Sermon given by Sue Sanderson 26th February 2023 – 1st Sunday of Lent (A)
Genesis 2: 15-17, 3: 1-7
Matthew 4: 1-11
“Help me to know God this Lent”
The sermon on this first Sunday of Lent often begins with a question – what are you giving up this year, chocolate, cake, alcohol? – and now that we are a few days after Ash Wednesday, have you been tempted yet? ....
Or sometimes, it is suggested that you take something up – something worthy and good .... and there’s nothing wrong with that idea at all.
But as I read our two very familiar passages and as I prayed and prepared this sermon, another thought, another possibility came to mind for this Lenten journey ....
Lent is our forty day preparation for the feast of Easter – it looks back to Jesus’ forty day fast in the wilderness before he began his mission. It has for centuries been associated with acts of penance and fasting – the word ‘Lent’ meant ‘Spring’ until the 13th Century. It is a time of renewal and rejuvenation – Lent is a time to reconnect with God, to find time to develop our relationship with God and to deepen our understanding of God and we can do this by clearing away the barriers between ourselves and God and by prayer, acts of service and by study of the scripture.
Study of Scripture – I wonder how many of you noticed the first word of our Gospel reading today? (don’t worry I’m not going to put you on the spot!) .... our reading began “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit".... Then .... That implies something had happened just beforehand and if you look back to the end of Chapter 3 in Matthew’s Gospel you will see that Jesus has just been baptised by John and God’s voice from Heaven proclaimed “This is my son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased”.
So why just after God has publically affirmed Jesus and prior to Jesus starting his ministry is "Jesus led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted"? ....
What can we take from this sequence of events? How can we develop our understanding of God, deepen our relationship with God ....
My mind was cast back to my teenage years and a confirmation class .... our vicar gave us a pen and a sheet of paper and asked us to draw a picture of what we thought God looked like .... Various images of old men, some sitting on clouds appeared, apart from one lad, his paper remained blank .... David’s response was “I don’t know what God looks like ....
I wonder if I asked you to repeat this exercise what image of God you have, do you know what God looks like?
Many of you may reflect on God’s son – who became man and dwelt here on Earth and indeed today’s Gospel passage sees the Son of God, the man Jesus, tempted in ways that we can identify with.
As I reflected on this passage of scripture I came to realise that it reveals to us what God looks like.
This isn’t just a story about how Jesus was a human being like us, who gets tempted .... But it’s a story about what God is like, and what Jesus’ ministry is not about and how we so often have a deep misunderstanding of God ....
This isn’t a story about how Jesus was a human being like us, who gets tempted .... But it’s a story of how Jesus isn't the Jesus we want ....
What sort of Jesus, what sort of God would we really like?
.... a Jesus who can turn stones into bread
.... a Jesus who would do something spectacular
.... a Jesus who would take charge and fix the world, and so make it easier for our friends, families and neighbours to believe in Him?
Let’s take at a look at the three temptations:
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread”
Wouldn’t it be great to have a Jesus we could rely on to turn stones into bread? A Jesus who chose ease over hardship. A Jesus who chose health, wealth and happiness. This kind of Jesus could surely be relied upon to work the miracles we want; healing from cancer, job security, a less difficult family member....
I wonder have we ever been tempted to see Jesus, to see God like this, to pray....
if you are the Son of God please do this little miracle for me?
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down ....” for it is written “He will command his angels concerning you”
Wouldn’t a Jesus who acted like this be more helpful to those who doubt, who have no faith, who are looking for a bit more proof? A Jesus who could gather a crowd, create a mass following, fill the pages of celebrity magazines – it would make it a lot easier, to fill our church and answer our money problems. I wonder have we ever been tempted to see Jesus, to see God like this, if you are the Son of God, just make it a bit more obvious....
“All these things I will give you, if you fall down and worship me”
Wouldn’t it be great to have a Jesus who would just take charge and sort out the economy, the cost of living crisis, bring peace in Ukraine, overcome all injustice, reverse the ravages of climate change. Basically we could do with a Jesus who would make the world a kinder, more peaceful and more equal place to live. I wonder have you ever been tempted to see Jesus, to see God like this, to pray .... Jesus if you are the Son of God, just sort it all out?
And to each of these attempts to mould Jesus into an image more to our liking ,Jesus says NO! I’ve got a different calling.
It’s a stark reminder that while Jesus makes us his friends, he doesn’t become our puppet. It’s a stark reminder of how easily our image of Jesus, our image of God can be so, so wrong ....
To the first temptation Jesus quotes scripture and says; “One does not live by bread alone ....”
Jesus rejects a life of ease, a life free of difficulty and strife. Instead he chooses a life of radical dependence and trust in God. Jesus refuses to become God the self sufficient one, the one who doesn’t hunger. Jesus chooses patience and endurance, suffering the pain of unfulfilled desires, instead of doing what he wants, doing what is within his power, in order to serve himself.
At that moment of temptation Jesus reveals his nature and his relationship with God. At a later moment of temptation Jesus will say to God “not what I will but what you will”.
To the second temptation Jesus quotes scripture and says; “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”
Jesus refuses to make faith into entertainment, to make belief into fact, to play with God for the sake of good publicity. Jesus reveals, as we continue to discover, that faith in Jesus is never on the basis of the veracity of a set of facts, but encounter with him, which is why in his ministry we see Jesus spending time with people, eating with them, staying with them, walking with them ....
To the third temptation Jesus quotes scripture and says; “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him”
Jesus rejects a short cut route which will see him as just another dictator. Jesus reveals to us that God is not in the business of demanding absolute power over us, expecting us to be subservient .... God does not demand our humiliation .... After humans humiliated his Son, Jesus on Good Friday, God raised Him up on Easter Sunday – we worship a God who lifts us to our feet.
Where our desire of God, our image of Jesus is one who makes life painless, faith easier to accept and the world safer .... Jesus at the start of his ministry, reveals what he is really about .... choosing the path laid down in his baptism, a path that will end in Jerusalem, not on the pinnacle of the temple, but on a cross on a hillside outside the city.
Jesus trusts in the words proclaimed at his baptism, he knows that his relationship with the God of love demands a renewal of our understanding “You are my Son, with whom I am well pleased”
In this we can come to realise that Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus choses the way of God because it is the road to our salvation .... the restoration of our relationship with God, first broken in the Garden of Eden.
This Lent gives us a fresh opportunity to discover the true image of God, to deepen our relationship with Jesus and to discern the ways in which our lives can reflect God’s love and salvation for all.
And so we pray;-
In you, Jesus we find solidarity with our weakness and hurting.
In you Lord we find understanding of all that tempts us ....
As we bring our lives before you;
help us to receive your kindness and grace .... Sins remembered no more, your ways being written on heart and mind
Enable us this Lent to be pilgrims and companions:
committed to the way of Christ,
faithful to the call of Christ,
discerning the mind of Christ,
offering the welcome of Christ,
growing in the likeness of Christ,
engaging in the mission of Christ,
in the world that belongs to Christ