How many of us can remember Geraldine Wilson, the feminine alter ego and alleged sister of comedian Flip Wilson. If my memory serves me well, every week during the late sixties, at some point, Geraldine would make an appearance on The Flip Wilson Show. And every week, Geraldine, the wife of a pastor, would spin her tale of how the Devil got her into trouble once again. One week the devil made her buy a new outfit. Her monologue must have gone on for at least three minutes. I remember her telling the audience how she had NO intention of buying a new outfit, but as she was walking to the grocery store she of course had to walk by the dress shop. There in the dress shop window was a wonderful dress that she just knew she could not buy. This is when the devil snuck up behind her and started tempting her. But she told him, “ be gone Satan!” But the Devil insisted. He talked her into going in the store, into trying on the dress, and finally into buying the dress. All the while, Geraldine insisted she fought hard, but as always, the Devil won out. Then the monologue ended, just the way it began, “you see, the Devil, MADE ME do it!”
It seems over time, the Devil made Geraldine do many things, my favorite was smashing her car into a police cruiser.
Like Geraldine, the Devil makes us do many things we do not want to do, only we don’t blame the Devil, as Episcopalians we just give into temptation. The same temptations the Devil has lured us with since the beginning of time.
In today’s reading from Genesis, we again heard the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. How God created a paradise for Adam and Eve to live in, filled this paradise with lush greenery and fruiting plants from which to eat. The only command God gave the two was not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now God placed this tree in the middle of the garden and filled its branches with a most beautiful and alluring fruit, which I am sure made it hard for Adam and Eve to resist. But somehow they did, that is until the serpent, Satan, the Devil, found Eve and lured her to the tree and entreated her to eat the forbidden fruit. At first, Eve, like Geraldine, was able to resist the temptations of the Devil. But, as we know, the Devil does not give up easily, and he continued to beguile her until finally he tempted her with an offer she could not refuse. “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”
Who does not want to be like God? Being a God means having power, control of the elements and the ability to take command of all of humanity. But this is not what Satan promised Eve. Instead, he merely promised Eve that she would be like God in one way and one way only, she too would have the knowledge, the ability to know both evil and good. The knowledge gained, however,was not through a magical transformation, but by eating the forbidden fruit, which caused both Adam and Eve to participate in evil itself by disobeying God.
For several millennia, Satan has used the same tactics to lure humanity away from God. In today’s Gospel, we find Satan is and was so bold that he even tries to tempt the Son of God. And look, he is using the same basic sales pitch he used with Adam and Eve, “follow me and I will give you riches, temporal power, and make you like God.” I suspect Satan figured after forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus was an easy mark.
But Jesus was not such an easy mark, even in his weakened state, because Jesus knew the one thing Satan never tells us, power, wealth and dominion are not Satan’s to give, for all of creation is God’s and God’s alone.
It is not wealth, power or even prestige that can make us happy or even whole. If this were the case there would be far fewer Hollywood Actor’s filling the void of their empty lives with big houses and drugs. If wealth and fame brought fulfillment, then Justin Bieber, Amanda Bynes and the countless other young actors of Hollywood would not have found the trouble they always seem to find. If money brings happiness, then why has the Lottery ruined so many lives?
Adam and Eve, after eating the forbidden fruit, discover being like God means being separated from God. The result of their disobedience not only costs them their ability to live in the Garden of Eden, but their relationship with God as well. Jesus already knew Satan’s gifts come at too great a cost. He knew there was nothing Satan could offer him that would compare with his being in one accord with the Father.
Each of us in some way seeks to feel happy, fulfilled, or whole. Each day the world tells us we can find these things somehow packaged in a box or a bottle. That, the secret to finding happiness has to do with eternal youth, a mountain of possessions or in purchasing the magic ticket. Much of what the world offers can and does help alleviate many of the stressors we deal with each day, but they are just band aids, like all the solutions the world can offer, they only relieve the stress and the emptiness for a moment.
It is only God who can heal the broken soul, it is only God who can fully fill the void in our lives and it is only God who can make us whole.
So as we journey through these forty days of Lent, don’t be like Geraldine, who seems to spend more time speaking with and being tempted by the Devil than with God. Instead, be resilient to temptation by setting your heart in the hands of God, and know, only God can offer what we truly seek.