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The First Sunday in Lent

Holy Communion 

Vogler’s Cove, Petite Riviere, LaHave February 25, AD 2007

2 Corinthians 6:1-10   Matthew 4:1-11


Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 


When have been through four days of Lent so far.  Have you entered into the rest that God has promised us yet? that place to which He is leading us all, that we might go in and out and find pasture?  I admit I haven’t yet had much opportunity but I long for it, and pray that God might lead us into it this Lent.


It is the Spirit of God that led the Son of God into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.  And it is, we believe, the same Spirit of God that has inspired the Church to call on us all to enter into a time of increased temptation through fasting and self-denial. 


We follow the great examples throughout the Bible of holy people who through the ages followed this practice –


In the Old Testament we can think of Moses and Elijah, who for forty days fasted on the mountain, that they might hear clearly the Word of God - Moses received the Law!; Elijah heard that still small voice and learned precisely what God would have him do next.


Think of Daniel, who refused the delicacies of the King of Babylon’s table – meat and wine – that he might not become confused in the new land to which he had been brought a prisoner, that he might not forget his God, and he was endowed with great spiritual gifts - to read dreams, to be a ruler in Babylon;


In the New Testament, we can think of John the Baptist, who separating himself from the world, ate dates and grasshoppers, surely not his preferred food, that he might know and fulfill the great purposes that God had for his life - to be the voice in the wilderness crying, make straight the way of the Lord;


We can think of Anna, a prophetess, who was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day, and her faithfulness was rewarded with beholding the Christ child Himself, and her example is remembered to this day.


And we have the example of St. Paul who experienced much suffering at the hands of others, but also chose to suffer in watchings (giving up sleep to remain in prayer), in fastings, by pureness that he might not be a cast-away.


This morning we have the example of our Lord Himself – the one figure in the whole history of Scripture who opens up for us what He actually experienced in that time of fasting so that we might know how to overcome the temptations we will face.Our Collect this morning explains why we do this.  We pray for the grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory.  When we fast we become more aware of how we can become easily enslaved by the flesh, and by grace, we recover the proper rule of God’s Spirit over our flesh.


Here is what our Lord shows us about the way through the temptations we can expect:


First, in this battle between the flesh and the spirit, we come to know that there is this priority of the Spirit over the flesh – that we live not by bread alone but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, that it is the spirit that gives life to the flesh, the flesh is of no avail [John 6].  The principle of our life, what is behind it all is not matter, but God, who is Spirit.


Second, we also come to see that there are certain necessities of the flesh which we should not deny.  When the devil tempted Christ to jump from the top of the temple because surely God's angels would catch him, Jesus replied – It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.  There is a point where we can become in our minds too separated from the necessities of being embodied creatures, and we are to recall – remember O man that thou art dust.  We are to love our body, take care of it, but love it in God and for God.


It is as the Collect says – to use such abstinence, that our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions – not more abstinence than is needed to this end, and not less.


Third, our purpose in being led by the Spirit into the wilderness, having our desires purified, is not so that we might become more powerful creatures able to rule over this world for worldly ends.  The devil taketh [Jesus] up into an exceeding high mountain and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. God will grant us self control and power in the Spirit, but it is so that we might accomplish the purposes that God has set out for us - Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.  It is as St. Paul says, that we receive not the grace of God in vain or as today's Collect says, to thy honour and glory.


Our Lenten discipline is to bring us into a place of freedom and freedom is only truly lived out in the Kingdom of Heaven.


Do you hear the freedom St. Paul has?


He is able to minister courageously in all circumstances – in much patience, in afflictions, in tumults, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments – not because he is strong, but because he is strong in the Lord. 


He doesn’t care endlessly about what the world thinks, he is so aware of who he is as a child beloved of God – by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report, as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known – well known to God!  And so he is free to do what is the right thing, no matter what the world might say or how it might seek to resist him.


St. Paul is freed up to be able to love with all his heart and soul and mind and strength – his ministry is fulfilled by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness…as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.  


Do you see his freedom?  Is this not a kind of freedom that we all desire?


If you haven’t entered into a Lenten discipline of fasting – it is not too late.  You’ve only missed four days.  And if you think your doctor would not approve of you eating less, I don’t think any doctor would disapprove of you giving up dessert, or taking away some other delight, while eating the same amount.  Consider shaking yourself up – remember the great saints: Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Anna, Paul; remember even our Lord fasted. 


And if you are fasting and experiencing increased anxiety today, which is normal, let us allow our Lord to wash our faces this morning in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. 

O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.  Amen.



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