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.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
1 Happy the one whose transgression is forgiven,
and whose sin is covered.
2 Happy the one to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile.
3 For I held my tongue;
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all the day long.
4 Your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up like the drought in summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and my iniquity I did not hide.
6 I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
7 Therefore let all the faithful make their prayers to you in time of trouble;
in the great water flood, it shall not reach them.
8 You are a place for me to hide in;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with songs of deliverance.
9 ‘I will instruct you and teach you
in the way that you should go;
I will guide you with my eye.
10 ‘Be not like horse and mule which have no understanding;
whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you.’
11 Great tribulations remain for the wicked,
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord;
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him,
‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Sermon on First Sunday of Lent?
One of the major themes in the christian spiritual life follows the title of Thomas a Kempis’ book, The Imitation of Christ. It is a classic book that everyone must be acquainted with in some way, if only to know the title. The book espouses a wonderful ideal, to be able to achieve the saved life by incorporating the Jesus into our own lives. We all hope to achieve this divine end as christians, don’t we?
For instance in our Collect for today, we pray
Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are
Here we are at the beginning of Lent, the season of temptation. We are supposed to be fasting just as Jesus did at the start of his ministry. Each of us is making our way to our ownmost possibility, through Calvary and then on to heaven. By fasting we are imitating Christ through Lent, in Holy Week we participate in the passion through the rites of the Church and we live out our own resurrection in a perfect imitation of the Easter event.
The Collect, however, makes a qualification about our exemplar Jesus, doesn’t it? – The Collect adds the phrase, “yet without sin” This should start alarm bells off and, unless our hubris deafens us, we should hear them as they ring true about our very nature as human beings. We are “Saved sinners” and the phrase describes each and every believer – as christians we do not have the divine perfection of human innocence which Jesus has. After all, aren’t we always falling short of the ideal of being perfect in our humanity? Jesus did embrace this essential quality which we are, but tellingly, “without sin”.
However, according to our confession of faith, repeated whenever we worship together, Jesus was also perfect in divinity. Are we “divine”? Have we that quality which is the perfection of all being in our lives? No, I don’t think so. I certainly do not embody this quality. We are limited in our capacity but we do aspire to perfection in every aspect of our lives. Or, if we see ourselves as divine, I imagine we are listening to voices other than our own conscience, voices which indeed may be drowning out those alarm bells we should hear. I think we could be listening to deluding voices, suggesting that we are more than we really are. I imagine this is why witchcraft, mystery and suspense hold such a sway over so many. After all, isn’t Harry Potter or Hermione Granger the person we want to be? We could talk for a long time about these heroic characters of modern legend and how they embody the illusion of the world, those delusions all religions try to dispel.
Religion speaks to human failure in general, that we do not attain the humility of a perfect humanity, the conscience that crowns human humility. We need only observe the people around us to realise just how we can deceive ourselves. In our own self-reflective recounting of our day, in that lenten discipline of daily self appraisal, I believe we can see just how we might be fooling ourselves. Perhaps we realise that we act without humility, perhaps we realise that we have even acted without conscience. Sadly that seems to be the way “they” in the great mass of humanity around us, seem to act day in and day out. But more tellingly those seductive voices tell us to act without recourse to conscience. Indeed they encourage us to act without reflection on what is righteous, what may reflect the divine – or even true humanity in any situation.
How bitter an experience it is when we throw ourselves against the crowd round about us, when a humble conscience takes over our lives! Just how can we survive the dreadful pain of that isolation – that we are alone with God?
The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church has been struggling with this conundrum since Jesus hung on the cross at Calvary. Happily for us, there are a range of possible answers to this mystery – the whence and whither of God with us.
Last week I considered the wide range of worship and church polity as offering possible solutions to this isolation, modes of humble living in the world with others. When conscience isolates us from the crowd, when we are isolated from every other person. When we have to make those decisions for ourselves, alone, aren’t we perplexed?
Where is the guide which will lead us through the tangled web we weave when we attempt to deceive ourselves let alone others, when we listened only to the crowd which admits it has no interest in justice, righteousness and the good? Instead of the external mode of being with people ’round about us, will the historical churches guide us in that spiritual life? Does the Church teach us about life in accord with conscience?
As it is Lent, let’s consider whether this inner life can be captured, whether we ourselves can live out our conscience. There are many spiritual disciplines offered by the Church. Which shall I choose? In which will I feel comfortable? I wonder, though – is that the right way of approaching this problem of Lent and its attendant fasting? Perhaps we should find what makes us uncomfortable and forces us into the spiritual – as opposed to the fleshly about which Paul speaks so eloquently.
What degree of discomfort can we deal with? What constraints of discipline will bring us to understand our singular self, to experience the “I” in the presence of the “Thou” of our God? We must remember that God does not tempt us beyond our endurance – I would suggest only the crowd does that. So we should enter into our fast with eagerness to become truly what we are.
When I give up chocolate, don’t I stand over against the crowd? Fasting does separate us from the people ’round about us, doesn’t it? Who could possibly give up chocolate in an age where indulgence is the norm!? After all, didn’t all the ads suggest we needed to indulge ourselves all through that smaller period of fasting called Advent!? This giving up of chocolate does isolate the fasting person from his (or her) neighbours, doesn’t it? This could be just the start of a life of conscience – if we are able to endure that isolation for more than forty days. Fasting should condition us for that isolation which throws us into a world where God confronts us in no uncertain terms, where we encounter our ownmost possibility, where we can imitate Christ in the desert and overcome all the devil’s temptations, from endless indulgence (bread from rocks), immortality (hurling himself from the pinnacle of the Temple), or ruling all the earth (subjecting all beneath our feet). I only hope that more people will imitate Christ and divine humility will inhabit human conscience.