Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Heavenly Father, your Son battled with the powers of darkness, and grew closer to you in the desert: help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer that we may witness to your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, you have renewed us with the living bread from heaven; by it you nourish our faith, increase our hope, and strengthen our love: teach us always to hunger for him who is the true and living bread, and enable us to live by every word that proceeds from out of your mouth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides under the shadow of the Almighty,
2 Shall say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my stronghold,
my God, in whom I put my trust.’
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge
and the Most High your stronghold,
10 There shall no evil happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your tent.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over you,
to keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you in their hands,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and adder;
the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
14 Because they have set their love upon me, therefore will I deliver them;
I will lift them up, because they know my name.
15 They will call upon me and I will answer them;
I am with them in trouble,
I will deliver them and bring them to honour.
16 With long life will I satisfy them;
and show them my salvation.
But what does it say?
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Romans 10: 8b–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.
Sermon on First Sunday of Lent
Here we are at the beginning of the great fast of Lent. We are being tempted just as Jesus was in the wilderness. In the gospel reading, we hear about the devil and the tests Jesus underwent. Jesus countered the devil with quotations from the bible at every turn. I wonder what I would reply if there were only stones around me and I was famished, or if I were on the top of the temple in Jerusalem. And what would I reply now if I were shown all the countries of the world and were offered all power to control everything, especially in light of the events of the last week?
I may not, in my own experience, have the vision of all the empires in the world, but I can imagine that there are people who are tempted to take up that offer of world domination. Even in our private lives there are many who wish to lord it over others. There are so many bullies in the schoolyard! Aren’t there multitudes who want everyone else at their beck and call? We have seen these people domineering in friends’ lives, in work or on committees. We have even seen this in many countries’ leaders, let alone in the people we know personally. Leaders in the United States have been seen to be bullies personally and politically. However, politics is off the agenda, but our leaders are examples we can use to understand ourselves.
Becoming someone who wants to rule the world requires two things, the will to do what is not part of the social contract and the opportunity to do so. The social contract is our living one with another in the love of God, in our own love one for the other. We mutually benefit from this respect, this charity which we share with one another. It is a communal love which commends ourselves to others with no expectation. When we truly love, as I have said before, we want nothing back, we only want to give and when I truly love one person, everyone around me benefits.
But this love is not easy to accomplish in our ordinary lives, when this and that gets in the way of our intentions. Like that weak flesh Paul complains about, when his spirit wants to soar to sit in the heavenly kingdom with the Lord and Master of his life.
In our own lives we are confronted with decisions which we find very difficult. These are the temptations we have in front of us daily – we have to choose to love our neighbour and God beyond all things. We are confronted with the choice to do the right thing or not. Good or evil – that is the eternal choice – and the temptation to do something questionable is always right there in front of us. It would be so easy to slip into it.
To rise above all things and to do what is good, seems to be beyond our ability. We do not know how to achieve what is righteous in our lives. Here I am using the word, “righteous,” in the way the rappers do. They see that good deed as beyond the ordinary, beyond the everyday. It is not part of our usual experience, is it?
The temptations of Christ in the wilderness are extreme examples of the everyday choices we all make day by day. We don’t have the opportunity to be idolised by the world as in that temptation the devil enticed Jesus with, but I think we can see that we want to enthral one person. “If only she would love me!” is something I said so many times about heartthrobs before I met my wife. I want to be able to cajole that one person to my way of thinking, into my way of being in the world with me. Isn’t this where the bully starts? Don’t we start on that road of good intentions when we want to overwhelm the other with our so-called “declarations of love”?
This is a far cry from the devil obliging us to choose to acknowledge him, but the reality is the same – to decide to do what is good or not.
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
We all know about the Word of God, don’t we? We all know that it is as close to us as our hearts beat within our very selves. But do we really see what that word is in our everyday lives? Acknowledging the good in life that we could and should accomplish is a far step away from what we do day by day. Don’t we race through and do what is convenient and expedient? We never want to place our hand on the tiller to give guidance to our friends and neighbours or ourselves because we always think that what is good is always too hard for us to do. Certainly, I always tell myself that the Word of God is beyond my powers.
What about that fundamental experience of temptation by the devil which we read every first Sunday of Lent ? Do we know about that wrenching of conscience? Do we counter the bad choices by quoting scripture as a means of giving ourselves strength and wisdom in our everyday lives?
Then what about those of us who are not clever enough to quote scripture at any time, let alone at the right moment! How can I hope to counter the temptations of the devil, all the evil in my life, if I do not find biblical succour in my mind? Can I touch the sure foundation of the biblical Christ for my life? Is there any hope for me?
Well, I think there is. But it is a more difficult task. I have to start at first principles time and time again. I seem never to make any progress because I begin at the two great commandments and develop everything from that golden rule Jesus taught. I fail so often, but I am happy to begin again in the hope that one day I will succeed. Well, today is the day we begin our great fast once more collectively. What will we give up? — I don’t think chocolate is the most important thing to give up. That is one of those things that are a minor annoyance in life. I want to give up something even more important in everyday life – and here the stories about Jesus in the desert should guide me.
During these awful times, after lockdown through which we seem to have learned nothing, now at the beginning of a conflict which could overwhelm the world, we must turn to that Word which will guide us, that Word which will show us the path through all conflict and danger. What is that Word? You know what I am going to say, don’t you? I have said it so many times before: Love – a love so profound that I am willing to give up everything for the sake of another. Would that our world leaders and our neighbours would hear that Word! If only I could live that Word day by day! — Lent is not just the forty days before Easter – Lent must be every day of our everyday lives.