Sermon for 13th March

Happy Lent!
No such thing. Of course not. Lent is a solemn season, full of serious stuff. We run special educational courses during Lent. Practicing Christians are supposed to be more intentionally focused on one’s prayer life during Lent. We “give up” things for Lent – chocolates, meat, sweets, smoking, bad TV shows.
Forty days is long enough to learn something new, miss something old, and change some habits. Yet Lent should not be colored as an Ash Wednesday grey grind. What if instead of thinking about “getting through” Lent we look at these next forty days as a journey towards a miraculous destination – Easter Sunday. Doesn’t everybody “like” to go on a road trip now and then?  What do you “like” about your annual journey to Jerusalem? What makes the Lenten trip to that empty tomb so awesome?

Of course, none of this is easy and we have to cope to begin with by thinking about the things that tempt us.

The local Police Inspector was looking to employ some Special Constables, and one of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest academically, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the Inspector, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The Inspector thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

Then the Inspector asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter?’T’?” “Today & tomorrow.” Replied the applicant. The Inspector was again?surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.?”Now, listen carefully, who killed President Kennedy?” asked the Inspector. The job seeker seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The Inspector was relieved and replied, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his pals who were waiting to hear the results of the interview. He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

In our Gospel reading this morning in Matthew it is Jesus’ first day on the job. Immediately he is confronted with major temptations. So how do the Temptations of Jesus actually help us in our spiritual journey. What is it about Lent that becomes an important part of our spirituality?

If we own a car it needs regular servicing. Our computer has to be watched so that it continues to work properly. Even a pacemaker designed to keep our heart going has to be checked. These things are important for transport, work and health. But what about our spiritual health? Just as a car can break down, a computer can go on the blink, or a pace maker lose effectiveness so too our Christian life can find itself in the wilderness, not knowing which way to turn, having lost sight of God and of the vision that once was ours. Many people experience loneliness, despair and a loss of faith. The temptation comes to make life easy, to reject our calling, to use our abilities in the wrong way. That is like being in the wilderness – when we need our MOT, our servicing, our check-up. Every year Lent arrives to give us this opportunity.

When we were confirmed, ordained, admitted to communion, converted or baptised as an adult, we knew that God was close. We may have experienced a definite sense of being called. It may have happened a long time ago and perhaps we have lost some of the vision that was evident then. Our prayers may have become less of a conversation with God. Receiving Holy Communion may have become a ritual rather than an inspirational and wonderful experience. Our reading of the Bible may have lapsed. Our standards of honesty, purity, generosity and kindness may have diminished. Baptism has not inoculated us against these things – it didn’t remove temptation for Jesus either.

Jesus’ temptations were different – his ministry would be made much easier if he used his power in the wrong way. By looking to his own comfort, or putting on a series of tricks to attract attention. Or by compelling people to follow him. The answer to these temptations were to be found in scripture.

This season of Lent gives us a time when we try and make some extra effort in our Christian life. I was so pleased to see so many of you at this years Ash Wednesday services. Without something like As Wednesday marking the beginning of Lent we might find ourselves casually walking in to this special season and not really capturing it’s importance to us and our faith. We may do rather ordinary things like deciding to give up smoking or alcohol. To eat no sweets or have no sugar in our tea. These may make us more healthy, but don’t do a lot for our spiritual growth. Perhaps it is more important to give rather than give up. In other words to give up giving up. It’s how you feel called, where you are in your life. Perhaps it is more important to do what John the Baptist suggests. To examine our lifestyles today and determine to improve it. To look at Jesus’ response to his temptations and know our Bibles better. I am going to give some time to spend with God, as Pam suggested in her Ash Wednesday Homily. Just once a week I am going somewhere to sit in the peace of God’s presence.

Jesus was prepared to endure the worst possible situations in order to show us how to cope in those which strike us. Hunger, loneliness, desperation, loss, frustration, stress were all there in that place. Jesus did not need to be “purified” in the wilderness before his mission, but rather to experience a “crash course” in the horrors which can blight human existence. Coming to be one with us meant learning at first hand the very worst that life can throw up at unsuspecting, and sometimes innocent, people. Then, just like us, he faced the temptations to be other than godly in his confrontation with the evil forces which attack even the best of people.

Who or what do you blame for the presence of temptation in your life? Do you blame the presence of evil in the world for drawing you into continual sin – or have you learnt that on the cross Jesus overcame the power of that evil? Or do you tell yourself that no one’s perfect and we’re all simply sinners anyway – as if Christ’s death was meaningless and nothing can or should change? Or do you recognise that many of our temptations are chosen, by us or for us, and that we can work with the help of the Spirit to follow the example of Jesus and resist temptation?
Temptations will always exist in our human concern for our physical survival, our mental and emotional well-being and our self awareness, though whether they lead to sin is largely dependent on choice, our own or that of those around us. We are all made in God’s image and equal in God’s eyes, all living as Christ’s hands and feet in this world, and all of us reflecting God’s glory by the Spirit. We know who we are, to whom we belong and what our purpose is in our life together. Let’s pray “lead us not into temptation”, and mean it!

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