Sugar Cookies, Ice Cream and Popcorn
Lent 1 Luke 4:1-13 and parallels
There was a reception at the church, and therefore, a reception table. On that reception table were several platefuls of cookies. My eyes glanced over all the cookies on the reception table and then focused on the plate of white, round, sugar cookies. I knew these cookies. They were from the recipe of Lois Righi and Carol Ervin had made them. I glanced at the people in the room and no one was looking, as I popped one into my mouth and it quickly melted. These were the cookies I remembered. I again glanced around and no one was looking, so I popped five more of those cookies into my pocket and casually walked to my study, closed the door behind me, and pulled out the cookies. I was all alone with those cookies and slowly and happily savored them one by one. What else could I have done? How does a person resist such temptation?
That night after work, I was tired and exhausted. When I am tired, exhausted and down in the dumps after work at night, that is justification for eating a large bowlful of ice cream when I get home. My wife wasn’t there in the kitchen and so I was free to eat as much as I wanted at that moment. I didn’t bother with the bowl, but just worked out of the ice-cream box. What is one to do in such situations as these?
The next night when I got home I was not tired, exhausted and depressed, but my wife had made a large bowl of popcorn, and within minutes, I had consumed my portion. Of course, not to hurt her feelings, I went back to the larger, yellow plastic bowl and poured myself another large portion of popcorn. And then a third. What is one to do when the buttered popcorn smells so wonderfully in the kitchen and the aroma fills the house? I am not suggesting it was my wife’s fault that I ate too much, but she was the one who made the popcorn.
We all know about sugar cookies, ice cream and popcorn. We all have had experiences with these delicacies of life and they are indeed temptations for us. These are part of the everyday trivial and not so trivial temptations of our lives.
We know that temptations are real and that temptations are an actual part of our daily lives. Temptations are part of your real life and part of my real life. Temptations are not theoretical, nor hypothetical nor imaginary. Whether you believe in the devil or not, temptation is real for you. Whether you believe Satan is real or not, your struggles with temptation are real, and so are mine.
How we struggle. How we struggle with temptation. How nice it would be if the primary temptations of life had to do with sugar cookies, ice cream and popcorn. But usually the struggles and temptations of life have not to do with these, but with the gut issues of life such as pride, greed, lust, gluttony, laziness, anger and envy. …
In tough times, we are tempted not to believe in God. I remember when Old Man Lunde was alive so many years ago. I remember him telling about the Depression in the 1930s and the dust storms of North Dakota. I remember how Al Lunde was broke and didn’t have a dime to his name. He, his wife and kids moved out here to the Pacific Northwest, and Al’s face stuck into my face, as his finger wagged at my eyes, “And where was God in all of that?” Al was still mad at God for what happened to him in the Depression. The years passed, and his wife, Cora, ultimately had a stroke. As she came closer to death, Al was wrestling with loneliness and depression. He was again angry with God and me and again wagged his finger into my face, “How could a good God do something like this to my wife, Cora?” … How nice it would be in the primary temptations of life had to do with sugar cookies, ice cream and popcorn, but the temptations of life have to do with the gut issues of life such as the temptation not to believe in God. The temptation not to believe that God knows your name. The temptation to not believe that God counts the numbers of hairs on your head. The temptation not to believe that God is good. The temptation to not believe that God is watching our every action and is close to us.
The other temptation is not to live the way God wants us his children to live. The temptations of life vary for each one of us, yet we are all addicted to sin. We are all experts at sin. Each of us in our varied ways is an expert at sinning. … For some of you, the battle is with the bottle. Alcoholism is a terrific temptation. Some of you use booze to fill the hole in your soul…. For others of you, it is sex and lust. Some of you are on the verge of having a sexual relationship with someone outside of marriage. You may be having or about to have an affair with somebody at work. For others of you, you can’t handle your sexual fantasies and your use of erotic stimulation for your imagination. … For still others of you, your temptation comes in the form of pride and success. You want to climb higher and higher and higher on the ladder. … For still others, it is money and what money can buy. You want a fancier car, a fancier, home, a fancier trip, a fancier lifestyle. …For still others, you are drawn to unhealthy people and unhealthy relationships where the person is abusive and destructive and you continue to live in an abusive relationship and your temptation is that you think you deserve such punishment. …Still others of you are tempted to live life for yourself and ignore the elderly, ignore the poor, ignore the people in prisons or jails. … Still others of you are tempted to ignore your own children and even worse, to ignore your husband or wife and not give them the quality of time and love they need. … How nice it would be if the temptations of life had to do primarily with sugar cookies, ice cream and popcorn. But the real temptations of life have to do with the gut issues of life. The gut issue of whether or not God does real know the numbers of hairs on your head. The gut issue of whether or not you are living in ways that are pleasing to God.
