Saturday, 16 February 2013

Lent 1 - Temptation

I think I have always tended to preach about the meaning of the temptations for Christ's ministry, but this year I have tried to focus on what it means for us.
Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
Luke 4: 1-13


So Lent begins with a visit to the wilderness.

First we hear about the people of Israel bringing the first-fruits of their harvest to God, and remembering their past years in the wilderness: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…”. Now that the people are settled and growing their own food, they need to remember the wilderness, remember when times were hard, remember how God was with them and protected them.
The people of God need to remember who they are.

Jesus goes into the wilderness to remember who he is. How is his life and ministry to be conducted? What choices should he make if he is God’s chosen?

And so Jesus faces temptation – which after all is just facing a choice – this or that? For my sake, or for others? Trusting God or relying on myself?

One of the difficulties we might have when we hear about Jesus’ temptations is that they are nothing like the choices we face. I have never yet had to ask myself whether I should turn a stone into a loaf of bread or not – it is not a real choice for me. Nor have I ever stood on the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem; nor been offered rulership of all the kingdoms of the world.

So what are the temptations facing Jesus really about, and how do they speak to us and our, real choices in life?

Can we use different language to describe the temptation to turn stone to bread? Jesus is facing the temptation to grab what he needs, to use his own power and ability to provide whatever he wants – whether that is food for his own stomach, or food to ‘buy’ himself a lot of followers.
Yes, Jesus will feed the 5,000 – but the miraculous feeding of people will not be his usual way of getting their attention.
So Jesus is tempted – will he grab what he needs? No.

What about throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, so that the angels will catch him? Jesus is facing the temptation to test the system, to make sure that he is safe. Before any threat to life and limb in the future, he could just make sure that all will be well, that his ‘safety net’ of angels is safely in place.
Here’s the temptation – will Jesus make sure he is safe in future? No.

And finally bowing down and worshipping the tempter, in return for all the kingdoms of the world: what is happening here? However we imagine satan or evil or the tempter, it seems the temptation is for Jesus to hedge his bets, to use a power other than the power that comes from God. Jesus could seek a wordly power, a misuse of power, one that ignores the power and the place of God in the world.
Will Jesus turn away from God? No.

Each time Jesus is tempted – to grab what he needs, to keep himself safe, to turn away from God – he instead chooses to trust God.
Jesus chooses not to grab what he needs – he trusts God to supply those needs.
He chooses not to keep himself safe – he trusts God with his future.
He chooses not to turn away from God and seek other power – he trusts his heart and his life.

When Jesus is asked in Matthew’s gospel (22:37) ‘which is the greatest commandment he answers’ love God with all your heart, soul and mind’. Here at the beginning of his ministry, in the wilderness, he makes the choice – to trust and love God for his needs, his future and his life.
And then he goes out to teach others that this is the life to choose – a life of trusting God.

So where does that leave us?
Facing the same choices as Jesus, as it turns out. Not the specifics of turning stones to bread and the rest.. but the choice between trusting God and trusting our own strength. Do we want to grab what we can, make sure we’re safe, turn away from God – or will we, like Jesus, trust God with our needs, our futures and our lives.

What does is mean to trust God with our needs?
It means being ready to come to God in prayer and place our needs before him – not as an alternative to acting, but as the underlying trust that through our efforts and through the efforts of others, God will supply our needs.

What does it mean to trust God with our futures?
It means refusing to get anxious about what is to come – as individuals, as families or as churches. Trusting that whatever comes God will not desert us.

What does it mean to trust God with our lives?
Perhaps it means taking time in Lent to trust God with our time, with our attention, with our hearts – more time spent in prayer, in reflecting, in study of God’s word.

This Lent – always – we need to remember who we are. People who have been brought to where we are by God’s help & presence, as the people of Israel were.
People whom God has blessed, and guided and cared for. 
And people who need to trust God for our needs, our future and our lives.
Today & always. Amen.


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