Lead us not into temptation

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First Sunday in Lent

Lead us not into temptation

Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

        Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop. That is what my grandmother used to tell me when our family would visit on summer vacation. But she was not talking about being merely idle. We all at one time are at rest; and we all at some time do well to stop our busy lives to take a breath or re-evaluate our goals. No, the proverb warns of what might become of our indolence; namely sin.

        Whether we are working or playing, worshiping or praying, we not only become tempted by the devil, but we may also tempt God. How do we tempt God? By putting Him to the test, just as the devil tried to tempt Jesus into putting God to the test when he was in the wilderness. In the gospels of Luke and Matthew some of the specific temptations of Christ are written. Here is one of them:

‘The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you

to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It [also] says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.’ [Lk 4:9-13]

        When we foolishly use our faith in God as a license to commit actions that endanger ourselves and others, we are putting him to the test. There is a difference between blind faith and intentional recklessness. Faith is hope in what is not seen, [Romans 8:24] the faith that allows us to withstand the slings and arrows of the evil one. Faith is what allows the Holy Spirit to be our counselor and guide us away from temptation.

        Engaging in dangerous work or sport without the proper protective equipment and saying, “I’m not afraid! God will protect me.” is intentional recklessness and it is putting God to the test. Driving down the road after you have had a few alcoholic beverages is intentional recklessness and it is tempting God. Ignoring your health by not following a physician’s recommendations to eat properly or to take certain medications is reckless and you are defying God’s command to live as imitators of Christ.

        This is how we put God to the test. To be sure, our actions which put God in a position where he must save us, or let us suffer, are not new achievements. We have been putting God to the test since our fall into sin in the Garden of Eden.

        Abraham was tempted to bring God’s promise into fruition when he begat Ishmael with Hagar, and God had to decide whether to save Abraham from his sin or to let him suffer. God did not recant his promise made to Abraham; he would still be the father of many nations.

        Moses brought the people of Israel out of Egypt. On the mountain of God, the people swore to obey God and worship only him. They quickly forgot their vow and put God to the test by worshiping a golden calf. God let them suffer for their iniquity, but he did not forget them or leave them to the devil. His promise to bring them to the land of Cana was not forgotten.

        We also quickly forget our vow to put God first in our lives. We tell God that we will obey him in all he commands. We tell God that we will worship him and only him. We walk this God given earth with the best of intentions, and then we fall into temptation.

        What do we pray? ‘Lead us not into temptation’? This is not to say that God would ever lead us into temptation. What we pray is for God to lead us, for without guidance, and left to our own devices, we would follow every temptation by the devil himself.

        Think about to what temptations you succumb in your life every day. Do you curse or swear? Do you eat what is bad for you? Maybe you drink too much or gamble to such an extent that it causes hardship on your family. Maybe you talk about your neighbor’s business behind their backs.

        On the shores of Lake Michigan, north of Chicago, Illinois, is the United States Naval Training Command. It is a base where sailors, officers and enlisted men and women alike, are taught and trained in new skill sets.

        The base is like its own little town. It has a grocery store, three gymnasiums, a library, a movie theater and, of course, many different training schools. It also has two night clubs, three bars and even a McDonald’s.        Why do I mention the bars and night clubs? Because the temptation to waste a sailor’s time and liver were always withing walking distance.

        I saw many young men and women spend their paychecks in drink. It became a great problem for many of them as they would not be able to complete their duties and their studies. On Monday mornings we would all hear the list of those sailors who got into trouble, and sometimes killed, over the weekend by their alcohol fueled celebrations.

        I knew that I could not remain idle over the weekends if I were to not fall into the same temptations. I came up with a plan. I volunteered for the Saturday morning detail of 20 sailors riding a bus into Chicago where we would visit sick children and the Children’s Hospital. Every sailor participating in this visit had to be sober and in their dress uniform as we were all representatives of the Navy.

        The second part of my plan to stay away from temptation was to take a van of 10 to 12 sailors a mile down the road to the Recruit Training Command (aka – Boot Camp) to assist the chaplains with their church services for the recruits. This also required squared away dress uniforms and sober minds.

        This was how I was led by the Holy Spirit away from temptation. What follows idleness is temptation; and what follows temptation is sin. Sin is sin; and the fine for sin is not a monetary value we can pay, but death and eternal separation from the presence of our Father in heaven.

        Yes, we test our relationship with God through sin and forgiveness. We intentionally seek out avarice and vice. We call it by different names so that we can feel better about our wrong doing, but it is still sin through and through. Again, this is nothing new. God has been dealing with our sin for thousands and thousands of years. Thank the Lord that he is a patient God as St. Peter tells us:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9]

This is the repentance John the Baptist proclaimed. This is the repentance Jesus proclaimed.

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” [Mk 1:15]

        The first step to forgiveness of our sin is in repentance. ‘Forgive us our trespasses’ we pray. We know we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, not only by what we have done, but by what we have left undone. We have failed to keep our promise to our Lord. We are suffering in our iniquity. So we ask our Lord: “Please save us!”

        Our Creator saw our failure and decided to end our suffering forever. God saw to it that Abraham would not need to sacrifice his only son. God provided the ram for the offering. In the place of Abraham’s son, God made a substitute, a scapegoat if you will. God declared Abraham righteous in his faith and blessed him even more in His promise.

        This promise to establish His covenant between Him and us came into being at the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Begotten of the Father before Moses, before Abraham and even before Adam, Jesus Christ became flesh of our flesh. He humbled himself to be born of a virgin, to live, eat, drink and die according to his human nature.

        Jesus is the Lamb of God, the lamb that our Father in heaven provided for our sacrifice. Jesus is the substitution for our sin-filled lives. He is the payment for our evil works. He did not sin, nor did he succumb to temptation. He walked in innocence without blemish or spot.

        This is the first Sunday of the Lenten season. At this time of year we recognize the will of God in heaven to send his only Son to the altar of our salvation. Jesus Christ walked the earth with his Father. He climbed the great mountain of sin that we made. God provided the lamb on this mountain. Jesus Christ was crucified for us and for our salvation.

        God did not recant his promise to make us his people. He saw our sin and decided to save us so that we would suffer no longer. As with Abraham, He has given us additional blessing to this promise. He has freed us from death, sin and the devil, never to be tempted again. Through the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God, we are saved forever. Our souls have been exchanged from eternal death into eternal life.

        Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has fulfilled the promise of our Father in heaven. The kingdom of God is at hand. The reign of heaven is near. Our substitute has fulfilled all righteousness.

        The baptism of our Lord was not to wash away his sin, but to fulfill all righteousness. God the Father imparted the Holy Spirit upon him and declared Jesus as His Son. All authority was given to Jesus Christ. The kingship of God truly was present.

        Through our baptism we receive the inheritance of our Savior. In our baptism, God says, ‘You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.’ In this baptism our sins are washed away. But unlike our Savior, we cannot resist temptation. We are not innocent lambs without spot or blemish. We need the forgiveness of our Lord.

        This is why we confess our sins to each other and to God our Father. Our Father has the power to forgive sin. Jesus Christ has the power to forgive sin. Through the imparting of the Holy Spirit, we have been given the power to forgive sin. Through the sacrament of the altar, our Lord’s Holy Communion, we are forgiven our trespasses.

        The kingdom of God is at hand through His Word and Sacraments. Repent and believe in the gospel, every day, every hour and every minute of your lives.

        The time is fulfilled.

        Lord, forgive us we pray, so that your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.