Year C, LENT 1

 

Luke 4: 1-13                (Sermon 1: “We are the Experts’)

                                                            (Sermon 2: “Getting Back to Bedrock”)

Romans 10: 8b-13

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

 

 

PREPARATION

 

On this first Sunday in  Lent,

the grace of Christ Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

What is the chief goal of humanity?

The chief goal is to glorify and enjoy God  forever.

 

It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of the living God;

But it is tragic thing to fall out of them.

 

OR¾

 

On this first Sunday in lent,

I call you to put first things first:

Human beings shall not live by bread alone

You shall worship the Lord, your God,

This God alone shall you serve.

 

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,

you who remain in the shade of the  Almighty,

will say:

You, Lord, are my refuge and fortress,

my God is whom I completely trust.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

God most beautiful, God most holy, God most loving, we ask for your blessing as we continue this journey through Lent.. Let us see through the triviality and deceptions which accumulate in our daily living, and rediscover our spiritual truth, that with integrity and vulnerability we may worship you with humble wonder and joy. Through Christ Jesus your true Son, and our Redeemer.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Seek the Saviour while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.

For he will have mercy and abundantly pardon.

Let us pray.

 

Since even when we give our best and strongest love to your service, we still fall short of the glory you intended for us; Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Since even in our moments of sharpest clarity and wisdom we are yet creatures of profound ignorance and much foolishness; Christ have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

 

Since you know how hard it is for us the see your truth clearly, to follow it fully, and to love you completely; Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Gracious God, the magnitude of our sins is far outreached by the magnitude of your mercies. We your grateful people turn to you in trust, asking through Christ Jesus that our sins may be forgiven and our folly overruled by your abundant grace. Through this same Jesus Christ.

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

The Scripture says: “No one who believes in God shall be put to shame. For every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

By the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, I assure all who repent of their sins, that your guilt is annulled and your freedom is granted.

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Good and Bad People

 

Loving God.

            you understand all people,

            both the good and the bad.

 

Please sort us out;

            make the bad people good

            and the good people nice.

 

Through Jesus Christ

            our brother and Saviour.

Amen!

                        From¾ “Prayers For Aussie Kids”

                                    Ó  B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers.

 

PSALM  91: 1-2 & 9-16

 

You who live with the highest Friend,

and rest in the shade of pure Beauty,

shall say to the Holy One: “My Home,

my Triune God in whom I trust.”

 

Because you have trusted the Holy One,

making the Highest your own home,

no irredeemable evil shall happen to you,

no hopeless disaster flatten your flimsy life..

 

God places you in the care of angels,

to look after you wherever you go.

They will steady you with their hands

so that you shall not trip over a stone.

 

You shall tread on beast and serpent,

you shall trample the devil under your feet.

God shall save those who cling to him,

and lift up those who call his name.

 

When we shout for help, You will answer us,

when under pressure, You will be with us.

You will make us content us with a full life,

and display your saving, healing love.

                                                                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

THE LIAR

 

The Tempter

from the Dreamtime

is prince of lies;

he never tires

of spinning tales

just for our gain;”

sadly his wiles

are not in vain.

 

The Tempter

in the desert

plays his best role,

yet meets his match

in one pure Soul

who shares our cry

yet in the test

sees through the lie.

                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

We thank you, loving God, that we have a Saviour who knows how hard it is to combat temptation and how easy it is to fall.

May we, in fellowship with his tenacious Spirit, face our testing times with humility and courage, neither expecting too little or too much of ourselves, and never underestimating the power of your love to rehabilitate us if we should fall.

Through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

 

SERMON 1: WE ARE THE EXPERTS

 

Luke 4:2

 

“For forty days he was tempted by the devil.”  Luke 4: 2.

 

Today the subject is one on which we are all experts: temptation. We will look at Jesus’ temptations and ours. Correction; not every one of “ours” because to do so might take until midnight?

 

I said, in matters of temptation, we are definitely the experts. Yet........yet....like many so-called “experts” in this world, we may not see things as clearly as we reckon. Maybe we don't see the wood for the trees?

 

So let’s look closely at temptations. Those of Jesus, and ours.

 

Firstly, Jesus’ temptations were real ones.  I need to emphasise that, because when we read them in the gospel stories, they seem very unlike from ours. All that stuff about camping in the wilderness without food, the devil actually taunting him about turning stones into bread, jumping from the temple tower, ruling all the world.  Is that the stuff of your temptations?  They are not of mine.

