Today, we heard the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, but—what happened just before that?
Jesus was baptised, that’s what. This is how Luke tells that story (3.21–22):
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
In the Gospel stories, “a voice from heaven” is the Voice of God. God says to Jesus, “You are my Son…”
And just over the page, the Devil says to Jesus in the wilderness:
If you are God’s Son…
“If” is a big word. The seeds of doubt are trying to be sown. But Jesus responds with words of Scripture. He says,
It is written…
One does not live by bread alone.
Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.
Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Jesus counters temptation with Scripture in the wilderness. He is God’s Son, and he comes through unscathed.
Today, we baptised E and E, and in doing that we declared that they are united with Jesus Christ and therefore daughters of God. And we can say the same of every baptised person here today.
But sooner or later, everyone who has been baptised finds themselves in the wilderness. Am I really a daughter of God? Could I be part of God’s family? Surely I’ve done wrong things, I’ve doubted too much, I’m not good enough. Soon it becomes It’s a load of hooey, I don’t believe all that kind of thing any more.
When Jesus was baptised, God declared him to be God’s Son. And we have authority given by God to declare E and E to be adopted daughters of God.
We’re declaring this right at the beginning of Lent. Lent is the forty-day period that we set aside for self-examination. Why is Lent forty days long? Because Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days.
So in this time of self-examination the question is not, Are E and E really children of God? but How are God’s children meant to live? How are we going to teach E and E?
In Christian Tradition, there are three ways we mark the time of Lent: prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need (or almsgiving).
In more contemporary language, these things are all about reassessing our priorities. How do we reassess our priorities in Lent?
How much time do we spend with God? Or, how much time should a child of God spend with his Father in heaven?
Do we even know how to pray—should we get help? Are we just too busy for God? When we’re too busy for God, we tend to lose sight that we are God’s children.
We normally think of fasting from food or drink, like meat or alcohol or fast food. Some people though need to get medical advice before any kind of fasting from food.
But fasting is about reprioritising too. It’s meant to make us depend less on the thing we’re fasting from, and more on God. We could also fast from Facebook, or TV. We could fast from buying CDs. We could fast from being a couch potato, and go help others.
Whatever changes we make have the goal of making is more conscious of our position as God’s children.
Giving to those in need:
Many of the things we fast from cost money, whether fast food, alcohol, new computer games or whatever. What are we going to do with that money now?
Well, what does a child of God do but reach out to her brothers and sisters in need? After all, we’re part of a biiiiig family.
So we give what we save—and maybe even more—to people who lack what we have. Some of our members recently went on a mission trip to India, and they have realised afresh just how daunting the problems really are. It can all seem too big, and it is for one person or one congregation.
But we can play a small part. The ‘Lent Event’ program gives us a focus for our giving. This year, Lent Event is supporting projects in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, India, Zimbabwe and the Solomon Islands.
What do God’s children do? How do they live their lives? They give time to God. They live more simply. They give to fellow children of God in need—and they ask why others are in need, and seek to change the reasons why.
That’s how we’re meant to live, but of course not only at one time of the year. But by the time Lent rolls around again we realise we have let go of things a bit. We’ve stopped giving time to God, we’ve accumulated too much ‘stuff’, we’ve forgotten to help our neighbours.
Lent is a chance to start again, because God is all about giving us second (and third, fourth, fifth…) chances.
The time of Lent is a gift. Let’s accept it from the hand of God, let’s accept it as a child of God, so we can approach Easter with a full and thankful heart.