25 February 2007
- It's difficult, isn't it? There you are
being offered a box of chocolates, and you simply can't resist! Or
it's late, and you're tired, and it's a whole lot easier to get a
take-away than to cook supper. Or you're in the supermarket, and
there's a wonderful-looking cheese-encrusted loaf that seriously
calls your name.... or they have a special offer, buy one and get
one free, on Ginsters' Cornish Pasties.
- And if you need to watch your weight as
much as I do, you'll know these aren't totally great food choices!
But they are sometimes very tempting ones!
- Okay, so eating the wrong sort of food can
scarcely be called a sin! It might have been more sensible to have
eaten a few grapes, rather than the pieces of chocolate I actually
did eat while preparing this sermon, but that's all.
- But sometimes we find it easy to be tempted
to do wrong. Perhaps we're tempted to use our bodies in the wrong
way, or worse, to misuse other people's bodies. Or to misuse other
people full stop - Jesus reminded us that if we were angry with
someone, we needed to express our anger in such a way that it didn't
destroy the other person, or put them down. Jesus tells us that we
are to treat other people with the greatest possible respect for who
they are - physically, emotionally and spiritually. And the rest of
the New Testament makes it clear that we aren't even supposed to
think unkind things about other people, which it's very hard
to do at times! We can be tempted, too, not to get involved when a
friend needs help or a listening ear; we can be tempted to ignore it
when someone in the church is in difficulties. We can be tempted to
steal - even a few minutes' of our employers' time to make a
personal phone call or answer a personal e-mail. Although, of
course, most employers do allow a reasonable amount of that, but not
- And some poor folk are addicted to things,
drink or drugs or gambling or cigarettes or something - and it's
terribly hard for them to resist the temptation to indulge their
habit. I know - I'm addicted to cigarettes. Oh, I've not smoked
for over 13 years, but I'm still addicted, and one puff and I'd be
back to 40 a day in no time at all. On the other hand, I can claim
no virtue for not being addicted to gambling - it simply doesn't
interest me and I've never seen the point!
- Different people are tempted to different
things. I know that when I read today's Gospel, I often wonder what
the problem was - what are these so-called temptations? But to
Jesus, they were very real, and very urgent. He was being tempted
to misuse his divine powers, to go for cheap glory rather than the
way of the cross.
- I don't know how many of you enjoy the
Harry Potter books and films - I know I do, and I'm really looking
forward to the last book coming out in July. But sometimes, when I
read about the way they use their wands, I wonder why they bother -
I mean, whatever is the point of using magic to draw the curtains,
for instance; can't they just pull them by hand or with a cord, like
everybody else? Jesus did miracles, sure, but they weren't like
that. They weren't just to avoid bother, or to get something more
easily. That's why it was wrong for him to turn the stones into
bread - it would have been a cheap magic trick and would have done
nothing to enhance God's glory.
- It must have been so insidious, mustn't it?
"Are you really the Son of God? Why don't you prove it by
making these stones bread? You're very hungry, aren't you? If
you're the Son of God, you can do anything you like, can't you?
Surely you can make these stones into bread? But perhaps you aren't
the Son of God, after all...." And so it would have gone on
and on and on.
- We read Luke's account, and it just sounds
as though Jesus shook his head and said, "No, it's written: you
shall not live by bread alone!" But it can't have been that
easy, can it? If it were, it wouldn't have been worth worrying
about. It's like I have no interest in going to a casino, or in
playing games of chance - it just isn't my scene, so I'm totally not
virtuous if I don't do it! But for someone who finds that sort of
thing the most enormous fun, it must be enormously tempting: "Oh,
go on then; you never know, you might win! Just buy that
scratchcard.... who knows, it might be the one!" And so on.
- Jesus was also tempted with riches and
power beyond his wildest dreams - at that, beyond our wildest
dreams, if only he would worship the enemy. But that wasn't what he
was about - much to the disappointment of some of his followers.
That, too, must have been ghastly for him. Could he fulfil his
mission without riches and power? What was being God's beloved son
all about, anyway? Would it be possible to spread the message that
he was beginning to realise he had to spread if he was going to
spend his life in an obscure and dusty part of the Roman empire?
- We can sympathise with this particular
temptation; I'm sure we all would love to be rich and powerful! But
for Jesus, it must have been particularly subtle - it would help him
do the work he'd been sent to do! And again, after prayer and
wrestling with it, he finds the answer: “Worship
the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
- And then
the third temptation. The view from the pinnacle of the Temple. So
high up.... by their standards, like the top of the Canary Wharf
tower would be to us. "Go on then - you're the Son of God,
aren't you? Throw yourself down - your God will protect you!"
