Text: Matthew 4:1-11
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 the wilderness. We try and spend more time in prayer and to fast from something we enjoy. We hope that in this way we will be purified and better fitted to overcome our daily temptations.
The first and most important of Christ’s teaching, heralding the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth was based around this: ‘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. Some in this parish have already received that healing, and I urge you to consider it.
For each and every one of you this morning, I have a copy of a leaflet on the sacrament of reconciliation – an excellent and now sadly out of print text called the Double Cure and drawing on the image of the Prodigal Son. Read this. Take it to heart, and if you seek this Lent to take up something, why not take up the occasional use of this 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 of the Community of the Resurrection 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. Read The Double Cure, dwell on it this Lent and engage in a full and active, confidential act of personal confession. My own experience with that sacrament, and the experience of those in this community who have undertaken it in the past is that it lifts a tremendous burden, it is utterly confidential and sacred and gives a feeling of relief and joy.
Let us pray:
“Lord Jesus, we know that we are sinners, and that you had to die because of our sins. Lead us to true and holy repentance, so we may experience forgiveness in you, and long to lead pure and holy lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord”