Temptation, Koinonia, and the Potential Power of Lent
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
1 March, 2020
Lent 1A
Week 9: Holy Habit of Fellowship/Koinonia
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

Today, we’re going to look at the Scripture passages together, interactively, as we think about temptation.  How would you define temptation?  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it this way:  Temptation: the desire to do or have something that you know is bad, wrong, or unwise.

Temptation itself is not a bad thing: as I said to the children, it can actually help to strengthen us if we choose to deny the temptation.  Any time we resist the desire to do something we know is bad, wrong, or unwise, our spirit becomes stronger and we conform ourselves more perfectly to the image God has in mind for us.  God does not want for us what is bad, wrong, or unwise.

Let’s look at both of our Scripture passages in turn, verse by verse.  What do you see happening first?  (Conversation encouraged.)

In Genesis 2:16 God commands the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”  But notice how the message changes…

Next, in Genesis 3:2-3, The serpent appears to the woman and asks her, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”  Do you see how the instructions have grown and changed?  She doesn’t refer to it as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but rather as the tree in the middle of the garden—nor are they even supposed to touch it.  It’s become a bit more powerful and beguiling in its mystery.

The serpent capitalizes on that moment, pretending to be reasonable by pointing out how what they’ve been told to avoid is really just depriving them of a greater satisfaction with life.  Temptations always present themselves as reasonable, and they always appeal to our sense of being deprived or having something withheld from us.

The woman, previously having avoided the tree because it was not to be so much as touched, was persuaded by the reasonable serpent, and she succumbed.  Women have long been saddled with the blame for being temptresses and stumbling blocks to men—not only because of this ancient narrative, but I’ve certainly heard it used as a theological club against women for being the weaker sex.  What’s interesting to me is that, the text seems to imply that her husband was with her (Gen. 3:6 “…she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate”).  He watched her examine the fruit, and taste it, but didn’t attempt to talk her out of it.  I wonder why?  How often do we fail to speak out as we observe potentially detrimental things unfolding, because . . . why? We’re curious about what might happen?  We don’t want to infringe in any way another person’s freedom to come to their own conclusions?  We’re fearful – either of conflict, or alienation from the other, or whatever else might happen?

“The eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves”—what do you think was happening just then?

I think this moment of recognition (or “eyes opening” and subsequently covering themselves) is symbolic of a number of things.  But mostly, I think it’s symbolic of the human recognition of vulnerability—and our desire to hide the fact that we’re vulnerable.  It’s the desire to hide our vulnerability, to pretend that it’s not there, that can actually trip us up.  Our vulnerability is what makes us aware of our need for God and for others—but there’s this human impulse to deny our need for God and others, to feel in control of ourselves and our world.  (We’re going to be thinking more about vulnerability next week.)

Let’s move to our Gospel Lesson:

Look at Matthew 4:1-11.  Jesus “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  The Spirit of God allowed Jesus to be tempted by the devil.  God allows us to be tempted, knowing that temptations are only as powerful as our human decisions to act, or not act, on them.  Our spirits are strengthened when we deny the temptations, and diminished when we give in to them.

Looking at the temptations in order:
1. Matthew 4:3 “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  What are the temptations implied here?  And how are they similar to temptations we face?
a. Use your power to feed whatever hunger you feel most urgently right now…
instant gratification
b. Justification: prove your power.

2. Matthew 4:5 “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘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.’
a. Prove yourself/show your power, again
b.Quoting Scripture to justify particular actions.
c. Putting God to the test, which represents a trust/power struggle.

3. Matthew 4:8 “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.’”
i. Power and material possessions.

4. Agree to serve a god/devil who promises big things but won’t deliver the satisfaction we’re ultimately after.
[What examples can we think of like that in our own lives?]

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Temptation is an inevitable part of being human.  And it can be hard to resist temptation on our own.  For the past several weeks, we’ve been thinking about Christian Fellowship, about the sacred and covenanted community we share as fellow Christians.  I’d like to take just a few minutes thinking about temptation in community.

How does temptation affect community?  (Community can be as few as two, remember.)  Are there ways in which entire communities can be tempted?  What sorts of temptations do we wrestle with as communities?

  1. Apathy—the temptation to give up, or to do less than God has equipped us to do.  It may be an individual temptation, but it can spread when, as in the example with the man and the woman in the garden, we don’t stop each other from doing what is wrong, or encourage each other to do what’s right.
  2. Other temptations??

How can communities work together to overcome temptation?

  1. Establishing social/cultural norms rooted in core values.
  2. Encouraging one another.
  3. Holding each other accountable.

I think about 12-Step groups; we have several Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous groups that meet in our space.  Members of those groups have told me that, although they may not come to our worship services, this is a sacred space to them because of the love and support they feel when they’re here for meetings.  That is no less meaningful or important an experience and encounter with God than what we might have when we gather here in the meetinghouse on a Sunday morning to worship.

Conclusion:

Temptation is, fundamentally, a desire to have or do something that we know is bad (for ourselves or others), wrong, or unwise.  More often than not, temptations are not motivated by love for God and others, they’re motivated by self-indulgence.

Our aim as Christians is to conform our lives more and more closely to the one who did not withhold anything, but instead sacrificed his very life so that others might understand the power of love more fully.

We are entering into our six-week journey toward the crucifixion.  What might you commit to do (or maybe try to stop doing) in the coming weeks that would help to improve your relationship with God and with others?  How will you practice the holy habit of community by deliberately making yourself more aware of the power you have within you (because disciple of Christ Jesus, his spirit abides in you!) to resist temptations to diminish your resolve to be the person you know God wants you to become?

One small act you can participate in is gathering around the communion table, where we receive the symbols of his broken body and his blood poured out.  We take the bread and the cup so that we might absorb the meal spiritually as well as physically; and so that we might be bound more closely together by remembering our commitments in community.  We celebrate this sacrament so that we might re-commit ourselves to the practices of self-sacrifice, self-denial so that we might more fully serve the other and invite them into the experience of abundant life.  We receive the gifts of the communion table so that we might remember how much we need God, every hour.

I invite you to join with me now in singing the prayerful hymn acknowledging that need, #446 “I Need Thee Every Hour”.

© 2020 The Congregational Church of Hollis, UCC