I’m sure Milton Keynes is a beautiful place

Lent 1a – Sunday 13th March 2011
Matthew 4: 1-11

The Last Temptation of ChristThe Last Temptation of Christ. Did you ever catch it? No, me neither. Not out of any religious objection. I’m just not a big cinema-goer.

I remember it came out when I was at Theological College, and there were picket lines at the local Odeon with vociferous opponents chanting protests at those wanting to see Martin Scorsese’s film.

I couldn’t even tell you the plot line.

I presume the title alludes to that moment where people passing the crucifixion shouted, “If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!”

Oh, the temptation.

It’s funny how the beginning of the story – well, the ministry part of the story – is also all about temptation. The temptation to do the wrong thing. The temptation to please the crowd. The temptation to do nothing. The temptation to seek glory and fame. The temptation to take the easy path. These are the connections we see throughout the whole story of Jesus, and these are the lessons that challenge us at the beginning of Lent.

WrestlingTemptation. I struggle with it. I don’t mean I have a daily wrestle over the choices I face (although, confusingly, I do!). What I mean is, I struggle with the subject area. What really puts me off is the very first sentence from our passage.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.”

Why does God lead us to be tempted? Don’t we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation”? I’ve brawled with that short section since I was a little child. I remember thinking that this temptation stuff must be really intriguing – you don’t want to go there, but you just can’t help yourself having a quick peep round the corner. It’s a bit like Milton Keynes – you don’t really want to go there, but you’re fascinated with what’s there. (I do apologise if you live in Milton Keynes!).

Milton KeynesIsn’t God supposed to protect us? Isn’t he supposed to keep us safe? And instead we find ourselves being driven to Milton Keynes on a wet Saturday afternoon falling into the most dreadful of circumstances – of which, guilt is the most obvious.

After 45 years of pondering this subject – and completing most of the practical sessions – a little light has just been shined on to this topic thanks to the wonderful people down at word-sunday.com. You may remember I mentioned them the other week, talking about “…levelling agents in an impure world…” – a quite wonderful revelation. I’ve since discovered they don’t have their HQ in Milton Keynes so I shouldn’t upset them too much with my blog this week, especially when they provide the keystone of my thoughts.

What is the setting for this passage in Matthew chapter 4? Larry Broding at word-sunday.com says:

After the public declaration of John’s baptism and the revelation of God, the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to answer a question: “What kind of Messiah will you be?”

Pause.

Bit more pause.

Wow!

Of course. The answer to my struggles is staring me straight in the face: “What kind of disciple will I be?” How will my life be defined? Will you see the hand of God at work in the things I say and do? Or will it be me, me, me. Will I yearn for fame and fortune, the easy life or the desire to lord it over all? Who knows, until I am tempted?

Sven and the YakSven Goran Eriksson – have I mentioned him before? – erstwhile manager of Leicester City recently took striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni – affectionately known as The Yak – on loan from Everton for the rest of the season. He did this because he’s a proven goal-scorer – and since joining the Foxes he’s hit four goals in eight games. This may be an example from way off left-field but it helps me focus on this whole subject. The Yak has defined his life by scoring goals. And by denying each of the temptations placed in front of him by the Devil, Jesus defined the sort of Messiah he would be. How will we define our lives?

It may be a case of semantics, but I think I’ve been reading that first sentence wrong.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.”

Wasn’t the Spirit leading Jesus as his guide, strength and wisdom? The Spirit doesn’t work for the Milton Keynes Tourist Board. He doesn’t place the temptations before us. He helps us to overcome the temptations, he wants to help us define our lives.

The CrossAnd that seems to be the key. Live a Spirit-filled life. Live a Kingdom life. Live for others. Live for God. Live without fear for the future. Live without being shackled to the past. Live for the moment. A fantastic God-filled moment where we will fall to temptation every now and again, but thankfully it’s a God-filled moment where he catches us and helps us back to our feet.

How will your life be defined?

Anyway, I’ve got to go. I’ve got the Milton Keynes Tourist Board on hold – they want to send me some holiday brochures about their wonderful town.

Happy days.

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About Neil Chappell

Husband, father, Congregational Minister and football fan all rolled into one convenient package.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Lectionary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to I’m sure Milton Keynes is a beautiful place

  1. Pingback: World Spinner

  2. The original book was very much more powerful than the film … and one of the most moving accounts of Christ that I have read. It finishes very powerfully in a scene at the foot of the cross. The very last words of the book leave you on the threshold of the wonderful new age that Jesus has ushered in precisely because he stood firm, resisted the very temptation you surmise, and went to his death … and death could not hold him!

    Nikos Kazantzakis started out as a Christian, abandoned his faith trying out all the isms that were around in the first part of the twentieth century. He then re-discovered the faith and in a sequence of novels explored what Christ means in a hurting world. God’s Pauper is a wonderful account of St Francis. The Passion is a moving account of preparations for a traditional village passion play set against the backdrop of the attrocities carried out by Turks and Greeks in tbe wake of the first world war as the Ottoman Empire collapses. Where is Christ in such abject suffering? Nikos Kazantzakis is sure he is there with people in their suffering.

    Rejected by the Orthodox church, and by many orthodox Christians, it was Albert Schweitzer who stood by him, sharing in his burial. That in itself is not insignificant. Kazantzakis’ novels are influenced by Schweitzer’s theology … but also by his passionate commitment to share in the suffering of those who are suffering at their most abject. Schweitzer had given up his theology teaching to train as a doctor and then serve those suffering from leprosy in Arfica. Schweitzer’s artistry in music, particularly his interpretation of Bach on the organ, is in a strange way echoed by Kazantzakis’ mastery of words. He writes in a vivid Greek, native to his own island of Crete. His extravagent, extended metaphors so characteristic of the very language he shared with Christ are translated on to the screen by Scorsese in a way that can be appreciated by those who are willing to take time to understand the language of film.

    Sadly, too many of the outspoken critics at the time the film were released had not even taken the time to see the film, let alone endeavour to understand its language.

    Read the book, rather than the film … and look out for the Greek Passion too!

  3. Matt says:

    Neil, do you have a contact email address that I could use please? I have quite a personal religious question and cannot find any way to reach you via the website.

    Many thanks

  4. Instructive post – I enjoyed it very much! Carmella Kraus

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