Sermon delivered by Rev Sydney Maitland on Sunday 13 December, 2015.
Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
The first harvest in the promised land – the proclamation of faith, and of the Lord’s deliverance, bringing the people out to a land flowing with milk and honey.
Romans 10: 8b-17
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believer in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. “No one who believes in Him will be put to shame.” No distinction between Jew and Greek.
Luke 4: 1-13
Jesus, full of the Spirit, led into the wilderness. Tempted. Make stones bread: “One shall not live by bread alone”. Offer of the kingdoms of the world: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” Pinnacle of the temple: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
It is intriguing that in the clamour for novelty and amusement, the simple appeals to logic, clarity of mind and openness of heart have become definitely unfashionable and indeed subversive and counter-cultural.
It is the appeal to the spectacular and the glamorous that draws attention, no matter how far-fetched the object of the campaign, or unaffordable or technically suspect. To appeal to the emotion but bypassing the mind allows all sorts of notions of superiority to gain attention.
At the moment we are observing the opening elements of the American Presidential election and may sneer at some of the candidates, forgetting all the while how we have been proffered visions of similar levels of absurdity in the not so recent past.
But the lesson from Deuteronomy tells of how once they had settled the Promised Land, the Israelites had to raise their crops and then bring them in worship, as a harvest offering, before the Lord.
And not only were they to make the offering but they were also to recite how they had come to be there. They were to recall the dire straits of their forefathers and how they were mightily delivered by the sovereign intervention of their God.
This statement of who and what they were was to be a central part of their harvest celebration, and they were never to forget it.
In short they were to worship God not only in their offering but in their speech, their memories and their loyalty.
In a strange way, Paul instructs something similar in that he expects the community of faith to hold itself together not only in its gatherings and worship, but in the way they set forth their faith.
While the characters of their lives were to bear witness to their faith, so were their conversations and their encounters with their neighbours. In this they were expected to give an account of their faith as opportunities presented themselves, and this would mean exposing themselves to ridicule and to argument.
It would mean that they had to express their beliefs as best they could in the situations where they were. Yes, they would have to be familiar with the things of their faith, but they would also have to be willing to speak out. And that could be sacrificial.
And so this brings me to the temptations of Jesus, who was presented with physical and emotional and even biblical arguments for going against the will of His Father in pursuing His mission in the world.
First, He was hungry. This is not a normal state of peckishness before a meal or a snack. Rather it was the state of extreme hunger that six weeks of fasting brings about before the body begins to consume its own organs.
To say that Jesus was hungry was an understatement. He was on the very edge of life itself when He was tempted to find a way of pursuing His ministry in a way that would avoid the cross.
“Use Your power to feed the people. Do good to them, not harm. Be a blessing to them, not a curse or symbol of abuse and ridicule.”
Yet Jesus responded with scripture: “Not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Not bread alone but the message of truth within the deepest parts of the human heart, and with no room for evasion or excuse.
There would never be an alternative for addressing the human condition which did not start with the human relationship with God.
Second, Jesus was ambitious with a zeal for accomplishing the things of God within the world. So why not take control? Why not use His authority the way Satan would and has used his?
Why waste time on human freedom, which people may not really understand, when subtle coercion and manipulation would provide the level of control sufficient to provide just the right kind of dependency and thought processes to sustain His rule for ever?
Again, “It is written”. The power of politics can never overrule the proper worship of and obedience to God. It might hold sway for a time, but it cannot last forever if contrary to the human heart that God has created, even if it is fallen and corrupted.
Politics will never be a substitute for truth and faith.
Third, why not go for the dramatic? Ignore appeals to rationality and to evidence and go for entertainment. Go for the glamorous, the visually appealing. The Roman scheme of bread and circuses had a lot to be said for it.
So amuse them and do not let them think about the deeper questions of life, of God, of truth, of how people relate to one another. No: “Be gone”.
All these appeals were there to distract with amusement or to distort with deception, and all were there to avoid the central issue of evil and sin which Jesus had come to strip of their power to terrify.
And of course they are still here today, in a world that still needs to hear the Lord’s message: only now, He is looking to us to offer it.