 

Therefore I underline it again: they were real for Jesus. The tempter knew that Jesus’ strengths could also be his weakness.  So he targeted them. Jesus felt capable of doing those extraordinary things which the devil suggested. He was after all, the most gifted man ever to be tempted.

 

Jesus was tempted to misuse his strengths; and to do so in order to prove his identity as God’s chosen Son.

 

That is where his temptations meet up with ours.

 

Broadly speaking, there are two types of temptations: we can be tempted at the point of our weaknesses, or we can be tempted at the point of our strengths.

 

TEMPTED AT OUR WEAK POINTS

 

If I gave you five minutes to list your weaknesses, I reckon you could list half a dozen with two minutes to spare.

 

Most of our weaknesses are easy to spot. The seven deadly sins, with a few contemporary variations, are not difficult to identify. It is obvious that we can be tempted at the point of our known weaknesses.  We see it coming and exclaim: “Ah Oh! Here we go again! Another arm wrestle with the old enemy!”

 

However, there is one particular brand of weakness which makes things easy for the tempter. This is the weakness we do not want to recognise, the one (or ones) we hide from ourselves. He who thinks he has no lust, is as they say, a sitting duck. She who thinks she has no pride, is, as the say, up sewer creek without a paddle. They who shout the loudest that their faith is strong and without any doubts, are the very ones likely to be teetering on the brink of collapse into faithlessness.

 

I will leave obvious weaknesses, and the ones some refuse to admit, there for now.

 

TEMPTED AT OUR STRONG POINTS

 

How about  strengths?

 

Now, suppose I gave you five minutes to list your strengths, how would you go? I reckon you might ask for an extension of time; not because you have so many strengths to list, but because of your confounded modesty. Modesty? Yes, your modesty.

 

Not all of you, but most of you.

 

Like me, many of you have been socially conditioned not to think about your strengths lest you get a swollen head. All kinds of religious puritanism, both catholic and protestant, frowns heavily on thinking “too highly of yourself.”.

 

That kind of modesty, puts us at special risk in the hour of temptation. With false modesty, we are half way to losing before we start.

 

Recognised or not, they will become the focus of some of the most potent temptations.

 

For example,

 

*  Beautiful women or a handsome men, are often tempted

            to use their good looks to manipulate others.

 

*  An outstanding sportsperson who is in a position of considerable influence can be tempted

            to “fix” the outcomes.

 

*  It is the extremely smart and trusted accountant who is most likely to be tempted

            to “cook” the books.

 

*  The brilliant computer nerd is the one who is usually most at risk of being tempted

            into the world of computer crime.

 

*  The lawyer who is deft and fluent with words can often be easily tempted

            to camouflage or twist the truth.

 

*  The humble woman can be tempted

            to take pride in knowing that she is seen by others as being humble.

 

*  The very wise man may sooner or later fall for the inevitable temptation

            of admiring his own wisdom.

 

*  The popular child at school may be tempted

            to misuse their school yard fame to isolate and hurt any who cross her/him.

 

* The extraordinary Jesus Christ, was tempted

            to prove his status by putting on a spectacular display for the masses.,

            using his special strengths for the wrong reason.

 

When we are tempted at the nerve point of our well recognised weaknesses, we usually see the danger coming. The red lights flash vigorously!

But when we are tempted at the point of strengths, we may be blithely oblivious to the danger. We too easily fool ourselves. It is only after we have fallen, that we realise what we have been “done like a dinner!” Tempted, overrun, fallen, corrupted, often without a struggle.

 

COUNTERING TEMPTATION

 

What to do about it?

 

First of all, we need to realise what is happening.  

 

Here is a Lenten penance for you : Know yourself better. Challenge your self deceits. No longer permit yourself to “fudge” in the area of weaknesses and strengths.

 

The Gospel of Thomas has Jesus saying: Know yourself. For those who know themselves shall reign. They shall be in charge of themselves.

 

How?

 

* Really listen to yourself: Hear your softly spoken thoughts, drag into the light the ones that try to hide like silverfish. Feel your feelings, confess them to yourself, expose them to the gaze of Christ.

 

* Be ruthless with yourself. Deal with whatever “fudging” you hear yourself saying, face up to what the Spirit of Christ whispers to you. Ask: “Do I really want to withstand temptation? How much do I want to conquer with Christ? ”

 

* Listen to others. They see things we may not see. Often they try to warn us, usually so gently that we brush their concern aside. Trust the God who might be speaking through others.