It is with this mood that we approach the temptation story of Jesus for today. Jesus was tempted and his temptations were not sham encounters. It was no imaginary thing. It was no hypothetical situation. His temptations were real, just as your and my temptations are real. His temptations were not shadow boxing. They were not little make-believe exercises that he went through. Nor was Jesus being tempted among a gallery of spectators who were cheering him on. Like so many temptations, they occurred when he was alone, for temptation is often a lonely encounter. Temptation is often a solitary business. Jesus was alone with his thoughts, alone with his dreams, alone with his desires, alone with his fantasies, and he was tempted. Just as we are often tempted when we are alone with our thoughts, our dreams, and our fantasies. There in that situation, while alone, he was tempted.
Briefly, I would like to take a look at the temptation story of Jesus and see what happened to Jesus and see what the issues were for him. Perhaps we can learn from the temptations that Jesus faced, so that we can deal more effectively with our own temptations and struggles.
The first temptation of Jesus was to convert stones into bread. Jesus responded, “You cannot live by bread alone.”
There is always a temptation to convert stones into the bread of life, to convert material possessions into the primary sources of satisfaction. There is this deep temptation to convert the breads of life, spelled with a small letter, b, into the Bread of life, spelled with a capital letter, B. We pray to ourselves, “If I only had more bread in my pocket and fancier bread on my table, I would be happier.” So many people buy into that illusion, that deception, that fundamental deceit. The fundamental deceit is that if I have a little more money or a little more material pleasure or a few more material things, then I will be happier. What an illusion. What a fantasy. What a deception.
You are perhaps aware of the cross national studies that compared the lives of people who live in Egypt and people who live in Germany. The standard of living for people who live in Germany is four times greater than those who live in Egypt. Logically, the Germans should be four times as happy as the Egyptians. Is that true? You know it is ludicrous. Germans are not happier. If you measure the happiness quotient of Germans and Egyptians, they are about the same. It is an illusion when we think that a little bit more money will make us happier or will make our families happier. What a deception. What an illusion.
You may be aware of studies that compared the rich, the middle class and the lower class. All three groups wanted a little bit more money and they thought they would be happier. They wanted twenty-five percent more and consequently, happier. The rich, middle class and lower class all believed that a little bit more money would help them enjoy life more. The lower class didn’t want to be middle class. The middle class didn’t want to be upper class. The upper class didn’t want to be filthy rich. They all wanted a little bit more money, so they could then be happier. But the rich and the middle class weren’t any happier than anyone. A little bit more money does not make you any happier, although a lot of you believe it in the secrecy of your hearts.
There is an epitaph on a tomb that reads: “She died of things.” The next tomb said, “He died providing things for her.” As important as material things are, sooner or later, you will realize that they cannot be at the core of your life and will never satisfy the deepest needs within you.
This past week, I presided at the funerals of two of our members, Irving Birk and Harold Maresh, two of the great saints of our church. These were two common and ordinary people in whom the love of Jesus lived. Irving and Harold were two of the richest people I have ever met. They are two of the wealthiest people I have ever known. Both of their funerals were jammed with loving children, family, relatives, friends, church members, neighbors, all friends. Both men lived in very modest homes. Both had very modest accumulations of wealth. Both drove older cars. And both died having a wealth of loving relationships. They were the richest of all people. Their cache was not spelled C-A-S-H, but their cache was the French spelling of the word, C-A-C-H-E. They great cache, C A C H E, but meager capital. My suspicion is that some of you still think that more capital results in greater happiness. Well, you are wrong, and life will eventually prove it to you. We are created in the image of God; we are created to be like God. Because we are created in the image of God who is love, when we find love or are loving, we find true joy and happiness. It is absolute nonsense to think that material things and material pleasures can satisfy the yearnings of our human lives. It is a lie that material things satisfy deeply, but then, the devil is a liar.
