We had a great sermon today on temptation and protection. The text was Luke 4:1-13. I suppose we would have had this great sermon last week if there hadn’t been technical difficulties, but I was glad to get to hear it this week.

First, there was that rather horrifying observation from the text itself when the devil says “all this authority has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.” (Luke 4:6) [You’d think we’d be more careful about claiming the hand of God in this or that political outcome, with that in mind.]

Then, our pastor started out with this famous quote:

… Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; …

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, lines 228-238

I was weeping, of course, by the time he finished. Milton’s Satan is the original anti-hero, I suppose, and his speech is very brave, very much about “making the best of a terrible situation,” advice which I have definitely heard coming out of my own mouth and echoing in my head in the accents of my mom and dad. “We might as well make the best of it.” “No use crying over spilled milk.”

As our pastor noted, this speech is highly Romantic, and also highly attractive – a lot more attractive than the pictures of Satan that usually go with this speech in the illustrated version of Paradise Lost in his English class. A lot more attractive than the horns and tail and pitchfork and twisted facial features. He suspects a speech like this would fit better coming from someone a lot more successful and attractive. [For me, it’s so similar to the kind of “how to work harder and smarter and get better in every way” kind of success talk that has sold me many a book on the simple change or two I would need to make to improve myself …]

He shared with us what his own father used to say: “The thing about temptation is that it’s tempting.”

Sounds obvious. But its point is that we aren’t usually tempted by things that are obviously super evil; not many of us say “I’d like a little more wickedness in my life.” We’re tempted by things that look … pretty comfortable, pretty reasonable; by things that promise good results if we just get a little tougher, a little more savvy, …

There’s a huge difference between self-reliance and God-reliance; between relying on our own resources, and relying on God’s resources.

[Plus it’s funny to me, upon reflection, putting the whole matter in this frame: there’s a subtext to the temptations that come at us that way. They always come along with a message of how “you’re not really … enough; you’re not really good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, something enough … but you could be …” Contrast that with the Holy Spirit and that baptismal message that says “You are my Beloved …” That message doesn’t sell nearly as much toothpaste, though.]

So that when we are going through a really terrible time, as Jesus was in the wilderness, and as almost all of us have or will some time in this life, a time so terrible that we temporarily lose sight of the goodness of the world, and when it is perhaps difficult in that terrible time to see the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, because of the pain and suffering and distraction and so on, it will help to remember that we are not alone. We are not alone, whether or not we feel alone. It will help to remember, in particular, that Jesus has been there before us – which is what it means to lead, to go ahead, to put one’s own body on the line first.

And then, as it is St. Patrick’s Day, too, we noticed the connection to be made between baptism and the Breastplate of St. Patrick, the whole idea of Christ surrounding us – in baptism – for our protection.

So we sang this beautiful hymn [“God be the Love to Search and Keep Me”], and I’m pretty sure no one felt alone this morning.


Dessert wilderness with tree in foreground