Podcast Reflections

Sermon for Lent 1 (Year C)

Listen to a sermon based on the readings for Sunday 6 March 2022, the First Sunday of Lent (Year C)

In today’s familiar reading from the gospel narrative we hear Jesus say to the devil: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Every time this passage is read I wonder what image comes into the minds of those hearing it … it speaks of the devil in such a matter-of-fact way, but … what does it mean to us as we live out our lives in the sophisticated twenty-first century?

In earlier times, the devil would often be referred to in everyday conversation … the ‘normality’ of that is demonstrated in the number of devils we see in the medieval wall paintings in the parish church in Corby Glen.

But … today … in 2022 … what does all this talk of the devil mean to us?

Of course, it is used to demonize those with whom we disagree, or who seem to have crossed the boundary of civilized behaviour … our media is full of such comments and judgements at the  moment!

But, that is a caricature … that trivialisation of the devil, and his impact upon this world is very dangerous indeed.

In the service of baptism, our parents and godparents were asked:

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?

This is a modern version of the question that was asked in the Book of Common Prayer:

Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?

With the coming of Common Worship, priests were offered an even more modern alternative to this question … one which removes all mention of the devil … I have stopped offering that alternative to parents because they want the old, familiar words to be used … but … what do they mean?

In our baptism service the question (Do you reject the devil and all his rebellion against God?) is hammered home with two further questions:

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God
and neighbour?

The depth of the 1662 question has not gone away!

In today’s gospel reading we see Jesus resisting the temptations of the devil … giving us a model … a model of how to honour those baptismal pledges.

As we think of the devil, images spring into our minds of creatures with tails and horns, and carrying pitchforks … in fact, we think of pantomime demon kings, rather than the reality of evil made manifest in this world.

The truth is that the devil exists in so many forms, and most of them are invisible to the naked eye.

Every cruel word, every dishonest action, every promise broken, every time we try to compromise in our life of faith … the work of the devil is being done.

As we hear todays gospel reading, we tend to focus on the interaction between Jesus and the devil … the increasingly impressive promises being made … if only Jesus will betray his Father in heaven.

But … Jesus holds firm …

Jesus says: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

In our reading from Deuteronomy we are given a picture of all that we should be celebrating by our faithfulness in God: The Lord … brought us into this place … a land flowing with milk and honey.

The writer of those words was reminding us that, no matter how ‘attractive’ the works of evil might seem, it is the Lord our God who with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders, rescued those who were oppressed by more powerful earthly forces.

St Paul also reminds us of the call to be steadfast in our faith when he writes: if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Our baptismal promises, whether they were made with our own lips or through the words of others, commit us to stand alongside Jesus in saying: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

And … remember this … one other detail from our gospel reading … it opens with these words: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan …

The temptation in the wilderness came immediately after Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan … the temptations of the devil are that close.

Even as we sit here in this act of worship and thanksgiving, we are being tempted to stray from the narrow way that is prepared for us to follow … and, as soon as we walk through that door … well, the temptations just pile up!

As we journey through Lent 2022 we might find ourselves struggling to remember what such a journey was like in earlier years.

Whether that is the case, or not, we need to remain resolute in our commitment to fasting, praying, studying scripture and serving others and, thereby, resisting the temptations of the one whose joy will know no bounds if we stray … the devil himself.

Let us stand firm in following the words of Jesus: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.