Today's lesson in the Narrative Lectionary was the Temptation of Jesus from Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 4.1-17) The temptation of the young people mentioned was in our Children's message, I did a variation of the Marshmallow experiment. I gave them an Oreo and told them if they could resist the temptation to eat it right away, and showed me the cookie at the end of the service, I'd give them a candy bar as well.
While we have just heard of Jesus being tempted by Satan, and I have tempted our young people, I want to tell you another story of temptation.
My bulldogge Ananias likes to chew on things. So I have bought a number of chew toys and bones for him. He has hidden two bones in his kennel, just in case. That is in addition to the three other bones that are scattered around the house. Beyond that there are several rubber chew toys, ropes and crinkle toys for him to chomp away on. Now, the crinkle toys don’t have a very long life expectancy. A toy of one of Santa’s almost made it from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, but he lost an arm before the ball fell at midnight.
But while Ananias has a variety of things he can, and should chew on, the rest of the house provides a temptation.
When I wasn’t at the house, Ananias used to be able to look under a pair of swinging doors toward the front door so that he could watch for me to come home. I say, “used to” because he wanted to chew on something while he waited. Rather than a bone or one of his numerous toys, Ananias developed a taste for the wood of the doorframe. It was too tempting. Now there is a gate that keeps him from getting to those doors, and that doorframe.
A few days before Christmas, Ananias was tempted again. This time it was by the remote sitting on the coffee table. Why this piece of plastic was attractive to him, I don’t know. I was working on one of the Christmas sermons when I heard him crunching on something that I assumed was a bone. Then the TV came on. The remote was broken in half, and I’m still not sure where the number 4 button is. I may find it in the back yard when the snow melts. And that is how Ananias gave the Christmas present of a new universal remote.
Wednesday morning, I woke up and was getting dressed to let Ananias go outside when I noticed that only one of my dress shoes was where it had been in the closet. My good dress shoes. My REALLY good leather dress shoes. A quick search of the bedroom located its partner. When I went to pick it up, it slipped through my hand, because there was no longer a back to the shoe. Ananias had never gone after any of my shoes before, but sometime that night, he was tempted by those shoes, and he gave into that temptation. It appears that Ananias does not live on Puppy Chow alone.
When I came home that night and Ananias was running around the house, I saw him go to the front door. I guess he was checking to see if I closed it. Then I heard this thumping sound. I keep my good winter boots in the coat area by the front door. You know, the REAL good boots – the rubberized lined boots – the walking through drifts and slush and still stay warm and dry boots – those boots. The boots you keep by the door because when you wear them, you’re taking them off as soon as you get home so you don’t track snow everywhere. And they tempted Ananias. Now, I un-tempted him before he could do more than “personalize” the right boot. There are just a few scratches that give it character. I was able to bear them up so that I would not have to step barefoot into a snow bank.
While these stories, and several others, frustrate me and make me angry, I realize this is his nature. Ananias is a bulldogge. Bulldogs were bred to be able to close their jaws and chomp down on something and not let go. Specifically, they were bred to bait bulls and hold onto to them when they bit and locked on. Bulldogs are chewers. Knowing that, I have tried to provide a variety of things I want Ani to chew on. But there are other things that tempt him. That is just his nature.
That is why the devil is tempting Jesus. Satan wants to test Jesus’ identity, to see if he really is who he appears to be, and if he will act accordingly. While the devil is tempting Jesus with food, safety and power, these offers are really getting at the core of who Jesus really is. Is he, as was just acclaimed at his baptism, God’s son in whom God finds much happiness? Those taunts by Satan, “IF you are the Son of God …” really are more like, “SINCE you are the Son of God …”. They are designed to replace Jesus’ divine identity with one of the devil’s formation.
But Jesus uses his very identity, his very nature, to repel the temptations of the devil. His identity comes from his relationship with the Father. Jesus rejects the three temptations Satan puts before him by totally trusting that God will take care of him. It is that total reliance and trust that is at the heart of who Jesus is. It is that total reliance and trust in God that is at the heart of his message. Trust that God loves you and will take care of you and share that love with others.
I realize that Ananias does rely on me, but when I am not giving him time, attention and affection, he will try to find ways to get my attention. He has succeeded in that. That too, is in his nature. Besides being chewers, bulldogs are loving and caring.
We are like that as well, loving and caring, not so much on the chewing. Although I have seen some ink pens come back in from the C+LIFFE classes that have some tooth marks on them. People are loving and caring at heart, but we are easily tempted. We get distracted and fascinated by things that are not that important. We get infatuated with the idea that we can do it on our own.
We get tempted by wealth and affluence. We get tempted by the illusion of safety. We get tempted by the lure of power. When we don’t get what we thought we were getting, or find out that it wasn’t all that we made it out to be in our minds, we turn away disappointed and disillusioned. We focus on our wants and our desires, then turn our backs on God when God doesn’t give us what we expect.
We forget that, like Jesus, our identity is connected to our relationship with God. It is that way because we are joined to Christ through our baptism. As he was at his baptism, in our baptisms, we also are claimed as a child of God, it just done by a pastor for us rather than a voice from heaven.
As life provides temptations for you to rely upon only yourself instead of trusting and relying God, remember this story, and don’t chew on my shoes. Trust and serve the Lord our God. Repent, and return to God because the kingdom of heaven has come near. Amen.