Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1)
So let’s talk about temptation. This is a topic upon which I have often been asked to teach over the nearly dozen years I have been in ministry. Usually, I have been asked by parents, grandparents, and other adults, who want to ensure that our young people are doing the “right” things. They want me to give a laundry list of things to not do and then say just don’t do them. Yeah… cause that method of addressing temptation has worked so very well for the generations that have come before us.
If that is the blog post you are looking for, oops… sorry. Not going to happen.
Temptations, or as both Lord’s Prayers in Luke and Matthew put it, “times of trial,” are not something to be taken lightly. However, they are also not the end all be all of the life we lead. They are merely a part of our life. Difficult things will come. Challenges arise. And sin will be an ever-present reality (thank you Reformers for pointing that one out). In understanding that there will always be temptations and times of trial, in smaller and greater ways throughout our lifetimes, it better enables us to come to grips with how to address them.
We will be offered many different options that will not be what we should do. We should not create a laundry list of overwhelming expectations for ourselves and others. Nor should we blame ourselves or others when things do not go according to plan and focus on how we can shame them until we feel better. Nor should we act as if everything is fine while on the inside or in our private lives we are brooding, writhing, or loosing our temper. And we should definitely not think that if we just keep ourselves cut off from the world, we can avoid it (i.e. burying our heads in the sand).
The times of trial will come regardless and we will be up that well-known creek without a paddle.
Instead, God invites us to look at temptation and times of trial the same way as we are called to do all things. We are to use the hermeneutic – there’s your big theological word for the day – we are to use the lens of Christ’s love. In all things. Including temptation.
This lens equips us to look at any given situation and examine those things that are suggested we do, those we should do, and to make a decision of how to proceed. What effect will this action or thought or word have upon the situation? Upon the world around me? Upon the person right next to me? Upon myself? Will Christ’s love been bolstered or will it be torn to shreds?
Much of life is made up of temptations that we ignore being temptations. We know the obvious things that will break our relationships, but what about the insidious ones… Self-righteous piety. Control. Trying to fix every situation. Trying to avoid every situation. Judgement. Anger. Fear. Hoarding resources. Hate… There are far more antonyms to love than just that last one.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, famous for his remarkable work of reconciliation in South Africa during and following the time of apartheid, wrote quite often upon an essential concept of faith called Ubuntu. The idea is simple: my humanity is inextricably caught up in yours. My being a creation of God is inextricably intertwined in your being a creation of God. We cannot exist in isolation. What effects one, effects all.
Some researchers in that area decided to undertake an experiment. In this study, they had a group of children line up at one end of a field and put a basket of candy at the other end. Whoever got to it first, got it all. Now, the children were varied in every way possible, including their physical ability to get across the field. Those same children astounded the researchers when they grabbed one another’s hands and helped one another to get across the field, where they could all share in the basket of candy.
When asked why, the children responded Ubuntu: all of us will be happier when everyone gets to partake and participate.
There are countless ways we are tempted. Though most of us are blessed to never face a literal time of trial, all of us will experience challenges that test everything we have ever understood. We will have the opportunity to run ahead, use resources for our gain, and make ourselves feel better by taking everything we want.
Or, we can look at whatever lies in front of us and ask ourselves, though tempted to do many things, what is one thing I can do that will honor Christ’s love in me, for me, through me.
God will never leave us alone, no matter what trials and tribulations may come – because we are loved more than we can imagine. And the best part is that, when we begin to see that life being better for one of us makes it better for all, we might actually start to just love one another where we are. Support one another no matter what. Then love will win. For God. For one another. For ourselves. When we realize that we are family. And as one of my colleagues has said: family is always on call.