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/)

Sermon Lent 1 22/02/15

Mark 1. 9-15

Earlier this week I received a text from a friend of mine in Wales saying that she’s seen her first lamb of this year. It may not quite feel like it yet, but the seasons are changing yet again and before long we will clearly see the signs of new life telling us that winter is behind us and new life is preparing to show itself. If we look closely we can see the early signs of this for ourselves, it’s lighter in the evenings and some of the spring bulbs are shooting, or they were in my garden until my dog decided to dig them up!

As we progress down the weeks, these signs will become more tangible as new colours, songs, life and warmth enter our world. This all sounds really lovely, but we mustn’t forget that with new birth of spring will come the violence of storm clouds to fill the rivers and water the land and the pain of child birth as new creatures are born.

Spring and new life means turmoil, and disorder.

Lent is the church’s spring.

It is the time for us to prepare and show those early signs before we are reborn in the gentleness and violence of new life in Christ.

New beginnings are exciting. It was six months ago last weekend I ‘officially’ started working in the Abbey, that that was really exciting. Most of us can remember that sweet anticipation of starting on a new journey.   New beginnings also involve risk. They call us out of the comfort of a familiar world that we have known, to a strange new reality. New beginnings take courage, because you don’t know what you’ll face and it can be difficult to see the path ahead.   And this is where we are this morning.

The1st Sunday of Lent reminds us that this is a new beginning. A chance to start a new journey.

Lent for me is an exciting, and scary time. Full of possibility and opportunity for the taking, if you are brave enough to step outside your comfortable familiar, safe world and step into the possibility of something greater.   And this is the way of God’s people. Stepping out of what is safe and familiar whether by choice or by being pushed.

Adam and Eve left the garden. Noah left his dry land home. God told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gn. 12:1). Jacob feared for his life. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt. And in today’s gospel it’s Jesus’ time. As Mark tells it, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” to the Jordan River.

He left his family home, the area he knew, and the people who knew him. And now he’s wet, standing in the Jordan, between home and the wilderness.

Jesus is standing between his private life and his public ministry. And this moment marks a covenant, a pledge, a pact between him and God. It is a point of intersection, a meeting of heaven and earth. “You are my Son, the Beloved,” God tells him.The Spirit of God enters him enabling him for what lies ahead. It is for Jesus as it would be for any of us, a time of decision, of pressure, of anxiety.

This is not just about Jesus, or the faithful people of the Bible. This is our story too. The Father’s words refer to Jesus in a uniquely literal way but they also apply to each one of us.

So how do we go about making this step and entering the wilderness?   How do we make the most of these days of Lent?

Baptism is the new beginning for the Christian. We go down into the water to die. We emerge from the water to new life. It is an exciting moment in our lives as we make a decision to follow Christ. We enter into relationship with God. It is an exciting moment. as we recognize the Spirit of God at work in our lives. But there is also risk at entering the water. It is a time to let go, to lose control, to become vulnerable.

Whether you were baptised as a child, or an adult, we all get to a point in our spiritual lives when we will want to renew that contract with God.

Lent is a time of self-examination, of checking our focus, of sorting our priorities. It is a time to reflect on God’s promises and to recognize our failure to live up to our part of the relationship. It is a time to begin anew, through repentance, through seeking God’s guidance, through struggle, and through renewed commitment. It is a time to seek God’s guidance. Hopefully we begin to rely on God again.

Lent is a journey. Time given to us. If we are brave enough to face the facts and take that step into the wilderness with Christ. We do not know where this new beginning will take us, but together we enter into a journey from ashes to Easter.