In The Beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void, And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Devil said, "It doesn't get any better than this." And so God created the human being in His own image; Male and female He created them.
And God looked upon Man and Woman and saw that they were lean and fit. And God populated the earth with broccoli. cauliflower, spinach, green and yellow vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.
And so the Devil created McDonald's. And McDonald's brought forth the 99-cent double cheeseburger. And the Devil said to Man, "You want fries with that?" And Man said, "Super-size them."
God said, "Hey, try my crispy fresh salad." And the Devil brought forth Ben and Jerry's. And the Man and Woman gained 10 pounds. And God said, "Why doth thou eatest thus? I have sent thee heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them." But the Devil brought forth chicken fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man’s bad cholesterol went through the roof.
And so God brought forth running shoes. Then the Devil brought forth cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil to change channels between ESPN and ESPN2.
And so God brought forth the potato, a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. The Devil peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fat fried them. The Devil added created sour cream dip. Man clutched his remote control and ate the potato chips swaddled in cholesterol. And the Devil saw and said, "This is good."
Man went into cardiac arrest. God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery. The Devil then cancelled Man's health insurance. Ever-patient, God showed Man how to peel the skin off chicken, and cook nourishing whole grain brown rice. But the Devil created light beer so Man could feel righteous because he had to drink twice as much of the insipid brew to get the same buzz.
Woman ventured forth into the land of Godiva chocolate, and upon returning asked Man, "Do I look fat?" And the Devil advised, "Always tell the truth." And Man did. And Woman went out from the presence of Man and dwelt in the land of the divorce lawyer. The Devil said, "It doesn't get any better than this."
Since the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, temptation has been a constant, unrelenting part of human life. People have tried to avoid, resist or ignore it. But no person has ever found a place or a circumstance that can make him safe from temptation.
Today in our gospel from Luke we find Jesus, fresh from his baptism, pushed out with great force by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. And there in the wilderness Jesus encounters Temptation. Before he can begin his public ministry, Jesus must know what it is like to be tempted.
It’s not surprising this passage appears on the first Sunday in Lent. It is customary among many Christians to give up something or add some practice to our lives as part of our Lenten observation. Giving up candy. Coffee. TV. Going to the Gym. Helping out weekly at a soup kitchen. Reading extra devotionals, making it more often to worship. Even the most experienced among us discover making changes isn’t easy. We find ourselves in a struggle with the flesh. We learn how weak we are, how hard it is, how much help we need. Because we are tempted. To eat that piece of candy. To stay home and lounge in front of the TV. The Devil knows our weak points, better than we do, and is eager to exploit them.
After fasting for 40 days Jesus encounters the Tempter. Satan came across sympathetic to Jesus’ plight. He wants to appease Jesus’ hunger by turning stone into bread. Who’s going to miss one measly stone? Wouldn’t Jesus function better if he weren’t hungry? Satan promises the kingdoms of the world and all earthly power and glory if Jesus would just worship him. Just one time. He knows Jesus is messiah and offers him power over all the kingdoms on earth. Wouldn’t that make Jesus’ work go more smoothly? Finally Satan tries to get Jesus to spread his wings – to leap from the pinnacle in the Temple in Jerusalem. Wouldn’t that be a grand entrance for the leadership and faithful to see? They’d be talking about it for months. How could they dispute God’s Chosen One with this feat? Just one time, Jesus, just one time. Satan is so suave and convincing. He knows his scripture well, so well, he is able to twist it to his advantage. He just wants to get between him and God. That’s all. Just like he got between the Man and the Woman.
Temptation shows us our real selves. I remember once I was having a pretty good Lent. I had given up chocolate and had set aside extra time for prayer and spiritual reading. When I got to Holy week I felt pretty confident. On Palm Sunday someone gave me an early Easter present - a box of Hershey’s Chocolates. With caramel and nugent. I looked at the box and started thinking about which one I would eat first when Easter came. Then I reminded myself that Palm Sunday was well a Sunday - a kind of little Easter. And I noticed that some of the chocolates have nuts which, of course, are nutritional. Well, you know what happened: I stripped the plastic off the container and ate one. By the end of the afternoon I had finished the entire box.
That temptation exposed my true self. I am nowhere near as strong as I thought. Our common humanity has an unattractive side. We humans have developed an almost unlimited capacity to deceive and allow ourselves to be deceived. When we want something badly – when we want to get our way -- we easily fall into self-deception. We make excuses. We go in denial. We pile one lie onto another. And we pay the price. The loss of peace of mind. Our relationships suffer. We become ill – in body, mind and spirit. In my case, I was also left with a nauseous stomach ache and the blues that follow a "sugar high." And the sorrow of a broken promise to God. What a lesson. Just over chocolate. What if it were about stealing? Or not forgiving some none? Or nurturing envy or hatred?
The tempter’s plan is to get us to give in and break our promises or do something wrong – but that’s not the real goal. The Tempter’s goal is for us to feel badly about ourselves, about others, so our relationships will be strained and hopefully severed, and in our shame we will turn away from God. I had a professor once who was a consultant on the movie, “The Exorcist.” He was the Devil expert, we called him. His insight on Satan and Evil is that actually, the devil prefers to tempt us subtly, raising doubt quietly, almost without us even realizing. Why? Satin’s desire is to destroy relationship, to weaken and tear apart community. Satan’s longs to isolate us. To kill us, spiritually if not physically, and to smash the image of God within our soul, and to force us to flee from the presence of God, convincing us that God does not love us or will forgive us.
The devil knows us better than we know ourselves. As the Father of Lies, and half-truths, he knows how to lead us away from what is true and right. He knows how to plant fear, worry and self-righteousness in our hearts – and have it seem like carrying, concern and competence. The tempter knows what buttons to push, what triggers our weakness. We learn through Lent through struggle, us have a choice. Will we stay in the Tempter’s snare or will we break free? That’s why Jesus was sent to the Wilderness, that’s why he embraces the cross – so we are not finished when we fall. Jesus is there, helping us up again.
There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods, but he could never hit the target. Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck. Out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head, and killed it. He was shocked and grieved. In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to see his sister watching! Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch the next day Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes." But Sally said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help." She whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes.
Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, "I'm sorry but I need Sally to help make supper." Sally just smiled and said, "Well that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help." She whispered again, "Remember the duck?" So Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed to help.
After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's he finally couldn't stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck. Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug, and said, "Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing, but because I love you, I forgave you. I was wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."
Whatever is in your past, whatever you have done, whatever the devil keeps throwing it up in your face you need to know that God was standing at the window and He saw the whole thing. He has seen your whole life. He wants you to know that He loves you and that you are forgiven. He's just wondering how long you will let the devil make a slave of you.
No matter how many forbidden chocolates you eat, or mcdoubles you sneak, or other temptations you face, how many times we fail and have start over, God is there. We can pick ourselves up, because as the old gospel song, goes, a saint is just a sinner, who fell down – and got up.
We fall down. But we get up, loved and forgiven. It doesn’t get any better than that. Amen.