God we praise your name and ask for your blessing and help to
Raise awareness of our Churches in the Mid Trent Team. We offer
Ourselves to be your disciples within our community; to bear
Witness by our daily lives, so that all whom we meet will see the
Truth of your living word and believe in the
Hope you have promised us through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
We try to make our church services as friendly as possible. Please don't worry about getting things 'wrong'. Even if they notice, people won't mind. At Communion services, everyone is equally welcome, whether you feel able to share the bread and wine or prefer just to stay seated for a time of quiet. Finally, we are interested in you, not what you are wearing - but note that in the winter you will need to wrap up warm in some of our churches!
As Jesus showed in the wilderness, the Scriptures provide a tremendous resource for us in times of testing and temptation. They enable us to connect our own experiences with the ongoing story of salvation, reminding us of God's eternal love and faithfulness; and they offer countless examples of men and women refusing to worship the false gods of wealth, power and security, and choosing instead to work for God's vision of a more just and generous world. Our capacity to repent and to resist temptation comes from our relationship with God and the grace of his deliverance rather than from our own strength and initiative.
One of the greatest statements of the 21st Century attributed to the American president is "its fake news." But how do we discern the truth. We live in a world of competing stories. We only need to watch the news to see the pain and suffering that results from worshiping purely materialistic goals. In such a world, we must know the Christian story in order to resist the false stories that seek to take us captive. In communion as we share together in the Eucharist we see a sign of Christs way for us.
The reading in Luke 4:1-13 is the familiar story of Jesus' temptation by the devil in the wilderness. This story appears in each of the synoptic gospels and is so well known that we sometimes conflate the different accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke into one story about Jesus' temptation. But each account is unique from the others. As we read Luke's version carefully, we can see two competing stories: the story that Jesus taps into in order to resist the devil and successfully navigate the temptations laid before him and the narrative the devil presents.
So where are we ,this story takes place in two significant locations: the wilderness and Jerusalem. Historically, the wilderness was the place where God met the Jewish people at Sinai after rescuing them from Egypt. In the wilderness God shaped them into God's covenant people cared for and led by God with cloud and fire. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is also led, this time by the Holy Spirit, in the wilderness, and he faces temptation by his adversary, the devil. The location of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness reminds us of the narrative of God's rescue of Israel. Geographically, the wilderness was an arid region in southern Israel between the fertile land near the Mediterranean Sea and the interior desert regions. It was not devoid of life such as one might imagine but was rather a place that only produced food for flocks when there were abundant rains.
Jerusalem, the city of David, is the centre of Jewish power, identity, and worship. At the time of Jesus, the second temple had been renovated and expanded by Herod the Great and was the centre of worship for the Jewish people. This place of power and worship is the setting for the final temptation.
So lets think about the temptations. Like Mark and Matthew, Luke explains that it is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism. This is the training camp that will prepare him for his future ministry, and the devil is the sparring partner who will toughen him up for the challenges that lie ahead. In Luke, Jesus has been tempted throughout his 40 days of fasting. These final three temptations represent the greatest tests of all.
Hunger isn't the only issue at stake in the first test. One of Luke's main themes is our attitude to material things - food, money, possessions, property - and he has already set out the new world order in Mary's joyful song: 'He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty' (Luke 1.53). Drawing inspiration from the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 8.3), Jesus refuses to let his own hunger distract him. The words of God are what give life, offering far more strength and satisfaction than material possessions.
The second test is about power. Falsely claiming that all the kingdoms of the world are his, the devil invites Jesus to worship him and receive all the glory and authority that come from them. Jesus resists the lie, quoting Deuteronomy 6.13 - the power belongs to God, who is the only one to be worshipped and served. Again, Mary has celebrated the new truth of God's kingdom in which the imbalances of power are corrected: 'He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly' (Luke 1.52).
The final test is about security. Luke places this last, seeing it as the most significant. Quoting the Scriptures himself (Psalm 91.11-12), the devil urges Jesus to throw himself off the Temple, trusting that God will rescue him. For Jesus to assert himself. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6.16 in reply, refusing to test God in such a way. He has not come to save himself, but to give his life for others. How many of our prayers are concerned with our own safety, and the safety of those we love? Can we learn to pray in a more sacrificial way? Yet again, Mary offers a better alternative: 'Let it be with me according to your word' (1.38). Of course, Jesus response is echoed in his passion and his death.
Chicken - dare games.
We have touched upon fake news and materialism, temptation and testing. Living in the 21st Century provides us with all kinds of temptations, although most of the time we are oblivious to them. Carried along by the prevailing culture, we don't realise we are still playing chicken. It takes very little to get fully immersed in the game to get carried away with ourselves and to satisfy our own desires. Lent however offers us space, a sanctuary of the Christian year - a time when we can stand back from the hurly- burly of our usual activities and reflect. I suggest three questions
Are we the kind of people who try Gods patience by thoughtless or willful disobedience?
Have we failed to be the people God wills us to be?
Can we change?
How seriously we attempt to encounter ` spiritual wilderness where our soles can be still is a matter of choice. I don't believe God is calling us to spend 40 days in the wilderness or even camping on Cannock chase. He is calling us to grace, to belief and is warning us of the temptations in life and the power of the Devils insipid influence. He is calling us to prayer and even the most tentative of prayers can open us to God. Contemplation however brief, may allow the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
"Be filled with the spirit"
Perhaps one day we may discover that the winner in a game of Chicken is usually the one who refuses to play at all.