First Sunday of Lent
Introduction and Call to Worship Just as Jesus knew our human weakness and temptation, so he came to show us a new way to live. We live that life with his example and in the power of the Spirit. As we worship together as members of the same Body, may we allow ourselves to be opened again to God’s Spirit of love, which overcomes all temptation. Today’s Readings First Reading Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Since the beginning, temptation’s choices have been present; since the Fall, the passions of our bodies, led by our desires and our pride, have tempted all humanity everywhere. Second Reading Romans 5:12-19 Our oneness in Adam and Eve’s sin, condemnation and punishment is like our oneness in Christ’s grace, justification and righteousness. The first created a reign of sin and death, the other a reign of grace and life. Christ made possible a new relationship with God undreamt of in Adam and Eve. Gospel Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus was tempted, just as Adam and Eve, by bodily needs, desires and pride and, in ways reminiscent of Israel’s experience in the desert, Jesus faced the temptations of dissatisfaction with and rejection of God’s provision, presence and methods, but answered with the words of Deuteronomy. HOMILY “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread… throw yourself down… worship me….” (Matthew 4:3b, 6a, 9b) John Bunyan wrote: “Temptations, when we first meet them, are as a lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them.” (1832) What does the word, ‘temptation’ mean to you? This was a discussion at our Faith Confirmed group before Christmas, reflecting on the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” The more modern translation reads, “save us from the time of trial”. But what does this really mean? What or who is tempting us – putting us on trial? We need to be saved from what? Ourselves? The season of Lent is the appetite time to reflect upon the meaning of forgiveness, temptation and evil, and today’s Gospel is the right place to start, as Jesus faces the devil in the wilderness over 40 days and nights. Following our Lord’s baptism by John at the River Jordan, Matthew, Mark and Luke all give their accounts of Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness. Christ quotes the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, suggesting this passage could form a commentary on Israel’s own time in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. So now, several thousand years later, it is for Jesus, the Emmanuel to call all people – not just Israel, into God’s Kingdom of forgiveness, justice and love. The temptations are like those of all God’s people since Adam and Eve, challenges of body, human desire and pride. It is essential for Jesus to overcome these temptations in his call and mission; temptations we can identify with. Jesus’ response to the devil’s bidding is straightforward and clear, for God who created everything is not inconsistent; God is faithful! Stones and bread are very different, and they are meant to be. We all know this reality and I’m not sure we would want the stones of this Church to turn into bread, what a disaster that would be! Power can corrupt. Desire can lead us astray. Wealth doesn’t always lead to happiness. So, Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!” But, if we are honest, it is all too easy for us to grumble when we don’t get what we want; like those in the Old Testament who desire their fill of bread. With God, there is order, reason and hope. The God who loves each one of us unconditionally does not need testing of that love and this is a very important place to start as we consider the Lord’s prayer again. We are not being tested by God. Unlike Jesus, who remains faithful in the face of suffering and temptation, our response is often nuanced; we manipulate to get our desires met, often regardless of others, or the creation’s needs or balance. We forget the words of the Lord’s Prayer, often willingly led into temptation by our own want. So this Lent as we reflect upon the world, our home and our changing climate, what is the basis of our day-to-day decision making? Temptation is all around us. Over this season of Lent, for 40 days we have an opportunity to face them down, to reconcile our lives back to God and seek forgiveness for our sins, for those things which separate us from God’s love. This is a season of penitence, a chance to press the re-set button in our relationship with God and the world in which we have the blessing of life. To do this we need to recognize the truth about sin and temptation; that requires complete honesty. If we try to cover up our failings nothing will change for the better. We start, by accepting responsibility for our mistakes, especially over the climate, and we acknowledge that many of our temptations are chosen by us (sometimes for us by others). And then, accepting that by God’s grace and love alone we are called to repent, start again and we are truly forgiven. Matthew’s account draws to a psychological climax with the devil being rejected, “Away with you, Satan!” (v9) And angels appearing to wait upon Jesus (v11). And this won’t be the only time He comes face to face with evil. Our Lord will conquer the power of Satan when he willingly goes to the Cross; the new Adam who is without sin, opening for each one of us the way into God’s Kingdom. The God who knows us, calls us to serve and worship him so that we might freely learn humility and obedience and live in peace, one family with one Father and in harmony with creation. He calls us to this so that we might also live by the power of the Spirit, reflecting the Spirit’s fruits in the world. I guess temptation will always exist, as part of the human condition, a challenge like our physical survival, our mental and emotional well-being and our self-awareness. Yet we are each made in God’s image and equal in God’s eyes and all reflect the Creator’s glory. Whatever our individual or collective failings we must remember that because we are inherently good - John Bunyan recognised this. In facing our temptations, we can grow stronger in our discipleship and more faithful in our striving for God’s Kingdom values. None of us are perfect or blameless, we are not Jesus and we need reconciliation – confession, as we are called to follow our Lord’s example. So, we do pray, of ourselves and others, “lead us not into temptation” and let us truly live out what we say. We may then just find a nest of honey in our midst! Amen. SUMMARY 1. Jesus was tempted, just as Adam, Eve and the Israelites in the desert were. The new Adam, Emmanuel, overcame temptation demonstrating a new way to live God’s kingdom values. 2. By overcoming the temptations of the devil Gods presence, love and power was shown in the desert to all who heard of this event, and to us where we are today. 3. We are called into God’s Kingdom of love and reconciliation, following Jesus’ example in revealing God in and to the world, as we pray, “lead us not into temptation”.