The devil made me do itWhere's the Faith? Thursday, November 24th, 2011
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
Last week, I was getting coffee at Starbucks like I normally do, in and out, no problem. This particular day there was a line that was longer than usual; I came out to my car, just as a parking ticket was being placed on my windshield because I didn’t put a quarter in the parking meter; ouch! An expensive cup of coffee and a lesson learned.
I was in my clerical collar and I was tempted to yell something to the city employee, but I held my tongue. I decided to change my attitude instead … and considered it a gift to support this lovely city and help someone keep a job! (Gotta be careful what I preach about!)
I was tempted, oh, was I tempted. What does that mean?
Most of us think that if there’s one thing we know about in life, it’s temptation. Thomas Long says, “If there’s one theological word that doesn’t need to be rescued from abstraction, that connects firmly and vividly to our everyday experience, ‘temptation’ would be the one. We face temptation all the time. Temptation hangs in our environment like a flu virus, always threatening to break down our resistance. We’re tempted to break our diets, cheat on our taxes, gossip about a friend, lie our way out of trouble, be rude to the driver who was rude to you … you name it. We’re always being tempted to do what we know we shouldn’t do.”
How many remember that old TV show, Flip Wilson. He played Geraldine and his famous line was, “The devil made me do it!” We don’t need any instruction about temptation.
But, do we really know what temptation is? There’s a story in Matthew about the nature of human temptation – Jesus’ temptation and ours – and it throws a surprising light on temptation.
Several years ago, one of the books on the best-seller lists was the cleverly titled, All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten. In that book, author Robert Fulghum says that the deepest wisdom he knows about life was learned not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but in the kindergarten classroom and in the sandbox playing with other children.
Wisdom like: Share everything; play fair; clean up your own mess; say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody; don’t hit people; when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Well, if Robert Fulghum got his deepest wisdom about ordinary life in kindergarten, perhaps the best place to search for wisdom about the life of faith, about a theological concept like temptation, can be found in Sunday school. Maybe all we really need to know about temptation we learned as children. Now trying to remember what we learned – that’s another story.
One Sunday school teacher told her class, “The best measure of a person is what you would do if you knew no one would ever find out.”
That teacher was moving toward a profound insight; ethics grow out of identity; the decisions we make in life are a product of who we understand ourselves to be.
Often, we think of temptation as the urge to do something we really would like to do but know we shouldn’t. But the deepest temptation is not the urge to misbehave, to do what we know we shouldn’t do, but rather the enticement to compromise our identity, to be who we are not called to be.
That’s the message in this story of Jesus’ temptation. The devil is not tempting Jesus to misbehave. She/he is not tempting Jesus to steal, cheat or pick a fight. It’s deeper than that. The devil is tempting Jesus to ignore his identity, to deny who he is.
Sometimes we have to go into the wilderness to really find our identity … to ask those tough questions … as Diana Ross sings, “Do you know where you’re going to?”
Have you ever heard an argument between a parent and a child, where in the height of emotion the words, “Now you listen to me! If you are my daughter, you would … If you are my son, you would …” Such destructive words used to raise doubts about identity.
The tempter picks away at Jesus’ identity. Everything about the early chapters of Matthew – from the genealogy that opens the Gospel to the account of Jesus’ baptism – makes it plain that Jesus had been given a narrative to follow, an identity. The devil wants him to change the script, to trade God’s story for some other story.
Notice that Jesus combats the devil’s attack not with theological innovation, skillful counter-arguments or clever repartee, but by quoting each time scriptures. In other words, Jesus resists the temptations by quoting the holy script. Jesus won’t change the script; he will not live a narrative other than the one he’s been given; Jesus remembers his identity, and he knows who he is, and whose he is.
Because we’re called to love as Jesus loved, to welcome as Jesus welcomed, to forgive as Jesus forgave, we’re also tempted, tempted to change the script, tempted to live out another story, tempted to be someone other than who we are called to be. To yield to the temptation to say, “I am not a child of God.”
Jesus was tempted to change the script, compromise his character and deny who he was called to be. But Jesus knew who he was and never changed the script. Responding, “It is written … It is written … God promised ….” You don’t have to say, “The devil made me do it!”
Like Jesus, we can say, “I am a son of God … I am a daughter of God.” We, too, have been given our parts to play in sharing God’s love to all people. Remember your identity – your best self – who you are and whose you are.
You are invited to a fabulous concert: Sing Gloria – A Worship Experience with singing, instrumental and dancing talent. Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. We are collecting non-perishable food items for our Feed My Sheep Outreach.
Also, don’t forget Christmas Eve candlelight service at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Directions on our Web site – themetchurch.org.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the Senior Pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) in San Diego, California, themetchurch.org.
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