Resist Evil, Including Self Hatred (Luke 4.1-13)

It’s beginning to look a lot like Lent, everywhere you go.
The weather is looking blue, there’s so much repenting to do,
and thinking about our own mortality too.

Sang no one ever.

There aren’t that many secular songs about Lent are there? It just hasn’t got the appeal of Christmas has it? There’s no Lent tree, no Lenten presents or sparkle. It doesn’t have the joy of the Easter Season, with its feast, and the amazing transformative power of the resurrection. Lent’s a bit like the awkward uncle of the Christian year, sitting in the corner, growling and glaring at the rest of the family.

Or at least that might be how some of us view lent. But I’d like to change the perception you might have of what Lent is about. 

Lent, a season of repentance, when we journey towards the incredibly dramatic events of Holy Week, towards the cross and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
A period perhaps of abstinence, of thought, of seriousness.
I think Lent is a very healthy thing, and this is why;

If I spent my entire time eating cheeseburgers and chips, what would the result be? I’d be pretty unhealthy. If I did no exercise and spent my entire time on the couch, that would make me pretty unhealthy too. Eventually I’d be unable to get about, and taking it to an absolute extreme, perhaps unable to walk very far.
It’s like this too with our spiritual lives. There’s a time for everything, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3, there’s a time or dancing, feasting and joy, but there’s also a time for mourning, for thinking and silence.

It’s a very unpopular notion isn’t it. That we shouldn’t be happy all the time. That it’s normal for things to go a bit pearshaped, or for us to feel unhappy sometimes.
 There’s this sense that we should be always living in constant joy, a pressure to show how well our lives are going on social media, thinking positive is the way forward.
Christian life is all about balance, one of the excellent things that Lent teaches us is that we should make time to evaluate our relationship with God, and with each other. To think about the things that separate us from Him, and the other human beings around us.

That’s what repentance means. I thoroughly reject the idea that Lent is about self-bludgeoning and feeling terrible about ourselves.

There’s a big difference between self-evaluation, and self-bludgeoning.

Self bludgeoning is automatically going to that place of ‘how terrible I am’ or ‘woe is me I’m such a bad Christian’ or, ‘I said something nasty to that person on the playground’ or ‘I really should eat fewer cheeseburgers.’ Well… maybe that last one. 
Lent is about self-evaluation, thinking as objectively as we can about ourselves and our spiritual lives. Thinking about our faults, and what we’ve done wrong, thinking about our relationship with God and with other people.
We’re supposed to love ourselves, and because we do, that gives us the ability to love others, though that’s easier said than done.

It’s very tempting to go down a self-bludgeoning path, to go on and on inwardly about how terrible I am, and sinful and wicked, but It’s fundamentally self-indulgent. It becomes all about me, the self, and not our relationship with God or others.
In a way it’s not enough just to feel bad about it, to grumble to ourselves, we must do something about our Sin, where we can. We can’t save ourselves, only Jesus can, but we can try to make things right or if not, better.

Repentance means to turn, to change, to do something to ourselves to try and be better. 

Repentance isn’t about getting stuck in that place, where we go over and over our mistakes and sins, but to turn away from them and say.
Okay God, I have done this thing, and it’s bad, and I am genuinely sorry for it. Help me to change, to make it right, and to turn away from it.

That’s why on Ash Wednesday, when we are marked with the ash the words ‘remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return, turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ,’ are said.

Repentance is an amazing thing, the fact that we have a God that turns to us over and over again, who is open and welcoming to us. She accepts us, when we don’t accept ourselves.

Lent is a positive thing, it gives us the opportunity to take stock, to look at ourselves in the light of God’s love, and think, where have we fallen short? Where can we turn and be better and how? Sometimes a nourishing bowl of soup on a cold day, is better than a cheeseburger.

We are all tempted to be self-indulgent, to think we’re not good enough, it’s the kind of attitude that capitalism breeds, so that we try to fill the void with stuff.
The Devil tempts Jesus in many ways, Jesus is confronted with things that represent many of the sins we all do. It’s also about the testing of Jesus’ sonship.

Our relationship to God is bruised by the sin that we commit.

It gets in the way. God is always there, but our own sin clouds our judgement, and like a mist, obscures God from our view sometimes.

There’s a reason why the earliest Christians called themselves followers of ‘The Way’. Being a Christian is a way of life, it’s a calling for all of us, not just something we do on Sundays. Our lives are soaked in it, like a sponge filled with water. It should overflow into how we treat other people at work or school, in our lives and homes, we should try to resist those things that cloud our lives all year round, not just in lent.
In this passage Jesus is being made to choose his way, his path, his sonship. Here he founds his choice to restore us, to restore in us the image of God which our sin had masked.

These temptations that Jesus is confronted with tempt him, like all of us to leave the way, the way of a servant. The temptations would have made Jesus assert his sonship in a different way.

The stone into bread, would make him command his authority, and make use of his status, in a self seeking way.

Worshipping the devil is to follow the way of the world, and exercise his power inappropriately.
Jumping off the temple is to force God’s hand, to leave the way of humble service and obedience, and would make those watching recognise his status.

All of these things would’ve been in complete contrast to the course of action that Jesus showed through all his earthly ministry.

Jesus chose the path of humble obedience and service which ultimately led to the cross, and our salvation.

We too have a choice, each and everyone of us. We can ask God for self-seeking things, I’m not talking here about praying for our own healing if we’re ill, or restoring relationships between people, I’m talking here about an attitude of ingratitude for the many things we have in our lives.

We can focus on the stones, and ask God to turn the stones in our lives into bread, or we can notice the bread that God already gives us.

We can easily slip into worshiping the things that the word reveres, money, power, sex, stuff, our own power and authority and the exercise of power, seeking to dominate people. Or we can recognise that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, that God’s authority is what we should be listening to, and remembering.

We can throw our toys out of the pram, jump of the temple roof, when things don’t go our way, to try and force God’s hand and say; ‘Well if my life doesn’t go this way God then I’m going to be pretty angry with you. If you don’t do what I ask, that’s it.’ Or we can recognise that God is with us, and try to serve others with humility.

Friends, we’re all guilty of these things from time to time.
We can just feel bad about it, beat ourselves up and dwell on how terrible we all are.
Or we can choose the path of repentance, which is a wonderful and positive thing.
Self-hatred is a sin, I have lived in that place for much of my life, and it can blight every relationship you have with anyone in your life, including God.

Leave the self-hatred behind, and truly repent.

This Lent, I hope we can all use this time to turn towards God again, to acknowledge our faults, be sorry for them, but also accept our flaws too.
This Lent, resist evil, including self-hatred, repent, turn and lead yourself into action against those things in your life that destroy your relationship with God, that you have control over.

I invite you to pray with me.

Compassionate God,
whose son Jesus was tempted,
yet did not give in.
Help us this Lent to rededicate ourselves to you,
to be a people of prayer,
to resist the urge to hate ourselves,
and to truly turn away from the bad we do,
because we love you,
and want to love ourselves and others.
Grant this through your Son Jesus Christ,

Preached at 10am Service, St Peter Mancroft Norwich.


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