John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
(St. John iii. 27)
He must increase, but I must decrease.
Let us pray:
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.
I would like to reflect with you today on the temptations of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I am sure that you have studied them extensively in your Christian journey, and so if I tell you what you already know please use it all as inspiration for a renewed determination to pray it into your lives. My chief concern today is prayer. And I would like to share with you today just how the temptations of Jesus Christ can become our own through prayer. The real benefit of the Christian religion is that whatever Christ has endured for us in time past can be made present to us and can become our own in prayer through the Holy Spirit. So, today we are asking the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son to help us to face the temptations that Christ faced, to resist them, and to embrace those virtues that will establish us in true obedience to our Heavenly Father. This is what Lent is all about. Of course, none of this can be done without God’s Grace. Jesus Christ is the new pattern of full and perfect obedience to the Father through the Spirit. So, we pray that we might become a part of the pattern that He has established. If we become a part of the pattern that Christ established for us, the Holy Spirit will sanctify us and lead us to salvation.
Let us turn to Scripture. Here we read:
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (St. Matthew iv. 1)
The Son of God has come down from Heaven to save us from the sins that would alienate us from God our Heavenly Father and His Kingdom. He has come down from Heaven to save us from the sin that has corrupted and enfeebled us. God has made our natures good but sin has corrupted us. Sin has enfeebled us so that we cannot obey God by willing His goodness into our lives. We are born into sin because our first Father, Adam, disobeyed God at the urging of Satan. We have inherited Adam’s sinful nature. Christ has come down from Heaven to free us from our sinning and our sins. Christ has come down from Heaven to make us right with God again. In Holy Baptism, He began that process of regeneration. Regeneration is being born again to obedience and virtue through the Holy Ghost and from above. But our regeneration is the work of a lifetime. So, to continue this process of being born again through the Holy Ghost, we must travel with Jesus into the desert or the wilderness. To continue this process, we must forever be on guard and be ready to engage in battle and wage war with the temptations that Satan always brings before our minds and our hearts.
We must realize also that temptation is normal and good. Temptation is not sin. Temptation is trial and testing. Anything that is worthwhile in life has to be tried and tested to see if it is worthy of our attention and good enough to be established in us as a habit of life. Trial and testing involve struggle. To struggle means to fight. To fight to discover if something is good and then to fight for its acquisition is all part of man’s perfection. Man is made to use his mind and heart to see and will the good in life. And all of this involves trial, testing, and struggle. Man is made to know and to love. When we find the good, we must struggle with all of our might to embrace it in our hearts. We can do this through God’s Grace. We can do this in and through Jesus Christ who promises us His Spirit. No pain no gain. No guts, no glory. No cross, no crown. Temptation presents us with all of those choices other than God’s. Temptation presents us with all of those false gods, which we must resist if we hope to be saved.
So let us be determined to be tempted, tried, and tested. Let us struggle to see what is wrong with sin and what is right with goodness. Let us struggle to surrender to God’s will in and through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Through temptations our characters will be tried and tested and hopefully formed by the goodness that overcomes all sin.
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (Idem)
The wilderness is a desert. It is a place removed from the usual distractions of human life. Please keep your cell phones off for the duration of our retreat. We need to create a space of quiet and stillness today as we allow ourselves to face our temptations, to resist sin, and embrace God’s goodness.
Today, Jesus Christ wants to teach us how to gain holiness by overcoming temptation. (The Life of Christ, Sheen, p. 62) Christ leads us into that stillness and quiet that will contemplate temptation. With Him, He will ask us to be tried and tested as we consider in what ways we have yielded to temptations and sinned in our lives. There will be three kinds of temptations that we shall be asked to resist with Him.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
The season of Lent imitates Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness. Fasting from food and drink for specific periods of time tames the body and opens the soul to a deeper awareness of reality. Reality is better perceived to be full of temptations when our bodies are less full of food and our minds are not altered by drink. Reality with its temptations to good and evil can be confronted best when we fast and pray. Adam was tempted by good and evil and chose the latter. Christ must be tempted by both to reestablish our way into goodness once again.
