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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko

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1st Sunday in Lent

Luke 4:1-13

Who is Tempting Who?

Solders In the News

Two solders were in the news this week. One received favorable quite coverage—Prince Henry. The youngest son of the late Princes Diana and third in line to the British throne is going into battle. He will be following his uncle Prince Andrew who flew helicopters as a decoy to draw incoming missile fire in the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982.

The other solder in the news was Sgt. Paul Cortez. The US Army announced that Cortez would be given a dishonorable discharge after being sentenced to 100 years in prison for the gang rape of a 14 year old girl and the murder of her and her family. Earlier Thursday, tears rolled down Cortez's face as he apologized for the rape and murders. He said he could not explain why he took part.

"I still don't have an answer," Cortez told the judge. "I don't know why. I wish I hadn't. The lives of four innocent people were taken. I want to apologize for all of the pain and suffering I have caused the al-Janabi family."

These two solders stand in sharp contrast. One British, the other American, Crotez military career is ending after serving in combat, Prince Henry's combat experience is about to begin. One succumb to the temptations of violence produced by the stress of war. Prince Henry has yet to be tested.

I feel both anger and sadness for Paul Cortez. There is sadness for relatives of the al-Janabi family. They must suffer terribly. There is sadness for the Cortez family who also ache for their son. There is anger both over the decision made by a political leader who himself avoided combat to send send our young men and women into harms way. There is also anger toward those solders who could have made a different decision; who could have responded differently; who could have resisted temptation.

Learning Repetition Over Time

In reading the story about the trial and the pending trial of the other young men, I thought about another incident that occurred on another continent, in another war. It happened in the tiny village of My Lai, South Vietnam where on March 16, 1968, Charlie Company under the constant pressure of danger and the madness of war, had lost control of their discipline, reason, and humanity, and had begun slaughtering 504 unarmed civilians in the village, most of them women, children, and elderly men. The details the solders inhumanity toward innocent people was regurgitated in newspapers for weeks but I never read one story about the heroic and gallant actions of one solder—High Thompson. He was flying a helicopter that day over the village and saw what was taking place on the ground. Thompson set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining villagers. At great risk to himself, he got out of the helicopter and confronted the officer in charge, William Calley. He then airlifted the few villagers still alive out of My Lai, and also radioed a report of the scene that resulted a halt to the action, thus saving thousands of civilian lives.

Thompson was invited to speak at the commencement ceremonies at a major university. He surprised the audience and brought them to a thoughtful silence when he told them where he found the moral courage and strength to do what he did that day. He did not take credit for himself. He did not attribute his decision to his military training nor the word of any great leader of history. He thanked his mother and father for instilling him the difference between right and wrong. He said, “We were country people. I was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia and we had very little. But one thing we did have was the Golden Rule. My parents taught me very early, 'Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.' That's why I did what I did that day. It's hard to put certain things into words.” He told the students, parents and faculty, “You're going to have to make many decisions in your life. Please the decisions because we're depending on you. God bless you all.”

One pastor wrote, “Why did he do what he did? Where did he find the moral courage? Words taught to him in childhood, repeated over and over,

"Do unto others . . . do unto others . . . do unto others."

We have forgotten the powerful influence of repetition; of repeated rituals that may seem meaningless at the time but will have a dramatic influence in the future. A friend from seminary once told me that he grew up in a Christian home. His mother and father were devoted followers who insisted that after dinner the family would read Scripture and pray. He told me how he hated those times growing up. Tom rebelled against his family's faith when he went to college. He was expelled from a Christian college for breaking their rules with reckless abounded. He enlisted in the Navy and enjoyed the women at every port and call. But Tom said one thought always haunted him. He said that nearly every time he was about to crawl under the sheet with a new friend, he would recall those evening devotions with his family. Eventually the memory of those family devotions brought him back to the faith. Tom now serves as a pastor of a large congregation.

The Temptation

Where did Jesus get the strength, the courage, the ability to resist the Enemy in the wilderness? It was not just because he was the Son of God. It was because he had been taught since childhood the lessons of faith. How do we know this? Because of his response to each temptation.

“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
It is written ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’”

“I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
“It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

“If you are the Son of God throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

It is written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

When Jesus was a boy, his life was filled with such religious instructions. Luke tells us that "it was his custom" to go to the synagogue. He did not go only to preach, to stir up the people, or to make a cameo appearance that could be reported in the New Testament. Jesus went to synagogue sabbath after sabbath. He heard the lessons, he learned the teachings of Torah, he prayed the prayers. Somehow we have forgotten that even Jesus had to learn about his faith; even Jesus was a student. Twice Luke tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom (2:40, 52).

"Do unto others . . . do unto others . . . do unto others."

It is written . . . it is written . . . it is written

Do you begin to see a familiar pattern?

It should not, then, be a surprise to learn that when Jesus was tested by the devil, when Jesus was pushed against the wall and had his calling and loyalty to God pressed to the limits, he did not defend himself or resist the temptations with clever repartee of theological bon mots. He quoted Deuteronomy. He quoted truths he had learned as a child, recited in sabbath school, heard time and again in the synagogue.

" 'One does not live by bread alone.' "

'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' "

'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "

Our Temptations

So it is with us. We withstand the presses of life; we resist the temptation of evil through the inner strength developed by the patterns of faithfulness; the regular attendance at worship; the disciplined reading of Scripture; and a consistent life of prayer. That is what the normal Christian life is suppose to be about but once a year we say we are even going to intensify what we do; we are going to be more deliberate, more intentional. We set aside the 40 days before Easter to say, we will expend greater effort to read, study and pray. But what happens if we do not do these things? What happens if we neglect the spiritual disciplines? What happens if all we do, during Lent is give up chocolate or dessert or watching a half hour of TV?

I would like to suggest that if we neglect these disciplines, we are in essences putting God to the test by expecting him bail us out of situations that we should have avoid had we etched his commandments upon our hearts. We put him to the text by expecting him to solve problems that we created through bad decisions. We expect him to give us the power to resist evil but when we are unwilling to exercise any willful restraint.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “God helps those who help themselves.” There is a touch of truth in this basic heresy. The apostle Paul said it this way, “Work our your own salvation in fear and trembling for it is God working through you both to will and to do.” We cannot accomplish anything in the spiritual life on our own, that was Franklin's mistake. But God expects us to expend the effort, to be intentional and disciplined and thereby prepared for battle with the Enemy.

I dare say that Prince Henry will not make the same mistakes as those five Americans not because of the military training he has received but because of the moral character that has been instilled in him as third in line to the British throne. Since he was a small child, he has been preparing for his day in combat not by riding in a tank but through his intellectual, spiritual and moral training.

In our baptism we are called to renounce evil and its power in the world . We are asked if we are prepared to renounce the ways of sin . If we are have properly prepared ourselves they will not seem like temptations because our response will be near at hand.

We will know that we do not live on bread alone, we will worship the Lord God alone, we will not test the Lord

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