Saturday, 12 March 2011

Sermon notes Lent 1

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Lent. The annual decision about whether we should give something up, or take something up: the time of lent studies and groups and lunches…and always the sense of ticking down towards Easter, and trying to be ready to make sense, again, of this story that is the most vital one of our Christian faith... and yet the most demanding.

As Lent begins, we hear again the story of Jesus beginning his public ministry by resisting the temptations placed before him by Satan. Each of these temptations concern the question of how Jesus will conduct his ministry.

1. ‘Turn these stone to bread’
Jesus has to decide whether he will perform miracles just for his own satisfaction or to gain the attention of the crowds. But he resists with the words ‘Human beings cannot live by bread alone’

2. ‘Throw yourself from the temple heights’
As the son of God, Jesus could call upon his heavenly father to protect him from all that being human might entail – to be caught by angels as he throws himself down. But again Jesus resists, saying ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.

3. ‘Bow down and worship me’
Jesus has to decide whether he will compromise his message, to make things easier for people to hear, to keep himself safer – he could seek power through using the wiles of the world. But instead Jesus remembers his determined focus on the kingdom of God, as he quotes the commandment ‘You shall have no other God before me’.

Each time he is tempted, Jesus has an answer which shows his intention to conduct his ministry in God’s way. As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, this determination is demonstrated in the way Jesus lives and acts, not only by his words. Jesus lives out his resistance to evil.
We can think of examples for each of the temptations:

1. ‘Turn these stone to bread’.
After the feeding of the 5000, Jesus tells his disciples “I am the bread of life”, and at the Last Supper with his disciples Jesus shares bread with them all and says ‘this is my body, broken for you’. Jesus is not interested in performing miracles as a way to gain a massive following, but only as a way of pointing to the importance of what he is offering – life in all its fullness through his self-offering.

2. ‘Throw yourself from the temple heights’
Far from allowing God the father to protect him from the difficulty of life, Jesus allows himself to be lifted high on the cross, in great pain, to die for love of the world. From the cross, Jesus will hear again the words ‘If you are the son of God…come down from the cross and save yourself’. Yet Jesus is not interested in saving his own skin, but the world he loves.

3. ‘Bow down and worship me’
Jesus has to resist the temptation to worldy power. And, again, at the last supper, Jesus will bow down – as he stoops to wash the disciples’ feet. He demonstrates that his ministry is not about wielding power, but about serving others, and he sets the example of servanthood for all who will follow him.

Jesus shows, both in the answers he gives when he is tempted, and in the way he lives out that determination to choose God’s path, what it truly means to be the Son of God. Jesus is the one who will give himself, not perform tricks to impress people, who will stick with God’s will even when it leads to suffering, and who will be the servant of all, not the one with all the power and the glory.

As we move through Lent we can continue to reflect on these statements about Jesus’ identity and purpose and mission. We will continue to see God’s will in the ordinary things of life, and in the broken, and in the self-sacrificial. This Lent we might want to work out our own response to the Jesus that we meet, individually and as a church.
What does it mean for us to turn our backs on slick tricks which might impress others, and instead offer, deeply, all that we are?
How can we find and do God’s will, even when that means taking the hard path, or being unappreciated or even vilified?
Who are we called to serve in the name of Christ and as the body of Christ, and how can we resist the temptation to do what brings us glory, not what glorifies God?

May the Holy Spirit guide us to develop and live out our own discipleship of Christ and resistance to temptation, throughout Lent & Easter.

Amen.

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