1st Sunday of Lent (March 9 • 2014)
‘Choices to Live By’
ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH
Imagine being declared as the child of one of the richest people in the planet like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet; or, perhaps, one of the richest people in Australia like Gina Reinhardt or Andrew Forest (although, you may want to be careful if Gina Reinhart makes you very wealthy by adopting you as her child ... she may sue you one day and ask for her money back ...) Imagine having a large amount of wealth at your disposal. Would you not be tempted to spend your wealth on luxurious items like expensive cars or hot properties or first class cruises? I would be.
In our reading in Matthew, Jesus too was tempted in the same way that we are often tempted. Last Sunday, we heard the story of how he was revealed not as the Son of the richest parent on earth, but as the Son of the Creator of the Universe! The Devil was right: as the Son of God, Jesus could have done anything that he would like to. He could have indulged himself in as much food as he wanted. If he had chosen to throw himself from the highest point of the temple, which was one of the tallest structures in ancient Israel, he wouldn’t be hurt. And, if he had wanted it, he would have had all the power in the world and surrounded himself with luxury.
So, yes, the temptation that Jesus faced in the desert was real. Yes, he was the Son of God, but he was also the son of a man, a human being like you and me. And it was the role of the devil to tempt him. Here the Devil was not necessarily an inherently evil being, the way we usually understand the Devil, but was a tempter, like Satan in the book of Job. The Devil appealed to Jesus' self-interest by telling Jesus that since he was the Son of God, he could do whatever he liked.
Jesus resisted the temptation, however, by returning, again and again, to the words of God in the Scriptures. The identity as the Son of God, for Jesus, was not a privilege but a responsibility. It was because he was the Son of God, he chose to follow the words of His Father and not his own desire. It was because he was the Son of God, he chose to be obedient to His Father and not to the Devil, even if that obedience would later lead him to death.
Friends, making choices indeed is one of the major themes in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve had to choose between the order that God had given to them in the Garden of Eden and the words of the snake, who acted like the Devil in our story today in Matthew. In the covenant/contract that God made with the people of Israel in the wilderness, the people of Israel had to choose between God and the idols that were worshipped by other nations around them. In the New Testament, Jesus asked his followers to choose between the narrow gate and the wide gate. Many choose the wide gate because it’s easy to pass, even though it leads to destruction. Only a few choose the narrow gate that is difficult to pass yet leads to life (Matthew 7: 13-14).
In our life, we too have to choose between following God, which leads to life in all its fullness, and following our greed, which often leads to the destruction of our own life and others. In the season of Lent, we are to be more aware of these choices. In Lent, we are invited to choose between the way of Jesus and the way of the world. No wonder that the tradition in Lent usually is to give up something that we enjoy, whether it is chocolate or meat or alcoholic drink or, lately, electronic device like computer tablet or mobile phone.
For many, therefore, Lent can be like the “journey into the desert”. A time when we intentionally “deprived” ourselves of things that usually nurtures us. And like Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself, who went to the desert to be able to listen to God’s voice more clearly, we also are invited to take the journey in Lent as a journey where we put aside things that often distract us so that we can confront the choices in our life more honestly and clearly. And, hopefully, by facing our choices with more clarity and honesty, we can better listen to God’s voice.
Therefore, we are not to give up things in Lent only for the sake of giving them up; or for the sake of keeping the tradition alive. We are to give up those things so that we can be less distracted and be able to listen to God’s voice more clearly.
Some of you probably know that last Friday/Saturday was the National Day of Unplugging, a movement that started five years ago in New York, but that has now many followers all around the world. This year, the movement asks parents and families to “unplug”, to put their electronic devices aside, and reconnect; to have a “text-free” meal or to go outside and play game together. Likewise, we need to put many things aside in order to put our priority in life right; to choose God and God’s words first before other things in life.
Baptism is also the way we proclaim that we choose the path that leads to God. We choose our children to be baptised because we want our children to be nurtured on the road that leads to God and to the life that God has promised. And we hope that, one day, when our children have grown up, they too will choose the same path that we have choose for them when they are baptised.
So friends, “Life is indeed a series of choices,” someone once said. Our life is made out of the choices that we make everyday. We don’t always make the right choices, but we can learn from our mistakes and learn how to make better choices in life; to learn how to, in the midst of all things that often distract us, listen to the voice of God and choose to follow it.
 Background, Reflect, Focus (Season of the Spirit – Lent 1 Year A 2014)
 O’connor, Thea, Unravelling? Could be Time to Unplug, on www.smh.com.au (March 3, 2014 [3:54 pm])