Sunday, March 10, 2019

Homily – 1st Sunday of Lent – Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

Today Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. And He’s being tempted by the devil in the desert, seduced by three temptations: pleasure, power and prestige.
Jesus is tested -- all the way to the Cross. And, as we know, He passes the tests.
The antidotes to the temptations of pleasure, power and prestige are the three pillars of our Lenten journey: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. These are the firstfruits of our relationship with God.     
Fasting helps us to conquer the sin of pleasure. Prayer to God helps us to conquer the sin of desiring power or control. Almsigiving (without anyone noticing) helps us to conquer the sin of prestige. Lent is a time to call us back to these disciplines and enter our own desert.
Jesus is fasting and praying as he walks in the desert, facing the devil’s temptations, and all the while discerning a new ministry: a total focus on serving (giving alms) to the poor, the outcast, the despised, the disposed. 
In Luke’s Gospel we see a bunch of scenes of Satan trying to regain control of the world by taking away the word of God from people’s hearts.
Luke’s Gospel ties nicely to today’s first reading from Deuteronomy. Each of His temptations was faced by the Hebrew people during their 40-year Exodus in the desert.  They were tempted to believe that God had abandoned them or that they were being punished by God. 
Do we feel that way sometimes as we wander through our own personal deserts?  A closeness to Jesus helps us to conquer this feeling of despair. 
How is the devil tempting us today?  
Truth is some people are uncomfortable talking about the devil.  The concept smacks of ancient superstition for many.  But whether or not you believe in the devil, we can all agree evil is real. 
So, what evil is tempting us today?
Perhaps we need some perspective to see the temptations before us more clearly. 
You’ve heard that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog would jump out immediately and live.
But put a frog into cold water, slowly turn up the heat to boiling and the frog will die.
Isn’t it a little like living in today’s culture?
St. Pope John Paul the Second declared our culture was in a battle between the culture of life and the culture of death.  The challenge for all of us is to choose wisely between good and evil. 
I’m reminded of something I heard on the radio many times over the years.
In my days in broadcast journalism, I was a huge fan of Paul Harvey, both his daily News and Comment, and The Rest of the Story.
One of the greatest honors was meeting and spending time with Paul Harvey on his visit to the KOMO newsroom 30 years ago this year. What a great guy!
He was in town for a special “Salute to America” event at the Fifth Avenue Theater benefitting KOMO.
There’s a picture of our meeting where I look like I’m about 12. It may surprise you, but I had a baby face and bright red hair in my late 20s. Paul Harvey told me he was also a ginger in his youth, too. 
There’s one Paul Harvey broadcast that always stuck with me.
His “If I Were The Devil” broadcast first aired in the mid-1960s, and was updated in the mid-90s.
Here’s what Paul Harvey wrote and broadcast then:
          “If I were the devil … If I were the Prince of Darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness.
          And I’d have a third of its real estate, and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — Thee (You and me).
          So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first — I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.’
          To the young, I would whisper that ‘The Bible is a myth.’ I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what’s bad is good, and what’s good is ‘square.’ And the old, I would teach to pray, after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington…’
          And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d pedal narcotics to whomever I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
          If I were the devil I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
          If I were the devil I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions — just let those run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.
          Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography — soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress.
          And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money.
          If I were the devil I’d make the symbols of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.
          If I were the devil I’d take from those who have, and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And what do you bet? I could get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?
          I would caution against extremes and hard work, in Patriotism, in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on the TV is the way to be.
          In other words, if I were the devil I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.
          Paul Harvey, good day.”
Feeling a little like that frog in the boiling water?
          Powerful, prophetic words from one of the greatest broadcasters of the 20th Century. They first aired over 50 years ago in 1964.  
          Isn’t it amazing how much of what he said has come true. If Paul Harvey were still alive today, what would he add to the list of his “If I Were The Devil” commentary. Excellent food for reflection this Lent.
As we walk through the desert on our own 40 day Lenten journey, what temptations are we facing? What temptations already consume us? What temptations do we say “yes” to instead of “no?”
Temptation always offers an alternative to the perfect love that only comes from God.
It supplants God with worship of idols of our own making. It lulls us into thinking what’s bad is good and what’s good is bad. It warps our souls and brings about death and destruction.
Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg calls, “Lent … a very important time when we are invited to spend these forty days in prayer with Jesus so that we can recognize and reject the presence of evil (in our lives).”
My prayer for us all is that we will open our eyes to these evils that surround us in our culture, and do as Jesus did: respond with a firm “no.”
We can show our adoration of Jesus through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These Lenten practices are the path to salvation, and antidotes to the temptations of pleasure, power and prestige.
Christ shows us today how to effectively rebuke the devil and turn away from his evil ways.
Jesus shows us the way. It’s up to us to follow His example.