About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Pleased to Meet You. Hope You Catch My Name

"Pleased to Meet You. Hope You Guess My Name."
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11

So - a long, long time ago, in the Garden of Eden, a woman could not resist temptation and her husband was afraid of arguing with her so now snakes are scary, it hurts to have babies, and we all have to wear clothes.

Another long time ago, Jesus was tempted by the devil with food, foolishness and fame. But, because Jesus was the Son of God he resisted for us, which is good, because most of us are still hung up over nakedness.

Wouldn't it be great if you could just give your heart to Jesus and you'd never be tempted by anything else ever again? It's tempting to think so. Wouldn't it be great if you could get a pass on temptation either by sloughing it off on someone else - like, Adam & Eve - or by pretending you're immune because Jesus won you the victory? Wouldn't that be great? Not very realistic. But great.

Why is it? Why is the tree of temptation always planted in the middle of our personal paradise? Why is the Tempter always whispering in our ear as soon as we survive the wilderness? Why is that?

I don't know, but I do know that blaming someone else for your temptation, or pretending you're inoculated against it is the surest way for the temptations to sing in your ear and dance all over your soul.

No one is immune to temptation. It grows in your heart and it grows in the very center of all things good. It'll hunt you down  in the wilderness, and it'll sneak up in the greenest garden. I don't know if you can ever defeat it, but you can meet it. You can meet temptation, maybe even get ahead of it. Maybe surprise it at its own game.


"Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name." Some of you are old enough to know the Rolling Stones', "Sympathy for the Devil." Some of you may have endured it on Oldies radio in your grandparents' car. As a preacher and a rocker (!) I think it's one of the greatest songs of the era and I'm very disappointed there's no good choir arrangement because I think it fits these scriptures quite well. Plus, seeing Scott dance like Mick Jagger is something we'd all remember.

"Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name," is pretty much the Bible's take on temptation and the force behind it. While we call him (and it's always "him" isn't it?) Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, Beast, Antichrist, Tempter, or (my favorite) Beelzebub - at least that one would have got him teased in school - the Bible never settles on just one. He's a man of many names and disguises, and never, ever the easily-identified evil clown with red suit, pitchfork and horns. His name keeps us guessing.

Which should tell us something. Temptation comes in all shapes and sizes, genders, forms, websites, and calories. Not even the Bible settles on one, so while the tempter's always pleased to meet you, the name's never easy to catch. 

Or is it? Is the name so easy to guess that we have to pretend otherwise?


Where do you find temptation? Well, there's a stupid question. Where do you not? I guess you could lock yourself in the basement and have food slid under the door. Tempting idea. Whoop. There it is. Maybe in church. If there's nobody here and you're not tempted to think how much better you are than everybody who didn't show up. Whoop. There it is again. All alone or with The People of Walmart, in the wilderness or in a garden, temptation worms into the center of wherever we are, which raises the question careful readers always ask about the Garden of Eden: Why did God put the ONE tree whose fruit was forbidden smack in the middle of paradise? Maybe the story's not so much about creation as about us who are created, not explaining how we got this way, but stating clearly in the pre-flight safety speech, this is how we are and always have been. Temptation is forever near to the heart of every man and woman so open your eyes and gird up your loins. You don't have to go looking for temptation. It'll come to you. It already has. It's not named Satan, or Advertisers, or Miley Cyrus. Temptation's pleased to meet you; it is you.

It is you. 


Jesus went to the wilderness. After 40 days and 40 nights of not eating, the devil, the tempter, call him what you will, came to Jesus and said what I think would be the obvious thing to say to a hungry person,
"If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."

The temptation of food.

Then, he said to Jesus,
"If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

The temptation of foolishness.

And then he said to Jesus, 
"All these [kingdoms of the world] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."

The temptation of fame.

Food, foolishness, and fame. Those aren't the world's only temptations, but they're usually in the top ten. Raise your hand if you've *never* been tempted by one of them. Maybe you've been tempted by all three at once, a temptation trifecta. Makes me think of those restaurants where if you eat the giant burger you get your name on the wall and your meal is free. Food, foolishness, and fame: "Belly Buster" be thy name.

Jesus never denies he finds these offers tempting. What he resists isn't so much the food, foolishness and fame, but the challenge hidden beneath them. The tempter is smart. He knows Jesus's name and he's pleased to meet him. He knows who Jesus is and begins his tempting by saying, "IF you are the Son of God." 

"IF you are the Son of God," command these stones to become bread. "IF you are the Son of God," throw yourself off this pinnacle. And if you're *not really* the Son of God, you can have all these nations.

Sneakily slid under every temptation is the question: Who are you? Who do you think you want to be? Who do you want to like you? How many friends, how many followers do you crave?

Temptation doesn't come from outside Jesus; it comes from the inside, from his identity, from his sense of purpose, from his faith in who God says he is. He is not whatever can be gained from food, foolishness, or fame. He is the Son of God.

Who do *you* say that he is?

Who are you?

How you answer tells you a lot about how you face temptation. Or how you hide from it. Or lie that it's not there. Or pretend that it's only from outside you and it's someone else's fault. 

Who are you?

And who do you say Jesus is?

I do not believe for one second that Jesus is the anti-temptation pill that takes away all your problems. He's probably more the opposite. Jesus causes problems, because he shows us that there's another source of being, another reason for being, than whatever we can gain by foolishness that makes us feel great in other peoples' eyes or our own. It may be that we're not so pleased to meet Jesus because now we see more clearly the temptations that waste our very brief time, and now we have to face them, wrestle with them, and choose who we really, really want to be.


Back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve realized they were naked, the Bible says they sewed together fig leaves to make loincloths for themselves. 

Farmers and horticulturists are quick to point out that if you're going to sew something together to cover your personal parts, fig leaves are a very bad choice. Fig leaves are some of the scratchiest, chafing foliage you could find. In the haste to hide their embarrassment, the exposed couple made some poor choices.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be. People who deny temptation scramble to piece together awkward coverings. Someone gets sucked into temptation and they're liable to hear somebody say, "I don't even know who you are anymore." Neither do they.

God doesn't have to guess your name and God is pleased to meet you. Even if you've covered yourself in ridiculous camouflage. Even if you're not sure who you are, either.