Sermon by Revd Dr Andrew Warmback. Lent One. Sunday 6 March 2022, St Paul’s, Durban

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Sermon by Revd Dr Andrew Warmback (Luke 4:1-13)

Introduction

The temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness were distractions to try to divert him from his mission of announcing the Good News of God’s reign on earth.  They are temptations and distractions we face today – to live a life in which we seek comfort, power, position and authority.  Jesus resisted these temptations.  Can we?

Context

The gospels of Matthew and Mark also record Jesus’ temptations in the desert. They take place after his baptism and before he begins his public ministry, which is initiated by his reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the Temple.

Jesus is described as being full of the Holy Spirit.  And it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil.

Jesus’ going into the wilderness for 40 days reminds us of the experience of the Israelites who spent 40 days in the wilderness.  For them it was also a time of testing before they could enter the Promised Land.  Our Lenten journey also reflects this time Jesus spent in the desert.

 The temptations

The devil tests Jesus three times and on each occasion Jesus quoted scriptures in resisting the offers. In the first temptation Jesus is asked to turn the stone into bread – to relieve his hunger, to make it more comfortable for himself.  Jesus says that one does no live by bread alone – greater than the satisfaction of food is the need to depend totally on God.

In the second temptation the devil says that if Jesus worships him he will give Jesus the kingdoms of the earth.  Jesus turns this down saying that it is God alone that one should worship.  And in the final test Jesus is asked to jump off the top of the Temple and the angels with catch him – the devil uses scripture to offer this. Jesus resists this too.

There seems to be nothing wrong in any of these things that the devil offers – they are things that Jesus can use for the good, for himself and the world.  But they are not what he is called to do.  Besides there is a catch in each of them.

A Modern Parable of Temptation

These temptations Jesus faces reminds me of a story called the Five Monks told by the Indian spiritual writer Anthony de Mello in his book, The Song of the Bird.  I give a version of it.

A Buddist leader in the South requested a Buddist leader in the North for a wise and holy monk to train the novices. To everyone’s astonishment, this leader sent five monks instead of one. To those who enquired he said, cryptically, “We will be lucky if one of them actually gets there.”

The group had been on the road some days when a messenger came running up to them and said, “The priest of our village has died. We need someone to take his place.” The village seemed a pleasant place and the priest’s salary was good. One of the monks suddenly showed great pastoral concern. “I should not be a Buddhist,” he said, “If 1 did not serve these people.” So he dropped out.

Some days later they were at the palace of a king who took a fancy to one of them. “Stay with us, “said the king, “and you shall marry my daughter. And when I die, you will be king.” The monk was drawn to the lustre of the throne, so he said, “What better way to influence the people of this kingdom than to be king? I should not be a Buddhist if I did not seize this chance to serve the interests of religion.” He too dropped out.

One night, in a hilly region, the monks came to the solitary hut of a young woman who gave them hospitality and thanked God for their presence. Her parents had been killed by mountain bandits and the young woman was all alone and very fearful. Next day, when it was time to leave, one of the monks declared, “I shall stay on here. I should not be a Buddhist if I did not show compassion to this young woman.”

The remaining two finally came to a Buddhist village and were scandalized to find that the inhabitants had abandoned their religion under the influence of a Hindu theologian. One of the monks said, “I owe it to these people and to the Lord Buddha himself to win them back to the faith.”

The fifth monk eventually got to the Buddist leader of the South.

 What about us?

We drop out for the best reasons.  The excuses we offer for choosing another path are usually for very honourable and worthwhile things. Helping other people, changing the world, saving the planet…

What has God called us to do, now, with our lives?

We can be easily distracted.

Comfort, power and status – things offered to Jesus – can be very attractive to us too and if taken up will divert us from what we should be doing.

Throughout his ministry Jesus resisted those who tried to test, distract or derail his mission often at the cost of his own suffering. In fact his mission was to overcome evil not to collude with it, even if it could be used to bring about good.

Conclusion

Lent is a journey.  It is time to be disciplined.  It is a time to be focussed on what God wants of us, to refocus or to rediscover what this is. It is a time to trust God in the life we have been called to lead.

Jesus could do what he did because he had the Holy Spirit.  May that same Spirit accompany us on our Lenten journey. It may not be an easy journey but it is a journey that ends not in death but in the resurrection and new life.

 

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