The Glimmer of Tempation
“The Glimmer of Temptations”
November 12, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Luke 4:5-7 and Mark 14:32-39; Matt 26:50a-52, 55.
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 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. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
Mark 14:32-39; Matt 26:50a-52, 55
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.
Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.
Remember the pulpit that used to sit here? Well as part of our renovation we took it apart and it’s waiting to be reassembled into a new, movable podium. One of the things you probably don’t know about this podium is that the angled part of the pulpit that tilted toward the pastor had something taped to it.
That’s right, the pulpit had a copy of the Lord’s Prayer taped to it. And you thought us pastors were so put together up here. We have to have a cue card for the most famous and often-recited prayer in Christianity! You laugh but it’s the truth. I might have thought this was kind of ridiculous too, until I became a pastor myself.
I can’t speak for other pastors but this is how it goes for me. When I am doing one thing, my mind is tempted to move on to the next thing. Does that ever happen to you? Well, it’s all fine and good except when you’re saying the Lord’s Prayer into a microphone. At a funeral. And suddenly your mind moves to the next thing you need to do in the service and suddenly you find yourself mumbling something about bread when you should be talking about temptations.
It’s tempting for me to jump to the next thing so that I can keep things looking put together instead of staying in the present moment, even in prayer I’m afraid to say. It’s tempting to always feel one step ahead, to come across as if you’re making. The totally ironic thing, though, is that thinking too much about looking put together in the future actually makes you stumble in the present. And this is the way it is with temptations. They always have a shiny glimmer that looks attractive at the outset. Up close, we can see how they’re actually doing the opposite. We want them, but they hurt us. Or worst of all, they hurt others around us.
Temptations can run the gambit. Some of them are little things. A plate of chocolate chip cookies when we’ve already eaten until we’re full. The lure of watching just one more episode when it’s already past our bedtime. The pull we feel to buy something fancy that’s out of our price range.
We know it’s not the right thing for us, not the healthiest choice, but we do it anyway. This is temptation. And small ones usually end up being okay. We fall into them once or twice and then realize how it ultimately wasn’t worth it and work on avoiding them next time.
But this is a big topic, so big that it made it into the Lord’s Prayer. The reason it’s in this prayer is because many times temptations aren’t small at all and they actually cause great amounts of irreversible harm, either to ourselves or others. They run a full spectrum. Everything from sugar to alcohol to hoarding to gambling to anger. Each of them has an ability to take something desirable past the point of healthiness to the point of great harm. Temptations can even feed into pre-dispositions we may have for addiction. They can be hard to put down. They pull us apart.
Jesus knew about temptation. After being tempted not just once, but again and then again while spending time alone in the wilderness early in ministry in his young adulthood, Jesus found himself standing at the top of a mountain with someone who appeared like evil incarnate. The devil, as scripture refers to him, looked out at the landscape around them and said to Jesus, “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world, their power and their authority, if you just bow down and worship me.” Jesus was a young adult, just about to launch his public ministry. It was a well-timed temptation on the devil’s part. Who wouldn’t want more power, more authority? Only one problem: why would the devil think all of that was even his to give? So what’s so interesting about Jesus’ response is that he doesn’t try to correct the devil’s major mistake. He doesn’t say: Um, I’m sorry, none of this actually belongs to you. It kind of already belongs to God. He didn’t say that! Why? Because if we listen again to what the devil was offering it wasn’t all of God’s world that he was offering. The devil was offering all of “the world’s kingdoms.” You can even see it here in this medieval artwork… what lies below them are man-made kingdoms. Little cities with their towers and their walls and their gates. Countries and nations ruled by humans who had conquered other humans and built themselves into fortresses. That wasn’t God’s! And even though the thought of any power and control is pretty tempting, Jesus ultimately didn’t want human kingdoms won with human wars surrounded by human walls. He wanted to inherit God’s kingdom which was very different from that.
So I have one more Bible story to tell you about and it’s the way temptation plays a role again at Gethsemane. This time it’s not Jesus being tempted, it’s his disciples. Jesus knows he is going to die the next day and he begs his disciples to stay awake with him in the garden of Gethsemane and do what? Pray. You got it. It’s not such a big ask, really. But can they do it? No. They keep falling asleep. After repeatedly finding them asleep he even says, kind of at his wits end: “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
I want you to pay attention to that phrasing for a moment. In our tradition, we’ve learned the Lord’s Prayer like this, right? “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The original Greek actually translates this line closer to this though: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” Some traditions use this language in their version of the prayer.
Now, if we put Jesus’ Gethsemane phrase side by side to his Lord’s Prayer phrase, we see the similarities. The two stories literally use the same Greek word here for “into a time of trial” (eis peirasmon) to describe the temptation coming.
