Home » Spirituality

Sermon for Lent – Temptations

Article posted on 9 March 2017 Leave a Comment

Matthew 4.1-11

The temptation stories set the scene for the forthcoming ministry of Jesus of establishing his Kingdom on earth. What kind of Kingdom will it be that establishes the rule of God and yet because it is motivated by love for humankind, equally respects and honours the integrity of his creation?

There is much we can learn about our faith from examining these challenges to the chosen way of love.

All the temptations are variations on a theme of power.

The first appeals to the miraculous; the setting aside of the laws of nature and experience, with an open display of God’s omnipotence, the all-powerful.

‘Change these stones into bread’

We would love it wouldn’t we, that when life is not to our satisfaction, we could simply ask God to change it; to ask God to intervene and by denying the reality of things as they are, to change them into something else we desire.

A Kingdom based on this would be achieving the world’s salvation by offering another world where human desires transform our external reality on a whim. This is a world which invites discontent and abandonment of the world we have. It is a world where reality is not a present absolute but is an everchanging fantasy land. The world as we know it loses its integrity. It is a world where dissatisfaction is rewarded, encouraging further discontent; a world where self-interest places individuals at the centre of their own universe.

Novelist and Philosopher, Ayn Rand, who died in 1982, stated that at the heart of her belief system is the conclusion that humans are meant to overcome nature through the power of rational thought. A worldview labelled ‘enlightened self-interest’ is a belief system where only by allowing human self-interest to run free will humans ever experience true satisfaction.

This is not the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. Christianity is about facing up squarely to the reality of life and not retreating into some other worldly fantasy land where we get all we desire. Where if we don’t like what we see, we can change what we see.

Interestingly, later critics of Rand, say she refused to look outside her own autocratic mindset for help, and so became a slave to her own imagined world.

The second temptation appeals to the spectacular; like the first but differs in a key respect.

The first breeds discontent with our external reality; this breeds discontent with our internal reality.

‘You will not dash your foot against a stone’

All is safe. All is well.

Yet, the world has many people who see themselves as invisible, the forgotten, the superfluous who perceive themselves as being of no value in our materialistic society. People who see no value in the ordinariness of daily life. A people who lack hope for an improvement now or ever.

Some then seek an escape by an imagined sharing in the lives of others. The stark reality of their own lives can be kept hidden, set aside as they try to emulate a model lifestyle they cannot possibly engage with. Clever people have seen this and so we now have a well-established celebrity culture promoted by the media. All celebrities must do to get a following, is to look tantalisingly sexy; be perceived to live perfect lives with the perfect partner in a perfect house with perfect children.

They must be perceived to have no vulnerabilities, no pain, no sadness; to have never dashed their foot against a stone.

This is not the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. It is not one founded upon the spectacular and the celebrity which can be viewed from afar without any engagement in the realities of real life; the pain and the suffering, the disappointments and the struggles. To engage with how we feel and experience.

Jesus came not to offer a vision of an unachievable lifestyle to gaze upon and wonder, but a transformation of the reality of our lived experience.

Christianity is not founded on some superhero who never engaged with the messiness, the cruelty and hatreds of humanity, but someone who in the words of Philippians, ‘though he was God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness….he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.’

There is no Easter Sunday without passing through Good Friday. Christ engaged with us, dashed his foot against a stone.

Temptation 3 is sheer total control.

We long for a Christ of power. Yet if he should establish his Kingdom on the basis of total power, we would have to pay a price we would find unpalatable. We would lose our freedom of expression, our ability to explore and develop our understanding, our spiritual integrity. Above all we would lose our humanity. God would gain his followers, but at the expense of corrupting and suppressing his creation.

All these you can have if you would bow down and worship me, says the devil

The establishment of this Kingdom would be grounded on wrong foundations; not one of love, freedom and human flourishing but on subjugation, fear, absolute control and domination. It would be based on a perversion of trust and of truth. A deception which dishonours the whole of creation.

On the Cross, Jesus redefined power; not based on strength and the ability to control, but based on love and the ability to serve. Through his actions, a Kingdom is established which is eternal and which celebrates the created order. It offers joy, peace, harmony and above all freedom and hope for humankind.

Amen

 

 

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

This is a Gravatar-enabled blog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.