Oh the Temptation!

by Feb 18, 2024Sermons

Mark 1:9-15

‘The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness’

I wonder what temptations you find hard, what things do you do mindlessly that you know you shouldn’t do? Or what things do you find it difficult to remember to do? Perhaps you have been told if you do something thirty times or forty times, or more, you will turn it into a habit. I am not convinced. For example…

I am very aware of my ability to mindlessly snack. If I am doing something, like writing this sermon, I will want to have something to nibble on. The little bowl of crisps, the bar of chocolate, anything. On one level I won’t even know that I am doing it. So once again this Lent I’ve set myself the challenge of not snacking on things between meals. Not because I have any hope that at the end of Lent I’ll have got myself out of the habit, but because it is a mindless temptation and I am trying to be mindful.

I’m trying to be mindful about what things I think of first, before God, or before other people. I’m trying to be mindful about the impact my choices have on others on the food I choose to eat and where it comes from, who made it.

On the first Sunday of Lent we always hear of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. It is a story which appears in all three of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. We get a sense of Mark’s rush in this passage. Mark’s Gospel has only 16 chapters, compared to 21, 24 or 28 in the other Gospels. It is the shortest by far. He spends no time in telling us about Jesus birth. In fact, after introducing John the Baptist he goes straight into the story of Jesus Baptism and then spends all of two sentences on Jesus’ time being tempted in the wilderness. Jesus comes back from the wilderness proclaiming the Good News that God’s Kingdom has come near. By doing this we get a sense of the flow of these narratives which the other gospels loose as they take more time telling each one more slowly.

Every one of the stories of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is preceded by his baptism. It is the way his ministry begins. But it seems a bit back to front. For everybody else – they have been tempted and fallen short, then they go to John the Baptist to repent and have their sins washed away. But Jesus is without sin – he comes to John before the narrative of his being tempted. But then in this moment baptism is transformed, changed from being a washing away of sins, to an entering into God’s kingdom – a passageway or gate like the waters of the red sea were the route for the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into their salvation in the wilderness – and eventually the promised land.

Or, in today’s New Testament reading Peter points to the example of Noah, and his family’s entering into the covenant with God by passing through the waters of the flood on the ark. In the same way through the waters of Baptism we enter into God’s family, into the Kingdom of God. But here is the thing – much like Christ is baptised before he goes into the wilderness of temptation, we are not so fortunate as to be released from all temptations having been baptised. We go into the wilderness of our own lives, full of mindless temptations – some explicit and visible, some less so.

It is worth, I think, reflecting a little on how we receive the sacrament of baptism – and all the other sacraments. We don’t receive them because we have demonstrated how worthy we are – how perfectly we’ve lived or how sinless. On the contrary – the sacraments are a gift of grace. A gift we are invited to respond to. Our role in the sacrament is to express our desire to receive them and prepare ourselves to do so. Our real role in the sacrament then comes in the way we respond to the invitation – do we receive them, and having received them, how do we use the gifts God has given us. Much like the baptism that Noah and his family receive, not because they were without flaws – far from it, but because they have been willing to receive them. And God makes a covenant with Noah, as he did with Abraham and Moses, and through Christ we are included in that covenant. A Covenant is a promise – a commitment, but unlike a contract where our failure to keep our side of the agreement would make the contract void, God upholds the covenant with us and faithfully calls us back to that covenant again and again.

What does this mean, then, for keeping a holy Lent? Well, in Lent we are responding to what we know is to come in Jesus’ passion and resurrection. 
Preparing ourselves for it. That through Jesus’ love for all God’s creation, love to the point that he is willing to die for us. And in so doing, as the righteous dies for the unrighteous, we are brought into God’s kingdom.

Lent is a time when we challenge ourselves to be mindful of all that God has given us and of how much we struggle to live-up to that grace –
so that, as we take on extra discipline, as we seek to exercise self control, we are made more self-aware of the things we put between ourselves and God and God’s desires for our lives. In so doing, though, we are reminded also that this is the very reason why God becomes incarnate, why God sends Jesus to live and suffer for us. So that we can know that however much we falter, however much we fall – God has already redeemed us, God’s covenant is faithful, and as we repent and try to turn back to God – He will bring us into God’s Kingdom.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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