Sunday, 14 February 2016

Testing in the Wilderness - 14 February 2016 - Lent 1 - Stoke Hammond

Old Testament Deut 26

 26 When you have entered the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians ill-treated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.’ Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him.11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

Epistle Romans 10

‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,13 for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Gospel Luke 4

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory. I am the light of the world, says the Lord, whoever follows me will have the light of life.   Hear the gospel...
 Jesus is tested in the wilderness
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”’
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.If you worship me, it will all be yours.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written:
‘“He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’
12 Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.


Today’s gospel reading is an account of the testing of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan representing the forces of evil. The same story in Mark’s gospel is very short indeed — barely 2 verses — but the versions in Matthew and Luke are longer, and almost identical except that the three tests in a different order.
One of these readings is used every year on the first Sunday of Lent. The reason is probably because the season of Lent represents a dramatic shift in the church’s year, when we are invited to go back to basics, and re-examine our faith at a fundamental level. Reading what Jesus went through in the wilderness helps us understand our own temptations and how to overcome them.
Many of the glimpses we get of the life of Jesus are not just historical narratives, but invite us, in some way, to share in what he went through. In doing so, we learn more about our faith by sharing his experiences. At the same time, as God incarnate — fully God as well as fully man — Jesus experiences what is like to be human, and shares fully in our humanity.
Let’s look at the testing in brief, and try to understand what is going on and why. The first point to make is that some translations translate the word testing  as temptation. Jesus cannot be tempted: he is fully God and God is not subject to temptation, nor can a perfect God sin.
The second point is that God has confirmed at his baptism that Jesus is Son of God and Messiah. But the way Jesus interprets these identities can vary widely. This is the subject of his testing by the forces of evil. What kind of Son of God will he be? What kind of Messiah? Is he going to me the kind of triumphalist, military leader the disciples have come to expect? Is he all-powerful, sweeping all evil before him and powerfully restoring justice in the world?
There were three examples of testing:
1.        If you are the Son of God you can banish hunger, both yours and people’s generally, if you make these stones into bread.
Jesus replies that the children of Israel were tempted in the Sinai for 40 years. God fed them with manna, so they might understand people do not live by bread alone but faith in their Creator.
2.        Jesus is invited to take earthly power to himself and rule. Why follow the path of suffering, when all authority and splendour can be yours? Just say the word.
Jesus again thinks of the Israelites in the wilderness. Before arriving in the promised land, God gave them a creed — the Shema (Deut 6:13) “Hear O Israel...”— warning them to remember who gave them the land and worship only him.
3.        Jesus is invited to get absolute proof of his sonship, by throwing himself off a high place, and God will save him from certain death. Jesus replies that the people of Israel tested God over and over again in the wilderness, but were exhorted not to put him on trial.
All three tests are paralleled in Sinai, and all three concern the nature of Jesus’ power. The contrast is that Jesus remained faithful when put to the test: the children of Israel were unfaithful again and again, yet God still redeemed them.
Remember Jesus went straight from the high point of his baptism to these trials. Likewise we are filled with God’s spirit at our own baptism, and our vocation as Christians is tested throughout our lives, just as Jesus was.
Through baptism, we are called to be obedient and to serve the Lord alone. But our faith is tested in the course of our lives, from birth to death. There is comfort in knowing, however, that God remains faithful, even if we fail.
The connection between Jesus’ testing and our own was recognized by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
Let us pray:
O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ our Lord