I was very pleased to be asked to speak, for the first time, at full school assembly. Fixed points were the title, 'Who has control?' and the Bible passage Luke 4:1-13, the temptations of Christ, which I arranged to be read before I spoke. Please see below what I had ready, had to make some real time cuts in order not to over-run but this is pretty well what I said. Interested to know what you think! Very pleased with a number of positive comments from colleagues and pupils, and a very nice card from our headteacher - if you're reading this, thank you, very much appreciated!
When I was a small child I had an imaginary friend. I used to speak to him in the mirror, play with him, tell him what I was up to and tell him to do things. Over the years I’ve seen similar aged children chase pigeons and play with dolls and action figures. At least part of the reason for doing these things, I think, is control: in a world where virtually everybody around is bigger and stronger and able to tell you what to do, imaginary friends give a space in which we can at least have the pretence of being in control over what’s going on. In my own case there were not just parents to contend with but two older brothers who, very irritatingly, remained bigger and stronger than me into adult life.
And it’s interesting to consider the account of Jesus’s temptations from the point of view of control. Jesus, Son of God, who was present at the dawn of time and held the heavens and earth in His hands, gave up all this control to be born as a baby, grow up, live as a man and then give Himself up to die one of the most painful, prolonged and humiliating deaths ever devised. And in this story we see Jesus tempted three times over to misuse His position as Son of God to take control over His human needs. So He was tempted to turn stones into bread so that He could eat having been without food for 40 days. He was tempted to take control over the kingdoms of the world. And He was tempted to force God to protect Him in order that He could show off. But He refused to do so, and set us a wonderful example as He resisted the temptation to take control over things which He should not have done, and took control over things which He should.
As many of you know I live some distance from here, and my daily commute takes me along two junctions of the M4. Now, there are many things which my fellow motorists can do to annoy me, and I’d like to tell you about the one which I consider the most annoying of all – driving in the middle lane when there is a perfectly good inside lane which is empty for as far as the eye can see. Why do people do this? Why? It’s unnecessary, it’s against the Highway Code, it gums up the traffic behind and I ask each and every one of you, as future and indeed present drivers, to pledge here and now never to commit this heinous crime against all things motorway. The temptation to drive right up the bumper, horn blaring and headlights flashing, or to undertake, or to overtake and then cut across the path of the offending car with millimetres to spare, is very very strong!
But let’s have a think about this. As the driver of one car, trying to take control over the actions of another makes no sense, and all I succeed in doing is making an exhibition of myself and getting angry and frustrated. This is about as sensible, I would suggest, as poisoning myself and then expecting somebody else to become ill. Meanwhile, I am failing to take proper control over my own driving, endangering the safety of other road users and indeed my own. I am failing to follow the example of Jesus Christ as I try to take control over things which I really should not, and fail to take control over things which I should.
Similarly in the work place there are things we can and should take control of, and things we can’t or shouldn’t. So, I make sure that I turn up on time, keep to deadlines, take advantage of training opportunities and follow the advice of St Paul:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)
I can’t ensure that I’m in the right place at the right time for an unexpected promotion, I can’t decide who the people I work with are. Again, the temptation here is to try to take control over things which I can’t control, and not to take control of things which I can. Living my life waiting for a big opportunity to land in my lap makes no sense.
So, I wonder, are you, like me, tempted to try to take control over situations where you shouldn’t and not take control over situations that you should? It is the nature of being at school, living at home with parents and carers, that there are a large number of people in a position to tell you what to do. Like everybody else, teachers are not perfect, I certainly am not, but we are here in order to promote your education in order to enhance your life chances. Are you tempted to try to take control from your teachers when actually it’s better for everyone, yourself included, to enable teachers to do their jobs and not to try to take control over situations where it’s really much better not to. At the same time, you have control over your own actions and know what represents appropriate behaviour. Do you fall into the temptation not to take control over your own actions when that would be the most appropriate to do?
In a moment I’m going to pray that we might learn to follow the example of Jesus Christ in not taking control over situations where we shouldn’t and to take appropriate control of our actions when we should. Before I do so, I’m just going to pause briefly and ask you to reflect on how this message applies to you. Where do you need to resist the temptation to take control over situations where you shouldn’t? And not to take control of your own actions where you should?
Almighty God, we thank you for the example Your Son Jesus Christ set us when He was here on earth in resisting the temptation to take control over things which He shouldn’t and to take control over aspects which He should. We pray for Your help as we look to follow this example, to have the wisdom to know when to take control and when to let go, that Your Name might be glorified. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.