 

* Listen carefully to the words of the Bible. The Scriptures remain a potent resource for self assessment and guidance. Their accumulated insight stills shines through like a beam of sunshine into the smog and illusion of this self deceived culture in which we are immersed over our heads.

 

* Don’t be discouraged when you have sincerely tried yet fallen. Failure is not a lack of faith, but it is a lack for faith to wear your guilt like a hair shirt. Let Christ pick you up, dust you off and sent you on your way once more. Hopefully much wiser.

 

CHRIST UNDERSTANDS

 

Your Christ understands. I am tempted, you are tempted, Jesus was tempted.

 

Jesus was tempted, tested to the human limit, not just in the wilderness but throughout his travels in the regions of Galilee, Samaria and Judaea. With a humble majesty of Spirit, he came through uncompromised, and has become the only person fit to be named our hope and salvation.

 

Here again is your penance for Lent: Know yourself better, and do not be afraid of uncovering both unpalatable weaknesses and unaffirmed strengths.

 

And pray. Pray often.

            Lord Jesus, true brother, true Saviour, please lure us on

            by the beauty of your Spirit.

            Let us have a zest for what we might yet become,

            a zeal which outweighs our tiredness from past bruising or defeat.

            Give us buoyant spirits, born of a confidence

            in your resourceful grace.

Amen.

 

 

SERMON 2: GETTING BACK TO THE BEDROCK.

 

Luke 4: 1-13

 

Jesus answered the devil:” It is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Luke 4: 8

 

Are we good or bad people?

 

In Gene Wolfe’s fecund and insightful novel, “Return to the Whorl”, the hero named Horn, a truly admirable person, is on a journey by horse back, travelling with companions. Then this statement:

 

 “We met other travellers today, four merchants with their servants and pack animals. We were glad to see them; but they, I believe, were even more glad to see us, because they had quarrelled and were eager to air their grievances. I listened as long as I could bear it and longer, reminding myself of the foolish quarrels in which I myself have been involved, often as the instigator.

 

It is educational, as well as humiliating, to listen to others voicing complaints like our own. They were all thoroughly bad people of the type to which I belong—that is to say, bad people who are pleased to think themselves good.”

 

Ah!  Bull’s eye!

 

They were all thoroughly bad people of the type to which I belong—that is to say, bad people who are pleased to think themselves good.”

 

That hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks!

They were all thoroughly bad people of the type to which I belong—that is to say, bad people who are pleased to think themselves good.”

 

That comment seems to me an apposite, though discomforting, word with which to commence the penitential season of Lent.

 

Coming out of the blue in a novel, the truth bypassed my usual religious defences and cut deeply. Am I numbered among those thoroughly bad people who are pleased to think themselves good?

 

JUST LISTEN TO OURSELVES

 

I reckon that I might often be in that category.

And most of my friends are.

And most members of the church with whom I deal.

 

I should really listen to myself and others talking.

Then it would become painfully clear that we spend much of the time, comparing ourselves favourably with others. We act as if we are better and wiser than most. We bemoan the conniving foolishness of politicians of the “other party,” we criticise the greedy and the ruthless in our society, we “damn with faint praise” our colleagues who taste a little success, we seize on half-truths about other congregations or denominations that appear to be doing better than we are, we feel sorry (in a patronising way) for the sinners whose names make it into the newspapers and on TV.

 

 “They were all thoroughly bad people of the type to which I belong—that is to say, bad people who are pleased to think themselves good.”

 

THE MORE SUBTLE TEMPTATIONS

 

That brings me to temptation. Temptation is the usual theme for this first Sunday in lent.

 

When we think of temptation, what kind of things come to mind? I would make an educated guess that it would be temptations like sexual lust, greed, dishonesty, hurtfulness, jealousy, gluttony, gossip, violence, and in some cases the lure of alcohol or gambling.

 

These tend to be the easily recognised evils.

Churches who are big on temptation, sin and guilt and the wiles of the devil, like to loudly denounce these obvious evils. A few go further into racism, sexism, and social injustice.

 

What about the more subtle ones?

Now I ask you this: How often, when the word temptation comes to mind, do we think about the temptation to consider ourselves “nice” people. To see ourselves  as the nice people whom God must surely like, rather than the horde of cruel, greedy, ruthless reprobates around us in the world?

 

Maybe, the Tempter has got away with a big, though subtle, one?