St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that as Man Christ wished to be tempted. Our Saviour wishes to be tempted so that He might endure our nature to its fullest. What a friend we have in Jesus! As God, He cannot be tempted. But Jesus is God as Man. As Man, Christ will endure all of our temptations, trials, testings, and struggles.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling
of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
(Hebrews iv. 15)
Jesus will be tempted but will not yield to the temptation in sin.
Jesus is God as Man. After forty days of fasting in the wilderness, He is hungry. When we don’t fast, we put earthly hunger before all other things. When we do fast, earthly hunger assaults and attacks us. The point of fasting and prayer is to find a deeper and more lasting communion with God. The point of fasting and prayer is to embrace God’s goodness more fully in our lives. The Devil hates our fasting and prayer. The Devil hates for us to find the sanctification that leads to salvation. The Devil hates for us to take up a cross that promises a crown! But Jesus reminds us of the words of the preacher: My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thyself for temptation.(Ecclus. ii.1) While we fast, we are in union and communion with God feasting on His Word. When we finish, naturally enough, we are hungry. We are tempted to put earthly sustenance, satisfaction, and even joy before God’s Word. This is our first temptation.
If thou be the Son of God, command these stones to be made bread. (Ibid, 3)
We fast and we pray. We try to keep a good and Holy Lent. We want to go to God’s Kingdom. Yet we are so moved and defined by earthly food, earthly lust, and mammon. In these dark and dangerous days, our earthly comfort is paramount. In these dark and dangerous days, our body’s appetites are predominant. But we are not called to rush headlong into gluttony, lust, and avarice. We are not called to rush headlong into gorging that is full of greedy passion for bodily fulfilment. Our time of fasting should moderate and temper our body’s appetites. Our time of fasting and feasting on God’s Word should move us to the virtues of temperance, chastity, and generosity. Jesus rebukes Satan and says, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Ibid, 4) What is most important for the man who will resist temptation is that he should rely wholly and completely upon the nourishment that God’s Word provides. Earthly comfort cannot save us. Our obsession with it might very well damn us. Food, drink, clothing, and money are all secondary to Jesus. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (St. Matthew vi. 33)
Jesus has nothing in the wilderness but stones and is tempted to turn them into bread. We have bread to waste and want more. In our quiet, let us pray about how we have worshipped the world, the flesh, and devil. Let us focus especially on how we have overindulged food and drink, have overindulged sex in ways other than God has intended, have been greedy and thus have worshiped money, mammon, and have been hoarders and spendthrifts.
Let us Pray:
O LORD, we beseech thee, mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins unto thee; that they whose consciences by sin are accused, by thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.
The season of Lent is nothing if it does not confuse human wisdom and turn man’s expectations upside down. For what the lections of this Holy Season attempt to show us is that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Cor. iii. 19) And again, as Isaiah records, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people…for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29. 14) In Lent, we learn that the Wisdom of God revealed in the human life of Jesus Christ, more often than not, challenges and overturns the wisdom of this world. And I don’t mean to say that human wisdom is destroyed, but rather that its limitations are revealed as what are always in need of God’s redemption and perfection.
In last week’s Gospel we read of a real challenge and trial that Christ underwent in order to resist the wisdom of this world and to embrace God’s Wisdom. You will remember that the Spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And there we learned that Christ resisted the temptations and in the end banished Satan and his ways. The wisdom that we gleaned from that Gospel is that somehow this Jesus Christ, God as Man, faced evil, resisted it, and in the end overcame it. Man’s wisdom walks in step with the devil; it thinks that it can use the Divine Spirit for worldly ends, that it can make God subject to its whims and idle curiosities, and that it can be as absolute as God. (RDC. Lent I) What Jesus Christ reveals to us is that true wisdom is God’s will and that the new humanity which He struggles to establish as a pattern depends wholly upon it. The devil strives to sever Jesus and us from God’s will and way. He longs to hide us from ourselves, establishing and centering us in our muddled confusions and delusions, concealing from us the true way of liberation and healing. He longs to shield us even from the Wisdom of God, from seeing and knowing that the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. (Job xxviii. 28)
But Jesus came down from Heaven to reveal God’s wisdom in human nature for our benefit. He came down to bring us back to the fear of the Lord, and that the Divine Wisdom might be born our hearts. But if we heed the message of today’s Gospel, we learn that there is another dimension still that must be added to our piety if God’s Wisdom is to come alive in our lives. This is the element of desire. For it is from the limitations of our earthly passions and desires that we must learn to long the more earnestly for the Wisdom of God.
