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Sermon for Lent 1 Year C Temptations

January 28, 2016

TSLMy granddad was best man at Joseph Conrad’s wedding so 1 have tried to read some of his books. Conrad was in a sort of wilderness, a six‑month stay in hospital during which he wrote ‘The Shadow Line’ – The line between youth and maturity, romance and reality, illusions and the facts of life.

In the story, a young man throws up his job on the spur of the moment. He is given his first commission as an inexperienced sea captain and takes a while to get used to being deferred to and called ‘sir’. He resents the way an older man appears cynical towards his youthful dreams. The ship lists ‑ as does the Holy Spirit who listeth where he wills in John 3. He spends hours in isolation as the rest of the crew is sick. He feels his position isolates him very sharply – the captain as a sort of king, ‘in a class all by myself’. He speaks of a search for identity – a test that enables the protagonist to find himself – a dawning of self‑consciousness, the shadow line dividing youth and maturity

The novel is steeped in Christian terms like sin, spiritual strength. It constantly warns against placing confidence in supernatural help at the expense of personal responsibility and hard work. The young captain puts his faith in quinine to cure his sick crew: ‘I opened it full of faith as a man opens a miraculous shrine, pinned my faith to it. It would save the men.’

He is frightened that his ship will be found with everyone dead on it ‑ like the Flying Dutchman found off the Cape of Good Hope ‑ supposedly as a punishment for blasphemy.

The story suggests that just as the captain will continue to travel geographically, he will continue to mature emotionally. He says that his journey is not into undiscovered territory. Predecessors have told of its landmarks

Jesus continued to face temptation throughout his life. Our story today has him cross the shadow line ‑ not between youth and maturity but between private and public life. Jesus struggles with three forms of wishful‑thinking: You only have to demand and it will be done; If you are compliant you will get what you want; If you fall down. you will be picked up; You only have to demand and it will be done. Like the baby crying, expecting to be fed – now. Turn those stones into bread. It’s been suggested that this was part of a kids’ game (The King and the Kingdom Leslie Brown Mowbray 1988) p. 28)

When children played shops, they got round flat stones to stand for bread. So later on Jesus asked: What man among you gives his son a stone when he asks for bread?’ Jesus is acutely aware of his hunger, as were many others in First Century Palestine. Use power to get lots of fans and short‑circuit nature, in which the stone has to wear down into dust and return to the soil before it can nourish the seedling that will in time produce wheat then bread.

If you are compliant you will get what you want; Instead of preaching a generous, risk‑taking God; Give them simple truths and lots of rules. Then you won’t have to be homeless, rejected and crucified.

Dostoievski’s Grand Inquisitor invites Jesus to reconsider his response to the temptations. He suggests he made the wrong decision first‑time round because he offered human beings an enigmatic and uncertain reality to which we are not accustomed. We prefer someone to adore, to do our thinking for us, to unite under as so many ants in an anthill.

If you fall down you will be picked up – Like the rattle thrown out of the pram. You’ll impress people by escaping unscathed. Convert people by spectacle and psychological manipulation.

There’s a lot of infantile religion about. People expect God to give them everything they ask for in prayer. The famous charismatic evangelical David Watson wrote movingly of how his faith matured when he realised God was not going to take away his cancer.

Grown up religion means learning to live fully with life the way it goes, learning to live with death and with the malevolence of things, learning to live with and interpret all the goodness and hope and sense of an overall meaning that, like cheerfulness, keep breaking in. (Enquiring Within ‑J Neville Ward Epworth 1988 p. 5)

We are tested every day. We as individuals and we as church. Every crisis in our lives is a judgement. We declare what we are by the way we react and respond. You only have to demand and it will be done.

After three hundred years of living by faith, dangerously on the margins, the Church found itself as part of imperial power under the emperor Constantine. It enriched itself and sometimes used force to make people believe. In times of missionary expansion, the church sometimes identified with the imperial west.

Man cannot live by bread alone, yet so many put their job and the money it earns at the centre of their lives. If you are compliant you will get what you want. So many are obsessed by their place in the pecking order; With social class, with the hierarchy at work and its special parking spaces; With the hierarchy in the church, of who is and who is not validly ordained, with whose theology is sound and whose is not; With making the church attractive so that more people will join it, instead of making the church more like Christ in his weakness, in his readiness to lose himself in service to others ‑ that sort of church might not be popular but it would be a more effective sign of Christ. In the Bible authority comes from service rather than kingship

If you fall down you will be picked up. So we create nuclear power and hope that someone, someday will know how to dispose of the waste safely. We pollute our planet and hope that someone, someday, will find the antidote to global warming or to the effects of GM crops. We cling to certainties in religion instead of doubting and making mistakes. Grown‑up freedom is not sitting back and expecting God to do the work but struggling to discern what God’s will is and committing yourself to fulfil it in your own life

The Greek used of this tempting is also used about testing an animal or piece of equipment to find out before you buy it if it is efficient to do what you want (The King and the Kingdom ‑ Leslie Brown Mowbray 1988) p. 24)

 Life tests us, Challenges youthful omnipotence to cross the shadow line into the real world. The shadow line into the narrow way but those who find it are few.

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