Sermon 10 March 2019



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 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan

and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”
Luke 4:1-2


“It’s this club. It’s what we do, that’s Man United.”

The words this week of caretaker manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer,

after a dramatic, last-minute victory for his club in football’s, Champions’ League.

“This club, that’s what we do.”

Over the years, institutions and organisations – football clubs or night clubs,

charities or churches, acquire reputations and identities –

whether that fully reflects their reality or not.

This is what we do – this is who we are

their guiding principle, a sense of DNA.


Some years ago, a visiting preacher, at the time, chaplain to Kilmarnock Football Club, reminded us of the fans’ football chant, reserved for more famous opponents –

a mocking: “Who are you? Who are you?”

In other words, here, your “reputation” counts for nothing.


“Who are you, Jesus?” is the question of our gospel story:

 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan

and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…”


As the TV dramas say: Previously on Luke’s Gospel:

Jesus has been baptised in the waters of the Jordan,

joining the long lines of humanity doing the same –

an act of identification with humanity – solidarity, no special privileges.

And in that moment, receiving divine confirmation –

the heavens opened, the Spirit-dove descending

and the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved child.”

This is Christ’s first and foremost identity – Beloved.

This is the passport he holds as he enters the wilderness,

led, not abandoned, by the Spirit.

The desert; biblically, always a place of struggle.

not a hiding place – rather, a place of fierce self-examination.

If I am the beloved, if I am the messiah – what sort of Messiah will I be?


It is not long before the mocking chant – “Who are you?”

The call to prove himself, to live up to a proper messiah’s reputation.

So, the prize fight in the desert – Tempter and tempted.

The first temptation – hunger:

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  

The temptation implies that God’s beloved should not hunger.

In the devil’s economy, unmet desire is an aberration,

not an integral part of what it means to be human.

Inviting Jesus to magically sate his hunger,

the devil invites Jesus to deny the reality of the incarnation;

“cheat” his way to satisfaction,

instead of waiting, paying attention to his hunger,

and trusting God for lasting fulfilment.


Then, showing Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world,”

the devil promises him glory and authority.

“It will all be yours,” the devil says.

Fame.  Visibility. Recognition.  Clout.

The implication is that God’s beloved need not labour in obscurity.

To be God’s child is to be centre stage:

visible, applauded, admired, and envied.

A God who really loves us will never “abandon” us to a modest life,

lived in what the world considers insignificance.


The third temptation targets Jesus’s vulnerability.

“[God] will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,”

the devil promises Jesus.

“On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

The implication is that if we are beloved of God, then God will keep us safe.

Safe from physical and emotional harm,

safe from frailty and disease, safe from accidents, safe from death.


“Who are you?”

Not by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.

God alone.

God, trusted, not tested.

I choose emptiness over fullness;

obscurity over honour;

vulnerability over rescue.


At every instance when Jesus could have reached

for the magical, the glorious, and the safe,

he reached instead for the mundane, the invisible, and the risky.

“That is who I am – that is what I do.”


Eventually of course, the Who are you, Jesus? question leads to

the “Who are you disciples?” question. To us.

What answer would we – or others – find?

What would our evidence be?

As Christians/St Columba’s, as Kirk Session elders, as hospitality volunteers, Night Shelter volunteers, as people of prayer, as people of friendship and practical care.

This is who we are; this is what we do?


What abdications of power, which restraints and obscurities

are we prepared to embrace to be faithful to this desert king?

“Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…

as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.”

Teillard de Chardin


I finish with part of a reflection by a C20th church figure, David Cairns

reflecting on the work and influence of his father –

a parish minister in the same country parish in the Scottish Borders for 45 years – Stitchel.)


“All his life he was content with a small country church…

Population diminished greatly in the district during that period,

and I think in consequence he had to face the long ordeal

of seeing it diminish to little more than half of its original membership.

He never, I believe, sought any change.

He had no ambition except to do the work

for which God had, as he believed, chosen and trained him

 and to which, as all his church then believed, he had been called by God,

through the voice of the people.


His main interests were in his church and his people and his family

and he always took the large and the patient view.


When I saw him lying dead, I was amazed at the quiet grandeur of his face.

He looked like one of the great ones of the earth.

It was a reminder that real greatness is not a thing of outward circumstance

and that it is possible to live greatly in what the world would think

a very limited sphere of labour.


Who are youbeloved and be-loving:

This is who we are, this is what we do.

By God’s grace, may it be so.