In this morning’s Gospel, we see how alien, unfamiliar, and even foreign God’s Wisdom is to most men in most ages. Jesus had departed from Jerusalem and from a people who would not receive the Wisdom that He endeavored to disclose and reveal. The ancient Old Testament prognosis of God’s people was finding fulfilment in Jesus’ hearing: This people draweth unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Matthew xv. 8) God’s Wisdom had found no place to germinate and grow itself in the hearts of the religious Jews. Even Jesus’ disciples seemed hard-headed and dimwitted. Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. (St. Matthew xv. 18-20) God’s Wisdom cannot reach and touch those who do not need it from within. Those who come to need it from realize that their earthly desires and satisfactions provide no lasting health and happiness. So, because He found no need for what He offered from His own people, in this morning’s Gospel Jesus left religious Jerusalem for the frontier territory where Israel borders the land of the heathen. Perhaps the Wisdom that He carried would not be so dyspeptic and disagreeable to those who lived at the far removed from Judaism’s heart.
What He found confounded the customs and habits both of the Jewish scribes and also of His own disciples. God’s Wisdom was, after all, aimed and directed first and foremost at them. That their blindness and ignorance should be overcome only by the discovery of its nature and desire for its power in the heart of a pagan woman would prove all the more confounding. Behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matthew xv. 22) Canaan means place of submission, humiliation, and lowliness. So, from this lowly place was heard a cry for the Divine Wisdom and Mercy- that is with and in Jesus. Jesus seemed immune and impervious to the cry. St. John Chrysostom writes that The Word has no word; the fountain is sealed; the physician withholds His remedies. Jesus studies what will emerge from this supplication. Wisdom is quick to hear and slow to speak…(St. James i. 19) Divine Wisdom will elicit from its seeker a sincere and determined desire for its love and power.
Next, we read that, His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew xv. 23) The disciples long selfishly to derive the truth from Jesus without the distraction of the mob. A selfless woman will have Him for her daughter in a far better way. But not before she has overcome a Jesus who will draw out her faith in Him to the utmost. He responds, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew xv. 24) Jesus reminds her that the Jews alone should want what He has because they would know that they are lost sheep. She will insist that the Gentiles are promised a share in it also. And, besides, she knows that she too is lost and needs to be found! Jesus is intrigued. His trying of her is rooted in the tough love of the Old Testament: I will wound and I will heal (Deut. xxxii. 39) St. Augustine describes His method in these words: He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, or cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true; but he only gives pain, that he may bring the patient on to health. He gives pain; but if he did not, he would do no good. (Aug, Serm. xxvii) This is God’s Wisdom. She has pain, the pain of her possessed daughter and the pain of her broken heart. It is painful for her to express this truth but it moves her all the more urgently to cry out, Lord, help me. (St. Mattew xv. 25) Jesus draws out the painful truth of her predicament and her powerlessness. This alone can fuel the passion that will secure her desire. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew xv. 26) To which she responds, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (St. Matthew xv. 27) Wisdom has elicited from her heart the confession of pain and the poverty of her spirit. She knows that she is alien to Israel’s promises; she claims no rights to God’s Word and Wisdom; she knows herself as powerless creature in the presence of her mighty Creator. She knows that no man can assist her. She cannot help herself. So she turns to the sole source and origin of all healing. The Wisdom in Jesus is met by her own. Yes Lord, in comparison to your own people who should know themselves as lost sheep, I am a dog. But surely Lord, thou dost not merely enlighten me to the knowledge of my lowly sickness, but so that thou might open to me the door of thy healing. God’s Wisdom desires to touch and to heal all men. God’s Wisdom is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) Jesus honors what he could not find in His own people or even in His disciples. O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (St. Matthew xv. 28)
