Sermon 6th March 2022, First Sunday of Lent

Readings for the day Luke 4, 1-13, Romans 10, 8b-13


The ground is parched, dry, what sparse grass there is, is brown and withered. Strange, stunted bushes and trees nestled into any sheltered spot as the land rolls in hills and gullies and deep ravines. What little water there is lies at the bottom of steep sided gorges, and narrow ravines, perpetually in shade, whose dried water courses litter the landscape, with deep ravines, fatal for the unwary traveller. The land is dry and dusty, littered with sharp stones exposed from the dust by the hot winds by day and icy blasts at night.

So lies the land to the East of Jerusalem, not quite desert, but dry and often without rainfall, save for occasional deluges that cause the barren land to spring into life and colour for a few days before fading to dryness and bleached colour. The land is full of terraces, and  wide valleys with steep ravines of water courses carved at flood time over many aeons, all descending down to the Dead Sea further east, itself in a deep bowl of the earth off a steep escarpment. From the Dead Sea, you can travel north up the Jordan Valley, following the river, until at last you reach the fertile banks of Galilee.


But it’s the land to the east of Jerusalem that Jesus went to after he’d been baptized. Filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us it was the Spirit which sent him there.

 Few people lived there, the landscape was harsh, it was a place to be alone, where the things of this world fall into perspective, where recognition of how little you need becomes obvious, where danger from the landscape and wolves and wild animals is real, where one’s dependency in only on one’s own resources and those that God provides.

There are other wildernesses in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Sometimes it was this very same Judean desert, at other times it was elsewhere, further north. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, many prophets, John the Baptist, even Paul, amongst many others spent time in the wilderness, seeking the will of God.

Jesus was to return to solitary places again and again throughout his ministry, we often read of him seeking out solitude.

But at the start of his ministry, we hear detail of what happened in the wilderness, his struggle. His total reliance on God and his word. There were no witnesses of course, so perhaps we assume this is a retelling of Jesus' attempts to explain his struggle in the wilderness tp his disciples.

But when we read of Jesus temptation, it is all too easy to read it as if it’s a newspaper report, or a simple account of facts. For some that causes problems as they try to equate the idea of the Devil or Satan with our physical world and a God of love, whilst others may read it all as allegory, or the gospel writers’ attempts to demonstrate the God- man Jesus’ total infallibility to sin.

Some would read it and say that of course Jesus withstood temptation, he was, after all the Son of God, how difficult could it be? Whilst others would say that for the man in him, how much more difficult the temptation to play at being God , to take charge, to rule, to use his power for his own ends,  like some sort of ancient  Superman would have been, than to serve his Father as the man Jesus whom he had sent.


But behind all that there is simplicity. Firstly, Jesus, the man, was subject to spiritual struggles just like any of us, and he needed space and time, time with God, time with himself, to come to terms with those struggles. And secondly, he did overcome those struggles, but not through his human power, but as Luke says, because he was “filled by the Holy Spirit”. Time and time again the Spirit led him to rely on God’s word to counter temptation. Forty days he spent there, fasting, forgetting his physical needs, relying only on what God provided.

And it was not just his consideration of the Scriptures which overcame the temptations either. For in the very next passage in Luke we hear how he returned from the wilderness into Nazareth, and there read from Isaiah- “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, to preach good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the oppressed.” Jesus’ time in the wilderness, filled with the Spirit which had descended on him at Baptism, had transformed him from a carpenter’s son to the visionary, prophesying, healing teacher as he had discerned from God’s word just what his mission was to be.

 A mission which was to be much deeper than those words first seemed to suggest, as that healing, that freedom, that new sight was to reach out into the world far beyond the confines of Judea and those three years of ministry, but right out into the world for all time, for eternity. To reach out through his death and resurrection as only God could make possible. And only possible because he, Jesus, had withstood the temptation in the wilderness, had proved his perfection, had yielded to the servant nature which he now knew would lead to his death.

Where, I wonder, are your wildernesses. Do you wander onto the Epequerie, alone save for the wind and the crickets in the heather, listening for God’s whisper in the caves? Do you stroll along one of our beaches, the wind caressing your face as the waves pound into the sand or pebbles with the rhythm of your thoughts? Do you gaze out across the sea, allowing the skies reflection to lift your spirit to another plane? Do you sit in your room, eyes closed,  transported to another place by the beauty of a favourite piece of music.  Or do you stand and look out into the starlit night sky, recognising your insignificance amongst the enormity and beauty of the universe and feeling God’s presence as your Creator.

Where are your wildernesses? Those places where all the things of the world are stripped away. Those places where you can allow the Holy Spirit to lead you, perhaps even send you to seek God’s word for you, his purpose, his will.

Those places where you recognise that God has provided all you need even if, to start with they appear arid and maybe even dangerous.

Lent is often a time when people decide to give something up. Perhaps there is an element in that self-denial of lent that allows us into that wilderness experience, where things of this world can be stripped away back to basics, if only we get past the “giving up chocolate” thing. We have a need for spiritual renewal, continually, just as Jesus constantly returned to the wilderness. There is a sense that after the wilderness that Covid has been for many and now, as we face the empty, destructive desert of war where, it seems Satan prowls amongst humanity, this lent, we might also discern anew in our wilderness time the mission God has sent us here for, just as Jesus emerged from the wilderness into his hometown to proclaim his ministry. For the world needs Christ’s disciples now more than any other time, disciples of peace, compassion, and love, filled with the spirituality of the Holy Spirit to, like Christ overcome the worldly evils of power, dominion, greed and self-preservation at the cost of other’s lives.

We will in a few moments come to our communion. A time not to be alone, but where that communion we often experience with God in our wilderness moments is brought together by the very body of Christ, as his body, here as one. In communion with Him, in communion with each other and this morning, particularly in communion with all those Christians who are suffering in Ukraine. Celebrating Jesus’ perfection, his sacrifice, his resurrection, and through all that, our salvation, as we turn to him, and turn away from the sin he overcame in the wilderness and destroyed on the cross. It is only in him, in his perfection, in his love, grace and mercy that we can still retain hope.

And to him be the glory.