Just Too Tempting

Lead me not into temptation
I already know the road all too well
Lead me not into temptation
I can find it all by myself

On a whim, I riffed this chorus into a recent sermon from Luke’s telling of the temptation of Jesus. In the moment, I remembered the words and could hear the gospel piano, the light and soulful tune, and the remarkable voice just like it emerged from my nineteen-ninety-something radio. Couldn’t recall the singer, and would have guessed wrong if I tried. Didn’t matter. On the fly, it seemed like a good light moment to slide into the telling of how, in moments of weakness and best intentions, temptation can lure us to the point of at least a momentary no return. Honestly, we do know that road all too well.

I did a little surfing and found that the singer was a young lady named Lari White. (I would have guessed Carlene Carter and lost my turn on Country Music Jeopardy.) Born and raised right here in Pinellas County singing with the White Family Gospel Singers; how about that? She won one of the first musical reality shows and parlayed it into brief, but solid career as a Nashville performer and producer. Sadly, she died at 52 with cancer, leaving a husband and three kids. Perhaps her most odd role was a brief one most of us will remember. She was the young lady who met Tom Hanks at the door in Castaway’s last scene; package delivered and leaving him literally at the crossroads.

But like Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant, I didn’t come here to talk about all that; just the temptation that got the whole thing started. In the story of Jesus’s series of enticements, the Evil One hit with precision. Hungry? Stones to bread. Power? Worship me for all the kingdoms. Spectacle and selfish attention? Jump! At the heart of most of our temptations, unchecked appetites, along with quests for power and attention covers most all the best stumbling blocks. As a pastor who leans to the priestly ways, I’ve always read this passage with an eye for how Jesus identified with us through temptation, so we could identify with him in overcoming it. It’s good to know that in our weakest moments there is a God in flesh who can softly say “Hey sinner, I’ve been there too,” and if you hang with me, I can walk you out.

But then there is my latent prophet. He’s been showing up a lot more lately. The prophet in me recognizes the lure of corporate temptation. Happens to baseball teams; sorry Astros and Red Sox fans. How ironic that the Astro’s home park was first named for Enron, the business brought to its knees by hubris and greed. Nations go there, the Bible is as full of those stories as today’s New York Times. How much of our international mission help is necessitated by such corrupt oppression? Or local ones? You get the idea.

How about the church? The bride of Christ has taken quite the hit with our scandals, crazy offshoots, and the misguided quest for self-preservation. These wayward turns have led us down the road to irrelevance, and often at odds with the very folks we are charged to love and reach. It’s a regular cottage industry writing about the whys and wherefores and where do we go from here. Maybe we only need to look back as far as the beginning of the ministry of the one whose name we claim.

“Satisfy yourself,” said Satan.” Jesus said “NO.”

We pick and preserve our churches by our insisting on what we want.

It’s a discipleship that demands preference and manages preferences.

“Operate from a position of temporal power.” Jesus said “NO.”

We cozy up to Caesar and exchange a prophetic witness for political access. Gathering only in groups who think, feel and act the same as us, it gets easier by the day.

“Put on a big act and watch God make you look good.” Jesus said “NO.”

We elevate the religious shows and showmen who draw crowds primed to hear what they want; emboldened to do what they will. Meanwhile, we miss the communal call to mission, submission and a shared identity in Christ and his radical values.

I’m not certain just how these temptations have brought Christ’s church in America, like Castaway Tom Hanks, to this honest to God Crossroad; but they have. I am pretty sure the way has been pointed by the same one who long ago tempted our Namesake. Sadly, we seem to be failing the test he passed. “Lead me not into temptation,” Jesus told the tempter, before teaching us to recite those same words in a prayer of our own. I suppose Jesus knew just how much we would need to know and pray them. We really do.

Lord knows, we do.