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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 1, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 9, 2014

Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

‘The power to choose’

The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorcese (1988), was met with fervent opposition on the part of some Christians unable to tolerate the thought of Jesus tempted away from his calling as God’s Chosen. Perhaps these were Christians unable to tolerate the thought (visualised in dream sequence) of Jesus as a sexual being – which is another way of saying human being. The film is based on a novel by a Greek Orthodox writer, Nikos Kazantzakis (1960). And this accounts, perhaps, for another intolerance – a Western Christian intolerance for the Eastern Christian doctrine of salvation as divinisation. God be with you ...

I need to say more about that. For Orthodox Christians human beings are saved by a process of divinisation, a being drawn into the Godhead. In Christ, humanity and divinity do not stand/pull apart but inform and infuse one another – the faithful human response of Jesus – the “obedience” of Christ – the faithful response of one reliant on Love alone – reveals both humanity in its depths and divinity in its fullness.

Ordinarily we think of God as all-powerful, as giver and provider, as prior to all. What if God were also the power to receive love and life, the power to trust, the power to choose love (the power to serve)?

What if God were also the power of faithful response? "[F]aithful response means [more than mere obedience; it means] weathering complex ordeals of silence, love, courage, hope, and understanding" (E.F. Mooney).

What if God were also the power to receive love and life, the power to trust, the power to choose love? Eastern Christianity – Trinitarian Christianity – paints just this type of picture. God as Lover, Beloved and Spirit of Love. It ought to deconstruct our theologies, our assumptions about God, the world and our selves. It ought to make us more humane, more human, and thus, divine. The path, the way to God, is the cross, which symbolises solidarity with all those denied full humanity.

On Ash Wednesday I received the sign of the cross in ashes. I also recalled an account of so-called “half-caste” Aboriginal children blackened with ash so as to fool the government officials sent to remove them from their families. The sign of the cross, Ash Wednesday ash, can symbolise for us a solidarity with brothers and sisters denied full humanity.

One commentator writes: “[T]emptation … tells us that we have retained the dignity of our humanity – the power to choose between good and evil … Those of us who wrestle with temptation are experiencing the fruit of Eve’s inquiry – the knowledge of good and evil, and the trial of conscious choice. Jesus, fully God and fully human, feels temptation as he is asked ultimately where his allegiance lies: will he choose the cross?” (Jude Waldron).

Another speaks simply of our Gospel in terms of resisting abusive power and embracing faithfulness. The Devil tempts Jesus to think of himself and his own needs – his own hunger and religious pride, his own desires to control and impress others. It is noteworthy that the Devil, in tempter mode, is quite adept at “proof-texting”, quite adept at quoting the Scriptures. Our Gospel is about a faithfulness that discerns the true meaning of Scripture as absolute reliance on the God of love. It’s about a faithfulness that rises to life’s challenges and chooses love. It’s about a faithfulness that makes loving decisions not in an ad hoc fashion, but learning and growing in wisdom (over time – forty days), building character and fostering good habits.

Our prayer of confession this morning marks six liturgical years since the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, an apology a long time in coming, and one that has failed to overcome issues of prejudice and paternalism. Intervention stifles self-determination. Sister Veronica Brady comments: “[W]e [second peoples] like to think of our history as a story of ‘progress’ and of ourselves as decent and open-minded people building a society in which everyone has a right to a ‘fair go’. Perhaps it is because the God … we worship is the God of the winners who has little mercy for the losers. For we do not really believe in forgiveness if we fail – and surely we have failed in our relations with the first peoples of this land, peoples who, for at least 60,000 years, lived here in tune with this land (which we now seem to be destroying).

“If we open our hearts and minds to their side of the story, we may begin to realise that the gods of success – of money, power and pleasure – are cruel gods. We need to learn from the people we have oppressed and despised, the Suffering Servant described by the prophet Isaiah as ‘wounded for our iniquities and bruised for our sins’ who points us to life rather than death. If so many of us seem to suffer from psychic numbing, perhaps it is because we are afraid to acknowledge our need to be forgiven and to forgive ourselves.

“The history that really matters in this sense is not the story of the winners but the story of the losers, of all those who were defeated, oppressed, raped, humiliated and robbed of what they held sacred: their land and their community. That story matters because it reminds us of our real task as human beings; not to be rich, powerful, famous or luxurious, but to know our place in the scheme of things, to live with respect for and with others, and for and with the earth. We must be generous, compassionate and ready to learn from our mistakes.

She concludes: “... When one person suffers, we are all wounded.”

Jesus has established the basis of his ministry: an allegiance to God that will not allow for consumerism, attention seeking or power plays. Our forty days is upon us. We are entering the wilderness, and giving up that which burdens us, that we may be fully equipped to walk the way with Jesus.

Lent is a time to re-program our habits and to maintain the power to choose. Temptation is not the penalty of being human; temptation is the glory of being human. We look to Christ, who challenges the idolatry of consumption, egotism and compromising values. We use this time for rehearsing our resistance to selfishness and evil, and we concentrate on obeying the God of love. We focus, too, on God’s love for us, the gift of Jesus.

How might this Lent be for you an invitation to re-program your habits and to maintain the power to choose? … Amen.