Service of the Word: First Sunday of Lent 2021

COLLECT

Let us pray for grace to keep Lent faithfully.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made and you forgive the sins of all those who are penitent. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, perfect forgiveness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 4: 1 – 13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

HOMILY

Well, here we are with our annual opportunity to examine the theme of “temptation”.  Our Gospel today focuses on the three temptations that Jesus faced during his 40 day sojourn in the wilderness. Let’s have a look at them to see what they throw up for us.

The first temptation is a hedonistic one; it’s a craving for food, a sort of lust of the body. Jesus has been on a major fast and the devil knows it. “Don’t worry,” he says. “You are rich, you are God, you can have all the food you want. Just turn this rock into bread!”  And Jesus’ quiet response and reaction?  “The Father’s words are bread enough for me!”

The second temptation is a materialistic one, a lust of the eyes, if you like, an enticement to take all the glittering prizes that the world has to offer. The devil says “You can have all of this, the riches, the power, the authority and more. Just imagine how great that would feel.  Side with me. Ok, technically that means you’ll be worshipping me too, but if you understand things my way, you’ll soon see the benefits. Try it.” And Jesus’ quiet response and reaction?  “I pledge myself to the Lord my God, not to you. Anything you could possibly offer me would tear me apart.

The third temptation is an egotistic one, a lust of the self.  It’s the temptation of arrogant pride, puffed up self-importance. The devil says “You know that heaven will do whatever you command, so why don’t you jump off this temple roof and prove your importance. Angels will rush to catch you, everybody will think you’re great. Show us what you’re made of.”  And Jesus’ quiet response and reaction?  ‘Yes, I am close to heaven and to God, but hear this: I choose to let God’s gentle, quiet love be my life, not you.

It’s an impressive little scene this, isn’t it? No matter how many times I read it or reflect on it I’m always blown away by the strength of the values our Lord shows in the face of such strong and alluring hedonistic, materialistic and egotistic temptations.  You could say – a full-body workout of temptations! 

Every year we have this opportunity on the first Sunday in Lent to apply what this Gospel lesson teaches us to our own values, whether they be hedonistic, materialistic or egotistic, and to measure them against those of our Lord? 

Do we, for example, have a tendency to give in to hedonistic impulses that manifest themselves in forms of dependence, addiction, bingeing, compulsive consumption, all in the pursuit of ever greater pleasurable experiences

through alcohol, drugs, food or even exercise? If so, we might be getting ourselves into a trap, a trap that is tempting us to look away from God and tempting us to believe that the only real way to feel deep, meaningful satisfaction in life lies in the satiation of earthly desires and carnal drives, when in fact the examples of Jesus and of holy, happy people throughout the ages show us they lead to further self destruction and great unhappiness. nAre any of these temptations our temptations?

What about materialism, that other form of lust, not of the body but of the eyes? Are we driven by the acquisition of wealth (more and more money), of possessions (more and more things), of status symbols (more and more signs to prove our success, our happiness)? Are we finding it easier to believe in the material world where, unless something can be touched or proven, it doesn’t really exist? And are we finding it more difficult to believe in the spiritual world as another form of existence and reality, the world of faith, in which we have trust in things that we can’t see or touch?  If so, then we might be getting trapped again, tempted to believe that all we get is this life, and we only live once, so we better make the most of it, when the example of Jesus and of countless holy, happy people throughout the ages is that the things of this material world are fleeting – they all pass away – while the things of the spiritual world are eternal and never pass away. Are any of these temptations our temptations?

And what about that old devil egotism, arrogant pride, puffed up self-importance?  Do we ever find ourselves losing it with tele-sales employees who phone at inopportune times?  Or with supermarket check-out staff who seem a bit sullen at their work and don’t serve us with the deference we feel we are due? If we do, maybe we’ve fallen into yet another trap, maybe we’ve yielded to the temptation of thinking that we are bigger, better, more important than them, and that they can be treated with less civility and respect than us. Ring any bells?

This Lent let’s all make the most of this healing time of self-discipline and self-reassessment.  And let’s use this annual opportunity to hold our values up against the impressive values of our Lord and try, with fresh commitment and conviction, to live up to the high standards he sets us.

The Revd Canon Drew Sheridan