Temptation – Lent 1

I’ve always found it a source of comfort that we have our gospel for this morning, the temptation of Jesus, because if in his humanity he was faced with temptation, then it’s ok for me to struggle with mine.

However it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to see the Judean wilderness for myself, that I came to appreciate how difficult the physical wilderness there is.

This limestone desert is well-named Jeshimon- the Wilderness of Desolation.

And it’s a warped and twisted landscape, shimmering with the heat. The rock is scorching to the touch as if there were some vast furnace beneath it. It’s hard to see how anyone, or anything could possibly survive for even one day. Let alone 40 days.

Yet it’s here that many of the Bible’s prophets, including John the Baptist sought solitude.

In today’s gospel we’ve heard how Jesus, guided by the Spirit, went into this wilderness knowing that in this raw, untamed place, he would be alone with God.

Jesus wasn’t the first, and certainly wasn’t the last, to realise that when we need to come to terms with our inner being, when we want to free ourselves from everything that crowds us in and prevents us from being still, then it’s good to withdraw for a time.

Many have been drawn to a wilderness for that very reason. And in our own day, many people still seek out retreats of solitude.

For in the wilderness we’re stripped of all the things that protect us from ourselves and from our mortality. In the wilderness we find God but we also find our demons.

Jesus went to the wilderness to be rid of all the comforts he’d known.

Standing on the brink of the start of his ministry, for forty days and nights he stayed dedicated to the task ahead, the unflinching life of self-giving, the life of obedience even unto death
When John Milton, in his epic poem, Paradise Regained, wrote about the story of Christ’s temptations in the Wilderness, he let his imagination run free.

And if you have a fancy for 17th century poetry, this is a good one for Lent.

At one stage it’s described that Satan is faced with what for him would be for him a disaster, the prospect of Jesus’s life and ministry being a success, as the beloved Son of God, so he calls together a council of demons to work out how best to stop Jesus in his tracks.

The Council rejects a whole series of possible temptations as far too easy for Jesus to detect. The best way of subverting his mission, they conclude, is to tempt Jesus into quick fixes and short cuts. We should pay heed; we’re prone to the same kind of temptations.

First Satan tempts Jesus to use his powers to turn the little limestone rocks that litter the Wilderness into bread.

That doesn’t seem an unreasonable thing to do. Surely there is no harm in using his God-given power to provide food for the hungry?

Didn’t the Lord’s own mother praise the God who “fills the hungry with good things?” and is this not the same Jesus who will transform a boy’s lunch into a meal for 5,000?

But to have done so in these circumstances, Jesus would have been taking gifts he’d been given for the service of others and using them to serve himself.

Jesus countered this by reminding us that food and possessions are not the only things we need to live our lives. ‘One does not live by bread alone’

Next, Jesus battles with the temptation of power.

Seeing all the power and wealth in the world and the enticement to pursue glory and authority, fame and wealth is still attractive today.

There must have been some temptation for Jesus to respond to the evil oppression of the Roman occupation with a show of supernatural force must have been enormous.

Jesus was very aware of the Jewish expectation that God would send his messiah to vindicate his people, to free them from tyranny & the yoke of oppression.

At his Baptism God had confirmed him as his beloved Son- he knew that he was the longed for Messiah, with all that title meant for his own people.

But he refused to use evil to overcome evil.

Instead he chose to confront both religious & state oppression with the ultimate power of His love, the cross.

Finally having been defeated on this front Satan now tries a different approach.

Let’s try a circus act; give people a bit of excitement. No need for a safety net, after all that word of God you’re so fond of quoting says if you’re the Messiah you won’t even stub your foot on one of these stones.

Jesus responds “You shall not put God to the test.”

To test God is to refuse to trust him, to fail to take the risk of true faith in response to his love.

It’s a temptation that is still around. Many want God to perform “magic” and liberate us. This is why there is a hype around certain churches and tele-evangelists who offer the high energy excitement of spectacular so-called miracles

Attracting people, yes, but what’s bringing them is what they can get out of it.

And it is very different from having true faith in God who calls us to be at service for one another.

We are only a few days into this season of wilderness. And if you haven’t started some form of discipline this Lent, it’s not too late.

Lent is a time for self examination and for re-balancing. It’s our time to enter the wilderness so we can be faced with the things that distract us, and separate us and tempt us.

