Sermons 2005
Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Lent 1A 2005 Matthew 5:1-11

Several years ago, a newspaper account of an automobile accident included the following:

Passersby carried the driver to a nearby service station. The crash victim then came to, and as he opened his eyes he panicked, struggling mightily to break away from the circle of Good Samaritans and rubber-neckers who had gathered around him.

But a rescue team arrived, quickly subdued him, and took him to a hospital.

Asked later why he had made such a desperate attempt to get away from his rescuers, he explained that they had taken him to a Shell station, and someone was standing in front of the "S." (1)

The story reminds us, of our ability to create our own hells on earth, our ability to estrange ourselves from God.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is preparing to begin His public ministry. He retreats to, even driven out into, the desert wilderness for a period of prayer and fasting. His focus there is on preparing to preach the Good News; to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to begin to understand his unity with God the Father, to contemplate his all out devotion to the Father's Will. And, in the midst of this holy exercise, along comes the devil with his hellish temptations.

Our ancient foe can appear in many guises. During the American Civil War, in the city of New Orleans, after its occupation by the Union Army, General Ben Butler, the commander, succumbed to bribery, lining his pockets well enough to see him continue a successful and lucrative political career after the war. His incorruptible successor, General Nathaniel P Banks, was almost immediately offered a bribe of one hundred thousand dollars to trade Union salt for Confederate cotton. (2)

Such attempts to bribe Banks were almost an every day occurrence. There is a story that one day he was in his office when one of the leading dowagers of the city was announced. She entered with a beautiful young woman in attendance. She told the astonished Banks that if he would allow a large shipment of Confederate cotton through the Union lines, he would receive fifty thousand dollars and the services of the young woman for as long as he liked.

He looked at them a moment, shook his head, and had them escorted out. Then he immediately telegraphed the Secretary of War: “ I request to be relieved of command in New Orleans immediately. They are getting too close to my price.” He passed the test.

Our Gospel today is traditionally called the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness. The Greek root word is peira (Peira). It means more than temptation. It also means test, trial, attempt, endeavor. The verb forms are to tempt, to put to the test, to put to the trial. All with overtones of calamity or disaster. Satan as tempter or tester – the noun form is peirazomenos (peirazomenos) – tester. Surely it would have been a disaster for all of mankind, had Jesus succumbed to these three temptations, failed the test. The novel and movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, has vivid imagery of Jesus succeeding at these temptations.

The same form is used in the Lord’s Prayer – the best translation is do not lead us into test – peirasmon (peirasmon), but we use temptation largely because of tradition, I suppose.

When the Hebrew scholars of ancient Israel that most Jews lived in the Greek speaking world and had no Hebrew or Aramaic, they set to work in the Second Century Before Christ to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. As an aside, this was the bible of Christians until the New Testament canon was established in the early Fifth Century AD and the Bible as we now know it with Old and New Testaments became the scriptural standard.

When these Jewish scholars set about the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Septuagint, the term that they used for testing Abraham on the mountain to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and the term that they used for the testing and trials of Job derived from this root word peira. It is used throughout the Septuagint for trial, test, temptation, and is usually associated with the potential for calamity or disaster.

When humans are faced with peira tests, there is the al too human tendency to think about it for a moment and consider it, however fleetingly. Although he passed the test in the end, General Banks thought about it for a moment. And we have seen contemporary instances in the Enron crisis when greed led to failure to pass the peira test. Not to mention the United Nations Iraqi oil for food scandal, and so on and so on and so on.

Bad as these things are, the stakes were never as high as they were during those forty days in the wilderness when Jesus faced the satanic tester. What was at stake was the salvation of every human soul. What was at stake was whether the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of Heaven would ever be realized in any way on earth. What was at stake was whether God or Satan would be the one we worship.

It was really like Eden revisited but with the potential for a fall so great that humankind would be in Hell on earth for all eternity.

It is important to note that, although Jesus was fully human, he did not demonstrate any of the human tendency to think about it even for half a second. In all of the Gospel witnesses to this wilderness testing event, it is clear that Jesus never hesitated to counter Satan. Saint Mark particularly gives the sense of an almost breathless response to the challenge, as though Satan hasn’t reached the end of his sentence before Jesus is answering.

Thursday night at our Lenten Study one of the questions we considered was the Kingdom of heaven. Is it here? Will it ever come? The answer is yes to both questions. It’s all around us, if we just look. It might be imperfectly realized, but it’s there. And yes, it will come. Because the God who loves us answered as he did in the desert during those days. And then died for us on the Cross to make it happen.


1. From sermon for Lent 1A, Voicings publications,
2. Bruce Catton, Never Call Retreat, Doubleday, p.71.

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579