I was in a grocery store, a new-to-me grocery store
looking for a jar of blackberry jelly.
I couldn’t find it, so I went up to the counter to ask for help
from the guy standing at the cash register.
He was on the telephone, and, when he saw me head in his direction
he turned his back toward me.
His side of the dialogue went something like this:
“So, did you get to the party?
Oh, you’re kidding!
What did Susan say?
No way! You’re kidding!”
On and on it went—so finally I cleared my throat.
He gave me a sharp look in my direction…and kept on talking:
“That’s Susan all right.
Oh, I know, I hate that.
So, what are you up to this weekend?”
“Excuse me,” I finally said, “I need to ask one question.”
He let us this great sigh and mumbled into his phone
and then he turned and looked at me with an exasperated expression
that sort of said to me: “Spit it out!”
“I’m looking for blackberry jelly.”
“It’s on the THIRD aisle, in plain view” he added, with disdain.
As I walked down the third aisle,
the further I went, the more angry I became.
I was tempted to go back up there and let him have it.
I was tempted–what does that mean?
Some time ago I was talking with this couple.
It seems that the husband
got to schedule a mid-winter business trip to San Diego.
“I could go with him,” said his wife,
“but our teenaged kids have school and we would have to leave them at home
by themselves—and, well, we TRUST them,
but I hesitate to put them under that kind of TEMPTATION.
She hesitates to put them under that kind of temptation—what does that mean?
Walking through the airport last week,
over by one of the Hudson News kiosks in O’Hare,
I overheard what looked like two brothers
discussing amongst themselves the latest issue of Maxim magazine.
“Who’s on the cover?”
“I dunno—looks good though…”
“You going to buy a copy?” – “I’m tempted.”
He was tempted—what does that mean?
Most of us think that if there is ONE thing we know all about in life—it’s TEMPTATION.
If there is a theological word that does NOT need
to be rescued from abstraction,
one word that connects vividly with our everyday experience—
–well, temptation would be the one.
TEMPTATION hangs around our environment like a flu virus,
always threatening to break down our resistance.
We’re tempted to break our diets,
flirt with somebody at work,
fudge a chemistry test,
cheat on our taxes,
gossip about a friend
lie our way out of trouble—
–we are always tempted to do what we KNOW we should NOT do.
We don’t need any instruction about temptation.
Temptation…we know all about!
But do we really?
Do we really know what temptation is?
In light of today’s text from Luke about the nature of human temptation—
–Jesus’ temptation and ours—
What does it mean, really, to be tempted?
Some of you might have heard about a book called
All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
The author, Robert Fulghum, argued that
you don’t learn life’s deepest wisdom in graduate school.
You don’t get it on the top of some mystical mountain.
You learn it in kindergarten and in the sandbox, playing with other kids.
Wisdom like: share everything
Clean up your own mess.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Don’t hit people.
When you’re OUT in the world—watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Now, if Fulghum got his deepest wisdom about life in kindergarten,
perhaps the best place to search for wisdom about the life of faith—
–can be found in the Sunday School of our youth.
Our youth MAY be a bit HAZY for many of us…it is for me…
…EXCEPT for ONE thing my teacher told us
one day when I was in the 5th grade:
The best measure of a person,” she told us, “is what you would do—
–if you knew NO ONE would ever find out.”
Perhaps that’s a bit more like conventional, worldly wisdom
than it is Gospel truth—but if so, it’s a near miss.
It gets close to the wisdom of Jesus, because our teacher was telling us that,
when you take away all the lust for reward
and all the fear of punishment—
—THEN what you do in life grows out
of WHO you understand yourself to be.
Or, to put it another way:
Ethics grows out of IDENTITY.
Decisions we make in life…
…they are a product of who we understand ourselves to be.
If that is true, we might have a far too shallow view of TEMPTATION.
We usually think of temptation as the URGE to do something, you know
something we would REALLY LIKE to do but know we should NOT do—
–one more cigarette,
–one more fling,
–one more drink,
–one more juicy rumor,
–one more cutting comment.
