Text: Luke 4:1-13
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“I can resist everything – except temptation” said Oscar Wilde.
Of all things in this world, temptation is something that we are not short of, and something which most of us, like Oscar Wilde, find difficult, if not impossible to resist. From the quick fix or the short-cut to the last apple doughnut in the window of the bakery on Palmyra Road, temptation confronts us on every side.
After his baptism Jesus went into the wilderness to prepare for his ministry. He needed to spend time alone with God and he also had to overcome the temptations of Satan. In this Lenten season we too withdraw into a kind of wilderness. We try and spend more time in prayer and to fast from something we enjoy. I am sure that we hope that in this way we will be purified and better fitted to overcome our daily temptations.
Jesus could not enter into his ministry without first being tested, without understanding and even defining for himself his response to the great gift that God had called him to: the vocation to be the Messiah, the anointed one, the chosen Son of God. Just as the enemy tries to seduce Christ into his own selfish glory and physical satiation (as the enemy always does), so Jesus must respond and counter using the Scriptures as his weapons against temptation:
- “Man(kind) shall not live by bread alone”
- “Worship God, and him alone”
- “Do not test the Lord your God”
Recall these in times of temptation, my dear friends, and you will be strong.
After his temptation , Christ begins his ministry in the Gospel of Mark with the portentous prophecy: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ (Mark 12v15). Repentance – remember the greek word: metanoia – to turn around and face the opposite direction, both physically and spiritually.
Repentance is not a fashionable idea today. Many see it as negative or unwholesome to call people sinners and say that we should only look at the positive things about ourselves. Yet, to ignore our sin is to hide our eyes from reality.
If we examine our lives in the light of God’s commands, it is easy to see how far short we fall (Romans 3:23). This being so, we need to take action: recognising our sin is the first stage towards healing: just as in any twelve-step recovery program, the first thing one needs to do with a dependency upon alcohol or drugs, or an eating disorder is to recognise that you have a problem, and after recognising that, it all becomes a lot easier.
In the same way, when one suffers from a condition such as mine: diabetes, one could try and ignore the problem: drink all the beer, eat all the cream cakes (how appropriate for a sermon in Lent), but by ignoring one’s diabetes, one asks for trouble. The step to being able to control one’s diabetes, much like controlling your sin, is to accept the reality of it, and the impact it has on your life.
Repentance does not mean castigating ourselves, and wallowing in our sins: it means admitting them freely and fully before God an asking him to help us change in the future.
This is where the sacrament of reconciliation is most useful: that meeting between an individual and God with the priest as a mediator, counsellor and agent of forgiveness, where advice, penance and absolution may be given, and you – each and every one of you – has the opportunity to have the burden of your sin lifted from you.
In former times it was known as Confession or even Penance, but this focuses more on us, than on the reconciliation and forgiveness that is at the heart of God’s action. Not ours, but God’s. To believe that it is all about you, is to remain as personally fixated and introspective as you were before God touched your life. Reconciliation is about reaching back to the God who continually reaches out to you, and once you have experienced that sense of relief, that sense of release, then you will truely come to know Our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have many leaflets on the sacrament of reconciliation, and if you seek this Lent to take up something, why not take up the occasional use of this special sacrament?
It is easy for us to think that our sins are too bad for Jesus to forgive us and change our lives. We may think that we are being humble in taking this attitude, but really it is a lack of faith.
If we trust God’s promises and power, we will be sure that he offers us forgiveness and that the blood of the lamb, the blood of Christ is powerful enough to wash away all our sins, however great, however burdensome to us.
We need to take sin seriously, and hate every sin as an offence against God – sin is a little like being pregnant, you can’t be ‘a little pregnant’ or have a mildly clean driving licence: we either have sinned or we have not, and we in the Anglican Church do not make the trivial distinction that the Roman Church makes between venial and mortal sin: it’s all sin and it all drives a wedge between us and God. Fr Nicolas Stebbing, a monk at the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield and a major influence on my spirituality once remarked that “every sin, even the seemingly little ones, are like spitting on the face of Christ”.
And yet, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not despair: rather we rejoice because we have a Saviour, who died for our sins, and offers his merciful love each and every day, at each and every mass.
This lent, let us turn from our sin, let us repent, and pray that we may know Christ’s forgiveness.