Temptation. Something about that word just sounds so…juicy. It’s seductive. It’s alluring. It’s mischievous. It’s naughty. I guess that’s why it’s called “temptation”. This week a pastor friend of mine was sharing a story of one of her parishioners who said, “When I get to that line in the Lord’s Prayer that says ‘and lead us not into temptation’ I always say ‘and leave us not in temptation’. I have no problem getting there on my own, it’s the getting out of temptation that I could use God’s help with”.
When Jesus is tempted with the offerings of the devil, he is faced with worldly goods…food, power and even immortality. And yet, Jesus is able to resist these temptations. The Spirit had led him into the wilderness, and the Spirit is with him when he emerges from the wilderness, ready to do ministry. The lesson here for us is to model Jesus’ behavior when tempted. If that’s all there was to the story, I could stop there, end my sermon and we could move on.
But it’s not. When I think about modern day temptations, most of us struggle with the need to keep up appearances that all is going well…we are tempted by products and services that make our lives better, richer, fuller, happier. And sometimes we give into these temptations. Just think of all the “As seen on TV products”…their consumer marketing is based on the need to give into the temptation of quick fixes to a better life.
But what about when temptation isn’t based on goods and services? What about the temptation to continue on with business as usual?
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been speaking about the five marks of mission and the changing nature of the church. These ideas call us to a place where “business as usual” is challenged. Evangelism being less about street corners and knocking on doors, but about making proclamations in line with our moral and ethical beliefs. The mission of the church being less about what happens within our walls and instead about our ministry in our communities. Yet, when faced with the challenges of change, the temptation is to dig our heels in and keep doing “business as usual”.
So what are our temptations? Where is it easier for us to continue with “business as usual” instead of answering our call to ministry? Again, I’m going to look at the five marks of mission and explore some possibilities.
Mark 1 is to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. “Business as usual” calls this evangelism, so we get scared off and decide we can’t do this. We’ve given into temptation. But if we reframe this mark and accept the challenge to proclaim, then we find that in our words and deeds, we are making the Kingdom known to others.
Mark 2 is to teach, baptize and nurture new believers. “Business as usual”, or the temptation, says this is the work of the priest only and that it’s focused on getting more people in the pews. Yet, it’s really the work of all of us. How are we raising our youth? How are we welcoming the stranger and guest? Are we nurturing one another as beloved children of God?
Mark 3 is to respond to human need by loving service. “Business as usual” is to feel overwhelmed by the need and ignore it. The temptation is to think “it’s too big to deal with; what can I do?” For those of us who participated in the World Awareness dinner that taught us about food scarcity, or for those of us who participate in Adult Education and learn about the struggles of poverty and lack of education in the Third World…these challenges seem so big! And yet, when we overcome the temptation to ignore it, we become advocates for change. We give of our time, talent and treasure to FISH, the Warming Shelter, the Emergency Voucher Program, to Episcopal Relief and Development, mentoring programs and we respond to God’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Mark 4 is to seek to transform unjust structures of society. “Business as usual” is to separate out our political and religious lives, to leave society outside our church doors. But our call is to address these injustices and work to bring about justice and peace…this is Kingdom work. So whether it’s signing a petition for better gun control, legal protection of women against domestic violence, immigration reform, writing letters to the editor or attending a public policy advocacy days, we are responding to God’s call to “do justice and love kindness”.
Mark 5 is to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. “Business as usual” says that we can keep living the way we are...not being concerned about the impacts of global warming, fracking, coal and other pollutants to our environment. The temptation is to think that this will be our children’s children’s problem. But it’s not, it’s our problem now. And the challenge is to see that we have a moral imperative as stewards of God’s creation to honor and protect our creation; to see that we are all part of a delicate life system that is dangerously out of balance and work to change this.
When faced with the many temptations that we are presented with on a daily basis, it’s easy to go about with “business as usual”. But what would have happened if Jesus had given into the temptations the devil offered him? Yes, he would have broken his fast with bread. Yes, he would have had power. And yes, he would have achieved immortality. But those things were ultimately not life giving for him, those who would become his disciples, or even for us. His refusal to give in to temptation, his ability to respond to God’s call as the “beloved”, connected all of us in generations past , present and yet to come, as children of God, bearers of the Kingdom, and partners in mission.
Individually, we can’t accomplish the five marks of mission or overcome our daily temptations. But we can with each other and with God’s help. When Jesus was lead into the wilderness and when he emerged from it, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. The good news is that he was never alone in facing those temptations, and neither are we. As children of God, we too are filled with the Holy Spirit and are called “beloved”; we are not alone.
Instead of giving up something for Lent this year, perhaps you’ll take on the challenge of one of these five marks of mission. Perhaps you’ll take on the challenge of moving beyond “business as usual” and instead work towards a new understanding of your ministry in the community. May this be a blessed and reflective holy Lent to you.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.