Posted by: mikebackup | February 15, 2013

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus is tested in the wilderness

4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’

4 Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”[b]

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.’

8 Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”[c]

9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

‘“He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”[
d]

12 Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”[e]

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

26 When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.

All the talk this week has been about the Pope deciding to step down, the first to do so in 600 years. Maybe because I’m a Baptist I’ve not felt shocked at all, what I have been impressed with is the Christian beneath the title – Joseph Ratzinger a German born in 1927 and someone who has had a long walk with God. The part in his statement that stood out for me was this: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” I’m really impressed with that – he has put discipleship and God’s purpose ahead of duty and expectation. You can only do that when you have a genuine faith and take the time to be with God.

Was God pleased? Well the lightning bolt that hit the Vatican on the same day has raised a few eyebrows!

lightning

Joking aside what he said fits in well with both these readings and what we can take from them. At first glance the readings are a little difficult. The Deuteronomy verses are hard to relate to while the Lukan verses though familiar are detached from what we do during Lent.

Last week I talked about the importance of bringing to mind the positives we’ve experienced when faced with a difficult trial of life. This follows on naturally and a key act of discipleship is to remember what God has done not only as an act of thanksgiving but to remind us that God will continue to be a part of our journey. This extends beyond our own experiences of God and to the connection we have back through the whole story God has had with humanity. In the Old Testament the people remembered with a formal act of worship, Jesus’ response when tempted by the Devil was to bring to mind his understanding of scripture and that takes us to Deuteronomy 6:10-16 which he quotes in part.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.

We belong to God’s on-going relationship with humanity which means we are connected back in this relationship and that’s a great blessing. At the time of Deuteronomy the people of God only had the beginning of the story. When Jesus was being tempted he had more of the story to draw on. Now we have a huge amount to draw on – what a blessing for us!

What we have to do is practice in our own way what those in the readings were doing – purposefully remember what God has done, give praise for that and draw on it. Lent is an opportunity each year to really practice this.

How do we so this? Sign up to one of the many Lent resources that are now available and practice every day. I’ve signed up for ‘40Acts’ (www.40acts.org.uk ) and that offers verse, reflection and a video. The one I received on Friday is suitable for today and was written by Rob Parsons

‘Give thanks in all circumstances: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

One of the things I vividly remember from my childhood is being in church and singing, “Count your blessings, name them one by one”.

As I got older I stopped singing that song, but we all have to sing something and so I began singing one that had the same tune but was actually very different: “Count your problems, name them one by one”. And I can tell you that there was never any lack of things to count: the car not starting, losing my bank cards, the central heating breaking down to name just a few.

I think it was going to the shanty towns in Africa that changed me. I met people with no running water, no proper sewage system and little food; people who would have given anything to live in a house with a heating system that broke down once in a while.

The truth is that it’s easy to take things – and people – for granted. And sometimes it’s a little more than that. We develop a habit of seeing only the negatives and that robs us of gratitude.

But God doesn’t like us to be ungrateful – it mattered to Jesus that only one leper came back to say thank you. As I lay in bed last night my mind was going over the events of the day. At first I began to dwell on the single negative incident that occurred but then I changed tack and made myself recall blessing after blessing. I began to be filled with gratitude.

I was singing the old song again.

That reflection is very helpful – remembering the blessings leads to the gratitude. Once you’re truly grateful in any circumstance your state of mind changes. You move on from self-pity, anger and negativity to one of relief, simple happiness and life has a spring in its step.

That’s what Lent is about – taking time to remember the blessings God has given all of humanity including ourselves over thousands of years enabling us to get to a place of true gratitude before God. We are then able to approach all of life with the vitality and love God calls us to live.

Lord God,
for all that we have inherited from our parents and ancestors
we give you our thanks and praise.
For the prosperity of the Western world, which we enjoy,
we give you our thanks and praise.
For giving us settled places to live,
and for the beauty and peace of our land,
we give you our thanks and praise.
For bringing the Israelites our of Egypt,
we give you our thanks and praise.
For the signs and wonders of your presence,
we give you our thanks and praise.
For giving us Jesus, for the gifts and fruits of his Spirit,
and for your hand of guidance for ever upon us,
we give you our thanks and praise.
Teach us to count our blessings, as
we give you our thanks and praise.
Teach us to rejoice and celebrate your goodness, as
we give you our thanks and praise.

Make us a blessing to others,
that those who do not yet know you will seek you,
find you, and experience you for themselves, as
we give you our thanks and praise. Amen.

 


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