Maybe we have gently yielded, day after day, to the temptation of self-righteousness? Maybe we should recognise ourselves in the character Horn in Gene Wolfe’s story:  “They were all thoroughly bad people of the type to which I belong—that is to say, bad people who are pleased to think themselves good.”

 

THE BEDROCK

 

Get back to bedrock.

 

Jesus answered the devil:” It is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Luke 4: 8

 

In his temptations, Jesus turned back each time to God:

 “It is written”. God was the ground of his confidence and his constant theme as he repudiated Satan.

 

For this Lent I invite you to consider our core disease.

Not so much particular temptations, but the fact that without God we all diseased without hope.  Let us take the opportunity to re-ground ourselves in the basic Bible insight that each one of us is a gravely flawed soul who cannot afford to boast about anything except the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus our Redeemer.

 

I am not asking you to fall backwards into the grim, fearful, religious stuff.

Not self hate. Not those hair-shirted, guilt ridden, body flagellating, attitudes. That is not the way of Christ. Please; not that way! Don’t allow some sad, self-hating preacher push you down into that

miry pit.

 

Nor am I suggesting you ignore particular temptations.

Christ had to deal with them. So must we. We must go on combating those specific assaults on our Christian integrity, including the self righteousness of which I have warned. Each day is a contest between light and darkness. So “fight the good fight with all your might.”

 

But more fundamental is the bedrock of God’s grace.

God’s self-sacrificial love for creatures who are chronically infected by self interest. We need to reclaim that bedrock of God’s grace, and rest our souls there. Not comparing ourselves favourably with others, but gratefully accepting God’s  acceptance of us, and praying for his help to more adequately glorify him in all we say, and do— or refuse to do.

 

Jesus answered the devil:” It is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Luke 4: 8

 

God first. Have faith in your God. Not our good efforts or failures, but God. God’s saving grace first.

 

Perhaps among the most terrible of temptations are those

that seek to dislodge us from this Divine Bedrock.

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Above all earthly power and authority

            reigns your almighty meekness,

            O generous Creator.

Give thanks to God,  whose goodness endures fore ever.

 

Beneath all human pity and tenderness

            runs your everlasting mercy,

            O generous Saviour.

Give thanks to God,  whose goodness endures fore ever.

 

Through all laugher and all tears

            flows your eternal intimacy,

            O generous Counsellor.

Give thanks to God,  whose goodness endures fore ever.

 

Earth and heaven are filled with your glory

            and we are the recipients of grace upon grace,

            O generous God of our salvation!

Give thanks to God,  whose goodness endures fore ever.

 

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

God of infinite resourcefulness, give us the will so to pray for others that we may come to love them, and having loved them, watch out for those specific occasions when you would have us serve them.

 

For those whom we find repugnant: the abusers and exploiters, the rapists and murderers, the sadistic and the apathetic; for them we pray:

May the grace which nurtures us, work in them for your glory.

 

For the victims of inhumanity; the oppressed and the despairing, those sexually corrupted and then thrown aside, the abused child, battered spouse, neglected grandparent, and the tortured prisoner; for them we pray:

May the grace which nurtures us, work in them for your glory.

 

For the foolish folk who are easily swayed to do evil; in school or home, at work or in the pub, in sporting club or politics, police force or trade union, in the ordained ministry or in the medical professions; for them we pray:

May the grace which nurtures us, work in them for your glory

 

For the church wherever it has  yielded to popularity and material prosperity, arrogance and exclusiveness, introversion and other worldliness, self righteousness  and sectarian stridency; for these we pray:

May the grace which nurtures us, work in them for your glory.

 

For the members of this congregation: if we have succumbed to the immoralities of our era, the self-serving habits of those around us, or allowed our faith to be diluted by cynicism or let our love for Christ grow cold; for these we pray;

May the grace which nurtures us, work in them for your glory.

 

God of Jesus and our God, do not let us go blindly into temptation, but open our eyes and deliver us from evil;

For yours is the gracious kingdom, the power and the glory of costly love, forever and ever. Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

It was never promised

that you will not be tempted,

not thrown into turmoil,

not stumble or fall ,

but that by grace you will be saved, through trusting God.

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be

.

Grace is a free gift of God. Gift. Just ongoing gift. For me. For you.

Let it be, dear lord. Let it be.

 

You have a destiny to inherit, over which the angels in heaven marvel.

 

The quiet strength of Christ,

the humble power of God,

and the pervasive light of the Spirit,

            is yours

today and always.

 

Thanks be to God.