St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Expensive, The Slow, The Best”
Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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,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,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
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,Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
and serve only him.’”
Every Sunday, we pray “Lead us not into temptation…” but temptation is something we all face. We all are given a choice; we all have Free Will. We have the ability to decide whether we will take a path, or not. I do not think it is accidental that the first verse of the first psalm is, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread.”
Temptation. It would be so easy if it were simply a guy standing in an alley with a trench coat whispering, “Psst, hey, come here. I have a great deal for you!” If Temptation stood out like that, like someone selling a cheap Rolex knock-off, it would be easy to walk away. But it is often not so simple.
There are a lot of views on Temptation. Some appreciate temptation...
Mae West said, “I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.”
While Oscar Wilde thought, “I can resist anything except temptation.”
My grandmother used to say that the best things in life were illegal, immoral, or fattening.
Temptation needs to be something you want. My girls are not tempted by Brussels sprouts. I am not tempted by spending too much time at the gym, to my detriment. But each of us have our preferences, and what is a temptation for some, is not for the next person.
But, let’s look at Jesus. He could have chosen the wrong. Like any person, fully human, he could have chosen to go the wrong way in the moment. Temptation knows when to strike. It is when we are weakened, by hunger, by emotions, by loneliness, by exhaustion. Jesus was suffering from all of these. The Tempter knew it. But Jesus took a moment to remind himself of what he wanted most. We may say he counted to ten, or his equivalent, before responding. He kept his eye on the prize; he kept the big picture in mind. And then he was able to counter with God’s Word in response. The Tempter saw his ploy, and did the same back to him. We will come back to that.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, said that we often have a misunderstanding on Temptation:
“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is... A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”So succumbing to Temptation is like letting a pain overtake us. Once I had an eardrum that was infected. There were spikes in the pain, and while waiting for the pain medicine to kick in, I had a choice. I could give in to the pain, and let it overwhelm me. Or, I could say that I will observe it, recognize that it is there, and make the choice that I was going to not be overcome and let it move on through. I would breathe, wait, and let it go on by.
The best lies are the ones that are partial truths. The best temptations are the ones that are only partially bad. When we see some good in the Temptation, the lure of the momentary whether it be sensual or relief, we can easily rationalize and justify it. Our tempted minds are very good at that. My 12-step friends taught me something that I have mentioned before. When one is tempted, H.A.L.T. Never make a decision when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Recognize where you are, before that state rationalizes doing something you know you should not. That is the foundation of the whole Snickers “Hangry” commercials from a few years back.
And Jesus was “hangry” probably after 40 days of fasting in the Wilderness. Look at what the Tempter used to entice Jesus during his Wilderness experience.
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,When we are hungry, it is not a sin to eat. But look at what Jesus is being asked to do. He is being asked to do a good thing, but through evil means. I cannot tell you how often I have heard good Christian people tempted to let the end justify the means. Jesus did not do that. He did not abuse his power for a snack, no matter how nice that snack would have been.
“It is written,‘One does not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The second Temptation is just as pernicious.
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,Now here, armed with the Bible, the Tempter does it again. He takes something that is true, and good, and warps it. The angelic protection of God’s chosen is being misused for the Devil’s amusement. Jesus knew that. And he knew that after such a stunt, he would never be able to rein in the fanaticism. His mission would be over before it began. He came to save the world, not to titillate and entertain.
‘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.’”
And lastly, once again, Jesus came to spread the Kingdom throughout the world. But there are no short-cuts. The things worth making take time. Harrison, when he creates one of his beautiful pieces in his carpentry shop knows that it will take time. Jesus knew it, too.
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,Jesus could have had the world with the snap of a finger, but it would not have been the Kingdom of God. It would have been a Kingdom of this World. And its impact would have been temporary, while Jesus was holding out for the eternal.
‘Worship the Lord your God,and serve only him.’”Then the devil left him...
We see in the Temptations how much Jesus wished for the world to be changed. But he did not choose the easy path. He chose the right path. I had a conversation with a parishioner this week. I tried to encourage them by saying they were doing the right thing. Now the path they had chosen was a hard one, as the right thing often is. Comfortable inaction is usually the worst thing that we can do. Jesus was tempted to take the easy path, any of us would be. A gamble on a three year or so mission, with a handful of rejects who will be left to carry it out, with the goal to change the world, or a snap of the fingers. It really is not an easy choice. But Jesus chose the long game. We are here because Jesus chose the long game. We are here because Jesus bet on us.
There is a simple rule of economics. Three things: Fast, Cheap, and Good. You can only have TWO.
- Fast and Cheap are never Good.
- Good and Cheap are never Fast.
- And, Good and Fast are never Cheap.
Jesus chose the Best, the Slow, and the Costly. Having the best takes time. Having the Best is expensive. Jesus chose the Best. He likens the Kingdom he is building to many things in his ministry. A City on a Hill. Salt. Light. But one from Matthew comes to mind today, from Chapter 13 (v. 33):
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. ”
Yeast takes time to rise. The good in us takes time to take shape. The momentary is a distraction from the good that we should, we can, choose. This Lent, let us be like Jesus. Allow yourself to see the Temptation, and the Tempter, for what it is. I see you. I recognize you. I reject you. Temptation is an attempt to Good, Fast, and Cheap. It just does not work. Jesus knew that the Kingdom was worth it. Jesus knew that YOU were worth it, and gave the time and space to let the yeast rise, and knowing that that would be far better. It would be worth the wait. And that is how he, and we, can overcome temptation. Amen