So this little set piece temptation story in our Gospel today is a wonderful teaching aide, showing us these three patterns in a very clear way. First of all the devil is shown tempting Jesus in the area of fear and security. 'Command these stones to become loaves of bread.' If Jesus can do that, no one ever needs to worry again about where the next meal is coming from. The twenty million people in Yemen, and Somalia and South Sudan would not be facing famine and the slow agonising death of their children over the next six months. Our infant fear that the milk will dry up, that we will not be fed and will die is a very real one. Our desire for bread, and all the things that bread stands for, financial security, having something to pass on to our children's children, the familiar and stable - they are all summed up in this temptation. When as a parish as we hear that our money has run out, or that our property has to be sold or leased, this taps that core fear, that our very physical existence is under threat. And it can be oh so tempting at that point to seek a magic wand, or to freeze like a deer in the headlights and do nothing. What we need to do is to take Jesus words to heart , 'one does not live by bread alone ( or by money, or buildings, or treasures) but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'. This is the temptation of property - What will set us free is our reliance on God and God alone.
So then the devil invites Jesus to a display of power and control. Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple, because the angels will catch you. It is an invitation to let anger at your situation lead you to exercise power and control recklessly. Do whatever you like and no harm will be done. It will all be lovely and you do not have to think about the consequences. Anyone who carries the task of leadership with others knows that this is a recipe for catastrophe. World leaders currently operating in something like this way are leading us all into trouble. But anger leading to the irresponsible exercise of power does not have to be in the Pentagon or the United Nations. It can have equally devastating effects in the family, staff room or board room. Acting out of our frustration and sense of powerlessness to dominate and control tests everybody's patience. So a good Lent practice might simply be to slow down, and before you speak or act in any way simply to ask what the urgency is? Is this really for the benefit of all or just to make us feel temporarily better? This is the temptation of power and what can set us free is ensuring that we are accountable, so that power is shared.
Finally the devil appeals to Jesus pride and belief in his own benevolence, and his godlike status. You can have everything and everyone in the world if you will just worship me - in other words if you will put yourself where God ought to be. So easy to fall for this one, especially if you are the sort of person who really wants to be helpful and kind. Surely we know what is really needed, what that person or situation could just do with? With a little effort we could save them all! Oh dear. Whenever find ourselves seeking to manipulate another person or situation, just to have it a little more to how we see it could be improved; or whenever we find ourselves solving the problems of others instead of giving them the dignity of working it out for themselves, be sure that we have become ensnared in this temptation. Jesus resists it in such clear terms, 'worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' - not your desire to be pleasing to others or have them like you, so that your prestige increases. For this is the temptation to prestige and we are set free whenever we turn the attention of others not to ourselves but to God to whom all glory belongs.
So property, power, prestige - the temptations to which our fear, anger and pride lead us. Be aware of them. Ask God to help with whichever one most commonly hooks you in. And recognise that none of them represents a real choice. For our freedom lies in rejecting all of them, and gently and consistently returning our attention to the God who sets us free. In Christ's name. Amen.
Penny Jones, for Lent 1 Year A, Sunday 5 March 2017