Weekly worship: first Sunday of Lent, 10 March
Journeying into Lent.
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Luke 4:1-13
On this first Sunday in Lent, we read instructions left by Moses to the community of the people of Israel. Guidance in the generosity that flows from gratitude. For those of us reading through Christian Aid's Lent resource Count Your Blessings, this passage provides inspiration for a generosity that flows from remembrance and gratitude.
We are reminded in these instructions to not take anything we have for granted or as a given. The first fruits being brought in worship are harvested from the ground that was given to the Israelites by God. A reminder that nothing we have is ours, we are merely the stewards of what we have for a time.
This time of giving is also a time of remembering. To recall the story of where we have come from and whose we are. The people of Israel were called to remember the trials they went through in captivity, the oppression they experienced by the Egyptians, that they too were descended from wandering foreigners. And we, too, are called to remember the story of great redemption, of deliverance and of promises fulfilled as we journey towards Easter.
It is from that place of remembering that gratitude and generosity flow.
Verse 11 tells us how these first fruits are not just being offered to God in thanksgiving, but they are being shared within the whole community, including those on the margins. Their generosity means all can ‘celebrate and share in the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.’
This Lent we too are invited to remember with gratitude, and respond with generosity, so the entire community of creation may flourish.
The wilderness, the place where the Israelites spent forty years facing their own temptations and human frailty. Forty days – the duration Moses spent fasting while writing the covenant for the people of Israel (Exodus 34: 27-28). How can Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation be a guide for us to chart our own course through the wilderness places of our own lives this Lent?
The temptations Jesus faced are a far cry from our abstentions from chocolate, coffee or social media. These encounters with the devil test Jesus’ very vocation and identity. Twice the devil says to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, do this.’ Above all, these tests reveal Jesus’ relationship to power and show what it meant for him to be the Son of God.
Jesus was at his most vulnerable, famished from the hunger of fasting for 40 days. It is at his point of greatest weakness that he is tested first: to turn stones into bread – to use his authority as the Son of God to meet his own most basic personal needs and desires.
The second temptation appeals to the expectations others may have placed on Jesus, that is, to embrace the political and military power expected of a Messiah. The third test is an unhinged appeal to a misinterpretation of the divine as a superhero and portray Jesus’s humanity as being invincible.
Jesus resists all three tests by leaning on the teaching of Moses in Deuteronomy. He was not alone in knowing and drawing on Scripture; of course, the devil quotes scripture in this exchange, too. He resisted, despite his vulnerability, misusing the power he had been given for his own needs. He resisted the expectations being placed on him by everyone around him and he resisted misusing his relationship with the divine.
Jesus entered the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit, and was even led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t say the Spirit left or abandoned him there either. He was not alone in his time of temptation and neither are we.
‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet was without sin.’ (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus demonstrates what it is to have a mature relationship with power. By his example ‘we are challenged to face issues of power, seeking neither domination nor flight from responsibility, but confident that God empowers all with strength and grace and freedom.
If we have a mature relationship with power, having been tested ourselves, then we can empower others, unafraid and unthreatened by their flourishing.’ (Timothy Radcliffe, Just One Year, DLT, 2006 p.109)
O God, advocate for all who are oppressed,
You shatter our illusions of righteousness
and unmask our divided hearts,
in order that we might be filled with longing for justice and generosity
and so be made whole.
And as justice and generosity
are true marks of a heart turning towards you,
let our actions as well as our intentions
bear witness for the longing of our hearts.
Points for prayer
- Pray for the flourishing of Fairtrade and for farmers across the world to be given a fair price for their produce as Fairtrade Fortnight (25 February-10 March 2019) comes to an end this week.
- Give thanks for women’s achievements and pray for a more gender-balanced world as we mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019.
- Pray for our partner, ICODE, who continue to help communities in the Philippines adapt and prepare for the effects of climate change on their lives.
- Pray that all those participating the Count Your Blessings journey would have a transformative Lent.