St Michael’s, Sunday 21st February 2010
I don’t know about you, but I find mazes absolutely fascinating. Full of blind alleys and wrong turnings, apparently designed to frustrate you no matter what direction you happen to go. And isn’t that a bit like the situations we sometimes encounter in life? I don’t think there is anyone here this morning who hasn’t had to make a difficult decision recently, or been unsure what exactly to do.
And while we quite rightly focus each Sunday here on the simple good news of Jesus Christ who has died and risen again for us, I am aware that probably the biggest challenge any of us face is working out how to put our faith into practice on Monday morning. When we’re at school and the other students ask us what we did at the weekend, or we’re at work and we’re asked to do something we’re not sure is right, or simply there is so much to do we find it hard to know what to do next and how to cope with the pressure.
This is one reason why it is so important for us all to be spiritually fit. Because although we may still not have the answers, if we have a pattern of praying and reading our Bibles, and worshipping with other Christians, we will be more in a position to listen and understand what God might be saying to us through His Holy Spirit. We may not be able to see through the maze, but we may be able to at least understand the next move He wants us to make.
Now our reading this morning begins with Jesus returning from the Jordan river where He has been baptised by His cousin John. If you want to read the story of Jesus’ baptism, you can find it in Luke 3:21-23. It was a massively significant event in Jesus’ life which marked the start of His public ministry. For Luke tells us that even as He came up out of the water in front of all the crowds a voice from heaven declared You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. Jesus knew that, from that point on, He would have to cope with the expectations of these crowds. He would have to work out what it meant to be known as the Son of God in the middle of the busyness and rush of each day. He would have to figure out how He could carry out faithfully the mission God had given Him, even to the bitter end of the cross at Golgotha and the empty tomb.
And so Jesus goes into the desert. Leaving behind the clamour of the madding crowd. Leaving behind the company of family and friends. Leaving behind even His regular diet of solid food. Why? Simply so He could spend time with His Heavenly Father and learn more fully what He should do.
Of course we don’t know much of what happened in those forty days in the desert. And there is no need for us to know. But what we do know is that at the end Jesus was tempted. And the reason why we know must be that Jesus told His followers as He sought to teach them and help them understand more fully what it means to walk in His footsteps.
For at the end of the day I believe these temptations are all about the wrong choices we can make when we are not spiritually fit, when we are not focused on living for the Lord. Now I’d like to say that I’ve managed to fit all these temptations into three points starting with the same letter, but for once I haven’t managed it. So if you can do any better, please let me know!
The first temptation is all to do with priorities. Let me ask you a question. Suppose, for example, you find you have managed to get out of bed on time, and got really organised, and you find have you have tem minutes spare before you have to leave the house in the morning. How do you use those ten minutes? You could, let’s say, send an e-mail to a friend, or catch up on the dusting, or you could read your Bible and pray. What do you do?
Well, naturally we all know the right answer. But I think in the busyness and rush of each day we have this tendency to think that spending time with the Lord is somehow less important that doing the housework, or getting all our jobs done, or reading the mail. It’s something we can do later. When we’re less busy, when we’ve got more time.
Jesus reminds us, quoting from Deuteronomy chapter 8, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. So the question is: how important do we see it to nurture and deepen our faith? If it’s somewhere far down the list, it’s not surprising we find it hard to live as a Christian day by day.
And what about the second temptation? This is all about ambition. Now I guess none of us have ever been offered the chance to receive the authority and splendour of the kingdoms of the world. But what is it that we really want to achieve in life? A good, steady job? A happy family life? A nice place of our own? None of these are wrong in themselves. Indeed they are perfectly good and natural ambitions. But if they become more important than actually serving the Lord then we can end up taking a wrong turn in our faith. “I’ll do what you want me to do Lord, providing that … I don’t have to change the hours I work … I still go down the pub every Friday night…I can pay off the mortgage early”.
Jesus tells us It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” and of course worship means far more than meeting for a service on Sunday or singing Christian songs. It means giving Jesus worth and honour and respect, and saying, “Lord, there is nothing more valuable and nothing more wonderful than following you and doing what you ask me to do”.
What about the third temptation? Surely this is all about proper understanding of faith and trust in Jesus. Now Psalm 91 is a wonderful psalm. We heard it read earlier and it’s a lovely poem about someone seeking rest and shelter in the presence of the Lord. It is written by someone obviously under pressure who wants to affirm the fact the Lord protects and rescues those who call on His name. But what it was never meant to be was an excuse for us to behave recklessly and then assume that the Lord will somehow provide for us and protect us from our folly.
Yet isn’t that so often what we do in our Christian faith? We plunge into a particular course of action and we then ask God to bless what we are doing. Even if it’s not what He wants us to do. The classic example is of a Christian who decides to enter into a relationship with a non-Christian and then prays for God to help them in their commitment. Well, of course we can never rule out the fact God may bless us even in spite of our own disobedience, and it is part of God’s goodness that He loves us despite the fact we prefer to go our own way. But we need to take seriously what Jesus means when He says Do not put the Lord your God to the test. It means don’t try and find out what happens when you make God number two or three or four in your life. We worship a holy God who has every right to expect us to love Him with all our heart and mind and strength. Not 50%, not 75%, but 100%.
And this takes us right part to the heart of Lent. Because in the end the only way we will get spiritually fit is if we want to. There’s no point having the most wonderful training regime and the greatest fitness goals if actually we aren’t that bothered. Just as there’s no doubt planning to spend time with the Lord day by day if really we see it as a bit of a nuisance, or a bit of an inconvenience that interferes with what we really want to get on and do.
So as we begin the season of Lent it is worth asking ourselves how much time and effort we want to put into our walk with the Lord. Not so that we can somehow escape from the pressures and demands of each day. But so that as we grow deeper in love for the Lord, so we are able better to face the choices and confusing situations that confront us, and know that He is with us, leading, guiding and upholding us by His Spirit day by day.
Questions for discussion
Where or when do you find it most difficult to live out your Christian faith?
How easy do you find it to spend time with the Lord each day?
What could other folk at St Michael’s do to help and encourage you in your walk with the Lord?
Is there one practical thing you need to as a result of this morning’s service?