Lent 1 - Gospel and Sermon
Posted on the 21st Feb 2021 in the category Resources
21 February 2021
(As given at North Potteries Team Ministry)
The Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after Him. After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There He proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’, He said, ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
‘All the world’s a stage’, wrote Shakespeare, ‘And all the men and women merely players; … / And one man in his time plays many parts, / His acts being seven ages.’ The ‘seven ages of man’, or as the News of the World used to claim, ‘All human life is here’. That’s what we are reminded of in our gospel this morning, except that, from what we learn from Jesus’s temptations in the other gospels, as someone once remarked there are perhaps not seven but three. Let’s run with that idea.
The first temptation – “If you are really God’s son, then tell these stones to become bread” – corresponds to the first stage of a person’s life, our youth. It’s often said that the front part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last regions of the brain to mature, in our mid- to late 20s. This area is responsible among other things for controlling impulses. In other words, there’s more than ten years difference between being 20 and being 30: your brain is very different. If you are over 30, think back with that in mind.
When we’re young we’re not good at controlling impulses. If there’s an itch, you scratch it. In our youth we learn that passions are not necessarily wrong, but that we should reject passions outside of God’s will, even if we have to go ‘hungry’ for what we want. (As an aside, we might notice that some people never do seem to grow up; or escape this stage of life.)
What of the second temptation, and the second age of human life? – “If you are really God’s son, throw yourself down”. This is a temptation to pride and self-interest. Satan was tempting Christ to show off, to depend on appearances, to do something miraculous just because He could, rather than to reveal God and build up faith. “They’ll not understand sacrifice, a crucified God, a pierced heart. Do some flying instead! That’ll get their attention.”
And so the temptation of the second stage of our lives, when we are concerned to make a name for ourselves, is to impress others: power, influence, self-fulfilment, building the cv. You may have resisted the sins of youthful impulse, and so Satan says, ‘Very well, if you trust God – be a celeb; do something heroic, make a name for yourself!’
Then there’s Satan’s third temptation, the one specially reserved for our ‘third age’! – “If you will worship me, I shall give to you everything.”
In ‘the autumn of our lives’ we want security, and the assurance of possessions. We shiver at Jesus’s words to Peter in John 21.18 “… when you were young, you put your own clothes on and went where you liked; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you, and lead you where you don’t want to go.’
Say then you’ve avoided the traps of the flesh as a young person, and even the snares of pride as your midriff grows, it’s doubtful that in old age you’ll let go completely and leave this world with as little to your name as when you came into it. Storing up goods and money only gives an illusion of control. It distracts millions from the treasure they should be building up with God, Who knows what we are made of without any possessions.
Well, perhaps you don’t believe in the Devil, and don’t take temptation all that seriously either. That will be just fine by him. He’ll be pleased to know he’s dead. God is existence itself, love and truth, and calls Himself “I AM who I AM”. The Devil is quite happy to remain in disguise, calling himself, “I am who I am NOT”.
Dear friends, let us ask the saints, who help us recognise holiness in every age of man’s life, to pray for us and strengthen us to choose He who is, and not him who is NOT.