26th February 2023 10.30am – First Sunday of Lent Eucharist

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23 02 26 The First Sunday of Lent Eucharist

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The Readings

Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Matthew 4.1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings

One way of understanding the temptations of Jesus is this.
He goes into the wilderness on the brink of beginning his main life’s work. His days of working in the carpenter’s shop with Joseph, his father, are now behind him. He is about to become a public figure, teaching and preaching in the towns and villages of the Galilee. It’s a leadership role, and Jesus has spent time thinking hard about what sort of leader he is being called by God to be.
The gospel for today externalises what I think has been going on in the heart and mind of Jesus.
Each of the temptations is about different ways of being a leader, different ways in which you can attract and keep a following. And he’s been struggling with that: what are the wrong paths down which he must not go. So the temptations clarify for him the nature of his leadership, his mission.
Give people bread. They follow someone who meets their material needs. Jesus has to resist that because, as he says, people do not live by bread alone. He will feed the hungry; but that is not the heart of the mission which is to satisfy something that is not material but spiritual.
Give people marvels, miracles. They will follow someone who dazzles and amazes. Jesus has to resist that too because whatever divine help he can call upon, it must not be used to boost his own popularity.
And finally, forge your people into an Irresistible force who will conquer the world. Don’t be afraid of using the weapons of evil – the sword - to bring the world under your rule.
This temptation has to be resisted again at the end of his public ministry when Jesus comes to Jerusalem for the final time. The crowd want to make him just such a leader, waving their branches of palm and shouting hosanna. So he deliberately enters the city, meek and on a donkey to make the point to himself and to them: I am not that sort of leader.
So the temptations are about a struggle to understand what his leadership must be. Paths down which Jesus must not go.
And we should not suppose that they are unrealistic paths. Jesus was clearly a charismatic figure whose teaching and preaching could move people. These were all possible leadership roles which Jesus could either take or find himself in, unless they were firmly resisted.
Jesus has to reject them. People must follow him freely, out of love and devotion, or not at all. They must freely choose his way – to show kindness and gentleness and generosity and love.
I say people must follow Jesus freely. That is important. Each of the leadership roles I have outlined sooner or later are about forms of control or coercion. The leader who promises bread creates a people dependent on him. The leader who dazzles similarly creates a people who need more wonders and can never be satisfied. The conqueror will require an unquestioning obedience. Controlling and coercive leadership. How often we have seen it down the years and across the nations.
Christ’s followers must follow him freely, out of love and devotion, or not at all.
If that is what the temptations are about for Jesus, what about us? Do they say anything to us now and the way we live our lives?
I think they do.
We may not be called upon to be leaders in any big way, but we all forge relationships with others. And the temptations to be controlling or coercive are no less for us. Lent is our time in the wilderness, our chance to look at those relationships and ask ourselves a few questions. Am I controlling? Am I coercive? With my partner, my family, my friends, those with whom I work? Do I show to them the generosity, the kindness, the love that Jesus in his life showed to those around him?
One last thought on this particular Sunday in this particular year.
Listen again to the third temptation.
The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and said to him, ‘All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan, for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’
Among those Christians who may hear this gospel today could be the President of Russia. Will any of this cause him to change his behaviour?
Will any of it cause us to change ours?

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica

Lord God, help us as we begin this time of reflection and contemplation of your son’s temptation and passion, in order to give his life so all people might live, to mark this Lent season in prayer and consideration of our sins, and to live our lives better as a result. Forgive us for our lapses, and support us as we try to live according to your will.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We bring before you the sins of our world, the war in Ukraine, the failure of the rich countries of the world to help those in poorer countries, the victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and everywhere where there is division in society and failure to share out all the riches of the world with which you have endowed us. Help us to care for your world, and to ensure that its riches are passed on fairly to future generations.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We pray for our city and local community, that all may work for the good of all our fellow citizens, particularly those who serve as local councillors. Guide them to work for the good of all. We give thanks for all our local organisations who help make our Walkley area a good one to live in.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We pray for all who are ill at this time, particularly those coming to the end of their life here on earth. We ask that all who work in the Health Service or as carers may have the strength to carry out their work under very difficult circumstances, and that they will be recognised for the valuable work they do. In a moment of quiet we remember those known to us in special need of your healing grace at this time………….
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.   
We pray for all who have died, both recently and many years ago, who were family, friends and people we only knew slightly, but continue to miss. We give you thanks for all they have meant to us, and remember some of them by name now………….
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer. 
Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, Mark, John and all your saints, we commend ourselves and all your people to your unfailing love.
Merciful Father,                                                                                                                                                                          
Accept these prayers                                                                                                                                                                                              
for the sake of your son,                                                                                                                                                            
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.  
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000