Temptations in the wilderness – A sermon from 1st March 2020

Sometimes it’s easy to get completely overwhelmed in a world that seems to demand easy, quick answers to every situation. The story of Jesus temptations in the wilderness suggests that this is not new: all Jesus temptations were for the quick, instant, easy solution.

But each time, he refuses. This is the invitation of Lent: to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to move through the wilderness of self-deception – and to live in the truth of Christ.

I wonder what the wilderness is for you?

In our reading from Matthew today, we’ve heard that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.

This reading in Matthew comes straight after Jesus baptism, so it is in the very early part of Jesus ministry. I wonder if we too, often find that our wilderness experiences also follow times of great joy, or deep spiritual experience and encounter?

As we read the account, we hear Jesus go out into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. He is away from his usual support, he is not relying on his usual food or nourishment, or his usual distractions.

And in that season, we read how Jesus is tempted.

One way of reading this, is as an ethical account, of Jesus showing us that it is possible to resist temptation? Whilst we may not face the same temptations that are reported here, all of us do face temptations daily, to draw us away from God, away from ourselves, away from each other.

I think there’s something bigger going on here, I think Matthew is setting the scene for us, about who Christ is: Matthew is very clear to present us an account of Jesus as the Son of God.

Matthew shows us Jesus the man, a man who fully shares in our human world, and the weakness and struggles of going without food and living in the wilderness. It tells us – afterwards he was famished!

For a world looking for a Messiah, they may have been hoping for someone a bit more flashy -someone that perhaps would be flashing miracles everywhere, who wouldn’t have to live with hunger or challenge.

But Matthew is showing us that, even in this wilderness situation, Jesus made the choice to trust in God.

Jesus repeats his answers, pointing to God. One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God; do not put the Lord your God to the test; worship the Lord your God and serve only him.

Sometimes it’s easy to get completely overwhelmed in a world that seems to demand easy, quick answers to every situation. This story suggests that this is not new: all Jesus temptations were for the quick, instant, easy solution – but each time, he refuses.

What does the wilderness mean for you?

For some, this may be a geography thing: perhaps you like walking or hiking, to go somewhere particularly remote. Perhaps to physically separate yourself from your usual comforts, or to choose to spend time in a more risky environment. When you venture out into the wilderness, I suspect most of us like to be prepared – to pack a bag, to take with us anything we think we might need and can carry.

There are often dangers in a wilderness, or perhaps perceived dangers.

I remember spending a couple of nights camping out in the Rocky Mountains many years ago and listening very carefully to the instructions about what to do, to reduce the likelihood of bears joining us in the cabin!

Are we willing to respond to the Lenten call, to visit the wilderness?

Are we willing to accept the challenge, to follow a Lenten pilgrimage? And if we do we should expect to face our own encounters in that wilderness.

Firstly, as in our reading today, I hope we will remember the life of Christ, to reflect on his life and ministry, his obedience and surrender to God’s call on his life.

But secondly, if we’re serious about our own Lenten journey, I think we will find that we are led to face ourselves.

TS Eliot wrote a poem called Ash Wednesday, I’m not going to read the whole poem, as it’s rather long! However towards the end of the poem, he writes:

Teach us to care & not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks
Our peace in His will

T.S Eliot

In Lent, we’re encouraged to care for those things which ultimately matter, and to leave behind those things which get in the way of our participation in the life of God and the life around us.

In Ignatian teaching, Ignatius urges us to seek the freedom of detachment or indifference, or perhaps balance. Ignatius talks about making use of those things that help to bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t.

I wonder if the wilderness is sometimes scary, because it is a place of detachment – it can feel scary. Yet, in this wilderness, it is a space to be honest – we remember with honesty the way things are – who Christ is and who we are.

As TS Eliot says, we will learn to ‘sit still’ – to find ‘our peace in his will’

This is the invitation of Lent: to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to move through the wilderness of self-deception and ultimately to live in the truth of Christ.

Are we willing to be separated, in some way, from our securities, from the attachments in our life, the things that we hold close? Are we willing to live lightly to them, to come closer to the truth about ourselves – and to come closer to the God who calls us, who loves us?

This Lent each of us is invited to respond to Christ’s loving invitation.

His invitation is always open – to each one of us – to God’s love, that is always there.

In the wilderness, if we are willing to be open: to let that love in, even among the rocks, in the sparseness, the barrenness of the wilderness – even there, especially there – we can encounter God.

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