26 February 2023

The Lenten journey has sometimes come to be thought of as a time of “giving things up”. This is a rather domesticated way of thinking of the disciplines which are the true characterisation of this season. The disciplines of Lent (fasting, prayer and giving – including giving of oneself in service) are really tools to enable us to deal with the big three temptations that we all face – sex, power and money. These were, essentially, the temptations that Jesus had to face, and the Lenten disciplines enable us to learn from Jesus how to render these temptations powerless in our own lives. This first Sunday in Lent gives us the opportunity to confront these temptations head on, and make the commitment to follow Jesus in the Lenten disciplines for the next few weeks.

May our worship today empower us to do the work of becoming more Christ-like.

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7: God warns the man and woman in Eden not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they are tempted by the serpent, and eat some of the fruit, at which point they realise their nakedness and cover themselves with fig leaves.

Psalm 32: A Psalm of David celebrating God’s forgiveness which is given so freely to those who confess their sin and do not try to hide it, and also an acknowledgement of God’s invitation to guide God’s people and lead them to life.

Romans 5:12-19: Through one person sin entered the world, and all people have likewise sinned against God, but in Christ, God has given the free gift of forgiveness and right relationship with God.

Matthew 4:1-11: Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, but overcomes the temptation to satisfy his appetites by turning stone into bread, to gain power and influence by the miraculous act of throwing himself off the temple, and to gain the world’s wealth by worshiping the devil.

It is a simple and basic message that the Lectionary offers this week. We are all tempted to go our own way, to ignore God’s guidance and direction and to hide our sin and brokenness when we fail. But, God’s gracious and extravagant offer is forgiveness and right relationship with God, guidance and a pathway to life, if we will only confess our shortcomings and receive God’s restoration, and then follow God’s ways. The three sins which have always afflicted human beings – greed for wealth, lust for power and unlimited satisfaction of our appetites (money, power and sex) –  also afflicted Christ, and in his overcoming, we find inspiration and guidance for our own lives. The challenge, in today’s world of unconditional acceptance, is to have the courage and integrity to acknowledge our brokenness and destructiveness, and admit that we need both forgiveness and empowerment to become creative, contributing human beings who embody God’s reign.

GLOBAL APPLICATION:  The world – both the planet itself, and the people who live on it – suffer because of humanity’s inability to control our basic sinfulness. Our appetites have grown addictive and demand immediate satisfaction, leading to a world of exploitation, human trafficking and epidemics of obesity and sexual brokenness. Our greed for wealth and all that it brings has become immense and widespread, leading to a shortage of resources for some, unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels, climate change and devastation of natural resources and many species, while also leaving many people with desperate need as they are paid unfairly, or subject to unjust trade restrictions. Our desire for power and fame has led to a world of celebrity voyeurism, dissatisfaction with quiet and gentle living, and an increasing sense of powerlessness among those who are unable to reach the heights of fame that our world seems to demand. The call of the wilderness, and of Jesus’ example of facing temptation and overcoming it, is a challenging lesson for our world. Justice can only be done as we learn to live lives of discipline and simplicity, of consideration and sharing, of prayer and service. Global movements that call us to a different way of living are deserving of our support, and it is up to us, through our participation in political process and law-making, and through our own work of advocacy, ethical consumption and Christ-like living, to make a contribution to changing the core values by which our world operates. This will be a wilderness for sure – in many ways life will get more painful and sacrificial before it gets healthier and more comfortable.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Christianity has, unfortunately, become a religion of excess in many ways. Prosperity preaching, alignment with political parties or the arms of government, and spiritualising of our appetites, our greeds and our celebrity culture all add to the brokenness and injustice of our communities, our churches and our families. We desperately need to learn simplicity and generosity – the sharing of our resources, and the reduction of our wants and ‘needs’ to create an equitable and sustainable world, and reduce disparities in our corner of the planet. We desperately need to learn servanthood and humility – the respect of others, especially those we disagree with or who follow different religions, to create a world of peace and to bring the true meaning of the word ‘community’ back into lived reality in our neighbourhoods. We desperately need to learn self-discipline, moderation and fidelity – the right channeling of our appetites toward creativity and life-bringing, not exploitation and destruction, if we are to restore health, real relationships and human dignity in our societies. The disciplines of Christ in the wilderness, and of the Lenten season, are just the gift we need to address our own brokenness and addictions, and to make a contribution to healing in our families, our churches and our communities. Acting locally in lives of daily discipline and quiet Christ-likeness can have a communal, and even global, impact. The challenge is to make the sacrifices necessary to live such a life.

Darkness And Light
Overcoming Temptation

Hymn Suggestions:
I Know Whom I Have Believed
Be Thou My Vision
Saviour, Like A Shepherd Lead Us
Heart Word
Thy Word (Link to YouTube video)
Blessed Be Your Name (Link to YouTube video)
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)
Mighty To Save (Link to YouTube video)
Change My Heart, O God (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

Video Suggestions
Tempted By The Devil