But, the deepest temptation in life is NOT the urge to misbehave—
–it is to BE who we are NOT created and called to be.
It is the urge to try to BE something or someone we are not.
That is the heart of this story of Jesus’ temptation.
The devil is NOT tempting Jesus to misbehave.
He is NOT asking Jesus to steal a wallet,
or sneak a peek at some naughty websites,
or cheat on his taxes,
or pick a fight with his neighbor.
It’s so much DEEPER than that.
The devil is tempting Jesus to ignore his baptism.
To deny who he is.
To forget the identity given him as a child of God.
Think about our own baptismal practice.
We had the opportunity to celebrate three baptisms last year, two kids and an adult.
And when we baptize kids, in particular, we share a baptismal covenant,
where we promise to welcome each one into the life of the community
to care for them, to love them,
to celebrate the movement of God in their life,
and to support them as they decide about the Christian faith.
That’s so important. It binds us in commitment to these kids and their nurture.
But it also covers over something:
Baptism is about God choosing us—calling us—naming us—
–and giving us all the gift of our identity.
In the end, we don’t decide in baptism—God decides for us!
God says God loves us, NO MATTER What.
No matter how we end up deciding later in our life…
It is truly significant that Jesus comes to this Wilderness Temptation
directly from his baptism.
The text tells us that Jesus is full of the holy spirit,
the very spirit that descended on him at his baptism
when the skies opened and a voice from heaven said:
“You are my beloved Son,
the one with whom I am well pleased.”
That’s who Jesus is.
“You are my beloved Son.
You are my prophet, my priest, my suffering servant.
You are the one I am sending down the long and painful road to Jerusalem.
You are the one I am calling to drink the bitter cup of sacrifice.
You are the one I am delivering into the hands of those who will kill you.
You are the one I am sending to bear the cross for the salvation of all people.
You are the one to whom I am entrusting the promise of redemption.
YOU….are the one!”
So it is noteworthy
that it is precisely when Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ role is MOST CLEAR
…that he comes to his time of tempting.
It is precisely Jesus’ identity that the devil seeks to destroy.
THAT is what temptation is all about.
Did you notice how the tempter begins each challenge?
“IF you are the Son of God…”
He could have just attached Jesus directly: “You are NOT the Son of God.”
–but he was too crafty for that.
No—much better to generate SELF-DOUBT that acts
as a kind of ACID to eat away at identity—“IF you are the Son of God…”
The three temptations—to turn stones into bread,
to throw himself down from the top of the temple,
to worship the tempter—
–these are NOT enticements to DO bad things;
They are, at root, invitations to BE somebody else,
to live some life OTHER THAN the life of being
the beloved child of God.
Everything about the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel—
–from the nativity story–the birth story–to the boy Jesus in the temple—
–everything makes it clear that Jesus had been given a narrative to follow,
an identity in God’s story.
The devil wants him to CHANGE the script—
–to trade God’s story for…well, for some other story.
Notice that Jesus combats the devil’s attack—NOT with theological innovation,
–NOT with skillful counter-arguments,
–NOT with clever repartee—
—but by citing THE STORY.
Every time…he quotes scripture from Deuteronomy and the Psalms,
words he was taught as a child.
Jesus quotes the HOLY SCRIPT—
–Jesus will NOT live a narrative other than the one
he has been given.
He remembers his baptism…and he knows who he is.
Because we belong to Jesus, we, too, have been given a part in the story,
a ROLE, a role to play in this holy drama of redemption.
We have been called, in our baptism, to be God’s beloved children.
In a world where might makes right,
we have been named ambassadors of reconciliation.
WE get to be the ones who sow LOVE where there is hatred
sow HOPE there is despair
sow FAITH where there is loss.
Because we are called—we are ALSO tempted.
We are tempted to change the script,
to live out another story,
Tempted to be someone other than who we are called to be.
