Sermon for Lent 1 Temptations
By The Reverend Charles Royden
It's Lent !
What is Lent about? Repentance and Sin
There is a story of a painter who painted the house of a little old lady. He was painting the masonry all over the house and he was using a lot of paint. So he thinned it down a bit with water. Then he thought, if I keep on watering it down I will save a bundle and the old woman won't know the difference. So he kept on watering it down. When he had finished it started to rain and all the paint started washing off the brickwork. Then a voice came from the thundery clouds
'Repaint and thin no more'
Repentance and Sin
On the first Sunday in Lent we have the story of Jesus temptation to sin in the wilderness. According to Matthew and Luke, Jesus' temptation lasted forty days, so we have 40 days as the duration of Lent. We don't count Sundays ! Remember that Sundays are in Lent, but not classed as days of Lent, they are days of refreshment, every Sunday is a little Easter !
Jesus is 40 days in the desert fasting - not literally 40 days or else he would have been dead. 40 days does not have the same precision that we attach to it, it is a bit like our phrase, "a couple of weeks," which might mean 14 days -- or 12 -- or 16, but long enough for him to be hungry, to be tempted to turn stones into bread.
The phrase 40 days should in our minds help us connect Jesus with Moses, who fasted for forty days (Exod 34:28), and the Israelites, who wandered for forty years in the wilderness (Exod 16:35).
So what can we learn about sin today !
1. Temptations to sin are ambiguous
We are told that whilst Jesus was in the desert he heard the devil quote Psalm 91:11-12, challenging Jesus to take God at God's word. The devil begins by saying, "If you are the Son of God...." The challenge is for Jesus to prove his identity to himself -- and to others -- and to take advantage of his power.
As Shakespeare said in *The Merchant of Venice,* (Act I, Scene 3, line 99). "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose".
It is a lesson for the church is that evil intentions can be supported by quotations from scripture. Oppression of peoples has often been supported by quotations from scripture and it places a burden on us to listen with discriminating ears, not just to hear what is said but also to evaluate the person saying it. Are we listening to an adviser or a tempter -- a builder or a destroyer? Does the person have a hidden agenda -- an axe to grind?
You can use scripture to prove just about any position you care to mention. The point is that these choices between the right thing and the wrong thing are sometimes not easy ones. Finding the right path is at times difficult and not always obvious.
I watched one of the daftest programmes on television last week, on Sunday afternoon. It was a programme exploring how our ancestors used to find food of the land, and how you could collect it and eat it. Now I happen to very much like mushrooms and the thought of being able to wander through Putnoe woods collecting wild mushrooms sounded brilliant. So I spent half an hour whilst doing the dishes taking mental notes, how to pick them and cook them. All was going well, but it was just as well that I kept watching because the chap suddenly says, but be careful ! He then goes on talk about the fact that there are bad mushrooms as well as good ones. Apparently if you eat an Amanita mushroom you might not just get a bad case of poisoning, you might actually die! In fact there is a high probability that you will. To reinforce this fact the presenter referred us to his colleague who nearly had died through eating the wrong mushroom.
Hospitals across the UK be warned there are loads of people who like me will never be able to tell the difference between and edible and a lethally poisonous one. This programme should never have been shown. As I pondered on it I decided I would never go mushroom picking because the choice between good mushroom and bad mushroom is too difficult to make.
Now that is what many of the choices which you and I face are like. It is very difficult to make the choice between good and bad. Christians on either side of the fence on many issues find themselves in complete disagreement as to what is good and what is bad.
The temptations which Jesus faced could all have been ambiguous
to feed hunger was a good thing
to show everybody his power by throwing himself off a building would be a good thing
to overthrow the might of Rome would have been a good thing.
Jesus needed to think very carefully about the decisions which he was to make. The choice between good things and bad sinful things is not always easy.
What we are left with a deeply personal struggle in which throughout our lives we consider out motives and reasons and try to live as best we can in service to God. I am sure that Jesus didn't see a little devil or hear voices, what he experienced is the same ambiguity which we all have when faced with choices, we ask ourselves 'should I do this, or that.'
This is what lent is all about..
At Lent we remind ourselves of the temptations which Jesus endured in his ministry and we remind ourselves, if we need reminding, that life is all about trying to make the right choices. Sometimes it is really easy, 'should I run over the traffic warden who just gave me that ticket ?' - no.
Is Trident a good choice of weapon or a bad one, what should the Christian say ?
Should our troops be fighting in Iraq or not ?
Should Christians support punitive taxes on the use of aeroplanes if they cause so much global warming ?
I have deliberately picked big issues here because I am not sure that God is all that bothered about some of the personal issues which we get hung up about. God is probably not interested in whether I give up chocolate. Sometimes we strain the gnat of personal morality and miss the camel of corporate responsibility.
And Christians will sometimes come to very different answers on these and many other questions
So we ask that our Lenten observance leads us to a
deeper awareness of the world in which we live and its cultural
challenges. So may we better prepared to wrestle with the important
issues of our world and avoid the temptations to conform to things which
are incompatible with our faith in Jesus.
Temptation is real - we can choose the wrong path
The Temptations of Jesus were real temptations, he was properly tested but did not sin. For them to be real temptations, there must have been the possibility that Jesus would have chosen the wrong path, so there was danger and risk involved. Throughout his ministry Jesus faced very real temptations. At the end of this passage we read 'When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.'
We all know that Jesus did not overcome temptation for all time, he overcame temptation, but he would face temptation throughout his ministry. In his life we all think about Gethsemane, when Jesus was really under immense pressure in the Garden. 'Father let this cup pass from me'
So what do we learn from this ?
We learn that temptation might be ambiguous but it is also very real.
You and I can make the wrong decisions and we frequently do. This is not an academic exercise, some kind of theological enquiry. The message of the scripture today is 'be careful out there,' we have to be vigilant. In 1 Peter Chapter 5 Verse 8 we read
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.
The language gives effect to the belief that each one of us in our lives faces real temptation and the chance that we might do the wrong thing. Be vigilant.
I will give you an example of this, how sad it is that when people go through adultery, they often say, I didn't go looking for it we just fell in love. I was talking to somebody about this yesterday, if you spend inappropriate time with a member of the opposite sex, then it is not unlikely that you will feel attraction for them. It's not love it's called hormones. Which is why if you are married you should be careful about how you spend your time and who with. If you spend quality time with your partner and don't spend time with members of the opposite sex on your own then it is highly unlikely that your marriage will fall foul of an extra-marital affair. Play with fire and it is very likely that your fingers will get burned.
To finish let me end of a message of hope and good news.
Lent is often viewed negatively as a time of don'ts, of having to give up things, no eating, drinking or merriment.
But Lent is supposed to be a time of hope. Jesus confronted temptation and was able to say 'no' to wrong actions, just as in Gethsemane he said 'yes' when called upon to do God's will. So now we know there is hope for us!
It is possible to resist temptation. It is possible to make the right choices, to resist the pressures of our culture and society and to be free. It is possible to turn away from consumerism, materialism, violence, racism, and all kinds of social and personal sin..
The fact that Jesus made the right decision is good for us, it is a sign of hope for us all.