March 18, 2018
Gift of Temptation Luke 4: 1-13
When I read the chapter in our Lenten study book about the Gift of Temptation it reminded me of a quote I have heard many times… I looked it up to see who said it, and I found two variations on the quote I was thinking of.
If you follow your passion you’ll never work a day in your life.
Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
One of the variations is attributed to Tony Bennett and the other to Confucius. I wonder who said it first?!!
Reading the chapter about the Gift of Temptation, caused me to look at temptation from a different perspective. In this chapter he is referring to the temptation to do good. He says that this temptation is a lot more common for most of us than the temptation to do something overtly sinister. He says that doing good is not the problem, but that doing the WRONG good is entirely the problem. There may be things that we are good at and can excel at and that do good in the world, but if they are not in line with who we are and where our passions lie, then it can be like a dark wood experience for us, producing results like exhaustion, or a feeling of emptiness. When we find the right good – we are the most connected to God and we are following our passion and living into our fullest energy, or like the quote I mentioned implies – it won’t feel like work! The author says that we can do a lot of good by walking the path that brings us the most fully alive in this world, but in order to stay on this path, we must learn to say no to doing a great many “good” things.
During the last year I found myself in this Dark Wood that the author is referring to. I was working full-time as a medical transcriptionist, typing medical reports and independent medical exams for psychologists, psychiatrists and physiatrists. I really enjoyed my job. I worked at home, whatever hours I wanted, and it allowed me to have the flexibility that I had wanted when my kids were young, so that I could participate in their school life and Girl Guides and all the activities that go along with that. I knew that it was not my calling, as I still felt that ministry, the path I started on over 20 years ago, was what I was meant to be doing. My transcription job served me well at the time for my circumstances. It paid the bills, it allowed me flexibility, I was good at it… and I was able to get my fill of ministry as a church volunteer, so why would I make a change? Because something was missing. I knew that I was not living into who I truly was meant to be. What was holding me back? I realized when I really looked beyond the surface that the only thing holding me back was that doing something different might be a little scary. I unpacked that a little and realized that the scary part was not ministry itself – because I knew what I was getting into from my previous ministry positions and experience – it was leaving the comfort of my job and making a change that was the scary part. But as Eric Elnes says – what I was doing was doing good, doing a job that needed to be done – but it was the WRONG good for me. So I committed to take the first step and make an appointment with our Conference Personnel minister to see what would be the process of returning to ministry, which then led me rather quickly to being here with you – and so far it hasn’t been too scary!
The author says “The reason the Dark Wood gift of temptation is so important is that it produces results that reveal fairly quickly whether you are on a path that is central to who you are and what you’re here for or are on a side path.” I feel like I’m now on the right path again, and I’m thankful for the side paths like my transcription job and my church volunteering, for leading me back to the main path again, where I am meant to be.
When I thought about the gift of temptation with respect to Mount Seymour United Church, I immediately thought about our congregational gathering last Saturday to talk about the gift of the bequest. In the morning there were so many great things shared about what is at our centre at Mt Seymour, what brought you all here and what has made you stay over the years. Some of the things you said were the welcome, the intergenerational community, the feelings of support and friendship and sense of community, openness of theology, worship, open sharing, community service. In the afternoon we also did some brainstorming about what good we could do here, and we created a list, with sticky notes, of about 80 different really good ideas.
There are so many good things that can tempt us as we dream about and prayerfully consider what our future holds. Any of those 80 ideas would be good ideas. So which ‘good’ do we choose? How will we know what is the right direction to follow?
It will become clearer to us which path we should take when we consider what is at our centre, what makes us who we are as Mt Seymour United Church. When who we are – lines up with what we will do, which “good” we will choose… it is then that we will have found our path… the “right good.” It will help us to be more fully alive and more fully living out our mission.
In today’s Gospel reading – the Temptation of Jesus – Jesus is tempted by doing good. In the first temptation – he is tempted to turn stone into bread. Imagine the possibilities if he did that. He had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days so I imagine he’d be pretty hungry… not only could he feed himself, he could also feed all the hungry people in the world. That sounds pretty good!
The second temptation was to rule the world. Another good thing. If he was the ruler of the world, it would be a much better place. He could change the laws to better care for the vulnerable, he could create peace in the world. His ministry could be reflected in the law of the land! That also has great potential and sounds like a really good thing.
The third temptation was to perform an impressive miracle. This might make it easier to make disciples and have people follow him. That sounds good too.
But for Jesus – he knew that he was meant for a greater purpose. While these temptations all appeared to be good things – they were ultimately a test of his identity. They were all very self-serving, and Jesus is very clear about who he is to serve. With each of the earthly temptations, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy “one does not live by bread alone” “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him” and “do not put your Lord to the test.” Jesus’ responses show awareness of the true source of life and identity… he knows that life is more than food… his reliance on God, the one worthy of true worship and service, and his understanding of God’s character – not one to be tested. He did not give in to these earthly temptations, he stayed true to his identity as the Son of God. “Jesus’ purpose and true power was not realized through feeding the hungry or practicing politics or performing miracles, even as each of these surely was a part of his path. Devoting his entire life’s work to them was too small a calling for Jesus. God called him to something far higher. Part of Jesus’ calling was to live more fully into his human identity than anyone else had ever done before.” His responses to the temptations showed that he was dependent on God rather than himself for life, glory and identity.
Jesus was very clear about his identity. We are not Jesus – so we often find ourselves giving in to the temptation of the wrong good, and heading out on a side path for a while. For some people, their whole lives.
What are some of the good things in your life that are maybe the “wrong” good that are preventing you from following your passion? Are there some nudges that you have been ignoring that might lead you to that life of fullness?
When we listen to those gentle nudges of the Spirit and pay attention to that still small voice that may be calling us in an unexpected direction or a direction we might otherwise be resisting, we may then end up exploring paths that lead us to a life more fully lived.
When I was looking up the quote by Tony Bennett, or was it Confucius? about when we follow our passion, it won’t feel like work, it seems to me that this is what Eric Elnes is getting at in this chapter, finding the ‘right good’ – that if we as individuals and as a church find and follow the path that connects us with who we truly are, then the result will be deeper connection with God, with each other and will lead to a more meaningful life and ministry.
You are invited in this time of reflection to think about something that might be preventing you from living more fully, or a nudge of the Spirit that you maybe have been ignoring. Maybe something good that you need to say no to, or maybe the right good thing that you need to say yes to. Write this down on the paper and bring it forward and place it on the communion table or on the path of rocks around it.