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Resisting the Temptation
Lectionary Reflections for the First Sunday of Lent (A)
By Tracey Lind
Readings for Lent 1, Year A, Feb. 13, 2005
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The great reformed preacher Karl Barth once said that sermons should be written with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I have tried to pay homage to that wisdom in my ministry, and sometimes it's really challenging. This coming Sunday is no exception. Like every first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading reminds us of Jesus' time in the wilderness immediately following his anointing baptism. “The tempter,” as this manifestation of evil is called in Matthew's Gospel, challenges Jesus to:
Last week as I listened to our president's annual State of the Union Address, I kept thinking about [the lesson of “the tempter” in Matthew 4]. There's a connection here, and it scares me. There are obvious connections to the Gospel, but how do we talk about them without seeming so partisan that our words will fall on deaf ears?
Last week as I listened to our president's annual State of the Union Address, I kept thinking about the lectionary reflection I promised to write for The Witness . There's a connection here, and it scares me. There are obvious connections to the Gospel, but how do we talk about them without seeming so partisan that our words will fall on deaf ears? At a dinner party last Saturday night, I asked my guests how they make the connection. It resulted in a thoughtful, lively, provocative, and sometimes heated table conversation.
Now, I could suggest that we interpret our nation's president as the one being tempted.
If this be the case, he is first being tempted to feed us with the promise of more control over our money through tax cuts and Social Security reform – more “bread” for everybody, to borrow from the nomenclature of the Sixties. Second, he is being tempted to dazzle us with his ability to overthrow a dictator and liberate a nation in the name of freedom and democracy through one fell swoop of bombs and artillery. Third, he is being tempted to abandon the gospel of his Episcopal Church affiliation and give into the fundamentalism of the New Religious Right for a combination of personal, political and religious gain.
But I won't go there. That's way too partisan, and furthermore, that makes our president's vocation too closely aligned with the savior of the world.
I could suggest that we as a nation are the ones being tempted.
First, we are being tempted to believe that the stones of tax cuts, the privatization of Social Security, and health savings accounts will yield the harvest of bread for all of our nation's children and ourselves.
Second, we are being tempted to jump off a cliff by believing that the violation of our limited wilderness for the sake of oil and the disregard of our clean skies for industrial and energy production will not damage our fragile environment. We are tempted to believe that the elimination of corporate regulations will promote economic growth; that medical liability reform and information technology will reduce health care costs and make it more accessible to the uninsured. We are tempted to believe that the banning of gay marriage will strengthen the institution of heterosexual marriage, and that the reduction of Ryan White funding will aid the fight against AIDS. We are even tempted to believe that discriminatory acts against immigrants in this country and preemptive military action around the world will reduce terrorism and hatred of the United States.
[W]e are being tempted to yield our moral obligation of humility and respect for difference by believing that our nation has an inalienable right and God-given responsibility to spread the face of democracy, justice, freedom and peace throughout the world according to our own cultural standards, ideals, and worldview.
Third, we are being tempted to yield our moral obligation of humility and respect for difference by believing that our nation has an inalienable right and God-given responsibility to spread the face of democracy, justice, freedom and peace throughout the world according to our own cultural standards, ideals, and worldview.
But I'm not going there, either, because I don't believe that the Gospel was written for the nation.
However, since the president himself used religious language (e.g., ”guiding idea,” “blessing,” “sacrifice,” “grateful,” “symbol of trust,” “peace,” and “unity”) and invoked religious symbols (e.g., “stewardship,” “discipline” “great moral success,” “sacred institution,” “culture of life,” and “human dignity”), it is the obligation of the preacher to reclaim the language, symbols and morals of our faith traditions. After all, Jesus resisted the temptations and began his ministry, “bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the year of God's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Therefore, I want to suggest that for us preachers, the real temptation is to avoid the controversy and stay in safe waters, or in the words of my dinner guest, Dorothy, “to give in and give up.”
To my brothers and sisters who have the power of access through the responsibility of preaching and the privilege of the pulpit, I say – let us have the courage to preach this coming week with the Bible in one hand and the State of the Union address in the other – come what may and cost what it will.
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind is dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of Interrupted by God: Postcards from the Edge (2004, The Pilgrim Press), and is an experienced urban planner who currently chairs a Cleveland citywide task force on downtown redevelopment. Tracey may be reached by email at email@example.com .