The Temptations

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church

March 13, 2011

Gen 2:15-17, 3:1-7

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Matt 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Temptations are everywhere we look today.

No, not the pop singing group from the 60’s, of course.

But from tasty apples on a forbidden tree in our passage from Genesis to total world domination offered to Jesus in Matthew’s account, we have plenty of temptations to consider.

And I think we understand the problems of temptations. Whether it is the Girl Scout cookies beckoning to us from the freezer or the bigger temptations to cheat or tell those little lies that we think will bring us success, or acceptance, or happiness.
I don’t think the lectionary writers put these two texts next to each other in the lectionary to just show us how bad we are at resisting temptation and how good Jesus was at the same task.

Although I think that is clear. Two sentences after God has created humans, immediately, Adam and Eve face the temptation offered by the talking snake. They don’t appear to even put up much of a fight.

Jesus, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to even be particularly tempted by his 3 temptations.

If that were the point of the texts, it would just be depressing and not very Good News. Because we are much more like Adam and Eve than we are like Jesus. We can’t be Jesus. Even our attempts to be like Jesus don’t make us divine.

So what do we do with temptation? Do we just give in to each one that crosses our path?

Well, I’m no Jesus, so I guess I’ll go ahead and finish that box of cookies…

No! Of course not.
We still continue to live into the best life we can live.

But we can be aware of a few things.

Temptations are not unrelated to God.

The talking snake is in the garden, a part of God’s creation. God creates Adam and Eve and puts them in a garden with tempting serpents and trees they shouldn’t go near.

And for Jesus, as soon as God’s voice has come down from Heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”, Jesus is whisked by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.

He doesn’t even get a few minutes to bask in the Divine voice shining down from the heavens. As temptation is a part of our life, temptation was also a part of Jesus life.

The talking snake, the devil in the wilderness, are not outside of God.
Temptations are a part of this life we lead.

So being a part of the family of God, whether you’re God’s own son or an adopted family member as we are– is no guarantee of an easy journey, or of worldly success or material gain.

When people say, “if only she prayed more….” or “if only he were more faithful, he wouldn’t have these troubles and difficulties”, they are operating under a false premise. To think that people who pray, people who are faithful, don’t undergo temptations and trials is in conflict with these texts.
Jesus, God’s own son, had temptations to face. Adam and Eve, the prototypical humans, lovingly created by God and placed in the garden to work and protect creation, had temptations to face.

So, what do these temptations offer us? What are these stories about?

The Genesis account is an historically loaded text. It has long been used to blame women for all sorts of things, even in the New Testament, the author of 1 Timothy writes:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Since you just heard the Genesis text read, I trust that you are wondering, “wait, Marci, wasn’t Adam a part of it? Didn’t he eat the fruit too?”

Why, yes. He did. Thank you for noticing. You are correct.

This text is used to keep women from full flourishing in the church. This text is used to support the theological understandings of “The Fall”, where we left a garden of earthly delights for a life of labor in a hard world because of original sin. But the word “Fall” does not occur in the text. Neither does the word “Sin”. And, if you noticed, there was labor in the garden. God put Adam and Eve in the garden to tend it, to protect it. They weren’t sitting on chaise lounges, drinking pina coladas all day. So the idea of work being a result of the Fall is not quite accurate either.

This text is used for a lot of things. But I think this text is really about showing us who we are. We are people who are called to till a garden, people who are called to care for the gift of abundant creation we’ve been given.

But, like Adam and Eve, we distrust God’s very voice, giving us instructions for our flourishing. We, instead, trust the voices of the tempters, calling us to take on for ourselves determination of what is good and what is evil.

While I understand why people have used this text for bigger theological constructions over the years, I don’t want us to lose sight of the important lessons in the story. We are tempted. And perhaps we are so easily tempted because we doubt God’s intentions for us, or we doubt our status as God’s beloved children. We seek our own glory. We trust voices other than God’s.

The story of temptation in the garden reminds me to listen for God. It reminds me to trust God. It reminds me to question the voices who try to tell me that I don’t need God’s guidance and I don’t need God’s instruction.

And, as the story of the garden is a story about who we are, I think the story of Jesus temptation is a story about who Jesus is. Because the tempter couldn’t, realistically, tempt us to turn stones into bread, or tempt us to save ourselves after we jump off the tallest building in town, or tempt us to believe we could truly rule the world. These are Jesus’ temptations, not ours.

So Jesus, as soon as God pronounces him as the Beloved, is faced with his own temptations that challenge who he is in relation to God, challenge who he is called to be, and challenge what he’ll do with the power he has. The NRSV translates the tempter’s question as “if you are the Son of God….” but that word in Greek can just as easily be translated as “since”. Since you are the Son of God, the tempter offers him, why don’t you perform miracles just because you can, why don’t you cause a public scene that will show everyone what you can do, why don’t you use your power to control the world?

So, the temptations Jesus’ faced were his own. This isn’t to instruct us, I don’t think, in how to avoid the temptation of performing miracles that we aren’t capable of performing anyway.

But I wonder if sometimes we aren’t the tempter in this story. Are there times when we ask Jesus to be someone he isn’t? Do we ask for clear signs, and power, and miracles that serve only our purposes and not God’s?

Are there times when we want Jesus to fit into our own expectations for who he should be, how he should behave, and how he could use his power to our benefit?

I wonder if these temptation stories are reminders for us to live our lives with great confidence and passion about who we are, who we have been called to be, and how we can make a difference in the world.

Adam and Eve didn’t quite get that. They were living in paradise, but it somehow wasn’t enough. In eating the fruit, they showed that they didn’t know who they were, they didn’t trust who they were supposed to be. They wanted to be something else—in this case, wise and with the knowledge of God.

But Jesus knew who he was. He knew who he was called to be, and so the Temptations weren’t the problem for him as they were for Adam and Eve.

During Lent, we journey to the cross. I don’t think Jesus could have made that journey without knowing, deep down inside, who he was and who he was called to be. So I invite you, during Lent, to consider your own identity, your own calling, your own confidence in the love of God who created you.

And I want to leave you with the words of the poet David Whyte, from his poem, “Self Portrait”.

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand.

I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living falling toward the center of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of sure defeat.

If we can do that, then the temptations of this world will not have nearly the power over us that they might now. May it be so. Amen.

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