Matthew 4:1-11

Temptations Will Come

By Fr. Bill Wigmore

(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)

For the next forty days we’re into what the Church calls:
the Season of Lent.

It starts on Ash Wednesday,
when ashes are rubbed on foreheads
and we’re reminded that “we are dust – and to dust we will return”

And Lent lasts through Easter Sunday –
the day we’re reminded that for some reason known only to God –
God loves our human dust more than we humans can possibly imagine.

Best they can figure it, Lent started around the 4th or 5th century
when spiritually Christians were starting to get a little fat & lazy –

So they decided to set aside 40 days to do some heavy prayer & fasting.
It was sort of like spiritual boot camp to get people ready for the miracle of Easter.

For addicts, Lent’s a season when we take our own inventory –
When we go inside and take a good hard look at our character defects.

And tonight, we start that season off
by remembering the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness.

Now if you were in treatment for 30 days –
and if you spent another week or so in detox –
then, Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness might sound somewhat familiar.

I know for me, treatment was the first time I ever got really honest –
honest not only about my drinking –
but about a lot of other things in my life too.

It was also the first time I came face to face with some of my own demons
and didn’t cut and run from the fight.

And I can’t tell you that I ever saw the devil, and even now,
I don’t know whether or not devils really exist.
But I do know that when I was in treatment,
I heard somebody whispering a lot of lies in my ear.
And whoever that was, he didn’t quit whispering and lying to me
once my 40 days were over.

I had a friend in early recovery who gave me a little book titled:
Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities. It was abbreviated as:
O. D. A. P. – ODAP for short.

And in this book, ODAP was the name of the devil
personally assigned by Satan
to try to snag us alcoholics & addicts.

Over the years, I think a lot of us here have received more than
a few sales-calls from ODAP –

And some of us here probably helped him make salesman of the month a few times!

ODAP was and he still is a clever little devil –
He knows just when and where to tell us the lies we want to hear.

Maybe you’ve already heard him whispering some things to you.
Things like:

● “One drink’s not gonna hurt you.”

● Or: “You don’t need to go to all those stupid meetings – Remember: Easy Does It, man!”

● Or how about: “It’s OK to have a few drinks – After all, you’re not really an alkie,
you’re just a cute little dope-fiend!”

If you haven’t heard ODAP talking to you yet – then just wait –
he will show up; and that’s a promise!

But be prepared for something very strange to happen when he visits you.
Know that when he comes –
the insane and crazy thoughts that he’ll whisper in your ear –
somehow they’re gonna make sense to you when you hear him saying them.

ODAP knows how to read our minds –
and he knows that as addicts,
there’s one sick thought that we all share:
And that’s the thought that: someday, someway,
we’re gonna be able to drink or use again without getting
ourselves dragged down to hell in the process.

That thought will stay with us until we turn to dust –
and even then, our dust might have a tendency to blow itself
down to some bar or under the door of the crack house!

● As alcoholics and addicts the Big Book says we’re engaged in a kind of spiritual warfare.

● It says that in order to stay alive, our only hope is in the maintenance of a spiritual connection to God.

● And so tonight’s gospel about overcoming the devil in us and strengthening our connection to God might be an important lesson for all of us to hear.

The first thing to notice is that this gospel story comes right after Jesus is baptized in the Jordan.

And that moment in the Jordan represents Jesus’ spiritual awakening – It’s when Jesus hears the Father say to him:
“This is my son – this is my beloved.”

Matthew’s gospel says that at the moment of his baptism,
God sends his Spirit into Jesus –
and Jesus is open to it – he receives it – and it fills him.

And now take a look at what happens next!
Matthew says that right after that, the same Spirit guides Jesus out into the desert.
No sooner does he hear the Father’s beautiful words –
No sooner is he filled with God’s Spirit –
Then that same Spirit sends Jesus out into the wilderness to face himself
and to see what he’s really made of.

When it comes to God and the human ego
there seem to be some very tough spiritual laws
that we need to understand if we want to stay clean & sober.
And the law here is that both God and nature hate a vacuum.
Give up drinking and drugging – and something is going to step in to take its place.

Most of us arrive here in treatment pretty well beat up –
emotionally bleeding and hurting real bad. Our egos have been beaten down –
All the air’s been sucked out of our balloon-inflated-egos.
We got humbled –and we’re crawling along on empty.

And so we turned to God and we said,
“God help me! I’ve lost it all and I’ve got nowhere else to turn!”

And God does help. He does his part.
He gets us here and he gets us sober.

And we need to remember back to what all of that felt like –
Remember the pain –
Remember the degree of willingness that pain produced
when we had all the ego-stuffing knocked out of us.

Just like that guy in the book I remember saying, “I’m willing to do anything!”
And I meant it with all my heart!

But then, not unlike Jesus in this story, we start to fill up.
We fill up with food,
and we fill up with trips to the clothes closet,
and we fill up with time under our belts in recovery.
And if that’s the extent of our change,
then we can fill right back up with some new forms of inflated ego.

And when we do, then over time,
that sense of desperation and that sense of willingness
that we once had, they start to leave us.
We look around and we start to see things –
things that maybe don’t quite agree with our new, inflating sense of self.

● We look at our room-mate – and ODAP whispers in our ears,
“God, where did that jerk come from? Snores like a pig!”

● And we look at the food we’re served in the cafeteria –
and ODAP whispers, “Mystery meat! I ain’t eatin’ this sh—
stuff again!”

The book says, “We start to feel restless, irritable and discontented.”

But not for long!
Cause pretty soon ODAP’s whispering plans for how we can get rid of those feelings.

