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Lent 1 – A sermon on the tempations of Jesus

Nothing like being a bit ahead of myself….. here is an offering for Sunday based on the readings for Lent 1:

Deuteronomy Chapter 26 v 1 – 11;Romans Chapter 10 v 8b;Luke Chapter 4 v 1 – 13.

Sermon on the temptations – Luke 4 v 1-13.

Most of you will at least have heard of  The Lord of The Rings maybe read the book or seen the 2001 film.   It is an epic high fantasy novel, written by the English academic J.R Tolkein and the story began as a sequel to Tolkein’s earlier  fantasy The Hobbit.  First published in 1954, it was written in stages between 1937 and 1949 much of it being created during the 2WW.

The action is set on our earth, inhabited by humanity, but placed in a fictional past – he calls the setting Middle-earth – derived from OE  Middangeard.

Here, in middle earth we find  Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, wizards and Orcs – and men.

The story centres on the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron.  Dark Lord Sauron, an archetype of evil, filled this ring with his own power so that he could rule all others.

But  the Dark Lord  loses this ring Ring  and although he sought it throughout Middle earth, it remained lost.  By chance, after many ages, it comes into the hands of a hobbit called Bilbo who lives in a place called the Shire – a place of complete innocence. When Bilbo was old, he bequeathed it to his nephew Frodo. It is then up to Frodo and his ragtag band of heroes to carry the ring to Mount Doom, Modor,  the evil place of its birth and cast it into the eternal fire that forged it, known as the Cracks of Doom.

On the road they are tested – they are beset by great dangers and adversities – but the Fellowship of the Ring – as they are called- discover amongst themselves great wisdom, courage and strength as they face their greatest fears. They discover themselves on this journey, they grow together and as individuals – and then, only then, are they ready to defeat the evil powers of The Dark Lord, that have gathered to take over the world.

You don’t need a theology degree to make the many links between Tolkeins fantasy

novel and  themes of biblical Christianity.  The powerful theme of the battle

between good and evil resonates in this mornings reading of Jesus’ temptations.

Two things before we look at that.

This story we could say is the most sacred of stories for it must have come from

Jesus’ lips only. No other disciples were present – so at some time he must have shared the  experience with them.

Secondly, the epic story of the characters who made up the Fellowship follows a

pattern we see in many spiritual journeys. The people of Israel who travelled through

the wilderness for 40 years  faced many trials before coming into the promised land.

They too found wisdom, loyalty, courage and strength, they discovered their identity  as God’s chosen people. Some cultures even have a testing period as part of coming of age when young people of the tribe move from childhood to adulthood.

Often they find their true selves as they face adversity in dangerous places such as the forest, desert or wilderness.

Our gospel reading gives us the story of Jesus – led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days-  to face huge spiritual, psychological  and physical temptations and trials.

It follows on  straight after his baptism where God declares his Sonship “ You are My Son, whom I Love”

The trials that follow repeatedly challenge his loyalty and obedience to God’s will and purposes.

The scene is the wilderness, in Hebrew the word means devastation. A vast stretch of land between Judea and the Dead Sea. With alternating extremes of

temperature by night and day, the place of Jesus’ temptations was desolate.

Although we are given three specific temptations offered by the devil, we are told Jesus was there for 40 days and 40 nights –  and for the whole of this period we can

assume Jesus was wrestling with the question of how to win souls according to God’s will and not according to the powers of evil.

Firstly, though, as the story reads, Jesus was tempted to think he could prove his identity as the Son of God by showing he was a miracle worker.

“ If you are The Sonof God – tell this  stone to become bread” . Jesus refuses – he quotes scripture to him:

“It is written  man does not live by bread alone “  In other words, the proof of his Sonship  is not the demonstration of his  miraculous power – which he most certainly had – but his faithful trust in God’s will and purposes for him.

The devil is clever. He picks up on Jesus’ line and invites him to demonstrate his trust in God by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the Temple.  Note here I am taking the order as in Matthews Gospel and not in the Lucan version. Go in for some sensational leaping and even quotes the scriptures to Jesus – psalm 91.  “ He will command his angels concerning you – to guard you carefully “ . Jesus refused the devil’s bait – he shows in his reply that he waits on God, he does not test his  Father. He and his father are one and the trust is unshakeable.

We have a third plea from the devil. He offers power, position and privilege – all at one price! Jesus must turn from the God who calls him  and turn to the devil who seems to offer him all the kingdoms of the world. The truth of Jesus’ Sonship shines through in his magisterial dismissal of Satan – Begone!”

He adds another quotation from scripture so that the devil doesn’t have the last word – “Do not put your Lord to the test” – Deutoronomy 6.  He, Jesus, is the rightful interpreter of texts, not the devil.

He departs from him – until an opportune time. This was not the end of Jesus’ temptations.

Telling the story in a measured way does not convey the agony and sheer physical discomfort that Jesus must have been experiencing.  The temptation to abuse his Sonship  take an easy route,  sell  his soul to the devil, must have been relentless for those 40 days.  But Sonship meant faithful obedience to God and in all 3 gospel  accounts of the temptations, we see Jesus  remaining utterly obedient to God’s will. In this state of utter obedience to God’s purposes, Jesus returns to civilization and to the commencement of his public ministry.

There can be few of us who haven’t had to face trials and temptations  as we search for the answers to life’s most perplexing questions and have to face the hardest of challenges. The temptation to at least question God’s existence when faced with suffering, can be very great.

Looking at what our own particular temptations may be is a very personal and private matter, although the church has an ancient tradition of  giving opportunities for the confession   of sin whether corporately or individually.

Maybe in the Anglican tradition there isn’t  a great emphasis  put on confession and the prayer of penitence at the beginning of the service can roll off  our tongues a bit too easily.  The priestly sacrament of absolution in a individual setting is always one which I would be pleased to offer in absolute confidence.

This Lent perhaps we could find for ourselves time to make our own retreat – not looking for  epic times of testing  such as Jesus encountered, but opportunities in silence to offer our hearts and minds to God, to explore what obedience to his will may mean for us.

Simple way is focus on Galatians 5 – The Fruits of The Spirit. Find a quiet place and time ( very hard for many of you) take each fruit – love, joy, peace etc each day – breathe them in, concentrate on them, feel what they mean for you  for some minutes then  breath out their opposite – hate, sadness, fear – let God speak to you in the silence. Let go of anything that bothers your spirit, allow his presence to cleanse and heal you. These can be our own deserts of growing closer to God this Lent,  learning what obedience to Him means, making us stronger for whatever may lie ahead.  Amen.

February 19, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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