Sunday March 10, 2019
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
Challenges and opportunities
Many people don’t like to talk about confession these days; it is seen as old fashioned, out of touch with the reality of the 21st century living and belonging to a pious world inhabited by serious Anglo-Catholics. Even the way it used to be done – in confessional boxes or with a priest semi-visible through a grille – means that confession is associated with dark places and with a sense of furtiveness. And then, if you do go to confession you have the horror of realizing that you are going to confess the same sin again…and again, and again. This is far removed from the conversation that allows for frank and honest facing up to something that has gone wrong and the words of absolution which, in many cases, brings a better sense of closure than that obtained by weeks of therapeutic counselling. However, as Anglicans we often prefer not to talk about such things and my parents were actually suspicious of the practice; as a child, I used to think that this meant that Roman Catholics must be very bad and Anglicans, somehow, less so since we used the ‘general confession’ in the liturgy. I was once told by an old American priest that in his opinion, Anglicans did not sin generally at all! As I raised my eyebrows, he went on, “No. Episcopalians do not sin generally – they sin very specifically!”
Lent is a time for dealing with specifics and not just generalities. Specifics matter. In the desert, Jesus is tempted and his temptations are not general but very specific. Satan tempts Jesus with things that he understands – things that are important to him. These are not vices or fantasies that Jesus is just discovering (“Oh, I had never thought of that!) these are real thoughts welling up within Jesus and they are very personal to him. He deals with them in a way that transforms and gives us hope when we face our own temptations. He denies the occasion to sin but does not reject the very thing with which he is tempted but, if you will, turns them ‘upside down’ and makes them opportunities for growth.
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Bread – staple food. Luke tells us that Jesus was not just hungry, he was famished. he was starving. In turning the stones into bread Jesus would have sated himself…but only himself. That kind of bread was not enough for him: ‘Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”’ (John 6:35)
What is it in our own lives that specifically tempts us to be selfish and to think only of ourselves? Can I follow the example of Jesus who refused to turn stones into bread for his own ends but, instead, turned himself into the bread of life for all people? ‘Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”’ (John 6:51b)
‘The devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority…if you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours”’
Power and glory; craved by so many but so shallow and deceptive. Luke tells us that Jesus went into the desert ‘filled with the Spirit’ and the glory of Jesus is the antithesis of human glory. ‘Jesus said, “How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?”’ (John 5:44).
What is it in our own lives that specifically tempts us to seek our own glory or exercise power in an abusive way? Can I follow the example of Jesus who revealed the glory of God in washing his disciples’ feet and who offered himself for those who hated him? ‘Jesus said, “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” … “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”’ (John 12:28, 31-33)
‘The devil …placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Many times, Jesus was ministered to by Angels and even said that he could call upon them, but at his trial before Pilate he said that his kingdom was not of this world. The Temple was dear to his heart for it was his Father’s house but it was the glory that filled the Temple that mattered: ‘Jesus said, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”’ (John 2:16b).
What is it in our own lives that mars the image of God in us? Can I follow the example of Jesus and search for God’s presence in those around me?
‘The Jews said, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” … He was speaking of the temple of his body.’ (John 2:19-21)
I started talking about confession, so maybe this is time for one. When I was at seminary in Oxford, training to be a priest, we used to have a very simple meal of soup on Friday lunchtimes. It didn’t stop some of us going to the pub for meat pie and fries afterwards. One evening, after our evening meal, a group of us were very busy and, quite late in the evening we got hungry; we used to frequent a particular Indian restaurant near the seminary and we went there about 11pm at night. The service was terrible. We waited and waited for our curry until, in the end, a very frustrated member of the group said “Mr. Khan, if we do not get our curry soon we will simply never come here ever again”. Mr. Khan spoke very quietly and calmly – “I am sorry sir; we are praying.” At that moment I am sure I could hear the tumbleweed rolling through the restaurant. In the silence that followed, I am not sure what was worse - forgetting that these faithful Muslims needed to pray around their work times during Ramadan or the fact that we seminarians had already eaten two cooked meals that day, and that it was a Friday in Lent! We needed to practice what we were going to preach.
Lent is a time for getting our priorities right. To discover what it is that tempts us to be less than whom we are called to be; to deal with the specifics of sin, no matter how small, and not to deal with generalities. It is a time for discovering that temptations that are very personal to each one of us will probably never go away, and do not have to become occasions for sin but, rather, opportunities for growth.