What is the most powerful two letter word in the devil’s arsenal?

“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that God put in the garden…”  With that little segue we are introduced to the tester, the great tempter of hearts in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The story tells us that the serpent is not the most powerful, the strongest, nor the smartest of the animals.  But he is the most cunning.

And so you’re going to hear in this story of Adam and Eve, how he works, how he uses that cunning.  He never directly tempts Adam and Eve, nor Jesus.  He never says deny God.  He never does a frontal attack.  But what he does do is introduce the most poisonous emotion to any relationship – doubt.  Doubt.  That’s how he tempts Adam and Eve. That’s how he tempts Jesus.  And that is how he will tempt us…

In the garden, you can see the conversation.  “Nice tree.  Good branches.  And look at that fruit, would you.  Wouldn’t you like to sink your teeth into that.”  Of course, Eve is too smart to be fooled by that direct approach.  But that is just the set up.  Here is the line that gets Eve and then Adam…  “Did God REALLY say you can’t do this?  I mean, did he really say that, or he trying to hide some power from you?” And it that instant, the seed of doubt is planted.  In that moment, sin becomes possible, for doubt has entered in…

Fast forward some 2,000 years.  The devil knows he has a more formidable opponent in Jesus.  He knows the direct approach will never work – but the cunning approach has a chance.  So he uses his best word.  That most cunning word.  “IF”.    Using that word is like hockey players dropping the gloves, only he’s dropping that IF-bomb in front of the human will.  “What do you mean, IF?” the will says.  “Of course that’s the case.”  And the battle is engaged.

IF you are the Son of God”, and you can hear the sarcasm dripping from his voice.  You really don’t believe it, do you?  That experience you had at the baptism – the sky opening, the dove descending – a momentary delusion brought on by the hot sun.  But, if you want to believe that, then you need to test it, you need to try it out, you need to be SURE it is true…  Turn stones to bread, throw yourself down, rule the world with power, because IF you really are the Son, then God will be happy to do that for you…and that is really what it means to be the Son of God – not the way you have in mind…

That’s how he tempts Jesus, and us – with that most dangerous two letter word –IF.  “IF you really are a baptized, beloved son or daughter of God – then you have certain permissions; certain things that you can pull off – because that is what it means to be beloved.  Those traditional Lenten practices – YOU don’t need them.  Fasting?  That is dieting for amateurs.  Almsgiving – sure it is important, and the people in Japan are really going to need it.  But, IF you love your kids as well, make sure that you have that college fund built up.  Prayer – ah, God knows what you need even before you ask it. If you really are as close to God as you feel you are, then a few minutes checking in at the beginning and end of the day will suffice.

It is never the direct assault that gets you – the obvious temptation to possessions or control or security.  It is the cunning moment of doubt that gets us/me the best. The temptation is in how you fill in the rest of that sentence.  “If you really are the director of the Newman Center… If you are a GOOD director …then they need you there 24-7.  If you are there all the time, then those who rely upon your help will have you there and present and you’ll make a difference in their lives…  And I am tempted to believe that it is all up to me…and to not rely upon the Father for my daily bread.  It is his best word and he will say it everyone:  IF you are…

This week, the scriptures invite us to look at how we are tempted – how we might want to fill in the sentence that the most cunning of all the animals wants to feed us with.  IF you are..-

  • If you are a college student, (and an Irish one at that) then it’s okay to really celebrate St. Patty’s day, because that’s what it means to be a good Irish college student. ***
  • If you are a good student teacher, then those lesson plans need to be perfect, even if it means that the rest of your life is completely out of balance.
  • If you are really in love with them, then it is okay to express that physically and sexually, without any boundaries.
  • IF, IF IF…    (*** see below for St. Ann examples…)

Beware of that most dangerous word the devil will use on you – and take a lesson from Jesus on how to respond:  I am God’s son and I will always be focused only on the Father’s will.


  • If you are a senior member of the congregation, all you need do is put your envelope into the collection basket.  You’ve done your time, your volunteering. It’s time for someone else…
  • If you are a good parent, then you better lay down that law with your kids really strictly, make sure they know WHO is Boss, cause otherwise, they might do all kinds of bad stuff…

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