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Pentecost 22B
Lord’s Prayer Sermon Series #3: Trials and Temptations.
Matthew 4:1-11, 6:13

© The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

As Matthew tells it, Jesus had grown up in relative obscurity in Galilee,
until the day he was baptized by John in the river Jordan.
The story of that baptism has all the hallmark signs of
the “thin place” where heaven and earth meet;
the recognition by John of Jesus’ blessedness,
the Spirit hovering like a dove,
the voice from heaven declaring that this man was God’s Son,
the Beloved One, the Anointed One,
the longed-for Messianic one who would proclaim
in word and deed the Kingdom Dream of God.

He wasn’t expected to show up, bare-foot, empty-handed, alone,
and dripping wet from a dunk in the river by that radical,
wild and woolly prophet of the wilderness, John the Baptizer.
He was expected, it was hoped, to appear on the horizon
at the head of God’s avenging armies,
ready to vanquish the vicious so-called peace of Rome.

Perhaps as the hush settled on the wet, ragged crowd,
as dove and voice and piercing light ushered
them all into the presence of the Holy,
they still expected, if not a military host, an angelic one
to suddenly appear at his baptized side.

But that is not, it seems, how God’s kingdom on earth comes.
Sodden-haired, and with muddied feet,
the Messiah of the Dream of God
followed a lone wild bird away from the crowd
and into the yellow crags of the Judean wilderness,
haunt of jackals and scorpions, starvation, thirst,
and delusion.

There, led by the Spirit, to be tested, and tempted,
there, to face a more rigorous trial than any he would face
before Sanhedrin or Pilate; the test of the soul before its maker,
the trial of the self in the face of delusional temptations,
the temptations of flesh and faith.
Forgive me if this is not a warm and fuzzy beginning to this sermon.
But temptation isn’t fuzzy,
It will take more saving strength to scare it out from under the bed
than a flashlight and a kiss on the forehead.
We have to take it seriously.
As seriously as Jesus did.

When Jesus taught us the prayer, on a sunny lakeside day in Galilee,
the shadows of trial and temptation were still visible in Jesus’ eyes,
they still marked his fasted body.
The petition to God, Our Father, “to lead us not into temptation”
were words born in the crucible of recent experience.
This 40 day and night Vision Quest,
his rite of passage into adult service of God,
was harsh.
It tested the human and spiritual limits,
it exposed the hunger for physical comfort.
And the hunger for power, revealing the choice we all face
to use power for good, or evil;
for the good of others or for self-aggrandisement.
It revealed that the realm of faith itself is not immune to temptation’s trials.

And from this experience he grafted this oh so potent petition
on to the prayer he taught us.
For he knew that life, ordinary life is filled with trials, and temptations,
troubles everywhere, burdens that leave us weak and heaven laden.i
Trials brought on by mortality: sickness, aging, grief at another’s illness or death,
Trials of human existence in a world where chaos and disaster
are recurrent, if unpredictable life companions.
Trials brought on by human inhumanity; systemic poverty, structural injustice,
violence, hatred, gossip and suspicion.
Trials that even the most righteous, the most holy, as well as the most ordinary suffer.

And as for temptation,
well there’s a word!
While we recite it every week in this prayer,
we’d rather leave it locked in the closet, unexamined,
than risk exposing its grip on all of us, in such hallowed spaces.
Who doesn’t suffer the unwanted seductions of temptation?
from something apparently benign like eating half the hallowe’en candy before Wednesday,
to avoiding the disciplines of self-care
to all sorts of physical and sexual temptations
to temptations to shirk or abuse responsibility
couched in phrases like “cash only, no tax receipt”,
to temptations to abuse power
just say the words “mayor” and “construction” in the same sentence,
or “Assad” or “Mugabe”,
or “because I said so”
Or those temptations we think are unique to Jesus, but aren’t:
thinking that we can enforce our idea of the kingdom Dream on others,
or to do by ourselves that which God wants us to do in partnership with God.

Now, if you’re thinking that this is getting all a bit too personal, perhaps so,
but the thing I’ve been most struck by
as I’ve lived with this text over the past month or so,
is how that opening two words of Jesus’ prayer hovers over
even this seemingly most private petition.
“Our Father” – not mine, ours.
This prayer is, as we saw last week,
about building a kingdom dream , here on earth
in collaboration, and under the guidance of the Universe’s Creator and Sustainer.
This petition to “lead us not into the pitfalls of temptation,”
and to protect us from the snares of evil
isn’t for my sake (alone) but for the sake of the world God loves.

To fall foul of, to give in to temptation creates a cosmic ripple.
You know that’s true:
-to give in to a violent response in a domestic quarrel
leaves scars that last a lifetime for perpetrator and victim,
damage emotional wholeness and ability to trust that has ramifications far beyond the home.
Systemic temptations to cut costs and corners at the expense of the common good,
lead to contaminated water,
crumbling overpasses,
nutritionally starved chronically obese populations,
third world and first world poverty, underemployment…
If I were to ask you to call out other examples of the damage to creation,
to society, to faith, to humanity, caused by temptation’s power,
we would be here a long time.
This petition is about us personally, but it is also about this world God loves so much and so well.

But we need not to leave ourselves in the grip of temptation,
because the Gospels don’t.
Both Luke and Matthew situate the teaching of this prayer
in the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry.
So, if one looks at the subsequent journey he makes through Judea, Galilee, the lands beyond the Judean borders, and ultimately to his death and resurrection in

Jerusalem,
one can see the handprint of this prayer in everything he does, everything he teaches.
It’s as if the prayer is enfleshed in his life.
One lived in relationship with God as Abba,
a life hallowing God’s nature and name,
a life living the kingdom dream come true,
and countless times resisting temptations
to give up, to be cruel, to be closed- minded,
to respond to violence with violence,
to abuse his power,
to forswear his commitment to the lost, last and least…
praying every step of the way to be led not into temptation,
but through them, praying for trials not to overwhelm,
for the sake of God’s Dream for him and for all of us.

Which brings me to a heartfelt footnote to this sermon, on this day.
We have this prayer, we have this Jesus,
and we have this “cloud of witnesses”
the blessed ones those whom we have gathered to remember today.
I imagine them all among the crowd by the Jordan, where heaven and earth meet,
I imagine them making space for us in their midst,
inviting us into the broken company of those
who never succeeded 100% of the time to resist temptation,
and who sometimes were swamped by their trials,
but who we now see through the blessed amnesia of love,
as fellow travellers, pilgrims who tried,
and who when facing trial, called on God,
relied on the memorized petition of this prayer to see them through
yet another temptation, yet another trial, their lives long.
And in so doing, they have become for us a collective testimony of the departed
to the persistent grace of hope and trust that God indeed
will lead us through temptation’s hour, to safety and to home in God.

Amen.

1 Joseph Medlicott Scriven, What a Friend we have in Jesus.

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