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Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
As we gather to worship on this first weekend in lent, a very specific issue is confronted head on in our readings and our liturgy. It is something that everyone who has ever lived has faced at one time or another, yes, I’m even talking about those of us who think we don’t ever face it – temptation. I really struggle with that word – temptation. It’s such a loaded word in so many ways. So often we think of it when we do something that we know we shouldn’t be doing, like breaking the rules of our diet or looking at a suggestive banner ad on a website.
And one of my favorite stories about temptation, actually comes from a family at Good Shepherd. A mother once shared with me the story of her daughter who was in the process of learning The Lord’s Prayer. She was about 3 or 4 at the time and they had been learning the Lord’s Prayer as their bedtime prayer each night. Finally the time came, when the little girl thought she knew the prayer and was ready to try it by herself. So, on this particular night, the Lord’s Prayer was offered flawlessly by the young lady, until right at the end. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some email.”
I believe temptation is one of the most difficult parts of being a follower of Jesus. And I believe more and more each day that if we want to live our lives in Christ fully and put ourselves in a position to grow in our faith, we must face the fact that there are times when we fall prey to the hands of temptation. Ignoring the reality of temptation while we live in this world is like, in my theological view, it’s like sweeping dust under the rug hoping no one will ever see it.
So brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s just face it – temptation is challenging to say the least. For many of us, in the season of Lent, temptation is something that we try to work on in our faith life. We give up something in order to fast from it during this season – like chocolate or social media or television. Or we add something to our life during this season – like trying to be nice to a neighbor that we really can’t stand or spending five minutes a day in intentional, quiet prayer time with God. But often, temptation takes over and we check Facebook or eat desert just once or we let a day slip by because we think we really didn’t have an extra five minutes to devote to prayer that day.
Our scripture today, especially in Genesis and the gospel of Saint Matthew, provides insight into temptation and uncovers something that you and I need to take note of. Temptation can occur at any time. It can appear out of nowhere when things are going great and life seems to be moving along perfectly. In the Garden of Eden when life and everything about it seemed to be perfect, temptation showed up for Adam and Eve.
Temptation can also appear when things are not going well and every effort to get out of bed in the morning to face another day is a challenge that seems as great as trying to actually move a mountain. In the wilderness, temptation showed up for Jesus after forty days of fasting and deprivation.
In the season of Lent, we are given opportunities to think about things like this. To reflect upon temptation and all that this loaded and often confusing word means to us and our behaviors as we live out our life in Christ. So, I can’t stand before you today and yell at you for being tempted – and most of you hopefully know by now that I’ll never “yell” at you.
And I’m not going to tell you to stop being so weak, start acting more like Jesus and resist temptation when it arises. Stand firm. Be strong. Quit being such a Christian wimp.
Instead, I want to offer two things today. First, in these holy days of Lent I want to invite you to ground yourself in the holy moments of each day and be aware of God’s presence in your life. Temptation won’t stand a chance.
Take time each day to pause. To stop what you are doing for a few minutes and simply breathe in the presence of God in your life.
Take time to notice. To notice how you are acting or the words that you are using. Are they reflections of God’s love for you?
Take time to be open. To be open to the moment that you find yourself in without judgment, without precondition, without blame.
Take time to stretch and to yield. To allow yourself to grow in this moment and all that God’s vision for this moment might be revealing to you about your life in Christ.
And finally take time to respond. Where is God leading you today? How will you live as a child of God in this day?
In Lent, don’t sweep your temptation under the rug. Make time in your busy life each day to pause, to notice, to be open, to stretch and to yield, to respond.
And secondly, I want us to remember a regular and significant part of our worship life together in the body of Christ. Confession and forgiveness. It’s a time when we face our temptations directly and hear words of God’s unconditional love and never-ending forgiveness that we receive as a gift through our savior Jesus.
I’m always amazed with myself during times of confession and forgiveness when, we haven’t finished hearing the words of forgiveness and another temptation already enters my mind or heart. I think we often fail to recognize the powerful words of confession and the amazing gift of forgiveness. We say the words, but don’t really hear them. We receive the promise of forgiveness as a gift, but don’t really believe that it’s for us.
So, the last thing I want us to do during this time in our worship, is to join in a time of confession and forgiveness. [NOTE: This Brief Order for Confession & Forgiveness is written by Rev. Dr. David Lose]
As children of God, loved by God, we confess –
God in who alone we find rest, we confess that we often turn from the gifts of identity, purpose, and meaning that you would give us.
Instead of serving others, we serve ourselves.
Instead of being motivated by love, we are motivated by fear.
Instead of seeking wisdom, we seek possessions.
Instead of working for peace, we work for security.
Instead of seeking our good in you, we look to so many other places, trading your abundant and enduring love for the shiny things of this world.
Draw us back to you, O God, and remind us that all that we have and need we find in relationship with you and with each other. This we pray in the name of Jesus, who came as one of us, tempted as we are, yet without forsaking trust in you.
In the name of Jesus, who suffered temptation and prevailed, who was crucified on the cross and raised on the third day, hear the word of the Gospel: you are a beloved child of God, forgiven, redeemed, renewed, and called to lives of wholeness and life. Therefore, depart this place in peace to serve your neighbor in love.
And all God’s children say, “Amen.”