Sunday 18 February 2018

Lent 1 Mark 1v9-15 Wilderness and Temptation

Lent 1 Study Group Wilderness

Ice breaker  (10-20 minutes)
Draw 4 squares. In one square put what is chaotic in your life. In another put what is empty. In another put when your mind is in turmoil, in the last put who are your angels. Share with one another.

Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours.

Consider (20 minutes) Read Mark 1v9-15

Three minutes’ silence to think about the passage individually. Each person has the opportunity to share a word, phrase or idea which lights up for them or a question raised for them. Share with others.

How did Jesus deal with chaos, emptiness, inner turmoil?

Who are our angels and wild beasts?

Prayer for others and ourselves (15 minutes)

What is worrying you at present?
What can we do about it?
Pray with someone in the group about it.

Commit (5 minutes)

Commit this week to practise paying attention to God in ‘given’ moments of each day.

Closing prayer.

God of Creation, you have given us the gift of your life. .
May our lives, speak of you, and your love may overflow to others. Amen.

In the stories in the gospels Jesus was led into the dry dusty desert. If you’ve ever been to a desert, you will know how barren it is and yet how awesome is that endless sandy, orange and red. Looking at it reminds us of how small we are in this world. Its humbling. We all have these times when we are in an alien place like a desert a barren place, either psychologically or really and we feel alone with no resources. Its frightening.  

Worse than that someone is playing mind games. The devil comes to him, equivalent to the Old Testament Satan, meaning adversary, slanderer. "If you are the Son of God (Satan knows Jesus is the Son of God) turn this stone to become bread". Then in an instant he led him up. He says he has all authority. Such power, how terrible! But Satan may be lying! He then led Jesus to the highest point of the temple jutting out from the wall and encourages him to jump because "It is written concerning you that angels guard you carefully". When the devil had finished all this tempting he left him until another time.

So in the temptation story there are three tests: 
i] Stone into bread; will God supply Jesus's needs? 
ii] Authority over the world; 
iii] Signs and wonders; self-glorification. 

The story gives us insight into the devil. He acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one who is to lead his people to the promised kingdom; He accepts the authority of scripture; He is described as lord over the present age; he is a deceiver and so sets out to compromise Jesus' messiahship. As with all tempters he starts with the subtlety of doubt. Jesus' answers to all the wiles of his tempter are to quote scripture back to him. He is tempted to make food and he responds with spiritual food, to perform magical acts for his own benefit, with power the ultimate subtlety, the ultimate corrupter. He chooses each time the choice which would not give him fame, or wealth or power but would be a playing out of the plan for his life and give a satisfaction beyond that of these temptations and give life.

Its a story of a cosmic struggle between the devil and God. The wilderness is Satan's realm, a place of horror, loneliness. Jesus's wilderness struggle is a foretaste of the coming three years, which will involve an unending assault from demonic forces. As he is sustained and affirmed in the wilderness, so he is sustained through the wilderness of his ministry. People are also tested like Jesus.

If you haven’t eaten for 40 days and are hungry you are open to visions, to the spiritual, both the divine and the demonic. In our own lives we like Jesus face choices. We also face many untruths, subtle and not so subtle. Lies can eat at you. There are at the heart of relationship breakdown and distrust. They also unstabilise us mentally. In contrast the truth is healing, life giving and those who speak truth are cleansers, though we might not always like to or be able to hear it! 

We may feel we have at times entered a desert in our lives. A time of hunger, thirst, dryness. We may choose to fast and pray to give us a clarity. We may choose to go into a desert or be driven there. For many people in our society there is no choice. They are in a wilderness, especially at a time of a growing gap between the rich and the poor. People may ask "Why me?" 

Its a common experience not just something that happened 2000 years ago. When things go wrong, sickness, worries, the loneliness of wilderness is close to us. We sense beasts. It is a time of polarisation. In the desert we will experience the demonic, the devil and doubt who we are and what we are doing. The powers of darkness will test our faith. 

But we are never alone. Angels will be with us and the wilderness time will pass.

 Let God speak in unexpected ways.

When things don’t turn out as we expect and life is difficult, it can take time to recognise God speaking to us and through us in unexpected people and places. We sometimes recognise this has happened when we look back over our experience, and notice that something has happened to make our hearts strangely warm. We feel an increase in hope, love, faith and courage.

We begin our Lenten journey in a traditional way, by listening together to the story of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. This is the beginning of his ministry, and so we find this young Jewish carpenter’s son driven into the wilderness for forty days and nights, where he is challenged and provoked to determine what sort of Messiah he would be.
So here is our first encounter with another faith – Judaism. Yet this was no ‘other faith’, for Jesus was Jewish and like many others before him he would be tested and tempted. Rabbinic tradition says that Abraham endured 10 trials, and in Deuteronomy we read that Moses fasted for forty days and nights whilst on Mount Sinai (Deut 9:9, also Exodus 24:18). The length of Jesus’s temptation finds connection with his Jewish past: Noah and his family were in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights

Question: Are we accustomed to reading the life of Jesus only through our Christian eyes? Do we forget that Jesus was a Jew, for whom the only scriptures he had were what we call the Old Testament (which were also the only scriptures of the early Church)?

The temptations that Jesus endured concern the kind of messiah Jesus would become - a mighty King, a mighty ruler, the one who would please by offering effortless bounty...or...? Jesus’ response is to resist this, and what emerges is one who would go on to heal the broken, eat with the outcast, proclaim the Kingdom of God and ultimately suffer death and rise from the grave.

Lent therefore is a time when we are invited to reflect upon our Christian faith, as we live it in the world. One important temptation that we traditionally reflect upon in Lent is the temptation to ‘own’ and ‘possess’. This is a primal human instinct; anyone who has visited Jerusalem will know that religious people are no exception to it. The city is claimed by three world religions, and these claims do not always sit comfortably with one another - yet we know that if there is to be peace in the Holy Land there needs to be mutual respect between the faiths that revere the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.



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