Spirit Led or Lust Driven?
Sermon for Lent 1 – Sunday 10 March 2019 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe.
Text: Luke 4.1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
If you promise to not split on me to the archdeacon, I will tell you a secret. When I was licenced to be the vicar of this parish I made this Declaration of Assent;
I, Andrew Dotchin affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.
It’s the last bit ‘I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.’ where I find I may need to be sitting on the naughty step.
Not that I am someone who throws the Prayer Book out with the font water, I appreciate the well-crafted words that are found in the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship and am a firm believer in the Anglican principle of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (in short our beliefs are expressed in the words of our prayers)
It’s just that, occasionally, when I’m part of a congregation rather than leading worship, I don’t always use the proper words. Nothing too heretical you understand just a little bit of reflecting on how I see God. So you may find the words of a Collect end with Jesus described as ‘Redeemer’ instead of always as ‘Lord’. At the dismissal you may find me whispering ‘egameni leNkosi’ as a response instead of ‘In the Name of the Lord’ (Africa always lives within you!) Occasionally you may find me referring to the Holy Spirit as ‘She’ but personally I think that is just a case of reading the Old Testament Hebrew correctly. But most often you will catch me ‘breaking’ the rules about authorised forms of worship and turning into a rebel when it comes to the words for the Lord’s Prayer.
For some reason the Church of England when settling on the wording for the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer, chose to leave unchanged one line, the most contentious line of the prayer, in its traditional wording. So while most of the rest of the Anglican Communion ask that God would ‘Save us from the time of trial’ we chose to stick with the familiar ‘Lead us not into temptation’.
An odd petition to a loving God is it not?
The Good Shepherd looks after His sheep and would not put them in harms way would He? When He leads them it is from dark deathly shadows into green pastures not into peril.
The reasons for this contradictory phrasing of our family prayer are, literally, lost in translation as English usage has changed down the centuries. Scholars agree that ‘Save us from the time of trial’ is a better wording of the original prayer. Yet we have persisted with it and, with the rule of ‘Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi’ (we believe what we pray) we have received a twisted picture of God and too many, myself included in my younger years, see our Loving Creator as a God who is ‘out to get us.’ Which is a shame as it robs us of joy and assurance in our faith.
Knowing that God loves us deeply and is a protector rather than a tempter (or at least someone who permits his children to play with fire) do we need to look at the ‘Temptation’ of Christ in a different way? It would take more than my small learning and these few minutes in the pulpit to unpack all that is going on in today’s gospel reading but there is a dynamic between two choices here. Are we people who are Spirit led or are we tempted by our hungers?
On the face of it the Scripture Jesus is set up to fail. It seems as if He was led by the Spirit only so that he could be tempted; now that is devilish work! Or is it more nuanced than that? Is it not so much about the devil and all his works as our selfishness and our worldliness? Is it perhaps a choice that we need to make between listening to the Spirit’s call on our life or the demands of our own selfishness?
Personally, given the choice between following the leading of the Spirit into the wilderness and giving in to my baser desires I know which one is more fun and where my personal temptation lies!
To know what God wants you to do, to have a sense of calling, is glorious but it is hard work and means (until we conform ourselves to Christ) we will never have our own way again. To not do what we know we should do may entertain us, stroke our ego and even be pleasurable but it will leave us with an after-taste of wormwood which is, sadly, somewhat addictive.
Being led by the Spirit is hard work, giving into our desires leads us to a place of pain, only one of them leads us closer to God.
How do we give up on the desires of the world, the flesh and the devil and surrender ourselves to being led by the Spirit instead of driven by our lusts?
Jesus shows us the way as the Word turns to the words of the Scriptures for strength, sustenance and direction. Do we?
In the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer for Lent we find our job description for this season, the rules for fighting the world the flesh and the devil. Listen to them:
In these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your people once again.
Through fasting, prayer and acts of service
you bring us back to your generous heart.
Through study of your holy word you open our eyes to your presence in the world
and free our hands to welcome others into the radiant splendour of your love.
‘Fasting, prayer, acts of service, study of your holy word’. Lent is a time of returning by leaving. A time of remembering who we are in deeper prayer. A time of using fasting and service to remind us how loving and generous God is. A time of studying God’s word that we might ourselves become God’s word for others and lovingly welcome them into God’s love.
If we are not people of the Bible we make it more difficult for God to work with us and our ears become deaf to the whispers of God’s love. Which is why our PCC meetings begin with a time of ‘Dwelling in the Word’. For this reason Churches Together have organised not one but eight Lent groups for the next five weeks, (please try to attend at least one of them there is plenty of choice). We must ensure that the Scripture we read each week is not limited to just the Gospel passage on the pew sheet. The Bible must be for us, as it was for Christ in the desert, the bread on which we feed.
To be Spirit led rather than lust driven is to be people who empty our hands of all the petty sins and selfishness that have muted the Spirit’s voice in our lives and give ourselves over to the One Who Loves us Best.
It is hard work, it will mean biting our tongues frequently, it will demand that we put ourselves last even if that means we go without, it will involve being kind to the unkind, thankful to the ungracious, and forgiving of the selfish and unforgiving. And all this without any thanks. It will wear us out and we will feel emptied and hungry. But, having emptied ourselves we are then ready to be filled to overflowing with new life at Easter.
Friends we have only the worst part of our selves to rid ourselves off, what’s not to lose?