Lent begins with the temptations story of Jesus in the wilderness. Temptations come to everybody and we know this because they came to Jesus. There is a poster on the notice board in the vestry which says, “Oh Lord, lead me not into temptation because I can find it myself”. We must understand that the reason the devil was trying to lure Jesus into particular sins was because he was trying to distract Jesus away from his Messianic mission. Had Jesus given into the temptations he faced in the desert he would have failed in his life’s purpose. And this would have had dire consequences for humankind and the world. And so Lent is not a time for giving up chocolate. It is far more serious than that. It is the time we are invited to go into the desert with Jesus to do battle with the temptations and distractions that demand our attention and seek to control us. But most importantly it is the time we recognise that the temptations and distractions we give ourselves over to ultimately prevent us from achieving our life’s purpose and from becoming our true selves. The people God created us, knows us and calls us to be.
In today’s world of IPhones and Twitter, many of us are living lives which are constantly distracted. Fewer and fewer of us know what to do if we are not distracted. This is why we spend so much time on our phones texting, chatting with friends, using social media playing video games, surfing the web, watching TV. Without these distractions we can soon start to feel fidgety and bored and the longer we go without these sorts of distractions the more lost and cut off we feel and eventually it dawns on us that we might just have to face ourselves. But modern media is not the only distraction. We are also distracted by behaviours which are fun but often destructive, giving in to cravings, addictions, or negative emotions like fear, hate, anger, worry, or guilt.
For many of us, to simply sit quietly alone with ourselves feels uncomfortable to the point where our trueself is almost like a stranger. Indeed, if we are constantly distracted, our true self IS a stranger, because our choice to be distracted has disconnected us from our true selves.
And so Lent really is a gift to us. The season of Lent invites us to sit quietly alone with ourselves and to reconnect. And to use the time we would have otherwise spent being distracted by something to do this. But first we need to recognize what our own particular and personal distractions are. A distraction takes energy away from us, a distraction seeks to control us. And it diverts our attention away from ourselves and directs it instead toward an outside person, event or activity. And when we give in to this kind of distraction, when we yield to its temptation, we can be left with all sorts of negative feelings.
Things which support our energy are not distractions, they are messengers that are there to encourage and help us to be our true selves. The former will be aggressive in its effort to distract us, and it will use temptation while the latter will be passive. It will wait for us to turn to it freely.
Once we have recognised the distractions in our lives, we can begin to reduce or even eliminate their impact.
Most of us will not be able to simply cut all of our distractions loose at once. In many cases our distractions have evolved over long periods of time, and it can take time to rid ourselves of them.
Removing distractions does not happen overnight and often requires some fundamental changes to our lifestyles and making different choices in the future. Forty days is not long enough. But it is a good time to start. But we need a blue print, a road map. Jesus triumphs in the desert, not as God but as a man. He uses the tools we can also use. In this way, he gives us a model of how to deal with temptation and fight the devil in our own lives. Jesus sets a model for conquering temptations and overcoming distractions through prayer, fasting, and reflection on scripture. Only through this trinity of spiritual practice can we unlock the power of the Holy Spirit we need to fight and overcome temptation and distraction. Prayer and fasting, reflection on scripture, not entertaining temptation —those are the tools Jesus demonstrates for fighting temptation. When Jesus emerged from the desert, the shape of his Messiahship had been hammered out. He achieved his higher and true purpose. He faced the temptations of the Tempter. And he rejected them in favour of his Father's plan. Later he told his disciples, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”. By following his example, we can begin the process of warding off temptation, and overcoming the distraction and sin which prevents us for achieving our higher purpose. We too can see Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Brothers and Sisters, I wish you all a very holy Lent.