Today let us take note of the alien woman’s pain. I wound and I will heal. (Idem) The pain that Jesus elicits reveals her limitations and she comes to discover herself in the light of God’s Wisdom. She claims that she is a dog because dogs are content to eat the fragments and morsels that fall from Christ’s table. She knows that they are more than enough to heal both her and her daughter. Luther tells us that, Like her, thou must give God right in all He says against thee, and yet must not stand off from praying, till thou overcomest as she overcame, till thou hast turned the very charges made against thee into arguments and proofs of thy need, till thou, too, hast taken Christ in His own words.’ We might think it foolish that we should become as clever dogs to secure the power of the Divine Wisdom that Christ offers. But it is foolish only if human wisdom is the mark and measure of truth. Where is the wise person?...Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. i. 20, 21) The woman of Canaan was a fool for Christ. This alien woman, a dog, gladly and thankfully receives supernaturally charged crumbs that drop from Christ’s table. For, as the Venerable Bede writes: If, after the example of the Caananite woman, we continue resolutely in our praying…certainly the grace of our Maker will…correct everything in us which is wrong, sanctify everything unclean, and make serene everything which is turbulent. He is faithful and just, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from every iniquity, if with the attentive voice of our mind we cry out to Him who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for all ages and ages. (Hom. i. 22)
[Love-2.1-13] Had I an hundred Lives, I could with more Ease part with them, all by suffering an hundred Deaths, than give up this lovely idea of God. Nor could I have any Desire of Eternity for myself, if I had not Hopes, that, by partaking of the Divine Nature, I should be eternally delivered from the Burden and Power of my own Wrath, and changed into the blessed Freedom of a Spirit, that is all Love, and a mere Will to Nothing but Goodness. An Eternity without this, is but an Eternity of Trouble. For I know of no Hell, either here or hereafter, but the Power and Working of Wrath, nor any Heaven, but where the God of Love is all in all, and the working Life of all. And therefore, that the holy Deity is all Love, and Blessing, and Goodness, willing and working only Love and Goodness to every Thing, as far as it can receive it, is a Truth as deeply grounded in me as the feeling of my own Existence. I ask you for no Proof of this; my only Difficulty is how to reconcile this Idea of God to the Letter of Scripture. First, Because the Scripture speaks so much and so often of the Wrath, and Fury, and vindictive Vengeance of God. Secondly, Because the whole Nature of our Redemption is so plainly grounded on such a supposed Degree of Wrath and Vengeance in God, as could not be satisfied, appeased and atoned by any Thing less than the Death and Sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God.
The ‘lovely idea of God’ is that He is pure and perfect Goodness. This is the ‘Goodness’ that enables us to hope for Heaven as our final and eternal resting place. This hope alone lifts us above our own wrath, rage, ire, fury, and anger to partake of God’s Nature. This hope will lift us above ourselves to participate in the freedom of the will that desires only God’s Goodness. ‘An Eternity without this’ is an Eternity in Hell. Hell is defined by wrath, rage, ire, fury, and anger. The vice that stands chiefly opposed to God’s Goodness and Love is wrath that included resentment and bitterness. Such is the vice that actively resists God’s healing Goodness and Love. Thus, we must desire to conquer all wrath within us. We must desire to embrace God’s Goodness and Love because this is the Truth that saves and delivers us from our wrathful despair. And yet we cannot do it without God’s help. And so God sends His only-begotten Son into the world to conquer wrath with His Goodness. He takes the problem into Himself by moving through His Son to suffer man’s wrath and to overcome it.
[Love-2.1-14] Theophilus. I will do more for you, Theogenes, in this Matter than you seem to expect. I will not only reconcile the Letter of Scripture with the foregoing Description of God, but will show you, that every Thing that is said of the Necessity of Christ’s being the only possible Satisfaction and Atonement of the vindictive Wrath of God is a full and absolute Proof that the Wrath of God spoken of never was, nor is, or possibly can be in God.
The Divine Wrath that we read of in Scripture is man’s experience of God’s Goodness and Love negatively or from a distance. It is Love, Desire, Passion, and Yearning as its contrary. When we sin, we rebel. When we rebel, we place ourselves at odds with God. When we are at odds with God, we experience not His nearness but His distance. The Distance is not merely absence but it is Love as rejected, Love as despised, Love as forsaken, and Love as abandoned. Sin is its own punishment. Ours sins yield their desired effects and ends. The end of sin is ultimate death as ongoing alienation from God. In the meantime, we experience little deaths, or habitual alienations from God’s love in time and space.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons