The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - March 5, 2017
Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:15-17, Matthew 4:1-11
Sermon Title: Temptation

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     We have Direct TV for our television.  We have talked about cutting the cable, so to speak, but I like to flip on the news.  Yes, I know that I can watch it through the internet, but one button at a certain time and there it is, rather than going to their website or downloading their app.  And there are a few things that I can see on regular TV that I cannot watch through the internet, although those things are pretty slim at this point. 

     Direct TV, when we got it installed about 7 years ago, gave me a list of channels.  Now when I was growing up we had 5 channels, and we had to turn the antenna depending on which one we wanted to watch.  When I went to college I think we only got 2 or 3, but I also remember that around midnight they would play the national anthem and then shut off the station.  You may remember you would just get that color chart line thing, or static.  In seminary we had about 8 channels, and when I moved to Michigan I purchased cable TV.  Wow, I had like 50 channels.  It was crazy.  And then the list that I got from Direct TV.  It probably has 400 channels.  They have all these music channels, which I donít watch/ or listen to.  They also have a lot of pay per view channels.  And I donít buy all the highest tier of TV, so HBO, Cinemax, and all those mostly movie channels I donít watch.  But this still leaves probably 200 channels for me to watch.

     In addition to all your normal channels, there are maybe 50 or more that are just advertisements.  Not like QVC, or the Home Shopping Network, but just little half hour ads.  I am sure if you have cable or satellite you have seen them.  About once a year I get bored and I go through all the channels.  This was suggested by the guy who installed the system.  He said that sometimes if you go through all the channels you will find something that you never watched which is cool.  As I scroll through I watch a tiny bit of these advertisement channels.  Now I donít think I could actually watch 30 minutes of advertising, followed by 30 minutes of advertising, followed by more advertising, but I do pause on some of them.  Have any of you seen ďMy Pillow.Ē  Mike Lindell makes them in Wisconsin, took years to develop.  You can see his patented fill and how it works.  $95 for two, with the promo code you can get by watching one of his commercials.  It is, according to Mike and testimonials, the best pillow you will ever own. 

     But they are not the only one making claims, Sleep Number claims 10 million lives improved.  And have you seen that Flex seal?  You can build an airboat with a screen bottom, cover it with flex seal and even after a day on the water, it is still dry inside.  Amazing.  The Copper Chef, you can melt a plastic cup on that, or burn cheese and it just slides right off.  And the Miracle cushion, has the little cut out for your tailbone so no more back pain or leg pain from those nerves being pinched off. 

     Have you heard about addressable advertising?  On line this has been happening for some time.  You visit a website, look at ladders and then for two weeks after that every website you visit has an ad for ladders?  Now they have figured out how to do that on TV.  You and I can be watching the same TV show, but somehow, I donít know how, they will know me or at least my household, and I will see a different ad then you will. 

     Marketing has become highly sophisticated.  Who has not wanted to sleep better at night.  Who has not gotten frustrated trying to get your pillow just right, and so Mike spends years developing a better pillow, and maybe it is better.  Who has not burned something in a pan, and spent a long time trying to get it clean.  Wow, you can burn cheese on this pan and it just slides right off.

     It is a formula that many use today, they make you feel inadequate and then sell you the product that solves that.  Jeep just came out with one, where they have a bunch of SUVís lined up on a lake or something covered with snow.  They all pull out, spinning their wheels, and then eventually you only see the jeep plowing through the snow.  OK, I have one of those other SUVís.  It does not have ďsnow modeĒ and I have never gotten stuck.  I donít drive over an unplowed lake with it, and I donít plan to.  But after watching it, my SUV is not as good as that one. 

     And it is that temptation that is at the center of our lessons this morning.  The story of Adam and Eve is familiar to us.  Here are Adam and Eve, living lives of peace and plenty in a garden created by God and given to them to till, tend, and enjoy. Yet even in this paradise they are incomplete, insufficient, and ultimately insecure. It is this insecurity that the serpent plays upon, calling into question the fundamental trustworthiness of God their creator. "God has not told you everything," the serpent suggests. "Completeness, wholeness, self-sufficiency, mastery -- these are within your grasp." And by naming their incompleteness, the serpent makes it manifest, drawing their attention to their want, their lack.
Pascal, the seventeenth-century French philosopher, spoke of the condition of being human as one of having a hole, what he called a "God-shaped hole." He did not see this as a flaw, however, but rather as the means by which God keeps us tethered to our life-giving relationship with God.

     The Genesis narrative indicates that before there is "original sin" there is what some would call "original insecurity." Adam and Eve are tempted to overcome that original insecurity not through their relationship with God but through the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, fruit that in that moment looks to be shaped just like their hole.

     At the heart of the temptation of Jesus rests the same insinuation that God is not trustworthy. "If you are the Son of God," the tempter begins. This "if" calls Jesus' relationship to God into question and suggests that he could and should establish himself on his own terms.

     The question for us becomes: what things present themselves as perfectly shaped to fill our own God-shaped hole? What things, that is, are we tempted to look to in hope of eliminating the "original insecurity" that is also within us.

     Jesus shows us the key to resisting temptation is by finding our identity in our relationship with God. And I think there's something to that. As we remember that in Baptism God confers upon us our essential identity as beloved children, we may be less likely to succumb to the various pressures that seek to tempt us -- like Adam and Eve --  or to define ourselves in terms of what we have or do not have.

     Of course, this is easier to say than to do and that is why advertising today is so effective.  Often it is portrayed as a lifestyle that a particular product will give you.  I have not purchased many things from TV. About 18 years ago I purchased a computer from an ad on TV.  This was the coolest computer ever.  A desk top, with a big screen.  It came with CDís full of software, and even had a voice recognition program, you could speak and it would understand your voice.  You could type without using your fingers.  It had speakers, and a super-fast 56K modem. 

     And I think this was advertised on TV in about a half hour program, but not on a specific shopping channel.  They showed kids writing papers without needing to type.  How cool would that be for sermons?  They showed adults using the whole encyclopedia, all compressed onto one CD.  And then of course, you could use email.  With that super fast modem, they showed full pages of text with pictures downloading, much faster than I had ever seen before.  Of course, if you remember those days, I bought internet at 10 hours a month, so if I could download things faster I could see more in my 10 hours. 

     It sold me a digital paradise lifestyle.  The whole family, which at that point was just my wife and I, but might include kids someday, sitting around the desktop working and learning together.

     For me, that God shaped hole appeared at that moment to be this computer.  And of course, it was not. 

     I am a child of God.  Unfortunately for me that hole of insecurity I often try to fill by things that are not God.  It is easy for others to point out that hole to me, any commercial, even anotherís lifestyle which I do not have.  It all comes rushing in.  Am I good enough, am I smart enough?  Will this cream or this pill or even a good night of sleep on this pillow or this bed fill me?  No, I am a child of God, and that is what I need to fill that hole.  I need to be reminded of it.  Jesus was asked to prove that he was the son of God. 

     Our tempter is different today, but still happens.  We are still temped, and it is when we identify ourselves as ones already loved by God, then we are able to rise above those empty temptations and find true fulfillment.