The second temptation for Jesus was that he was taken up to the top of a temple at Jerusalem, some one hundred and fifty feet high, and told to throw himself down and he would force God’s hand and the angels in heaven would catch him before he splattered on the earth. So would you imagine Jesus up at the top of the Space Needle in downtown Seattle? Jesus is on the top of the Space Needle and all the people see him at the top. A large crowd is gathered below, like watching a fire, and the sick crowd shouts, “Jump, jump, jump.” The devil said to him, “Jump, jump, jump. You jump Jesus and as you are falling, the angels of God will swoop by and pick you up and then the entire then crowd below will believe that you are the Son of God. Prove to the crowd that you are divine, and when you have proven that you are divine, when you have proven that God exists, then the crowd will follow you.” … What sheer delusion. What hypocrisy. What foolishness. It reminds me of the rock opera, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, when Pilate said, “Jesus Christ, if you’re divine, turn my water into wine. Jesus Christ, if you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool.” Jesus, if you turn my water into wine and magically walk across my swimming poor, then I will believe in you. Then, I will be your disciple. Then I will know for sure that there is a God. Sheer delusion. Sheer deception. People see miracles of God all the time, and they still don’t believe in God or follow God. That happened often in Biblical times and still happens today.
One of the greatest temptations of life is to want God, is to need God to prove himself to us. Show me a miracle and then I will believe and follow. Dosteyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor said, “People seek not so much God as the miraculous.” How foolish, asking for miracles when God’s miracles are all around us, and we still don’t see them.
This morning, I woke up and walked out to see the daffodils and then the primroses and my eyes lifted up to see the morning sun dancing across Puget Sound, and I said to myself, “Lord, this is not good enough. I want a big miracle, God. The daffodil is not big enough. The primrose is not big enough. The sun’s rays on the water are not big enough. Show me a real miracle and then I will believe and follow.” What an illusion. God gives us real miracles every day in the daffodil, the primrose and the sunrise on the waters, and those who have faith in God, see the miracles in the morning and they follow God. But there are those fools who are still looking for the magic in the miracle of every morning. They are so busy looking for magic that they do not see the miracles around them. What a temptation. What a temptation for fools. They want magic but miss the miracles.
Then there was a third temptation. Jesus was taken up to Mount Hermon that was 9700 feet high, and so I am going to take Jesus up to the top of Mount Rainier. Jesus is on the top of Mount Rainier and there is not a cloud in the sky. He can see all the way into Canada to the north and all the way down to Oregon in the south. He can see way into the west towards the ocean and all the way to the east to Spokane in Eastern Washington. Jesus has the grand vista from the mountaintop of Rainier to the north, south, east and west. And the devil said, “This is all yours, Jesus. You’ll be the most powerful person in the world. You will be the most glorious person in the world, if all you do is fall down and worship me.” Jesus said, “You shall worship God and serve only God.” … Here was a temptation that was at the root of so many temptations. The temptation is the pursuit of glory, status, power, self-importance, self-glorification. Satan tempted Jesus and he tempts us in the same ways. Satan can take our God given abilities; Satan takes our brains, our personalities, our bodies, our talents, our resources that God has given to us, and Satan tempts us to use our God-given talents and resources to elevate ourselves above the person sitting next to us. I have more brains than you. I have more beauty than you. I have more talent than you. I have a better body than you. We take the gifts that God has given to us and use them to elevate ourselves above other people. What an illusion. What a deception. To use our God-given brains, resources, talents, gifts, bodies to pretend that we are better than someone else. … And besides, we are not attracted to such people who use God’s gifts to feel and act superior to others. We are not attracted to such illusions of superiority but we are attracted to people who are humble, who are gifted but use their gifts in all humility and graciousness.
Temptations. Wouldn’t it be nice if temptations merely had to do with sugar cookies, ice cream and popcorn? But temptations have to do with the gut issue of life. Whether or not God knows and counts the numbers of hairs on your head. Whether or not we live in a way that is pleasing to God.
The purpose of the Bible passage today is to encourage us to resist temptation, the way that Jesus resisted temptation. The purpose of this Biblical text is not to say that there are a variety of temptations for each one of us. The purpose is not to suggest we are to put ourselves in situations where we will be tempted innumerable times so that we finally cave into the temptation. The purpose of this Biblical story today is for us to be strong. Be strong my son. Be strong my daughter. Be strong against the onslaughts of the devil. Just as the temptation is not theoretical and just as the temptations we face are not hypothetical, so also the strength of God to resist temptation is not hypothetical, the strength of God is not imaginary, the resources of God are not illusionary. God does empower us with the Holy Spirit, the divine words living inside of us, and the Indwelling Presence, so that we too can resist the real temptations in our lives as well. Amen.
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