Reflection: Being Tested

It’s not always easy living in the world.  All the time we have challenges.  All the time we are tested.  It’s not even easy being a tomato – or at least being my tomato!

  1. The challenges of being a tomato – Linda and Mitch

Linda:  My tomato doesn’t look that great, Mitch.

Mitch:  No it doesn’t.  When you planted it, did you give it fresh potting mix?

Linda:  I’m not sure, but I think I just took out a rose and popped the tomato in.

Mitch:  What about fertiliser?  Do you put any into the soil?

Linda:  No, I guess I missed out on doing that.

Mitch:  What about water?  Have you been watering it regularly?

Linda:  Umm…. sometimes.

Mitch:  That’s a bit sad for the tomato.  I can see that you haven’t taken off the laterals.

Linda:  I’m not sure what laterals are, so I have to say I haven’t managed that.

Mitch:  You didn’t spray it for pests either, did you?  I can see the bugs on the plant.

Linda:  I guess I’m not a very responsible tomato grower….

Mitch:  No you aren’t.  This tomato has had a tough time.  But it’s just as well that it didn’t have to rely completely on you.  God watered it; God made the sun shine on it; and I think God also can take credit for these tomatoes growing on it.  Good things can come out of tough situations!

  1. The challenges facing Jesus: Linda

The reading from Luke’s Gospel told us about the time when Jesus was in the wilderness at the very start of his ministry.  What sort of a leader would he be?  Jesus fasted for 40 days.  In the midst of this tough time when Jesus was focussing on God and God’s direction for his life, the devil arrived with some challenges.

The first related to the state of Jesus’  stomach which was no doubt growling with hunger.  “You’re the Son of God.  You can do anything you want.  Why starve out here?  Make yourself some bread!!”  It must have been tempting – a real challenge.  But Jesus replied: “You need more than bread to live.” Jesus was not going to use his powers that came from God in a way that was self-serving. He was called to serve others.

So the devil tried again.  “ What about becoming king of the whole world? Just bow down to me, and it’s all yours”.  But Jesus knew that seeking earthly power was not the way for him.  He served only God.

The devil had a final try. “Throw yourself off the temple”, he said. “God has said that He will protect you.  Why don’t you give him a trial?”  But Jesus refused to test God

Jesus knew that he had a God given mission and that God would give him the resources he needed for the journey ahead – but it wasn’t going to be easy.  The devil would be back.  Jesus would doubt his abilities, and maybe even his calling. The road ahead would not be easy.  But we know that in three years his preaching and teaching was sufficient to turn the world upside down for centuries to come.

  1. Human stories: Bryan –I want you to meet some friends of mine who have been tested. Well actually they are not my friends.   I have only heard of them and read of them.   Nevertheless, they are important people for us to look at and we can certainly draw from their experiences.

The first one is Naomi who we read of in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.  We.are told that in a time of famine in the land of Moab her husband died as did her two sons.   Both Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth are left destitute.. Ruth follows Naomi back to Bethlehem.  It was a difficult decision for Ruth to leave her homeland, but she resolved to support her mother-in-law. Ruth said when Naomi tried to persuade her to stay in Moab,

“Do not urge me to leave you or to turn from following you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.

Returning to Israel was a real test for Naomi and Ruth. They had no man to provide for them and had to rely on charity.  In the end Naomi  discovers Boaz who is her kinsman and a man of means  and sends Ruth off to glean in his fields.  Eventually Ruth is married to Boaz and Naomi goes with her.Ruth and Naomi come through testing times to find security and protection.

The second is the disciples.   Here we have a team of fishermen.  Successful businessmen in their day.   The catch was inadequate.   Then unexpectedly they received some instructions from the shore. “Throw your nets on the other side”.    You could say they had nothing to lose, but in any event they did as suggested.   Now that’s a big test.

Once they had done as suggested, the catch was enormous.   Had Jesus seen something they hadn’t? And then Jesus had another challenge for them: “Follow me. I will make you fishers of men”    The result of responding this,  the biggest test of all, was life changing for them and affected the many generations that followed.

The third is Nelson Mandela.  Those of us who have read the book will know that he came from a humble tribal background.   He eventually graduated in law and became a defender of the underdog.  Of the blacks.  He did not give up but persisted in pursuing human rights for all.

He was sorely tested with multiple arrests numerous indignities and short term imprisonment before a long imprisonment in Robin Island.   Once there he was further tested but did not allow his anger to affect his calm passive resistance.

His suffering was eventually recognised; he was consulted by the government of the day and eventually became president, being responsible for significant reforms.

The fourth is Ruth’s grandfather and the grandfather of many of our grandfathers.  Conditions in the home country were tough.   With little by way of cash background and some experience of soldering he took a plunge and came to this country. It wasn’t easy.  He was never to see his family again.  Conditions were tough. At times he was tested almost beyond his ability to cope.   But eventually he profited from what this country has to offer and gained the respect and admiration of those in later generations who followed.

The fifth is Sir John Jeffries who died recently.   According to the Christchurch Press he was brought up during an economic depression to unspectacular parents.He failed school certificate 3 times.  On leaving school his reference suggested to prospective employers that they “not give him any job that required study”.In spite of that, after a brief stint of employment he studied and graduated in law.   Then began a spectacular career in local body politics and the law, culminating in his appointment as a High court Judge and numerous other important positions.He was tested by numerous significant barriers along the way yet he managed to overcome them.

And then there is you and the people sitting near you.  We have all had our tests and we have managed to overcome most of them. Life isn’t easy. But like Ruth of old we take the plunge and move on in faith.   We are not alone.

  1. The story of Lent: Linda

This is the first Sunday in Lent.  Over the forty days of Lent we remember Jesus’  journey to Jerusalem and to his ultimate test, the crucifixion.  We know that this must have been a very tough time for him.  He must have been torn apart with self -doubt about the effectiveness of his ministry.  On the cross he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet we know that after the crucifixion came the resurrection.

We have our tough times too, the times when we are tested, sometimes beyond what seems possible to bear.  When times are tough, God is with us.  God doesn’t make the hard times happen, but God promises to walk with us when life tests us to the limit.  And we can know with absolute assurance that whatever we encounter, good is stronger than evil and good will triumph.  So live hopefully and look for your own resurrection.