Sunday, February 17, 2013

1 Lent

Thoughts toward a sermon:

Readings are here.

The theme of today's lessons as I read them is temptation. For the people of Israel it is the temptation to forget that all things come of God and to somehow think "we did it" ourselves. Our cleverness, our smarts, our possessions - we forget that they are gifts. The God of abundance provides and those who have supported us in life have made it possible to be in any sort of "promised land." For Paul the temptation is to believe that those who follow Jesus as Messiah are the only people God cares about. And for Jesus- the temptations are those things that focus on self and power over others rather than reliance on God and service to others.

The reading from Deuteronomy is written as a prediction - that when they come into the promised land they are not to forget. Most of the Old Testament was actually written down in a period when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been divided and conquered and the leaders were in exile. All scripture needs to be read from at least 3 levels - one when it happened, one when it was written and what was going on then, and one from our perspective reading it back from our time. The warning not to think they accomplished all this by themselves comes from believing that it was just this sort of hubris that brought them into exile. The people are trying to figure out how to get back into alignment with God.

Paul in Romans is struggling with how the Jews who don't follow Jesus and see his wonderfulness can still be the chosen people. Paul of course still considers himself a Jew but one who has had a further revelation of the Messiah - the one they had all been waiting for. Many do not believe this to be the case. For about 3 chapters of this letter he wrestles with his thoughts, what he has experienced and what he sees. We only have a short bit of it in our lesson today but it sets out what in the end he comes to believe. That yes Jesus is the Messiah and yes the Jews are still the chosen people. In many ways Paul reminds us that the experience of Jesus shows that God shows no partiality. The stories of Jesus' interactions with people is one of inclusion -women, Baal worshippers, disciples, rich, poor - all are welcome. So Paul in the end comes down on the side of mystery and letting judgement belong to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus is just beginning his ministry. The temptations to power, miracle and magic focusing on himself are very real. He can do all these things of the temptations. But always he returns to his call -- not a quick fix, not a magic trick, not a spectacular show - but the slow and steady living as God would have him live - showing God's love to the world. Love that takes him to the cross and life rather than an illusion of power and vengeance. Jesus resists the call to make bread out of stones to feed himself, to leap off the temple roof and test God, or to claim worldly power. He calls us to, Yes, feed the hungry, but also to look beyond to "why are people hungry?" A quick fix is to stop at providing a meal without the deeper reflection

If we are to follow Christ - these three readings have some ideas for us as well. Gratitude. Inclusion. Love. When we are tempted to believe the "self made man or woman" myth to remember that it took a village to raise us (as the saying goes) and that all creation is a gift of God. We can shape it and form it and use it but we cannot create it. Give thanks. When tempted to exclude someone or some sorts of people, to remember God's incredible love for us and to extend that love beyond ourselves. Be welcoming and affirming of others. When we are tempted to power and revenge and greed remember Jesus washing the feet of his followers - a leader who was not afraid to lose face. Whose sense of self was so perfect that he did not have to build it up by "looking good." Walking the talk as they say in AA. Believe that you are beloved of God and do not have to earn that status. Give that love back into the world.