Feedback on Genesis 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11from CM for DPE
February 17, 2002
"Don't Blame the Snake"
General Response: This is a strong sermon. Personal responsibility is such a timely ethical and spiritual issue. You make that point very well.
I also very much applaud your presentation of Matthew's temptation account, taking in the perspectives from the baptism and the cross, talking about the stakes involved and about the possibility of Jesus making a different choice. There is a lot to think about here.
Thought 1: I think I might spend a bit more time dealing with the defensive steps we can take once we allow that it is we ourselves, and not some projected outside force, who are responsible. About midway through the sermon, I'm feeling really bad about myself and saying "Uncle!" My big question then is, "So now that I've accepted responsibility, what in the world am I supposed to do? How do I train for this? What all is involved?
Your section on "Making Good Choices" comes as a relief, but I might explore this topic further. You mention "thinking for yourself" as a central quality, and I think the basically intellectual component of "thinking" is important. But there are others that are probably equally important to us. These include courage, strength, loyalty to God, having a vision beyond self, maintaining mental health, and having compassion for those whom your actions will affect. I think Jesus developed all of these qualities to a very high level in his life, and all helped him pass the test. We need to develop such qualities ourselves. It's a lifelong project.
You do mention Jesus' responses to his own temptation as being good models for us, but this part seems brief. This probably all belongs in another sermon, but at least some hint beyond the intellectual framework of thinking for yourself and into the greater universe of character development would give me more of a map to a solution as I'm sitting in the pew saying "Uncle."
Thought 2: These are a couple of additional illustrations of temptation from this week's news. May or may not be useful.
ILLUSTRATION 1: An Olympic skating judge suspected of tilting the Gold Medal to the side of the less deserving pair is described by a superior as "good" and "upright" but "fragile." Because of this collection of qualities, she may have "yielded to pressure."
QUESTION: In the face of temptation, what good is goodness without strength and courage? And for us, how do we as a Christian community train ourselves in strength and courage, in mental health and in general character?
ILLUSTRATION 2: Sharon Watkins is emerging as the hero whistle-blower of the Enron scandal. The letter she sent to Ken Lay was courageous, and it was motivated by ethical concerns. She is a committed Christian (a member of 1st Presbyterian, I think) and people who know her in that community are not surprised by her forthrightness. She is no wimpy skating judge.
Even so, the critics are saying in the papers today that she could have done even better. As a CPA, perhaps she was professionally bound to have gone outside the company early on with her concerns. She did what she thought was right. She thought that dealing with the problems internally was the proper way. But she was surrounded at Enron by a deceit far more widespread and entrenched than she imagined. If she had only known, what might she have done then?
QUESTION: Satan is known as the deceiver. Being good and being courageous are necessary. But being wily and wise and wary is also necessary in dealing with temptation. This seems to me like quite an advanced skill. How do we, the lamb-like Christians that we are, develop such wiliness? Is this part beyond human ability? Is this part required of us also? The stories of Jesus show him again and again having just these kinds of smarts.