It won’t be easy, facing our demons never are, but this is the task that is put before us, so that we can be strong in our own ministries, strong in our own discipleship, and strong in our own relationship with God.

How are you going to use this time of wilderness?

 

(Image from http://www.gracevine.com/sermon/the-temptation-of-jesus/)

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What is Lent about?

Last Sunday I preached from the Bishops pastoral letter to the diocese which can be found here

I topped and tailed it and tried to encourage people to assess their own lives, like the diocese is doing this Lent, and to think about how we can be the people of God. Below is an extended reflection on the gospel reading from St Luke and what Lent means.

What is Lent about?

I’m starting to get a little tired of being asked what I’ve given up for Lent. I don’t remember being asked so much last year, the idea of giving something up for the sake of it does not make sense. If we take our example from Jesus for these 40 days of Lent then we need to think more deeply about what and why we are doing during this season.

Jesus did not enter the wilderness on a whim. The word used in the gospel is tempt, but the scriptural word also means test. When something is tested it is either found acceptable or unacceptable, up to the job or not. If we think back to the scriptures we find many references to being tested with refiners fire, making something pure, getting rid of all the nasties and impurities, and making something fit for purpose. And for me this is what Lent is about, making us pure, taking us back to who we truly are.

This is also what I think about the temptations Satan put towards Jesus, each of them would have been less than his true self.

We know that Jesus can do great things with food, just look at the feeding of the 5000, or the feeding of the 4000, and we know that he could have turned the stone into bread, but to do so would have been only for his own benefit. It would have been a purely selfish act and when we value ourselves above everyone else, true temptation arises.

It’s so easy to fall into this trap, thinking that it is all about ourselves, that is what our society encourages. We are privileged consumers, focused on our own wants and desires. And for most of us in the UK we have a free choice in most things. We are brought up and conditioned to believe that we are the most important, it’s all about me, because I’m worth it!

Jesus reminds us that there are more important things. We do not live by bread alone, there are more important things then the desires of the flesh, and temptation of the body, there are more important things then gratifying our own desires, then the self. We live in communities, we share our lives with others, and we need to be reminded that it is not about me, it is about us, all of us.

So Jesus stayed true to himself but next Satan tempts him with power, a temptation that trips so many up in the modern world. Jesus is offered the easy route, all gain by ruling the world, and no pain, except that he would be enthralled to Satan and become very much less then himself.

Jesus comes back stating that all worship belongs to God and anything else is meaningless and worthless. In worship we state our priorities, that God comes first. Jesus will later show all people how Gods will and power is made perfect in weakness, especially on the cross. Strength in weakness is something Satan can’t understand, but we know how God works.

Finally Jesus is told to put God to the test, to make God prove his love. “Jump! God’s angels will catch you, if you are the son of God”

Now this is a temptation that we are all guilty of from time to time, testing God. Despite all the evidence, we find it hard to believe that we are loved and worthy of the salvation offered to us. We doubt the offering on the cross, once for all, and struggle with the grace from our God, who loves us so much, he shared our life and death in human form. Satan wants Jesus to put God to the test, to prove that there is nothing God won’t do. Once again, because we are worth it!

Except that Jesus is the proof of Gods love. And we do not need to test God because he has already proven his love and care for us by the sacrifice of the cross. If Jesus were to accept this temptation, he would becoming less then his true self. Jesus is the proof, not the needy recipient.

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”

In declaring this commandment, Jesus is sending Satan a message as well, do not tempt God, do not tempt God in human form, Christ.

Temptations appear attractive, and often lead us to believe that good will come out of them, but actually they put us on the road to nowhere, and they take us away from our true selves. Each of these temptations tries to take Jesus away from his true nature. And it is the same for us, when we are tempted, we are moving away from our true self.

Temptations show us our flaws and our weaknesses, and Lent is a time when we are invited to assess our lives, the whole of our lives, and consider who we are, and who God has called us to be. It’s much more then just giving up chocolate!!! We all have parts of our life that we acknowledge are unhealthy and not worthy of us, and Lent is a time when we enter our own wilderness, and face our temptations head on, of seeing the worst parts of us in the clear light of day. It’s a time of change, a time of growth, a time of reconnecting with God and his vision for us. Lent is a time of focus, and prayer, a time to strip away those luxuries we rely on and those masks we hide behind, and return to depending on God.

Lent is about coming back to who we really are.

Who are you?