With the Tempter?
Did your sandals slip or grip the cedar of the ridge?
Did your mortal soul take hold, just for a moment,
To protest:
“Tempter, you have lifted me too high”?

Temptation has very little to do with fairness. “Fair” temptation would come only when I was prepared for it. I’d be tempted to eat food that is bad for me only when I was full of food that’s good for me. But I’m afraid that dessert doesn’t always wait until after a meal to wave at me, not to mention the attractions of salty and fatty foods that I can persuade myself are, well, healthy, even when they’re not.

This has led me, in fact, to identify the four major food groups as salt, fat, sugar, and chocolate. I thought you should know that.

Food is not the only temptation that crops up when we’re unprepared. They all do. In fact, that’s when the trivial distraction becomes temptation: when we’re uncomfortable, when we’re confused, when we’re desperate. That’s when we cut corners. That’s when we let things slide. That’s when we say, “I’ll make up for it later.”

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody reportedly said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

Temptation is what comes at you in the dark.

Jesus walked into the wilderness after his baptism to face his own darkness of doubt and confusion. His darkness was the same question he turned on his disciples much later in his ministry: “Who am I? Am I the Son of God, as the voice declared when I was in the water? What does that mean?”

Its first meaning, he decided, was a commitment to the word and will of God. And so he replied to the Tempter with a Scripture from Deuteronomy 8, that he would live by the words that came from the mouth of God.

Jesus was not the only one who could quote Scripture, though. The Tempter brought him to the roof of the Temple in Jerusalem, and there quoted Psalm 91, promising protection from all harm.

Ah, now you hear the words of sweet assurance:
“On their hands the messengers of God
Will bear you up,
No bruise will mar your angel-guarded feet
As gently they regain the comfort
Of the ground.”

Sometimes temptation doesn’t look like a shortcut, or a lazy way out, or even like a temptation: Sometimes it looks like a challenge. Sometimes it looks like a leap of faith.

Isn’t that what Christianity is all about, the leap of faith? Aren’t hide-bound holding to tradition, and complacency, and fear of trying something new the things I speak against most often?

Just out of curiosity, is it? It seems likely to me.

Christianity’s finest moments emerge out of leaps of faith, from the courage of Peter to stand before the crowd in Jerusalem – the ones who thought he and his companions were drunk on the morning of Pentecost – to the voyages of the missionaries over thousands of years, to the establishment of Hilo Hospice and the construction of the Building of Faith.

This church named that building for its leap of faith.

The problem, says Jesus, is that sometimes it looks like a leap of faith, but it’s a test of something, of some One, else.

Across the ages, words of Psalmist’s faith.
And did they challenge You to step, to leap,
To dive toward ground?
For just a moment, did you fail to see
The test it posed to God, and see instead a test
Of your own faith?

Andrew Prior writes: “This temptation masquerades as a ‘trust’ in God which is entirely inappropriate, because it is not trust. It is a seeking of certainty in life, when one of the essentials of healthy humanity is learning to live in and with uncertainty.”

Or as writer Ann Lamott said simply: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

Even, it seems, for Jesus.

The Tempter offered him certainty to replace the stress of the unanswered questions, the fear of the unknown. He turned it down.

But what a temptation it was, and it’s one we’re so susceptible to, here in the United States. Certainty, predictability, stability are practically our birthright, or so we believe. We constantly ask, “Is it safe?” in ways that our ancestors would never have been able to ask. No, not, “Is it safe?”

“Am I safe? Are those I hold dear safe? Is what I hold dear safe?”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could cast ourselves from a high place and be caught by angels before we touched the ground? But that wouldn’t be about our courage or our trust, would it? It would be about God the catcher, God the ultimate padding, God enclosing us in bubble wrap. God would become the ultimate insurance policy, instead of the ultimate relationship, the ultimate reference, the ultimate reality.

We know your story’s ending, Jesus,
How you deflected Tempter’s texts
And Tempter’s taunts
How you refused to put God to the test,
How you refused the bread and realms which were
In truth, your own.

That’s the irony of temptation, isn’t it? So often, it’s not about what we truly need, and not even about what we deeply want. It’s about reassurance of what we do not truly know. Jonathan Martin writes in his book Prototype: “But that’s one way we can identify the devil’s voice: It always plays to our fears. It is the voice that tells us we must do something to prove who we are, to prove that we’re worthy, to prove that we are who God has already declared us to be. When we know we are loved by God, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves more beloved than we are.”

“When we know we are loved by God, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone.” Including ourselves.

Oh, wait. Can we absolutely know that? Haven’t I been going on all this time about search for absolutes being a test of God? Well, yes. That’s true.

We’re going to have to trust on this one. Without absolute assurance, without a definitive voice from heaven, with nothing more than the promptings of our hearts and whatever you’re willing to believe of what I tell you: Trust this.

God loves you. You do not need to prove anything to anyone. Not to me. Not to your parents. Not to your children. Not to yourself. Not even to God. God loves you.

So to change one word in Mister Martin’s wisdom: When we trust we are loved by God, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

We know this story’s end was the beginning,
Taking your unbruised feet to Galilee,
Jerusalem and Bethany and to the courts of Pilate
Where those feet were bruised and pierced by nails
For love

The Tempter quotes Scripture, and ancient wisdom, and contemporary best practices, and anything else to hand to summon us away from our trust in God’s love for us.

Let your courage, not your fear;
your confidence, not your uncertainty;
your determination, not your dread,
set your course.

With courage, we see temptation in its hollowness.

In confidence, we see temptation’s broken promises.

In determination, we choose the course of hope, of faith, of love.


Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on March 5, 2017

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283