Sunday, 5 March 2017

We will stand upon the promise of God's word



Up on Walton Hill, looking south towards the Malvern Hills this afternoon, the skies were majestic. Rain swept across in great curtains, as if tugged along by unseen cavalry regiments on the gallop over the fields of Worcestershire. It was magnificent, wild and humbling.

Today, the First Sunday of Lent, we were reminded again of the power of the Spirit of God. Mark's gospel (1.12) tells us it was the Spirit who drove Jesus out into the desert for his 40 days of testing. Matthew (4.1) and Luke (4.1) use a more gentle word: they tell us Jesus was led by the Spirit. However, Luke tells us something else about Jesus, not only was he led by the Spirit, but he was also full of the Holy Spirit.

As Fran told us today, as Jesus went out into the wilderness (driven or led) he was meditating upon his scriptures, and in particular the book of Deuteronomy. This extended sermon by Moses came at the end of forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Wise words for forty days of testing in the wilderness. 

We are told Jesus ate not one thing. And after forty days he was famished. But what did he do in those forty days and nights? What weather did he have - cold by night, sufferingly hot by day? (Sunbeams scorching all the day; Chilly dew-drops nightly shed;
Prowling beasts about Thy way; Stones Thy pillow; earth Thy bed.) Alone. Not a conversation to be had. Solitary. 

I wonder what storms he endured (perhaps only an Englishman asks this kind of weather-based question!)? Nonetheless, what is it like to sleep rough, with only the earth as your bed and the night sky your shelter? What did Jesus learn about the care or cruelty of nature in those forty days? What was the truth for Jesus of being nourished by God's word, standing on the promise of God's word, through the hunger pains of that early lent? Did he come close to losing touch with reality? 

In one of the most dramatic scenes of all Shakespeare's plays, all is laid bare in a storm. King Lear is distraught at the loss of his daughters' love and respect. He seems to lose his identity and his dignity. And, with his faithful fool beside him, he strides out into the most humongous storm on a wild heath. As his desolation overwhelms him, so does the wild weather. And at the beginning of Act Three, Scene Two, he utters this speech full of rage and desperation:

 Lear.  Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!        5
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once        10
That make ingrateful man!

It is as if Lear says - 'Go on, do your worst.'

Is this what the God the Spirit drove Jesus out in to the desert for? To throw down the gauntlet to the Devil, saying: 'Here is my son. Go on. Do your worst - and see how magnificently he will respond!'  

I don't believe in that kind of God or Heavenly Father. Do you?

Fran reminded us that Jesus had the choice of keeping his identity as God' Son through following the path of healing and service and obedience, or falling for the easy temptation to misuse his power. 

At each stage of the test he found his true self animated by words of Moses, the ancient survivor of wilderness life. Through those rugged forty years Moses learnt to depend entirely upon God at all stages of life. And so it was with Jesus, the new Law Giver. 
And after the storm came the rainbow - and the angels ministered to him. And out of the experience of his test came Jesus' powerful and humble teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.

Later on our walk up Walton Hill, we found the promise of a rainbow shining out of the veil of rain falling out towards Rubery. The promise  of God's word was enough for Jesus. The promise of God's word, worked into our hearts and minds and souls, is there for each of us too. There was no egotistical Lear-like bluster as Jesus entered the eye of the storm with the temptations. There was clear-headed remembrance of God's word to save. And what defeated the power of the temptations - the promise of God's word.


  1. Today is the birthday of a friend of mine. We have weathered many storms together. Although she and I work in completely different walks of life, and although I am married and she is not, we have faced very similar experiences. In her, I found a reliable companion, a friend who helped me understand the Bible better. She shared her books and knowledge with me. Whenever I was on my own, she was only a phone call away.

    The Holy Spirit is our friend too, the one who reminds us God's word, the one who whispers into our ear and comforts us. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit in John14:26,

    "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you."

    The Bible speaks of the sword of the spirit being the word of God. It also says the following about God's word, which Fran exhorted us to keep in our hearts:
    Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

  2. The promise of God's word is indeed there for us all and we can treasure these promises by reading the Bible every day, and having the Bible as the foundation of all we do.
    One of today's set psalms, Ps98, was our starting point for today's prayer walk round the streets of the north part of our parish: "The Lord has made known his salvation...and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God"
    And as we walked we prayed both for salvation to come and also to see what we can't already see. Prayer was answered when we discovered the building housing Carers Mental Health Team on Bristnall Hall Road. Not knowing what it was we went in and received a warm and generous welcome from one of the support officers who offered us a cup of tea, showed us round the facilities and told us about their work supporting adult carers of those experiencing mental health problems. The support they offer is holistic: respite needs, emotional support, benefits reviews, advocacy, health needs and education about mental illness.

    The biblical understanding of salvation is that of wholeness and healing. Here in our parish there is so much good saving work being done by those who work in this place. The promise of God's word is at work. We give thanks and pray for them.