Lent 1 • 5 March 2017

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Rev. Chris Udy

Today is the first Sunday
in the Church’s season of Lent -
and it’s also our Planning Day.

On this first Sunday in Lent
it's traditional to read
the passage in one of the Gospels
that describes Jesus planning his future -
searching for his way forward,
wandering in the wilderness -
in the desert -
where the tempter came to test him.

It's important to remember
that this testing happened
immediately after Jesus was baptised -
immediately after Jesus
had heard that voice from heaven
saying “You are my Son, whom I love -
I am well pleased with you.”
It's important
because the Temptations
are about what things are good
for a Child of God to do -
and the Tempter begins by saying -
“If you are the Son of God” - if you really are -
then you are a significant person:
you have value, you have power.
So how will you use your power
as the Son of God?”

Will you use it for yourself? -
Will you satisfy your physical and material hungers
by turning stones into bread?
Will you satisfy your spiritual hunger -
by looking for certainty -
checking out whether God means what he says -
whether God really does love you as his Child?
And how can you test God’s love?
Do something to draw attention to yourself;
do something pointlessly risky,
something self-destructive:
throw yourself off the highest tower of the temple
and see if God will save you.

Or will you satisfy your political hunger -
your need for control -
your drive to dominate?
Will you sell your soul to keep control?
Will you ally yourself
with the fearful powers of this world
and use the methods of evil?

What will you do,
if you really are the Child of God?
How will you live -
and what will you live for?

It's important to remember
that the Temptations came
immediately after Jesus
had heard God’s declaration of love -
because the Temptations also come to Jesus
as a result of that declaration.
Jesus is the much-loved Son of God -
he has value; he has power - he has authority -
how will he use what he has?
Popular clichés have got it wrong -
temptations don’t come to us
in moments of weakness -
they come to us through our strengths.
Only people who have been trusted
can betray that trust.
Only people who have access to good things
can abuse that access.
Only people with skills and gifts
can use them unscrupulously.

Temptations come through strengths -
when something is impossible,
there’s no temptation at all.

Temptations are about choices -
about using the power and resources we have
in constructive ways -
or using them destructively.

It's also important to understand
that just as the Temptations come to Jesus
because of who he is,
Jesus also makes strong choices
in the face of temptation
because of who he is -
and the statement that defines him -
the statement that establishes who Jesus is -
is God’s declaration of love.

The season of Lent
is a season of planning and re-assessment.
It's an invitation to discover - or re-discover -
what it means to live as a community of faith -
as Daughters and Sons of God -
and to take God’s declaration of love for us seriously.
Later this morning
we’ll be looking at our strengths -
looking at what resources we share together,
and seeing how we can live and work
as people who are loved by God -
as the body of Christ in this place.

Lent is about making choices -
traditionally it has included
making choices about food,
and about spiritual disciplines -
and those things
were always symbolic -
they represented other choices,
made at a much deeper level.

When we know that we are loved by God -
when God’s declaration of love calls us together
and defines who we are,
we discover a freedom
that those who don’t have that assurance
simply don’t have.

The despair of thousands of people
is that they believe they have no choices.
They believe that they are trapped:
trapped into deadly habits;
trapped into destructive patterns
in their relationships;
trapped in competition
for rewards that have no meaning;
trapped in communities that stay on the surface
and have no Spirit or depth or power.

But disciples of Jesus –
we who are baptised in Christ,
are re-defined
by God’s declaration of love for us -
and now we have a choice.

Lenten disciplines remind us of our choices,
and they remind us that our power to choose -
our freedom - has a cost.
The love that defines us
is not a light or easy thing to live with -
its purpose is to heal us - to change us -
and if we decide that we don’t want to change,
and don’t want to be healed,
life can get complicated and difficult.

Today, and during this season of Lent,
we’re asked to spend a little time in the desert,
to consider our choices as individuals,
and to plan our life together as a community.

We need to consider
the way we use our material resources,
and see whether we are trying to achieve
emotional or spiritual goals by material strategies.

We need to consider
the way we use our spiritual resources:
Do we live in trust, live faithfully,
accepting that we are valued by God
and by the people who meet us here;
that we belong and are significant
in this community -
or are we constantly seeking reassurance,
looking for affirmation and approval,
and trying to test God’s sincerity?

And we need to consider
the way we use our political resources -
are our relationships opportunities for service,
or places where we exercise dominion?
Are we using our influence and our power
to build up our families,
our friends and our community,
or using our power selfishly, divisively, destructively?

In six weeks
we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The end of the path he chose in the wilderness -
the final test of his obedience and his freedom -
and also the clearest possible demonstration
of God’s love for him and for us.

As we choose our path,
and as we prepare for Easter,
we remember - first - that we are people
who are loved by God.
We are people of significant value,
people with real choices,
people with the freedom to decide
what we will be, who we will serve,
and what we will do.
Then we’re invited examine our life-choices again -
to rediscover the resources God gives us
for healing and for change.
We’re also invited to remember that God’s call to us
is always in community,
where we can give and receive
encouragement and challenge
from other members of the Body of Christ.

Whatever you do to prepare for Easter this year,
keep returning to the declaration
of God’s love and grace
that God’s people claimed for you in your baptism;
that is your foundation,
just as it was for Jesus.
Remember that you are loved by God -
and let that declaration
lead you to grow and to heal.