So, what’s the significance? Is it possible that we could learn more about what Jesus meant in the Lord’s Prayer by looking more at the trial or temptation Jesus wanted his disciples to avoid at Gethsemane? And what was the temptation he wanted them to avoid by praying on the night of his arrest?
The temptation that night would be to fight back. He knew his enemies would come into that garden shortly with their clubs and their swords to arrest him. But he knew that if his disciples could only resist the temptation that was going to come over them, violence could be avoided. His only hope was that they might pray with him and find strength there from God to keep their swords sheathed.
The temptation to fight back was too strong, though. The disciples couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray and so when the crowd came for Jesus with their weapons, they startled awake and one of Jesus’ disciples pulled out his own weapon (you can see that in this art). Blood was shed. And the first thing Jesus said was not a plea to save himself. But a scold to his own disciple: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Only after he says this does he also rebuke the crowd, asking if it was really necessary to bring weapons to arrest him? Lay your arms down, Jesus says. Violence is not the way. Jesus wanted an armistice. He knew fighting was not the way.
Given Jesus’ resistance to human ways of taking power and control with violence, I believe it’s entirely possible that when Jesus refers to “temptation” and “time of trial” in the Lord’s Prayer he intended to speak directly to our temptation to be in control by retaliating, especially with violence. Jesus knew that of all the temptations that we can fall into, the temptation to react with hate and violence has been the most destructive force in the history of humanity.
In the early days after the October 7th violent attacks by Hamas in Israel when the extent of the tragedy was just starting to be known and at the same time bombings on Gaza had already begun in retaliation, I heard an interview on NPR in which a doctor from an Israeli hospital was quoted as saying this: “the real dividing line is not between Israelis and Palestinians but between those who believe violence is the answer and those who believe there is another way.”
Tragedies like the one unfolding in the Middle East lead us into temptation. A temptation to point fingers. To assign blame. To choose sides. To call entire races and religions as being wrong and dangerous. To let our fear and our anger erase the humanity of whoever is on the other side.
But let me ask you this, is there not more than this that binds us together? Are we not children of the same God? The real dividing line is not between Israel and Palestine. It’s between those who believe violence is the answer and those who believe there is another way. Peace is the way. By far the harder way. Harder but not impossible.
This fall we’ve seen the tragedies begin to stack up. It was just a couple days after the deadly mass shooting happened in Maine, that an emotional interview with one of the victim’s fathers was aired. Leroy Walker Sr. lost his son, who was managing the bar where the shooting happened. I can imagine the temptation was strong for this father to talk about his anger and his desire for vengeance. But he sat there for this interview in the midst of the worst grief of his life, and he cried on national television and said this: “I just can’t hate him…I can’t hate this person. I’ve been taught different than that… I hope anyways. And I believe in the Lord and I have to feel that way. You can’t run around hating people. If you do, these kinds of things will happen more and more.”
Those who take the sword perish by the sword.
It is entirely possible – and very much the right stance at this moment, in my humble opinion – to show love and care for every single person who’s suffering and caught up in devastating violence. To mourn the loss of loved ones and at the same time refuse to hate the ones who caused the pain. To stand in love and solidarity with our beloved Jewish neighbors, denounce the terrorist actions of Hamas, and call for a return of hostages, even as we decry the deaths of Palestinian civilians, cry out for an end to violence, and pray for peace. We can resist the evil temptation of retaliation and hate and find more Christ-like ways of standing up to violence.
But we can’t do any of that alone because the very nature of temptation is to pull us away. We need God. We need, as Jesus said, to return to prayer when we feel like the temptation is too strong. Prayer is our refuge. Our safe place to feel strong feelings and ask for help when the temptations are strong. O God, hear our cry for help in a world that is overcome by violence and hatred. Expose our temptations to wall ourselves off from the other side. Make clear to us that in our humanity we have more in common than what divides us. Help us to know how to use our influence for good in this world. To sheath our swords and instead be instruments of your peace willing to speak up when it’s our time to say there is another way. May shalom be that way. Now and forever. In your most holy name we pray, Amen.
Children everywhere are praying with us. Praying for a different world. A better world. A world where their humanity is valuable and precious. Our own children at Cobleskill United Methodist church have taken the Lord’s Prayer and reimagined it in words that have meaning for them. I invite you now to pray this prayer with me.
Dear Lord of mercy,
who lives on a cloud,
you are so kind, wise and loving and we know you want us to be kind and loving too.
If we do this, then Earth can look like heaven!
Please help everyone to feel loved, through hugs and kisses, having clean water and healthy food like oatmeal.
Please let everyone have a home where they feel safe and can sleep peacefully.
Help us to say we are sorry if we have hurt someone,
and let us ask for their forgiveness.
Help us to be forgiving of people who have hurt us, knowing that mistakes happen.
Please do not put a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of us. Please do not put us on the wrong path.
Your palace will shine for eternity. Amen.
Grace and Peace,