Tuesday, 12 February 2008

A Sermon for the Start of Lent

Lent 1 (2008) Year A RCL Principal

Short Cuts

The great thing about living somewhere for any length of time is that you get to know the area, and you find your way around it in such a way that you learn all the short cuts. Having lived in London on and off for twelve or so years I used to be quite adept at find the back routes to places which avoided the traffic – or at least, may have taken us a little out of the way, but meant we did not have to sit behind a row of cars for ages.

I am just getting to the stage now where I am getting the hang of where to go and when during the day to avoid traffic. Though I have to say that riding the motorbike has made me lazy, as I rarely find myself stuck behind anything when I can nip around the side.

But, if I’m honest, short cuts, often aren’t short cuts at all, they take us out of our way, they can even take longer than sitting in the traffic we so often rail about.

But we do seem to live in a world that is besotted with short cuts, with the so-called quick fix. Instant coffee, Instant gratification, video-on-demand, the internet etc etc. We all (and I include myself in this) have fallen into the trap of thinking that all of this makes our lives easier, faster, better.

Well, some ‘instant’ things, some short cuts, are useful – but how often that computer which was meant to speed everything up seems to suck up a huge amount of time, how often the phone conversations seem to go on forever when a visit would have lasted a few moments, how often our shortcuts take us out of the way from where we should be going, and lead us from the best route towards where we want and need to be.

And it’s this short-cut mentality that faces us in our readings for today. In our Old Testament Lesson we have that ever so familiar passage from the book of Genesis, the story that we call the fall. In the story Adam and Eve long for a short-cut to be like God, so they taste of the forbidden fruit. They couldn’t wait, they wanted, so they took and ate. The story tells us that despite the freedom and the innocence which was theirs, they wanted more, and when tempted, they gave in – and their short cut was the route to misery and exclusion from the paradise that had been theirs.

In contrast we have, in the other familiar story for this Sunday, the account of Jesus temptations in the wilderness, at the start of his ministry. We know the story so well, we hear it every Lent, we remember the devil testing Jesus, offering him the shortcut to fulfil his immediate desires.

Turn these stones to bread – instant gratification for Jesus hunger. Take the shortcut which leads away from your self-discipline, your desire to set yourself apart, give in to self indulgence, use your power, trust in yourself and what you can do…

‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ There are deeper needs than hunger, says Jesus, and bigger concerns than ‘what I want’ or even ‘what I can do’

OK then, try again. Jump from the temple, God will protect you – the Bible says so. For Jesus, this temptation must have been strong, it would have taken away the need for his own faith – a short cut to knowing God’s touch on his life. It could have meant leaving behind his doubts, his fears, and living a life of supreme self assurance. But it would have taken him away from the route of faith and trust which he was to show us by his example. ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’

Right, third time lucky, perhaps. Jesus is shown all nations, all those whose allegiance is away from God. If he will only bow down and worship the Devil then all of it will be his. Well, this is the shortcut that could have made his ministry quick and easy, couldn’t it. No worries about rejection, no need to slog away at spreading the message, no matter what the cost – it would all be sewn up in a matter of moments.

But actually, the purpose of this ministry was not so that people were deceived, or easily led, but that they had the choice to know God or not, a choice that would not be foisted upon them, but one freely offered, and one that needed to be lived out, shared and taken by everyone for themselves. It was about each individual turning to God and making that decision, not being tricked into it by the deception of evil. ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.’ quotes Jesus.

It’s interesting to think about how much Jesus knew of what he would go through in his life. I don’t believe he had foreknowledge of all that he was to go through, because to have known that would have prevented him from being truly human, and would negate the words of the letter to the Hebrews that Christ was ‘exactly as we are, yet without sin’. To know the future is not human, it is a divine quality.

But I do believe that Jesus could see the difficulty of the path ahead of him as he considered his ministry, and I believe, as I have preached before, that these temptations were not just once, but he constantly faced the temptation of taking the short cut, of looking for the easy route, of heading away on another path.

But despite the hardships he faced, an itinerant preacher criticised and often in conflict with the authorities, living a hand-to-mouth lifestyle in the company of some frustrating disciples. Despite the fact he knew to challenge the existing authorities, secular and religious, was likely to lead to punishment and death – Jesus took the long route. Not out of a masochistic desire to suffer, but because he knew what his mission was. His faith, his love of God his father drew him on, no matter what.

And as we approach lent, this time when we examine ourselves and ask what God would have us do with our lives – we should perhaps be asking ourselves about our own attitude to faith – what are we doing? Are we looking for the easy way, the comfortable way?

For those of us who have been Christians for any length of time we will know that Christianity is not the easy way, it can be a hard slog down the steep and narrow way. Christianity is not a crutch for the weak as many believe, but is a choice of discipline, of love, of faithfulness. It’s about being willing make the right choice, even – perhaps especially – when it is not the easy choice.

Our challenge this Lent is to consider where God might be leading us, and whether we feel we have the strength to make whatever choice is put before us. It won’t always be hard, but often it won’t be easy. God’s Holy Spirit will help us with that choice though, and as with our Lord, will sustain us whatever comes, if only we will trust him.

May you all have a holy and blessed Lent as you seek God, that you may live in the fullness of his life.

1 comment:

Quilldancer said...

In Vegas I had a ministry. I was a productive member of the church. Here in Hawaii I sit on a pew. Four times I have approached the pastor and volunteered for different things. Four times he has told me he'd get back to me and he's never done so. Then after a couple days when I remind him, he tells me he's already gotten someone else.

I joined the women's group thinking I might find something there. They want me to hold down a chair -- oh, and put my dues in the pot on time. I keep asking God to show me what he would have me do -- and for 5 months I have just sat on a pew and waited.