March 9, 2003
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Mark 1:9-15
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (NRSV)

1 Peter 3:18-22
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you -- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (NRSV)

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Sermon: Overcoming faith

On Wednesday night, our senior high youth group led us in our Ash Wednesday observance. At the end of the service, all of youth who participated, 13 in all, stood across the front of the Church to lead us in the Lord’s Prayer. One line jumped out at me

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

That is the prayer of our savior… Jesus who spent 40 days in the wilderness with the wild beasts – being tempted by Satan. I wonder how he interpreted that time of trial as it was going on. Remember – he had just been baptized and had heard the voice of God, saying – “you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased” and immediately he was driven by the spirit into the wilderness.

We say – Jesus loves us – God is good, therefore our theology wouldn’t lead us toward assuming that God was the one who tempts us… so why, I ask you, is this request in the middle of the prayer that is central to our faith.

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

Probably because temptation is central to our lives… we might not want to admit it, but temptation is all around us.

How many of you decided to give up something for Lent? While it is not really a practice of our tradition – it is something that I have found to be worthwhile – when I actually do it.

This year I gave up random eating, the kind you do when you are bored or nervous or waiting or watching TV. I can think of many reasons… Well, that worked about one day. – I actually didn’t quite get past Wed. night before I knew that I had broken my covenant with God and myself. But, I started over on Thursday and again on Friday – and I will continue to begin again until I can keep at it. The temptation is great – but at least it is identifiable and in the scheme of things breaking your Lenten covenant is maybe a 2 on a scale of 1-10. It probably falls into the same category as the temptation to speed a bit when the road is free and clear.

There are bigger temptations – 3’s and 4’s - like the temptation to make money your God, or the temptation to covet material possessions. Those usually have larger ramifications…

But the temptation to follow every desire or the temptation to be judgmental is probably a 5 or 6. . Now these can consume your life – leading you down a path that will take you to heart ache right away.

And there are even worse temptations – like the temptation to think that you are always right – or the temptation to feel slighted or jealous. Those temptations will lead you away from God as fast as can be imagined. Those are getting up there, like 7 or 8.

The hard part about temptation is that it is subtle –Satan doesn’t stick up his head and identify himself… temptations don’t always come with a label, so we can’t always identify them as temptations. They come in disguise – often they don’t always look like the evil that they are, they may look benign, or even good or right.

Take the temptation of self-righteous anger – it is hard to see Satan waving his forked tail, through the veil of our own sense of innocence and having been wronged. It is much easier to become defensive, than to wait and listen to the real message. It is much easier to be angry than to notice our own complicity.

The temptations can fool you into thinking that what you are doing or feeling or thinking is appropriate – they can make you believe that you are guilt free… temptations can convince you that you are justified or that you had no other choices. They can even convince you that they have come directly from God… Temptations can warp your perspective.

The whole point of temptation from the point of view of Satan is to create an obstacle between you and God… it is designed to alter your understanding of your faith and God … Temptations lead to sin which will warp your perspective, so that – you fall into the greatest temptation trap – thinking that God is not with you, to lose faith and quit believing… that is the bottom line - end result of temptation.

And it can happen to any one of us… I have been there – have you? Have you ever asked these questions – why me? Is there a God? These are some of the signs that your perspective has been altered … Instead of seeing God’s angels, you find yourself deserted. Instead of trusting in God, you trust only yourself. Instead of remembering that Jesus died that you might have new life, you stay in the old life.

How do we develop a faith that will overcome these crippling temptations… by remembering and by practicing and by praying.

In First Peter, we hear that baptism now saves us – because it is an appeal to God for a good conscience. Jesus baptism became his preparation for his struggle against temptation… he heard the voice of God, claiming him and encouraging him. Our baptism can act the same way – God claimed us at that moment too, God made us a promise - I will not leave you orphaned – I will be with you always.” What if we remembered the water of our baptism every morning as we stand in the shower. That is to be our confidence – we can rely on that promise – it can prepare us to face the temptations life will offer.

We also prepare by practicing… by facing God and emptying ourselves of all that might stand between us. Regularly, every night as we close our eyes for sleep – we could give to God all of the temptations that we faced during the day.

We can even practice by intentionally giving up a small temptation like random eating, for the next 6 weeks, just to help us get into the routine. Just to help us understand that temptations are real and difficult.

It is not too late to get started, we still have 36 out of 40 days of Lent left – and we are invited to join Jesus on a journey through the wilderness. We are looking for a faith that will overcome all temptations – no matter where they fall on the temptation scale… an overcoming faith. Let us remember God’s declaration at our baptism, let us practice by emptying ourselves before God and by walking away from small temptations, and let us pray to God for support.  Amen.
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