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“The Greatest Temptation”

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“The Greatest Temptation”

Mark 1:9-15 –In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’  And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

The word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 Oh my, don’t we know a thing or two about temptation. But what is the greatest temptation?  Many theologians have speculated that the greatest temptation is power.  We sometimes feel that being in charge and having authority are the only things that really matter.  Well, that’s pretty tough too.  But, it’s still not the toughest.

 This same pericope in Matthew’s Gospel gives us three specific temptations.  Jesus is tempted to test God; be materialistic; then to break his fast…and place comfort above his spiritual discipline.

There it is.  Do you see it?  It’s the temptation to be ordinary. “Your hungry Jesus.  The body needs food.  God knows that.  Make yourself some lunch.  Anybody would do that in your situation.”

How often we are faced with the same temptation to set aside our calling.  The world demands it.  No one wants to be different.  In fact, that’s the real temptation that underwrites most of the others.

So what if I don’t befriend the outcast person.  Nobody else has.  So what if I join in a derogatory conversation about people who are not like everybody else.  That’s what the group I’m with is doing and I don’t want to stick out.

This is the temptation to be ordinary.  Christ calls us to something higher.  We’re called to act as Jesus acted.

You may have seen the poster that says, “Life is a test. It is only a test. Had this been a real life you would have been instructed where to go and what to do.” When we think about this humorous bit of wisdom, it reminds us to not take life so seriously.

 As an experiment, let’s see if we can apply this idea to something we are forced to deal with. Perhaps situation at home, work, or school.  Perhaps a temptation that always seems to get the upper hand in our lives. Let’s see if we can redefine the issue we face from being a “problem” to being a test. Rather than struggling with our issue, we’ll see if there is something we can learn from it. We’ll ask ourselves, “Why is this issue in my life? What would it mean and what would be involved to rise above it? Could I possibly look at this issue any differently? Can I see it as a test of some kind?”

I read about this experiment in Richard Carlson’s book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff.  It stuck with me because Dr. Carlson went on to talk about a personal issue that I also share.  He says that he used to struggle a great deal over the issue of not having enough time. He would rush around trying to get everything done. He says that he blamed his schedule, his family, his circumstances, and anything else he could think of for my plight. Then it dawned on him. If he wanted to be happy, his goal didn’t necessarily have to be to organize his life perfectly so that he had more time, but rather to see whether he could get to the point where he felt it was okay that he couldn’t get everything done that he felt he must. In other words, the real challenge was to see this struggle as a test. Seeing this issue as a test ultimately helped him to cope with one of his biggest personal frustrations. Even after taking Dr. Carlson’s advice, I still struggle now and then about my perceived lack of time, but less than I used to. It has become far more acceptable to me to accept things as they are.

 Friends, God has given us much, and so, much is asked.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself.”  That’s not always as easy as it sounds.

But there’s good news: for every temptation God provides a way out. Our challenge is to learn from these tests along the way.

The Gospel says that while Jesus was in the wilderness, the angels were taking care of him.  Not just after the temptation, but right in the heat of battle too.

What kind of wilderness are we in this morning?  Sometimes, even the things we see as beautiful can turn ugly in a matter of seconds.  But even then sisters and brothers, God is right there with us, showing us the way out.

Thanks be to God!