Newsletter: Vol. 14, Iss. 1
May 2015

Luke 4:1-13 and Romans 10:8-13
Sermon - Feb. 22, 2015

The Devil Made Me Do It?
The Rev. Herbert B. Taylor


Mark Twain once wrote, "The only real way to be rid of temptation is to give into it." Of course, it doesn't end there. All of us who have used this tactic to get rid of some temptation find out that the next temptation slides in right behind it. At the end of the well-known story in Luke of the three temptations of Jesus, we heard that "after finishing all this tempting, the Devil left until an opportune time." Well, where temptation is concerned, it seems for us the opportune time is always what ever time we are in at the moment.

Those of us of a certain age know that the comedian, Flip Wilson, had a character that always used to say, "The Devil Made me do it!" If that is the case for us that devil seems to be a busy guy - or just maybe we should look more closely at who really is responsible for what we do. There is little question that temptation surrounds us everywhere and we are pretty good at succumbing to all different types of temptation, but on this first Sunday of Lent, as the gospel lessons focus on Jesus' experience in the wilderness, when he is tempted by the devil, I want to focus on just one area of temptation - one of the areas of temptation that the Devil presents to Jesus. The second temptation - the one when the devil offers Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world if he will worship him. This is surely a test of Jesus' ego. And for our culture today, filled with people who let their ego get the best of them, this temptation to be powerful hits especially close to home. The yearning for independence and self-importance confuses us into somehow liking the idea that, inherently, we are better than someone else. It's a temptation that we as humans fall to over and over again. The temptation to stand with the powerful and to let the weak fend for themselves is Darwin's survival of the fittest at its best.

This temptation breeds intolerance. In its simplest forms it leads to people not including others in groups, making comments about people, or simply ignoring them - awful things in their own right - but unfortunately it doesn't stop there - this type of intolerance often leads to outright hatred and violence. I am reminded of the time Sarah and I went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. That museum is a powerful, moving statement to how evil we as human beings can be to one another. A systematic killing of all deemed inferior -Jews, the physically or mentally disabled, homosexuals, gypsies… The message of the museum, repeated over and over again, is a cry out for people to remember what happened. To remember the people who died, the children who died, because of intolerance for that which was different, because of hatred of others.

Some people don't want to be confronted by this museum. The Holocaust was such an awful thing that they don't want to go. But, we must remember what we as humans are capable of, because one of the most disturbing things about the Holocaust is the millions of people, the countries, even our own in the beginning, that allowed such atrocities to occur for so long. The amazing book entitled Night by Elie Wiessel reminds us through his own experiences of the horror of the Holocaust. Originally it was published in Yiddish under the title And the world was silent. In corporate ways, just like individual ways, we often don't want to get involved. That type of tolerance for intolerance worries me today. I hear it from political leaders, from religious leaders, and from everyday people. It's not the Devil who makes us do it. It is we and when we act this way it is opposite of who Jesus was and is and calls us to live.

Maybe like the tears shed at the Holocaust museum, each night as we lie in bed we need to shed tears for the actions we, or the groups we are a part of, have taken that day, to breed hatred for that which is different. Maybe this form of confession, something we Protestants are not very good at, is needed for healing to begin, to start us on the road to reconciliation and to love, to recognize those things that allow us to act so devilish, to look at ourselves and question how such hatefulness, such anger can come to live within us.

Paul said, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same lord is lord of all. (Romans 10:12). Remember that Jesus' name means "God will deliver, heal, save," and that salvation is God's doing. Even Jesus resists the temptation offered by the Devil to take authority over all by saying only God is God. Let's join Jesus in letting God be God, join Jesus in his quest for tolerance and love for those different than us, whatever way they're different, Jew or Greek, black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, immigrant or native born, young or old. God calls us to be family -not to search for what we might have over one another, but how we might love one another.

Henri Nouwen wrote "Power offers such an easy substitute for the hard task of love". So true. It is easy to pick out those things about another that is different and to hold them up in another's face and mistrust or even hate them for it. These temptations we face to act this way seem to be like little tests that God puts before us. Tests that measure whether what we do in the hour in church lead us to act in certain ways in the many hours we spend outside of church. Church is only important in how it prepares us to pass the tests we face in life. One of those tests is to be as humble as Jesus was to accept and welcome all into God's family, to stand with the powerless, the broken, the outcast just as Jesus did and welcome them and begin the hard task of love.

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