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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 1, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 14, 2016

Psalm 91; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

‘Clarity and grit’

Three of the traditional 14 stations of the Cross refer to Jesus falling. Artist Margaret Vazey suggests that these might be understood to echo the three temptations of Christ: temptations to greed, power and popularity by way of sensational performance; temptations to individualism; temptations to reductive religion or fundamentalism. How do you hear the temptations? God be with you

Jesus overcomes all three – in spite of the devil’s obvious biblical literacy. Jesus’ understanding of the scriptures deepens to self-understanding – in relationship with the One who promises refuge and strength (Psalm 91), Jesus trusts that the Spirit who leads him into the wilderness will also lead him out. “Adonai, my refuge and my mountain fortress; my God in whom I trust”, the psalmist sings – and Jesus learns (it’s a process, an ordeal) to trust this Spirit of God as a giver of clarity and grit.

I begin with reference to Psalm 91. It’s the psalm the devil cites. And I wonder at Jesus’ understanding of the psalm. Whatever he makes of the promise of refuge and protection, he is wary of putting God to the test. He is wary of a simplistic interpretation. He is wary of its application as a license to thrill, a license (recalling our Transfiguration Gospel of last week) to dazzle.

Perhaps he’s also wary of its use as an excuse for inaction, timidity, that is, self-protection in the face of real challenges, real problems, real life. It’s certainly a psalm with some appeal for the immature, the naive and the timid-conservative. That’s one reason each of the temptations is said to entail individualism. Only a self-absorbed spirituality naively claims divine protection in a world where so many call on the name of God – the name of Justice, the name of Mercy. Faith doesn’t insulate believers from reality, though at times we might desire such a thing.

No. Jesus is claiming something other than special treatment. He is claiming a humanity at one with the suffering hope of the world, and at one with the suffering love of God.

He shows his human side, as several commentators point out, and thus makes his (and our) divinity possible. We might say that in and through his body – keen awareness of bodily appetites, alertness of mind and senses – Jesus makes his (and our) divinity possible.

If there’s a refuge here, it’s a refuge from Gnosticism, individualism and despair, from cut-throat competition and isolation. It’s a refuge – born in solitude, yes – and yet a place where distinctions between Jew and Greek (Romans 10:5-15), male and female, rich and poor, insider and outsider matter less than the common good, solidarity, relationship.

I’m writing this with Norrie and Sam’s televised challenge to the Registry Office in mind; in anticipation of John and Andrew’s wedding this Saturday (in the absence of church Rite and government Act); in trepidation regarding safe and secure housing – for long-term residents of Waterloo, as for weary and wounded (and ailing) refugee families, including infants, denied legal sanctuary.

In each case, the story is our story – because it’s a story we’re tangled up in. We’re implicated. The questions of justice and equity, fairness and wellbeing, reconciliation and reparation are posed on behalf of all. What kind of community/country/people/species will we become? What kind of hospitality and justice-making will we learn? Who are we?

“Adonai, my refuge and my mountain fortress; my God in whom I trust” – is the cry of all those who desire refuge, all those who desire peace with justice. Can we hear that? In the silence, in the wilderness, with the wild animals, in the Spirit who gives clarity and grit. Is this what Jesus hears?

Something like this – the psalmist’s song is the cry of all who desire refuge, of all who desire peace with justice.

“Incredibly, [Jesus] chose an open relationship full of criticisms, challenges, denunciations and disappointments, a relationship with God and all of us, over the perfectionist [disembodied] fantasies that were part of him, as they are part of us” (Nancy Rockwell).

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann argues that the psalter privileges justice over meaning, and resists a spirituality of neat personal salvation. The psalms are conversations with God into which we are drawn – messily – for the sake of the world God loves. We are oriented, disoriented, reoriented – held close and held open to the Love, the Justice, the Peace, the Mercy, the God who is to come.

In the wilderness, Jesus is keenly aware of the Spirit. He knows keenly that he is God’s Beloved. The good news is this: he chooses to respond to this love, with love for others. “Incredibly, [Jesus] chose an open relationship full of criticisms, challenges, denunciations and disappointments, a relationship with God and all of us, over the perfectionist [disembodied] fantasies that were part of him, as they are part of us.”

Beloved-ness, we might say, is an Embracing, not a Sorting. There is no distinction between Jew and Greek … old and young, worthy and unworthy.

A wilderness exam has to do with knowing yourself to be accepted, cherished, loved – and then understanding this in terms of all the cries for love, all the longing for love in the world. Your wilderness exam is yours alone, but you are not alone.

Clarity and grit may not be among the nine “fruits of the Holy Spirit” as listed in Galatians 5. According to the Nicene Creed, however, the Spirit is the Giver of Life. May the ashes by which we are signed mark us for life – for real life – as people/creatures of clarity and grit. Amen.

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