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young blond cute and friendly caucasian woman in casual clothes holding big delicious chocolate cookie looking sad in temptation as thinking if ignoring diet and eating sweet junk food isolated background

How does the devil test you? (What is the most powerful 2 letter word in his arsenal? 1st Lent 2017

What is the devils’ favorite way to tempt people and what is the most powerful two letter word in his arsenal?

“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made…” With that little segue we are introduced to the tester, the great tempter of hearts in the Hebrew Scriptures. The story tells us that the serpent is not the most powerful, the strongest, nor the smartest of the animals. But he is the most cunning.
And so you’re going to hear in this story of Adam and Eve, how he works, how he uses that cunning. He never directly tempts Adam and Eve. He never says deny God. He never does a frontal attack. But what he does do is introduce the most poisonous emotion to any relationship – doubt. Doubt! That’s how he tempts Adam and Eve. That’s how he tempts Jesus. And that is how he will tempt us…

In the garden, you can see the conversation. “Nice tree. Good branches. And look at that fruit, would you. Wouldn’t you like to sink your teeth into that.” Of course, Eve is too smart to be fooled by that direct approach. But that is just the set up. Here is the line that gets Eve and then Adam… “Did God REALLY say you can’t do this? I mean, did he really say that, or he trying to hide some power from you?” And it that instant, the seed of doubt is planted. In that moment, sin becomes possible, for doubt has entered in…

Fast forward some 4 to 8,000 years (depending on which source you read). The devil knows he has a more formidable opponent in Jesus. He knows the direct approach will never work – but the cunning approach has a chance. So he uses his best word. That most cunning word. “IF”. Using that word is like hockey players dropping the gloves, only he’s dropping that IF-bomb in front of the human will. “What do you mean, IF?” the will says. “Of course that’s the case.” And the battle is engaged.

IF you are the Son of God”, and you can hear the sarcasm dripping from his voice. You really don’t believe it, do you? That experience you had at the baptism – the sky opening, the dove descending – a momentary delusion brought on by the hot sun. But, if you want to believe that, then you need to test it, you need to try it out, you need to be SURE it is true… Turn stones to bread, throw yourself down, rule the world with power, because IF you really are the Son, then God will be happy to do that for you…and that is really what it means to be the Son of God – to not be hungry, to be safe, to have power to change things…
That’s how he tempts Jesus, and us – with that most dangerous two letter word –IF. “IF you really are a baptized, beloved son or daughter of God – then those traditional Lenten practices – YOU don’t need them. Fasting? That is dieting for amateurs. Almsgiving – sure it is important, and the people in Perryville are really going to need it. But, IF you love your kids, make sure that you have that college fund built up first. Prayer – ah, God knows what you need even before you ask it. If you really are as close to God as you feel you are, then a few minutes checking in at the beginning and end of the day will suffice.”
It is never the direct assault that gets you – the obvious temptation to possessions or control or security. It is the cunning moment of doubt that gets us/me the best. The temptation is in how you fill in the rest of that sentence. “If you really are a “good ______” – a good parent, good employee, a good spouse, then… In my case – “If you really are a GOOD shepherd of souls at SJM, then here is what that means – you have to have your finger on everything, making sure it is all done well, even if that means you have to do it all yourself and that you don’t develop the gifts of the laity. I am tempted to believe that it is all up to me – my gifts, my skills, my talent…and to not rely upon the Father for my daily bread. “IF” – it is the devil’s best word and he will say it everyone…

This week, the scriptures invite us to look at how we are tempted – how we might want to fill in the sentence that the most cunning of all the animals wants to feed us with. “IF you are a good…”
• If you are an elderly parishioner of SJM, then all you have to do is put your envelope in the collection. Let others volunteer their time and talents.
• If you are a good parent, then it means you have to provide every possible wonderful experience for your kids, every select team or hobby, even if your life and theirs are so completely out of balance that there is no time to sit down as a family.
• If you are an Irishman/woman then it’s okay to eat your corned beef on a Friday in Lent, and to quaff more than should in celebration.
• IF, IF IF…

Beware of that most dangerous word the devil will use on you – and take a lesson from Jesus on how to respond: I am God’s beloved – and I will always and only be fed by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

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