He reminds us of the other stuff – the stuff that makes us feel really, really good.
You remember it!
We’ll never, ever forget that stuff – and how it felt – and what it did for us –
And if we do forget, then ODAP will always be there to remind us.

In tonight’s story, the devil tempts Jesus three times.
And when he tempts him – listen to what he says:
He says, “If you’re really God’s son.”
“If God’s really your Father – then do this!”

The devil knows that he can beat us but he can’t beat God.
And so the first thing he tests is our new-found-connection to God.

● Do we really believe we’re God’s children?

● Do we really believe that God’s our loving and protecting Father?

● The Big Book says, “God’s either everything to us or he’s nothing.”

● God’s either our Father, and our Director, and our Principal – or else we’re really still the ones that are large & in charge.

● And if we’re large & in charge – then ODAP has a new customer to call on – and he’s very likely to make a sale.

Now it’s interesting to notice the way Jesus answers the devil’s temptations.
Jesus never once tries to come up with his own clever and original answers
to the devil’s questions.
He never once tries to rely on his own power.

Jesus always quotes God’s very own words from scripture back to the devil.
He doesn’t rely on his own words or his own strength to meet temptation – he relies on God.
And so the spiritual lesson here for us is obvious –

If we go up against our illness and the temptations that go along with it – if we go up against them by ourselves – then we’re going to lose.
If it’s me alone fighting against my addiction, then go right ahead and bet on my addiction – cause it’ll win every time.

But the book says that while lack of power is our dilemma –
“There is one who has all power – that One it says is God
– and it strongly encourages us to find him now.”

And so what are the three temptations the devil offers Jesus?
“If you’re really God’s kid,” the devil says, “then turn these stones into bread.”
And that’s our temptation to materialism – the temptation to put our trust not in God but in things.

I’ve seen a lot of alcoholics and addicts get sober and then start running after money and they’re out buying things as quick as they can.
Pretty soon they’re working two jobs and doing a ton of overtime – and before long, those things they’re chasing are more important than the sobriety they’re barely hanging on to.
And so they fall. The psalm says: “Ten thousand will fall at your right hand.”
They’re drained of God’s spirit and ODAP wins another round.

Second temptation: “If you’re really God’s kid,” the devil says, “then let me show you all the kingdoms of the world.
They’re all mine and I can give them to you if you want.”
And that’s our temptation to choose power instead of choosing God.

Alcoholics and addicts, we’re all pretty good manipulators and most of us are power-hungry.
I’ve never met an addict who didn’t have, as we like to call them: “authority issues.”
The book says “defiance” is one of our main characteristics.
We’ve had our turn at defying society, and the law, and if you look real close we’ve been pretty good at defying God too.
Rules and laws – spiritual and otherwise – they’re fine for other people they just don’t apply to me.

Someday, just for fun – sit outside the Northland AA Group and watch the alcoholics coming out of that meeting.
They get into their cars and when they go down the hill and get out to the street,
there’s a great big sign that says: “NO LEFT TURN.”
Watch how many addicts go and turn left anyway.

Laws are good – they’re very good for other people – but they don’t apply to us!
And that’s an ego that got inflated again right after it’s been to a meeting!

And then the last temptation is maybe the trickiest one of all.
The devil takes Jesus right to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and he says, “If you’re really God’s kid, then jump off from here.”

So now here the devil himself quoting scripture and he says,

“For it’s written that God will take care of you,

he’ll send his angels to catch you when you fall

so you won’t even stub your toe on a stone.”

And this is the temptation to think of our selves as special and it’s a real killer!

Sometime the devil’s thoughts can even sound like special God-thoughts.
I remember ODAP quoting a little scripture to me once.
He quoted what was always my very favorite Bible passage: “Take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake!”

I know addicts who can quote scripture
and say, “Jesus” & “Praise the Lord” a thousand times a day.

And somehow they think that by doing that – by going through the motions of religion – they’ve got a hold of recovery.
These people are usually some of the quickest to judge and to condemn others.

They see the speck in their brother’s eye and they love to tell him all about it,
but they won’t look for the plank that’s stuck in their own.

ODAP is cunning, baffling and powerful; without God’s help he’s too much for us.

So this Lent let’s be especially attentive to the cunning, baffling and powerful parts of our addictions.
Let’s even consider giving up thinking for lent!

Instead of thinking / let’s focus on staying connected to God and just doing the next right thing –
Let’s go read the Book, or call a sponsor, or say a prayer, or go to a meeting.
And when we come out of that meeting – let’s obey the no left turn signs –

And if we want quality sobriety – and if we’ve got a car –
let’s try never going over the speed limit for a whole year.

Imagine a law that actually applies to us!
It might do wonders for our humility and help keep our egos from inflating and killing us.
And then maybe we’ll come to understand the truth that’s written in tonight’s psalm.

For us, the alcoholic/addict version of that psalm might go something like this:

“A thousand addicts may fall at your side,
ten thousand may OD & die at your right hand;
but ODAP’s power will not come near you.

Because you’ve made the LORD your Higher Power and your refuge,
And because you’ve made His program your home,
no relapse will befall you,
no booze or dope will come near your house.
For the LORD will give his angels and his sponsors charge over you,
to guard you and to guide you in your recovery.

On their hands they will bear you up, and take you to meetings,
and pull you back from the using edge – lest you dash your foot against a stone –
or stumble on a rock of cocaine!”

Lent reminds us that we’ll all be returning to dust someday –
but if we stay clean & sober
then we won’t be arriving at the dust bin
any time ahead of schedule.

Copyright 2006 Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.