Monday, February 22, 2010

Temptation Alley

Sermon for Lent 1C, preached at Grace Lutheran Church on Sunday, February 21, 2010.

Often our stereotypes become our reality – at least in our perception. We think we are pure and innocent who run from evil – the way a child begs “Please don’t make me go there” when they have to go to the doctor and get a short. We may have accepted our stereotype as reality but it is a lie. Temptation alley is not some dark, dank, foreboding street that no one wants to go down. Temptation alley is Main Street. It is filled with neon lights and all that glitters. It is not some foreign place that makes us feel uncomfortable and unwelcome – it is the familiar place we call home.

We act as if God were pushing us onto the street of our desires to be tempted – as if He were testing us to see how we might do or actually seeking our failure. But as Luther reminds us, “God indeed tempts no one...” God is not the tempter who makes us go where we do not want. No, we are the ones who live on the street named desire where temptation is part of our constant reality. We cannot avoid it. The world, our own sinful flesh, and the devil have put us on this street that glitters on the outside but is underneath a boulevard of broken dreams, empty hope, and failed promises.

Today, as we do every first Sunday in Lent, we consider temptation, both the temptation Jesus endured without succumbing and the temptation we face every day without the same success. And we pray God to be there with us, for on our own we are surely weak. If God is there with us, He will help us resist; when we do fail, He will lift us up with forgiveness and restore us. Imagine – praying that Jesus will go with you on the way of temptation. It may seem a strange idea but Jesus came so that He might stand with us when we are tempted, to make us strong to resist, and to pick up the pieces through forgiveness when we fail.

In His Word, God gives us the resources to resist temptation. Jesus was not strong because He is the Son of God. Jesus was strong because the weakness of flesh was countered with the Word of God that was His strength and power. If we as God’s people are to recognize and resist temptation, we need to be in the Word. There Scripture imparts the clear vision that unmasks temptation and empowers us to say “no.”

In His Word God gives us the strength of Jesus. None of us stands alone before temptation. Though we might think we are weakest when we are alone, as Christians God is ever with us. Temptation may mirror back to us all our desires and the devil may whisper into our ears the prospect of getting away with it all, but we are not alone or apart from Christ unless we choose to stand apart from Christ and His strength. If we are in Christ, if we call upon the resources our Lord imparts to us, we are not the weak and wavering but the steadfast and immovable – as Christ is steadfast and immovable.

In His Word God shines the light that exposes the sin hidden in the shadow of our desire. Our biggest problems are not the temptations out there, but the things hidden inside of us. Our desires that lay hidden within, our wants that consume us, and our feelings that drive us – these are what God must expose so that we are not captive to what is hidden in us. In the light of His Word, these things can be seen for what they are... and for what they are not.

God unmasks our sinful nature to show us desire is not the pathway to pleasure or peace. No, they have chained us in the worst captivity and they are our cruelest task masters of all. They keep us chained to the darkness lest we be exposed and they will not relent until we are finally undone – broken, despairing, and destroyed. But the Light of Christ shows us what lies within for the sinful nature it is and what our the consequences of it.

God is not some distant deity who tells us about things He does not know about. Our Lord Jesus Christ was physically weak, mentally and emotionally weary, when the devil came to Him. When flesh should have made Him a victim, our Lord became the victor – resisting the wiles and ways of the devil and the weakness of His mortal flesh. He battled the tempter as the first representative of the new humanity of those born again in the waters of baptism; he battled the tempter so that temptation’s icy grip might be broken. Jesus Christ won the battle and the right to wear His righteousness. This test was the price of obedience and He paid it willingly and well. But this righteousness is not some victory trophy for Himself. No, it is for us. The righteousness of His holy will resisting the desire and darkness of the tempter’s power is what we wear in baptism so that we never stand alone. We are not naked before temptation’s power; when but we stand in Christ, His righteousness our clothing, His victory our shield.

When we fall, the devil has not won nor has temptation sealed our doom. This righteousness is a saving and redeeming power that forgives the fallen who cry to Him and restores those tarnished by temptation’s power. In Christ we stand against the assaults of our enemy; in Christ we stand when we have become another victim of our fallen desires and temptation’s wiles.

Temptation alley is like the midway of a carnival or fair. It is lined with all the things we know we should not say or think or do but all these glittering temptations are only the mirror of what we want and feel and desires within. We worry about the tests God might send our way but His tests are designed to strengthen us. We shrug off the power of temptation but his deceits are designed to destroy us. It is not God who tempts us but our own flesh, the world around us with its skewed values and corrupt choices, and the devil who cheers us on to defeat like the midway voice who hawks his wares.

We worry about God’s tests but we need to be warned about the temptation that lives on both sides of the streets where we live... not the strange and unusual but the familiar and the ordinary. Yet those who stand in the Word of God are not without the power to resist. Those who stand in Christ are not lost when we lose this battle with desire and give in. Those who stand in Christ are rehabilitated by grace acting in forgiveness and restored by the God who seeks not our downfall but our eternal life. This God is with us, with the truth that leads us through the ins and outs of temptation’s dangerous path, with the righteousness of the Savior who was the one and only to deny desire, resist the devil, walk against the world and with the Father, and with the forgiveness that restores us when we fall...

Temptation alley is not some dark foreboding place that we fear going... Temptation alley is a bright and welcome street where we are bidden by our enemy to let our feelings rule us, to satisfy our every desire, and to discount the consequences. Jesus saw it first hand but answered every bidding of the enemy with the Word of God that endures forever. And the righteousness He won is the righteousness we wear from our baptism.

So let us embrace the Word of God that gives us power... let us stand in the righteousness of Christ that will not disappoint us... let the voice of Christ speak through us to renounce the devil and all his works and ways... and leet the forgiveness of Christ restore us when we cannot say no to the tempter’s evil voice. But let us not be ignorant. God is not our enemy; He is our Savior and Redeemer. He does not tempt us but in temptation, He is our only hope.

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