Sunday, March 5, 2017

“Temptation Stories” (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11)

It arrived in the mail on Friday . . . the AARP Bulletin.  It arrived with the usual postal flyers, junk mail, and bills.  Typically it does not grab my attention and usually ends up in the house “library”; but, this time, it caught my attention.  The bold headline on the front of the newspaper proclaimed: Live Longer! 50 Proven Ways to Add Years to Your Life.  Getting on up there in years now, that headline caught my attention, as I would be interested in knowing how I can add years to my life expectancy.  So, of course, as I sat down to eat my supper . . . I perused the fifty suggestions that would increase my longevity.

The fifty suggestions were interesting.  For example, did you know that by having a female doctor you have a better chance of surviving a hospitalization and not being re-admitted in thirty days?  I have a hard enough time dropping my pants for my male doctor, so I am not so sure the benefits of having a female doctor is worth the extra couple of days of life she would bring.  The AARP Bulletin threw out there forty-nine more suggested ways to add years to my life . . .

. . . and, half-way to shoving in that third helping of macaroni and cheese into my mouth, I suddenly had an epiphany!  My epiphany was that I was interested in the suggestions . . . interested in extending my life . . . for all the wrong reasons.  The baseline reason for me wanting to extend the years of my life had to do with me just wanting to live longer and put off the possibility of death for as long as I can.  I’m just like anyone else, I want to live for as long as I can.  Yet, what good is living life if it is not a life filled with quality experiences . . . if it is not lived to its fullest.  Not once, while I was reading that article, was I even considering what those extra years of life could mean for the quality of my life.  No, I was just interested in living a little while longer . . . and, I was willing to take the easy way out.  Who knows, if doing half of the suggestions would add five to ten years to my life, I would make the sacrifice . . . but, I would draw the line at having a female doctor!

M. Scott Peck, author of the book The Road Less Traveled, implied in that book that sin was basically taking the easy way out.  This morning in our scripture readings we heard two temptation stories . . . the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, and Jesus’ experience in the wilderness fasting and praying for forty days.  In both stories we see that the main characters are enticed . . . are tempted . . . to take the easy way out.

For Adam and Eve it is in the form of a piece of fruit . . . a piece of fruit that God has forbidden them to eat.  It is a piece of fruit from the tree of knowledge.  To eat the fruit was to gain wisdom . . . to know the difference between good and evil . . . to be like God; or at least that is what the serpent told Eve.  But, whatever the case, Adam and Eve had been forbidden to eat any of the fruit from that tree.  Eve understood this, but the serpent was wily . . . playing upon common sense, the serpent argued that God would never kill her or Adam for eating the fruit . . . no, God would be happy that they were suddenly wise like God was.  Plus, in the eyes of Eve, that fruit looked pretty tasty.  So, she bit into the fruit.

Well, we know what happened from there.

God was not pleased that Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit . . . was not pleased that they were suddenly conscious of the world around them . . . of what was good and evil.  With every action there is a reaction . . . a consequence of choice.  In this case, everyone involved feels the consequence of their choice.  The serpent loses its legs and ends up spending the rest of its life slithering around on the ground.  Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden, and suddenly life is no longer a picnic . . . no, life becomes hard.  

And, why?

Because Adam and Eve could not wait . . . could not wait until God provided them with the wisdom that they would need . . . could not wait for God’s plan to unravel as it was meant to.  No, instead of waiting for God and doing what God would want them to do, they took the easy way out . . . they ate the fruit.  I am not sure that either one of them felt the choice was worth the consequence.

In the second story, we see Jesus begin his earthly ministry by going into the wilderness after his baptism.  He goes to the wilderness to fast and pray . . . to discern God’s will.  For forty day and nights, Jesus fasted and prayed.  Forty days without food and probably many fitful nights of sleep makes one susceptible.  At the end of his spiritual quest, Jesus is visited.  He is visited by the devil.  The devil sees an opportunity . . . an opportunity to catch Jesus at his weakest.  When people are hungry and sleepy, people have a tendency to make rash choices.  The devil was hoping to take advantage of this.

As we know, the devil tempts Jesus with three scenarios . . . wealth and prestige, immortality, and power.  In three attempts the devil tries to tempt Jesus away from his loyalty and love for God . . . to bring him over to the dark side . . . to make him take the easy way out.  The devil’s offers sound pretty good.  Who wouldn’t want the things that the devil offers . . . wealth and prestige, immortality, and power?  Especially considering how easy the devil makes it sound.  The devil tells Jesus to just say the word and it is all his.

I don’t know about you, but if I miss more than two meals during the day . . . well, I’m putty in anyone’s hands if he or she is offering me a cheese burger.  The devil is offering Jesus the easy way out . . .

. . . but, Jesus does not cave in.  Jesus does not fall for the temptations.  Jesus does not take the easy way out.  No, we know the story.  From this point on in Jesus’ life he takes the way of God . . . he takes the way of God no matter how difficult that way might be.  He refuses to take the easy way out.