It's the Harry Potter temptation again, I think - the temptation to
show off, to use his powers like magic. Yes, God would have rescued
him, but: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
That's not what it's about. That would have been showing off. That
would have been misusing his divine powers for something rather
- You may
remember that Jesus was similarly tempted on the Cross, he could
have called down the legions from heaven to rescue him. But he
chose not to. It wasn't about spectacular powers - often, when
Jesus did miracles, he asked people not to tell anybody. He didn't
want to be spectacular. He'd learnt that his mission was to the
people of Israel, probably even just the people of Galilee - and the
occasional outsider who needed him, like the Syro-Phoenician woman,
or the Roman centurion - and anything more than that was up to his
obviously, if the "anything more" hadn't happened, we
wouldn't be here this morning! But, at the time, that wasn't Jesus'
business. His business, as he told us, was to do the work of his
Father in Heaven - and that work, for now, was to be an itinerant
preacher and healer, but not trying deliberately to call attention
- In the
world of Harry Potter, magic is sometimes used for personal comfort
and to save time - look at Mrs Weasley cooking by magic, and Fred
and George teasing Ron and Harry because they have to prepare the
Christmas Brussels sprouts using a knife, instead of just being able
to wave their wands at them.
wasn't like that. His powers weren't to be used to save him
discomfort, even death. They were only to be used at God's command,
to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. There were
no short cuts. He had to go to the Cross, to walk the way of
Calvary, to be put to death.
- In our
world, unlike that of Harry Potter, there simply aren't any
short-cuts. We, too, have to learn to walk in God's way, wherever
it takes us. I'm not saying, by the way, that Harry Potter is in
any way a bad thing - they're superb stories, brilliantly told,
about the fight between good and evil, which we Christians certainly
don't have a monopoly on. And I'm really looking forward to the
last book, coming in July. All I'm saying is that unlike the people
in Harry's world, Jesus couldn't use his powers for his own glory,
his own comfort, even to save his own life.
- And we
can't, either. And I don't know about you, but sometimes I find the
traditional things preachers tend to say about this story rather
irritating. They point out that temptation does go away if you
don't give into it, and that help is available to help us resist.
Well, yes - if it's something like an addiction - been there, done
that, when I was giving up smoking, and I know I couldn't possibly
have done that without God's help. And if there is time, we can
often decide that we won't do whatever it is we are being tempted to
do, whatever it is. But far too often, the temptation to do or say
the wrong thing happens so quickly, there simply isn't time!
before you know it, you've snapped at someone, or you've got
engrossed in something at work and missed the train you'd earlier
promised to catch. Or whatever.
- I'm not
quite sure what you're supposed to do then.... except know that God
does change us, slowly, as we walk more and more in His way, as we
get more and more used to being His person all the time, not just on
Sundays or whenever we happen to think about.
I said to the young people that it didn't matter much what Lenten
discipline you chose as long as it was something to help you come
nearer to Jesus, to become more Jesus' person. And that's true for
all of us. This season of Lent is about becoming more and more
Jesus' person. We aren't required to be perfect - although when we
do mess up, we're required to try to put things right as far as
possible. But we are expected to be open to being made more and
was tempted in ways that we may not be. But we are all tempted, we
all have our own weak spots. Mine are different to yours, but I
have them, and so do you. But with God's help we can fight them, we
can gradually gain ground over them. And Lent is a terrific time to
increase our spiritual discipline to help us do just that. Amen.
- Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is
the time when we prepare for Easter. But Easter is still a very
long way away, it isn't happening until April. We get just over six
weeks to prepare, which is quite a long time, really. At Christmas,
we only get four weeks, can you remember what that time is called?
- The thing about Lent is that it's
traditionally been a time of fasting. This means some kind of
physical deprivation, to help you with your spiritual preparation.
Some people find that not eating sweets, or meat, or fizzy pop -
booze if you're grown up - or something like that helps them to be
more spiritually aware, and more ready to think about Jesus at
Easter. In my church, King's Acre, we don't have flowers in Lent,
to remind us that this is a special time. And then we appreciate
the Easter flowers all the more. And in churches where they have
different colours on the communion table or the minister's robes at
different times of year, during Lent and Advent it's purple.
- This can be a good discipline, but of
course it can just be done for the sake of doing it! I don't know
if any of you know the children's author, Noel Streatfield? She
wrote a lot of books for children, the most famous of which is
called Ballet Shoes. Well, she and her sisters grew up about
a hundred years ago, and in their family, as in many others, it was
assumed that nobody would want to eat sweets or cake or jam during
Lent, so they were never served! So even if you had wanted to eat
them, you couldn't have done so. And I don't really see what good
that did, as it wasn't a voluntary thing, and just made the children
dread Lent each year.
- My mother used to say that if you give up
something for Lent, you ought to put the money you save aside, and
give it to Children in Need or a similar charity, so that you aren't
just doing it for yourself. She has a point!
- Some people take on something extra during
Lent. Perhaps they go to a study group, or read a bit of the Bible
every day, or spend time visiting someone who isn't well, or
something. Or maybe you could do something like remembering to say
"Thank you" to God for something every day. That's what
I'm doing this year. You could keep a diary, and write down what
you said "Thank you God" for - and then you would have a
record to show for it, too! I've got a blog on LiveJournal, and I'm
putting it on there, but pencil and paper is fine, too.
- The thing is, it doesn't really matter what
Lenten discipline you choose, as long as it's something that helps
you come nearer to Jesus. If it doesn't, don't do it!
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