To yield to temptation, far more serious than some transgression—is to say:
“I am not a child of God
and I will not take part in God’s redeeming of this world!”
Yesterday, in the midst of our nation reacting to the passing
of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
and reflecting about how little time some on all sides of the partisan divide
allowed for mourning of a public servant
for offering words of peace and comfort for his family
I thought a bit about Desmond Tutu.
In the midst of South Africa’s struggle against Apartheid,
Bishop Desmond Tutu stood out as one of the most respected voices
for racial harmony and human dignity.
But even close colleagues of Tutu were sometimes distressed by
the bishop’s tolerance and moderation.
They wished he could be more aggressive with his opponents.
One of them said: “At his age,
you’d think he would have learned to HATE a little more.
But there is this problem with Tutu—
–he believes literally in the gospel.”
In other words, Tutu knew WHO HE WAS in a world created by God:
He would NOT change the script.
Once in high school, a friend of mine was recruited as a sound effects person
off stage, you know, to help with the school play…
When the script called for someone knocking at the door, he pounded sticks together.
When the phone was supposed to ring, he touched two wires together
on this battery operated bell thingy
praying that he could get it stopped before the actor picked up the receiver.
They worked hard on the play—night after night they rehearsed.
And, on opening night, they were ready.
They had the play down perfectly.
The first act was a dream.
The play was a comedy, and every funny line evoked
deep laughter from the audience.
All well and good.
But, sometime in the middle of the second act…one of the actors forgot his lines.
You could see it in his face. He knew it was his turn to speak,
but he just couldn’t find the words.
The audience hadn’t caught on yet.
But the other actors, and those off-stage, they knew.
What to do?
Everybody was so anxious…
The director was just about to whisper the line to him,
when suddenly, he spoke!
What he said was NOT a line from the script.
In his anxiety, he just made something up—but at least he said something.
And not only that, but what he said, it happened to be FUNNY
The audience laughed and laughed. They roared.
Everyone on stage relaxed. They had gotten passed a bad spot.
UNFORTUNATELY, though, the forgetful actor heard the laughter of the audience
and he LIKED IT…so he made up another line!
This one, too, was funny…
…NOT as funny as the first line, but the audience chuckled.
So the actor made up another line,
and then another.
The other actors, well, they tried to respond to him, but they couldn’t.
He was out of control now, spinning off whatever came into his head.
The audience had now figured it out,
and what little laughter was left was nervous, and mocking.
The play was disintegrating…it was lost.
Jesus was cast into the lead role in the drama of God’s redeeming love—
–and the devil tempted him to change the script,
to improvise his character,
to deny who he really was.
But Jesus knew who he was—he trusted God..
…and he NEVER changed the script.
“It is written…” Jesus told the tempter.
“It is written…” he said again.
“God has promised…” he said yet again.
And here’s the point:
Like Jesus, these words have been said about US:
“You are a daughter of God.”
“You are a son of God.”
Every one of us—NO MATTER where we are in life—
–has a role given us by God:
Seek first the Kingdom of God.
Pray without ceasing.
Repay no one evil for evil.
Feed my lambs.
Bear one another’s burdens.
Be kind to one another.
Forgive one another, as God has forgiven you.
Love your enemies.
Do not judge.
Be merciful, even as God is fully of mercy.
Even now, the tempter whispers in your ear: CHANGE the SCRIPT!
Make up your OWN lines!
Decide for yourself who you are!
Choose your next move with great care.
Everything is at stake—
–and the one who has poured out his life for you is
standing in the wings—hoping, praying for us—
–offering us the lines of God’s truth…
and showing us TODAY
how to EMBRACE God’s love and justice.
My prayer is that we can remember God’s welcome
that we can celebrate God’s name in our lives
and we can remember to play our part in God’s great drama
resisting any temptation to deviate from God’s love
and celebrating who and what God made us to be.
May it be so.
 Quoted in and adapted from a sermon by Tom Long.