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Lent 1 and First Week of Lent

With the Rev. Scott MacLeod

Refugee Sponsorship Coordinator, Diocese of Niagara,

Associate Priest, St. George’s, St. Catharines, Ontario

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March 1, 2020

Click the red circle above to hear Rev. Scott read the Gospel or read below. (Audio will be available March 1.)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Click the red circle above to hear Scott’s reflection or read below. (Audio will be available March 1.)

The constant and ongoing temptations of everyday life. Jesus was tempted in the Desert. How are you tempted in your daily life?

I find that often when we talk about temptation, we think of the image of a demon on one shoulder and an angel on the other, each speaking into our ears; or the devil on one shoulder and God on the other. We certainly have influences, but we also always have choices to make.

One of the things I think this Gospel reading is saying that temptation is a very real thing, and a very spiritual thing. This story says that God, in Jesus, faces temptation. So in that, God knows and understands what we go through, because here is Jesus facing the same thing that any of us face each and every day.

Besides working full time in parish ministry, I also help to coordinate the refugee sponsorship and resettlement program of my diocese. In that work, I feel that I see the cases of people who are in the desert, facing all kinds of temptations related to their situations — just about basic survival. The temptation to give up, to only look out for themselves because of the level of their need, the temptation to lose their humanity, the temptation to lose hope. As I learn the stories of refugees and the cases that I’m working, I feel as though I am also facing my own temptations in this work.

If you are not familiar with refugee resettlement and the role that churches play in that process, there is a lot of information you can find out about online. If you look up information on the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program of the Canadian Government, you will find more information than you ever wanted to know.  But the extremely short description is that it involves helping people with no other option find a safe place to live and call home, to have new life and opportunities and to raise children in a safe place like in Canada.

So in this work there is a constant saying no to people. There is a constant acknowledgement that we are not able to help everyone who comes asking. There is a constant knowing that there are people who do not have a safe place to lay their heads at night, who do not have enough to eat, whose lives are threatened with violence and who face oppression and victimization because of those who wield power, those who have given in to the temptations that Jesus faced.

One of the temptations is to give up because the needs are so overwhelming. The needs of almost 30 million refugees around the world far surpasses our capacity to respond as a nation, and as the Anglican Church of Canada. So the temptation is always there, in the face of that level of need to just walk away, to focus on my daily life here, and ignore the needs of others. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t stop or change any of it.

Refugee sponsorship is not a solution, rather it is one part of a much larger system of responses to the issues and circumstances that cause refugees to flee in the first place.

Another temptation is for me to feel like I need to try and save everyone – that I have to do everything myself. And as we well know, this road leads to burnout and ultimately doesn’t help anyone.

As much as I might aspire to respond to temptation every single time as Jesus does in this scripture reading, I recognize that it takes enormous work, and faith, and a humble acknowledgement that I need God in my life in order to try resist these temptations.  I say try, because I constantly fall short. I find that I have broken down, and given in to those temptations. The temptation to not care, the temptation to think that I can do it all, the temptation to just walk away.

I need to be reminded over and over that I am not in this alone. Just like refugee resettlement is one piece of that larger system of responses, I need to be reminded that I am part of the church, and we understand the Church as the Body of Christ.  The whole Church, the Body of Christ does this work together. I individually cannot meet all of the needs of the world, but the whole Body of Christ can and does continue to meet people in their need.

In that constant quest to overcome and avoid these temptations, I try to remember our baptismal covenant; the acknowledgement that “Yes, I can with God’s help.” I try to remember that I can’t realistically do the ministry that I have been called to do without God’s help. Through prayer, regular and irregular, I seek the guidance, wisdom, and direction that I need to resist and avoid that temptation to not care.

Together as the Body of Christ, the whole church, we minister to the ones God sends us to, to bring that grace and love and mercy that make God’s love real in peoples lives, wherever they are in the world, here at home or in some far off country.

With everything that is done through the work of The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and the ACT Alliance, and through all of the other relief and development agencies around the world, and many others –  all this work can and does make a difference in the lives of refugees overseas. As an antidote to the temptations, the work puts real life, real world practical actions in place with the spiritual graces and humility and love, that work as an antidote to not caring about the state of others.

Our prayer informs and guides the work that we do, and we see that take action in helping others. Thus “our daily bread” is not just for us, but for sharing and feeding all who need it. God works in and through us to bring that daily bread to others – and we need to remember too to notice when God brings us our daily bread, through others.

It is a daily and imperfect struggle to seek to overcome temptation – but I know that I do not do it alone. God is with me, and God is with all of us. So I continue to seek to open myself up to the pain and suffering of people I have never met, and do not know, because in allowing God to work through me to respond to their needs, I can overcome the temptation to not care, the temptation to only think of myself, and the temptation to hold on to power for myself.

March 2, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What words, ideas or phrases stand out for you?

March 3, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What is Jesus/the Gospel saying to you?

March 4, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What is Jesus/the Gospel calling you to do?

March 5, 2020

The PWRDF Refugee Network supports Sponsorship Agreement Holders in 15 dioceses across Canada. Read the update from their 2019 annual gathering.

March 6, 2020

PWRDF supports refugees in other parts of the world as well as displaced people who have had to flee their homes. The protracted drought in South Sudan has made the country particularly vulnerable. PWRDF has been managing a monthly food distribution in North Kapoeta county since 2018. Read more here.

March 7, 2020

Your Saturday Sabbath, an illustration of mother and child hanging laundry while a tank rolls by in the distance. Consider what you have heard this week and how this image might relate.

Mother and child hanging clothes while a tank rolls by in the distance, by Rini Templeton
Illustration by Rini Templeton

Next week: Second week of Lent with Dorothy Marshall