Lent is a season of examination.  Traditionally Lent was a season in which those seeking to offer their lives to God were charged with examining their lives and doing the necessary things to accept the will of God into their lives.  It was a time of not only considering one’s weaknesses, but also one’s strengths . . . and, in the end, of giving one’s self over to God completely.  It was not taking the easy way out.  And, yet, it was a time of great temptation . . . a time of considering taking the easy way out.

Like the generations of those followers of Jesus before us, we step into this time of examination as we enter into the season of Lent.  And, right off the bat, we are asked to consider our lives in light of this idea of taking the easy way out.

Which brings me back to that headline in the AARP Bulletin.  Who among us wouldn’t like to figure out the easy way of adding more years to our lives . . . was not that the temptation of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilds’ short story . . . the portrait ages while Dorian Gray never does.  We are all tempted to take the easy way out in our lives . . . daily.  Daily we are bombarded with temptations to take the easy way out in our lives . . . to find and use the shortcuts and loopholes . . . to achieve the result without the work.  We are no different than any of the three characters in our scripture readings this morning--Adam, Eve, and Jesus.

And, we know how it ended for each of them.

We know that there are consequences to the choices we make in our lives . . . sometimes they turn out for the good . . . and, sometimes . . . well, sometimes they don’t turn out so well.  Ask Adam and Eve.  It didn’t turn out so well for them.  At the same time, considering the life of Jesus, one has to wonder how well it turned out for him.  I am not sure too many of us are really willing to truly follow in the footsteps of Jesus . . . after all, he got himself crucified.  

The bottom line was that it was their choice.  No one forced them to choose the way that they chose.  The serpent did not twist Eve’s arm, nor did Eve twist the arm of Adam . . . no, they knew that they weren’t suppose to eat the fruit; but, they did.  They did because it was the easiest way.  Sure they knew there would be consequences, but the gain outweighed the negative in their minds.  Adam and Eve paid the price for their choice, and it didn’t end up being the easy way out.

Neither did the devil twist the arm of Jesus.  The devil just laid it out there and told Jesus that all he had to do was to say the word.  He could have had it all.  And, who knows, Jesus might have considered it when one considers his weaken state; but, in the end, he could not do it.  He could not take the easy way out.  He told the devil to “not put the Lord your God to the test.”  And, in the end, Jesus chose to do God’s will.  He proclaimed, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”  Though the easy way would have been--at least in the minds of many--the best way, Jesus chose to follow God’s will . . . even if it led to a cross.

During the season of Lent, that is the challenge it throws at us . . . to consider our lives and our faith in the light of taking the easy way out.  It is probably the most difficult challenge because it can be the most subtle.  

Despite the fifty tips that the AARP Bulletin gives to adding years to my life, I know that the real means of adding years to my life are a lot more difficult.  Even though they mean well, there is no easy way to add years to one’s life . . . to live long takes a good bit of luck and a willingness to live right.  There are no simple means to achieving a long life except for taking care of one’s self.  Taking care of one’s self means that you have to eat right, exercise, and so much more.  

If I am going to be honest with myself and others . . . I am probably losing the battle for longevity.  I do not eat as well as I should . . . my excuse is that life is short and one should enjoy it while he or she has it; plus something is going to kill you in the end, so you might as well enjoy it and eat what you want.

Exercise!!  Well, for the past decade that word has become a four-letter word for me.  Exercise, as I remember it, is associated with pain.  I don’t care too much for pain; thus, I do not exercise as much as I should.

Besides, the wonders of modern medicine ensure me that I do not need to worry about either.  All I have to do is to pop a pill and longevity is just down the road.  Better living through chemistry.

Therein lies the dilemma . . . therein lies the choice . . . and, it is mine to make.  Do I take the easy way out or do I follow the path that God has chosen for me?

All of us are faced with such choices on a daily basis.  We are confronted with choices of taking the easy way out or doing God’s will.  Think about it.  How many times during the day are you confronted with a choice . . . on the one hand, there is God’s will; on the other hand, there is taking the easy way out.  One will be easy, the other will probably be a little more difficult.  Both are legitimate choices that are acceptable in our society.  In our day and age, taking the easy way out is acceptable and often the preferred route.  But, the choice is ours.

I think this is the biggest challenge of the season of Lent . . . facing temptation.  Because it is the most difficult challenge we should not be surprised that the season kicks off with this starting point . . . that it asks us to consider those temptations in our lives and how they keep us from truly fulfilling God’s will in our lives.

Temptations are not easy.  It is easy to be lured into taking the easy way out in this day and age when we are so busy.  And, yet, as M. Scott Peck stated, taking the easy way out is the root of sin.  Thus we need to rise up to accept this challenge of examining our lives and what it is that tempts us to take the easy way out instead of following God’s will.  During this season of Lent, may we find the strength to enter into the wilderness and ground ourselves in the will of God.  The stories of temptation tells us that the best way is not always the easiest way.  Let us not put God to the test in proving our faith . . . let us choose wisely.  Remember, it is always our choice.  Amen.

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