15 December 2019
Today Mike and Judy have brought Jack for Baptism and three weeks ago Paul and Jacque brought little Jonathan for baptism. Two active happy boys, full of potential but at the moment in that frustrated state of wanting to move. Arms and legs all moving going backward under the furniture but its not all quite together. They havenít got the directions right. And we know , that all going well in a few weeks their parents will be chasing them round the house as they get that first heady sense of moving under their own steam.
Who will these little boys be, who will they become? Their parents and all of us want them to grow well and when they come to the place of claiming their own identity to know whom they are and to have the strength to choose well. To know that ultimately they belong to God and if they know that they will be able to get things in the right order and discover what sort of men they will become.
But that is not an instant process and for each of us, discovering who we are and what we shall become is a life long process of trial and mistakes and great joy and sometimes pain. We also find it doesnít just involve us , but those among whom we live, work and learn, then we find a wider world and we decide how we are going to relate to that. We decide actually whether we live a life which is lived as self interested or is open to others.
Jesus we are told in the story had just been baptised. He knows who he is, now he has to figure out what it means for him to be Son of God.
He is led by the spirit into the wilderness. The desert place of struggle and temptation and testing. I guess we all have those wilderness places in our lives. We are cut off, alone, when we struggle with who we are. It can be thrust upon us as with sudden grief and change of life, when everything has turned to custard and the life that had been flowing so smoothly is interrupted and we cant go back. And we struggle with what it means. and we are faced with the temptation to pretend its all right, nothing has changed rather than face the hard choices.
Jesus is hungry, he has fasted for 40 days, the rocks around him start to look like loaves of bread. And he is tempted, not to prove that he is the son of God - we can only be tempted by what we see as possible for us to have and good people are tempted by good things. .Since you are the Son of God its within your powers to turn the stone into a loaf of bread, why donít you do this? Youíre hungry.
How is Jesus to use the tools he is given. For himself or others? What a wonderful gift for a hungry world, there were plenty of people starving and on the breadline in Jesusí world. Provide food Jesus. Be the nice guy - tell prospective followers that they would have full stomachs.. But was this his basic task?. He turns and says ďone does not live by bread aloneĒ. Jesus is here himself on the verge of starvation and lives among people who are in extreme need.
And he still says there is something even more essential than food necessary in our lives.
Food is vitally important, but the temptation to only deal with the physical needs and ignore our deep spiritual needs is great.
When I was active in womenís refuge we gave refuge, and provided a place of safety for people. Emergency food, shelter and clothing were the first needs. But underlying those were the other needs. Those who work as volunteers to be a place of refuge had somewhere decided that they would offer their time and energy to help. But also those who came needed to find out who they were, to be able to deal with their lives which had experienced constant fear which was not going to vanish overnight. This is a spiritual struggle and those who could not trust anymore had to learn to trust again to live. Often everyone in their lives had let them down where did they find the bread which really fed their emptiness?
This parish puts an enormous amount of money and energy into running our community centre. Serving the needs of the community. Our temptation is to be the nice guys doing what gets the thanks, and we have to struggle seriously with who we are in meeting needs, and recall ourselves to the task that people do not live by bread alone. Our specific task is to give access to the bread of God which satisfies and gives real life and hope, our temptation is to provide programmes which are good and please people and shirk the hard work of struggling with our calling.
Jesus struggled with the issue of what it was that others needed. They certainly needed bread, health, healing, life, comfort. The compassionate ministries in the church today are profoundly Christian because Jesus himself set an example for us in this area. Yet we also know that Jesus did not produce miracles on demand. In fact, the temptation to give people what they want can be very attractive. But perhaps the churchís call is not simply to give people what they want. The ministry of Jesus also included preaching and teaching that sometimes offended, angered, and shocked his hearers. He did not sugar-coat his call to discipleship. It is costly. Will the church be faithful in doing the Christlike thing even if it is costly, or will it do what is expedient in order to appease people who are politically and financially advantageous to the church?
Then Jesus is led by the devil, the same word as used for his being led by the Spirit. Note that its subtle, the differences are hard to distinguish. Look, Jesus you can have all power, just worship me. Good stuff. Have Jesus in charge. Isnít this what you want. Why not bring about your kingdom through holding political power.
Look at all the good that could come if Jesus were to succeed in grabbing the helm of world government. Not Caesar, but God would be king. Not the Roman empire but the kingdom of God would become a reality in the world. Why not compromise a bit? Why not strike a deal with the evil powers? Why not beat them at their own game? Without some give and take the mission of Jesus may fall flat. If Jesus does not learn how to get along with Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas and the powers that be, he is not going to get anywhere except on a cross. What will it be? Jesus decides right then and there that he will let God be God. "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." Going Godís way will be costly, but there would be no compromise here no matter the cost.
History is littered with terrible example of what happens when faith in imposed through political power, whether is be christian, moslem, Buddhist or Hindu.
Right Jesus , since you are the Son of God show people how God protects you. Stand at the top of the temple and throw yourself down. The devil quotes scripture, suggesting that Jesus must believe and insist on divine protection. Suffering and death would be a sign of weak faith. Vulnerability to life-threatening situations would be a sign of divine displeasure. He after all is the Son of God! As Son, the least he should expect is safety and protection from his heavenly Father. He should jump off from this great height with the confidence that God will protect him. Jesus responds by quoting another text from Deuteronomy: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
Jesus responds . Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Jesus was tempted to be indestructable, to put out a fleece as a sign of faith. But this sort of test is not a sign of faith , it is really a sign of lack of faith. Why would it be necessary for Jesus to jump off the temple to see if God would protect him?
Sometimes people are angry at God because in their minds God did not come through a test that they had set up. The test they devise might run something like this: If my husband is healed of cancer, then I'll know God loves me.. If I get the job that Iíve been praying for, then Iíll know that God cares about me.
But what if the husband dies of cancer? What if the job that I pray for goes to someone else? Will I still love and serve God regardless of the outcome? Will I walk with God whether or not I get that job, whether or not that cancer is healed, whether or not my loved one pulls through a life-threatening situation? Or, am I going to put God to a test and say, If you do this for me, then you're my God, but if not, I will have nothing to do with you.
Jesus was tempted to be.a superman hero figure, but the way of being human is that we are vulnerable and Jesus chose that way of vulnerability.
So what did Jesus do? After the time in the desert he came home and his path was clear. He would not work through instant signs, taking worldly power or claiming to be indestructable. He was sent he read a scripture from Isaiah, he knew now the task he had to undertake and how it was to be approached..
The spirit of the Lord was upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor [note more than just bread]
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, To let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lordís favour.
And he would do this as a vulnerable human, without special effects,
Living a life as one of us, tempted to take the short cuts, but ultimately trusting that he was in Godís hands.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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