top of page

1st Sunday in Lent - 2023a

First Lesson - Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 

Second Lesson - Matthew 4:1-11


Your Last Breath 


INTRODUCTION: In 1988, a young  woman named Tracy Chapman released her first album.


With her deep, soulful voice, the first song released from her debut album quickly became a huge hit. The song, called “Fast Car,” tells the story of a young working woman trying to escape a dreary, poverty drenched life along with her lover. Says the woman at the start of the song, 


 You got a fast car

I want a ticket to anywhere

Maybe we make a deal

Maybe together we can get somewhere

Anyplace is better

Starting from zero got nothing to lose


Propelled by the song, Chapman’s debut album went on to sell over 20 million copies. Back in the day when people still bought CDs from record stores, that was no small feat. 


Of course, as you might imagine, when Chapman got around to releasing her second album a few years later, she was naturally a bit introspective. 


After non-stop touring, a bank account now bursting at the seams, and world-wide fame, Chapman had a lot of people whispering in her ear when it came to her second album and what it needed to look and sound like. 


With the wild success of her first album, there was pressure from her label, handlers, and probably even fans, to stay the course and to not stray too far from the formula that had been so successful the first time.    But Chapman was in no mood for such timidity on her new album.


In the first song off her second album, called “Crossroads,” Chapman sang of the fight to remain steadfast and true to herself:   


All you folks think you run my life

Say I should be willing to compromise

I say all you demons go back to hell


And still at another point she offers some pretty striking imagery that is even more religious in tone:


Some say the devil be a mystical thing

I say the devil he a walking man

He a fool he a liar conjurer and thief

He try to tell you what you want

Try to tell you what you need.


Clearly, for Chapman, her struggles and temptations had taken on a religious quality. For her, those voices and forces pushing her to compromise on her second album had an almost sinister nature to them.


The choices before her were more than just that - they were more than just mere choices. They were choices and decisions that would have important ramifications for the rest of her life.


ONE: Well, Jesus in his own way also knew a little something about the devil being a conjurer and thief, didn’t he?


With his hair not even dry yet from his baptism, Jesus is promptly driven out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.


After fasting for forty days and nights, Old Scratch shows up to see if he can’t capitalize on Jesus’ weakened state. While each temptation offered is unique, all three have the same basic aim. The goal, in short, is to get Jesus as the Son of God to misuse his power. 


The devil begins, “Say there, Mr. Jesus. You gotta be hungry at this point. Why not turn some of these stones lying around on the ground into bread?” But Jesus, even with his stomach growling, refuses to misuse his power for his own personal gain and benefit.


Rebuffed, the Devil then moves to his second option. “Say there, Mr. Jesus. If you’re really God’s Son, prove it. Jump from the top of the Empire State building so the big guy will be forced to rescue you.” The second temptation is for Jesus to use his status as God’s Son to ensure his safety and security. 


And then, finally, after being refused a second time, the Devil makes one last ditch effort. “Say there, Mr. Jesus. All the world, its kingdoms, splendors, and wealth, can be yours if you’ll just drop to a knee before me.” But for a third and final time, Jesus refuses - he refuses to use his power as a way to amass worldly esteem and privilege. 


So Jesus also knew. He knew about the Devil being a liar and conjurer who likes to “try to tell you what you want, try to tell you what you need.”


TWO: Many years ago now, Peter Gomes, the former chaplain at Harvard, wrote this book called The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart. 


In one of the chapters, he discusses the issue of temptation from what, I think, is an interesting perspective. You see, for Gomes, temptations, in whatever form they might take, well, they are actually the byproduct of seeking to be faithful to God and God’s wishes for the world.


Anytime we seek to live for God, in other words, we are just naturally going to find ourselves bumping into temptation. For the world, after all, is replete with alluring voices and sundry temptations seeking to draw us away from God. While hardly an evil place, the world is also far from being perfect either. And because of that, temptations are always out there milling about looking for the chance to strike.   


Peter Gomes puts it this way when writing, “The nearer one lives in proximity to God, contrary to our expectations, the greater the influence of temptation...temptations in some very real sense are the consequences of a life set apart for goodness and God’s will.”           


Perhaps that helps explain why Jesus, immediately after his baptism in Matthew’s Gospel, so quickly finds himself facing all those temptations in the wilderness. For with his baptism, that life set aside for God’s will was officially begun and it was only natural then for the temptations to start flowing. 


So do you see how, in a funny sort of way, temptations are actually a sign of faith? Normally, we’re quick to think having to deal with temptations is a sign of weak faith, as if we wouldn’t have these problems and struggles to face if our faith was only strong enough. But it turns out dealing with temptation is more the result of actually having faith than not. 


For “the nearer one lives in proximity to God,” the more temptation becomes an issue. 


THREE: Centuries ago a man named Anthony set out to live in the deserts of Egypt.


Taking Jesus’ counsel literally that perfection was to be found in selling all his possessions, Anthony gave away the family land he had inherited, dropped his sister into a convent, and headed off into the Western Desert, about 60 miles outside of Alexandria. 


But a funny thing happened to Anthony on his way to the desert. As legend has it, he soon found himself facing various challenges and temptations from the Devil and other supernatural forces. 


Among other things, the Devil sought to afflict Anthony with things like boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women in hopes of diverting him from his task.


One story claims that while Anthony was traveling in the desert he came across a plate of silver coins. Wondering why such a plate would be in the middle of the desert, he quickly realized the Devil must have put it there. “Ha! Devil,” Anthony is said to have exclaimed, “thou weenest to tempt me and deceive me, but it shall not be in thy power.” And with that the plate of silver coins disappeared.


Still later as he walked Anthony then came upon a plate of gold coins as an even greater enticement. Throwing the coins into a fire, they too quickly vanished just like the silver did earlier. 


No wonder Anthony eventually became known as Saint Anthony the Great and is reported to have said at one point during his life in the desert, “Expect temptation with your last breath.” For he too seemed to understand that temptations were actually the byproduct of any life set apart for God.


One temptation after another was set before him during his journey. And all of it, because he was seeking to live in closer proximity to God.


CONCLUSION: Of course, we don’t have to be a monk trying to live in the desert to experience temptation, do we? 


For temptation is always around for those seeking to live for God and God’s wishes. Whether in a desert cave, a humble hut in a village, a small city, or a bustling urban center, temptation is sure to find us.


So don’t worry too much if you feel like you are especially inundated with temptations. That hardly means your faith is weak, as some might want to suggest. 


Shoot, near as I can figure, having to deal with temptations actually means just the opposite. It means you’re likely doing a pretty good job of trying to live for God.


And if that's the case, well, you can probably expect temptation right up until your last breath.


And now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

bottom of page