Here is a summary of the Vestry sermon on the temptation of Christ and what we need to take on board as His Church. (You can get the whole sermon online too.)
In Matthew 4v1-11, Jesus was tempted to deny the provision of God, the protection of God and the sovereignty of God by seeking these things elsewhere. In short, he was tempted to commit idolatry through his actions to undermine the Great Commandment – to love and worship God and God alone.
As a church we are also tempted to deny the provision of God, the protection of God and the sovereignty of God by seeking these things elsewhere. We are tempted to be (1) relevant and needed, (2) popular and spectacular and (3) powerful and influential. Like the Ring of Power in Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, we use these things from a desire to do good, but through us they can (in the words of Gandalf) “wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.”
In our desire to be relevant and needed, we can become little more than a tailor made club suited to the needs of our members or a charity overwhelmed by trying to meet the needs of the world – to turn stones into bread. We are tempted to meet the needs of everyone as a church. Even if we miraculously feed the 5000, as Jesus did, all we’re guaranteed is a large crowd, not dedicated followers of Jesus as he found when his teaching became hard and many fell away on account of it. We deny the provision of God when we trust in our programmes to grow our numbers and our bottom line!
In our desire to be popular and spectacular, we can lose the heart of what it means to be true worshippers and followers of God (from the Joel reading on Ash Wednesday – to rend our hearts and not our garments). Instead we compete in the realm of the public space. We look for the grand gesture that will get us noticed – throw yourself down from the temple. We want to do whatever it takes to get ourselves on the map as a church, to seek the safety of having a high profile and being a premium destination church. We deny the protection of God when we fail to trust that as we humble ourselves, God will raise us up.
In our desire to be powerful and influential, we can substitute status and connections, who we know, as an easy substitute for the hard task of love. Henri Nouwen writes, “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” We ask, “Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your Kingdom?” Henri Nouwen notes that the long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led. We deny the sovereignty of God when we give in to being just a little bit god-like ourselves – all this I will give you if you bow down to me.
Jesus’ response to being tempted was to be faithful to the God of scripture and to faithfully proclaim the God of scripture – For it is written. The Living Word uses the written word to bring the spoken word to bear on a situation.
Likewise, we need to be a church saturated in the Word of God. We need to be able to counter the temptation to mimic the kingdoms of the world by saying, FOR IT IS WRITTEN. Jesus said, in response to bowing the knee to another way, “For it is written, worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” The hearers of the time would have automatically associated this with a very significant passage from a few verses earlier in Deuteronomy (6v4-5): “Hear oh Israel: The Lord your God, the Lord is one. Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This is the Great Commandment that is so skilfully re-framed to also include the love of our neighbour as an expression of our love of God.
What’s the “So What?”
If we ever seek to do anything else or make anything else a priority other than the command to “worship the Lord our God and serve him only”, then like the ring of power in the Lord of the Rings, we would set out to do good but something for worse and even evil would arise through us. And if you don’t believe me, study the history of the church! Some of the worst things were done in Jesus’ Name in pursuit of power, popularity and relevance.
On the flip side – the greatest revivals and movements of God’s Spirit didn’t come about because a church was relevant, popular and powerful but because they were faithful before God in prayer, utterly surrendered and depended on God’s Way and were rooted in God’s Word. When God moved in God’s OWN power, generations were changed and societies transformed. God did his own PR work and didn’t need the Church focusing on being relevant, popular and powerful in its own identity.
So let us “worship the Lord our God and serve him only”. Let us ponder these things as we move to the business of our Vestry (AGM).