The Temptations Facing the Church

Written by Pastor Mark

Theme Background

In the season of Lent we are exploring the temptations facing the church today.  We don’t often think of the church being tempted.  The church is led by God, so, it must do the right thing, right?  Not so much.  The church is a human institution, prone to the same temptations and errors as the people who run it.  It is healthy to know what these temptations might be, and to keep an eye out for them.

In Deuteronomy today the people are told to memorize a refrain to recite as they are making their sacrifices to God.  “A wondering Aramean was my ancestor . . .” they are to speak together.  We are an alien people who have been abused and ostracized in many places.  God heard our cry and had mercy on us.  We have been delivered and now live in a blessed place of plenty.  The message is clear.  Don’t get cocky!  Don’t assume you did all this on your own.  Also, the text calls us to care for those who are crying out today, who are abused, forced into hard labor and deprived of the basics of life.  That doesn’t mean we are prohibited from celebrating, we are called to feast, but we are also called to include the aliens among us, those new to our land.

Jesus faces nothing but temptation in the Gospel lesson today.  It’s a bit disconcerting that this temptation is initiated by the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit that drives him into the wilderness to be tempted.  The first temptation is to meet his own physical hunger with his miracle powers.  Jesus never does this.  All of his miracles are focused on others, never on his own needs.   This is the temptations I see churches fall into most often.  Everything in the church is focused on the members and their needs, and not on the people who live around them.

Next Jesus is tempted to take political power.  Boy howdy.  Let’s just state for the record that when the church has taken political power the results have not been good and they have not been Christ-like.  There is a constant temptation to have power over another person, and to try and force them to do our will.  Our Muslim sisters and brothers did not think up the idea of Jihad.  They were the victims of a Holy War perpetrated by the church in the form of the crusades.

Jesus is also tempted to false worship.  Martin Luther once said that our “god” is whatever our hearts cling to in times of trouble.  Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the places where our own hearts are clinging.  Do we “cling” to our faith and a loving gracious God?  Or, do we trust in ourselves and our own abilities and resources?  Do we worship celebrity and popularity?

Last of all Jesus is tempted to place himself in harms way so that God can deliver him from suffering.  That is the theme for next week, so I’ll let Courtney speak to that.

The season of Lent is a time of reflection, a time to grow spiritually.  Lent comes from the same Latin base as the word lengthen.  In the northern hemisphere we celebrate the days getting longer and new life getting ready to spring from the earth.

Where does your heart cling in times of trouble?  What temptations do you think the church is facing?  What are the temptations you face personally?  There is power in naming these temptations and facing them square on.  Perhaps they are a gift of the Holy Spirit intended to drive us back to God’s loving embrace.  We don’t often think of temptations as a gift, but they may indeed be.

Quotes for the Week

“When I am able to resist the temptation to judge others, I can see them as teachers of forgiveness in my life, reminding me that I can only have peace of mind when I forgive rather than judge.”                       Gerald Jampolsky

“If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.”             Rob Bell

“The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.”          Thomas Merton

“Do not worry about avoiding temptation.  As you grow older it will avoid you.”          Joey Adams

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it . . . I can resist everything but temptation.”                  Oscar Wilde

There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice.”                   Mark Twain

1st Lesson Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (NRSV)

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, 5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Gospel Lesson Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Questions for the Week

What temptations do you face and try to overcome?

What are the temptations you think the church is facing in our time?

How can we help one another to overcome such temptations?

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