Every day as I drive to and from the church I see people dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, waving signs about the people they work for and how they will, for a small fee, do my taxes.
Yep, it’s that time of year again.
Some time back, I read about a person wrote to the Internal Revenue Service and said, "Several years ago, I cheated on my income tax. I can't sleep, I feel so guilty, so I'm sending $25."
Interesting letter! Of course, its ending was particularly interesting. In closing the letter said, "If I find I still can't sleep, I'll send you the balance."
You know, many of us do things in a half-hearted manner. We don't give 100%. We give 50%.
Here is a letter of a fellow who wants to make restitution, but isn't willing to go all the way, but just half-way.
The story is told of a chicken and pig both lived on a farm. One day, the farmer walked into the barnyard and told the animals the family wanted ham and eggs for breakfast, and the farmer asked if there were any volunteers?
The chicken nudged the pig and said, "C'mon, let's volunteer."
The pig said, "No way. It's easy for you to volunteer. From you they want a little contribution. But when they say ham and eggs, for me that means a total commitment."
And it is tough to give total commitment. To anything.
You know what the greatest temptation in life is? It is to do things half-way.
Too many marriages are suffering because one or both of the marriage partners are doing things in a half hearted manner, not giving total commitment.
One of the complaints many people have about American industry, rightly or wrongly, is that workers are not giving 100%. They give less.
In Cub Scouts, the motto is "Do your best!" But for many of us our motto is
"Do good enough to get by."
Now, the greatest tool that the devil has to use with us is to tempt us to follow God. That's right; the devil wants us to follow God -- but ONLY half way.
He doesn't want us to give total commitment to God, knowing that half of a commitment is really NO commitment.
In our New Testament lesson for this morning, Jesus is tempted by the devil. This passage is a familiar passage to many of us and is a traditional passage to read for the first Sunday in Lent.
Take a look at how the devil tempts Jesus. He never comes right out and says, "Turn away from God." What he suggests instead is that Jesus follows God, but only half way.
For example, take a look at the first temptation. Jesus is in the desert, where for forty days he is tempted by the devil. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."
God is concerned with us as a whole, 100%, body and soul. The devil's temptation is for us to be concerned with only half of ourselves. Body, period.
In response, Jesus replies to the devil, "It is written; man does not live by bread alone."
Jesus' response to this temptation, and to all of the devil's temptations, is to use the Word of God as a sword and shield in combating the temptation. What Jesus is doing here is recalling a passage from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3), and the fuller text says, as Jesus quoted it, "Man does not live by bread alone," but the text also continues in the Old Testament passage, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the Mouth of the Lord."
God is concerned with us 100% of the way.
God is concerned about us body and soul.
God wants us to be concerned about our body and soul.
The devil's temptation, however, is for us to go only half way. To be committed only 50% of the way - to be concerned about the body but not the soul.
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells us, (6:25ff) Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them...Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
God knows you have needs for the body, and needs for the soul. God will take care of you 100% if you let him.
The devil, however, wants to tempt us to be concerned with only half of who we are.
How many of us are concerned with just 50% of who we are?
We take care of the body. We buy the best clothes. We buy great tasting food.
And if we don't, we worry about how we can start getting all of these things to provide for the body.
Well, the body is important. St Paul called it the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
But that is just 50% of who we are. How many of us exercise our body regularly but never our soul – never pausing for prayer or Bible readings?
We need to be concerned with 100% of what God created us to be -- body AND soul. The devil would rather us be concerned with just half -- the body.
Another way that the devil tempts us is to give us 50% of the truth and 50% of a lie.
Take a look at the second temptation Jesus endured.
"The devil led him to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will be yours."
The 50% that is true is that Jesus can be given all that authority and splendor.
The 50% that is a lie is that it is the devil's to give. It is not the devil's to give, but God's. And God ends up giving Jesus the very things that the devil promises. As Jesus is ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, "All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."
Also true in this temptation is that Jesus ought to worship. But that again is a 50% truth, with the 50% lie being that Jesus ought to worship the devil.
Again Jesus responds by using a passage of Scripture, "It is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."
Now, the fascinating thing in looking at where Jesus gets that passage is that it comes in an Old Testament text in which God is telling the people about the Promised Land that will someday be theirs. In that passage, God tells them that when He brings them into the land they should look around and see the things in the land. They will see...
... a land full of cities,
--which they did not put there;
... and houses full of things,
--which they did not put there;
--which they did not dig,
--which they did not plant.
Then they are to be careful so they do not forget who gave them this land full of things they did not put there, but that were given to them by God. Then they are to worship God, and only God.
The devil tempts us to go half way, and to take these things God gives us, but not to go all the way and remember that it was God who gave us these things.
The devil tempts us to give 50%, and to worship, but not to worship God.
How many of us accept the things God gives us, but acknowledge that they came from the wrong source?
We take the things God gave us and we say hard work gave it to us.
Or we say, our parents gave it to us.
Or we say, it sure was good luck!
Well, maybe it was good fortune, or the generosity of our parents, or the hard work we put to it, but that is just 50% of the truth. Ultimately, it was God who gave us all we have.
Therefore, we ought to remember this and worship the Lord as the only God.
The third temptation of Jesus takes place when the devil "led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," The devil said, "Throw yourself down from here."
And then in an interesting twist, it is The devil who this time quotes Scripture, as he reminds Christ that the Word of God says, "God will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against stone."
But Jesus stands firm and also recalls Scripture, in which it is said,
"Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
The devil, knowing Scripture very well, tempts Jesus with a part of the Bible.
Jesus, however, knows the whole of Scripture.
This temptation of the 50% is a dangerous thing.
We are called to take care of ourselves body and soul. To care for 100%
of what God created us to be. The devil tempts us to care for only 50% -- ignore the soul, just care for the body.
We are called to worship God. The devil would have us to go 50% of the way and to worship, but to worship material possessions, or to worship evil. God calls us, however, to worship the Lord and only him.
In all of our great temptations, the hardest ones are those in which we are tempted in the right direction, but to stop half way, or to be diverted slightly from 100% of the truth.
Those are the hardest temptations to resist. And the easiest to justify.
St Paul, in his trial toward the end of his life (Acts 24:14) referred to Christians as "followers of the WAY."
He didn't say followers of the half way, but followers of the way.
If you did not follow the Way of Christ 100%, you had to call yourself something besides a follower of the Way. You could not be called a Christian.
The story is told of Alexander the Great, and how he was known to reward soldiers who performed bravely and to punish those who had demonstrated cowardice.
On one occasion, while celebrating a victory with his generals, Alexander's guards dragged a young soldier before him. The man had been charged with deserting his post, and was now to receive Alexander's sentence.
The automatic penalty for such an offense was usually death. But for a reason known only to him, this time Alexander hesitated. He looked down on the young soldier, who was trembling with fear and asked him a simple question.
"Soldier, what is your name?"
"Alexander," the young man replied.
"WHAT did you say?"
"Alexander," repeated the soldier.
In a flash, the great ruler was on the young man, grabbing him by his clothes and pulling him close, looking at him face to face.
"That's my name. I will let you live, but you must either change your conduct, or change your name."
Alexander's point, of course, was that if the soldier was to share his name, he must behave in a manner that was consistent with the ruler's reputation and character.
If we are to bear the name Christian, we too must demonstrate behavior that proves us worthy of that name, giving 100% of ourselves to God.
If we yield to the devil's temptation to give 50% to God, we'd better find a new name -- because a Christian is a follower of Christ's Way, not a follower of the half way.
Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
Ministers may use all or part of this sermon in their own ministries.