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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 1, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 10, 2019

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


‘Three responses to temptation/testing’

“If you are God’s Own, command this stone to turn into bread.” “Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it will all be yours.” “If you are God’s Own, throw yourself down from here, for scripture has it, ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you …’ God be with you

I

We begin with reference to Psalm 91, our call to worship, which begins: “Adonai, my refuge …; my God in whom I trust.” God says: “I will be with you in trouble; I will deliver you and honour you.” It’s the psalm the devil cites.

We might 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. 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 entitled and the timid-conservative.

Indeed, each of the temptations – to greed, power and pride – entails 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.

If there’s a refuge here, it’s a refuge from individualism and despair, from cut-throat competition. 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.

“Adonai, my refuge …; my God in whom I trust” is the cry of all who desire refuge, all who desire peace with justice. Can we hear that? In the silence, in the desert, in the Holy Spirit? Is this what Jesus hears? Something like this – the psalm is the cry of all who desire refuge, of all who desire peace with justice. Amen.

II

In the desert, Jesus discerns the way of love – amid temptations to greed, power and pride.

Discernment sometimes entails choosing between good and evil (the analogy would be Jesus and the devil), but often entails choosing between the good and right/timely options (the analogy is Jesus and the Holy Spirit).

Greed, power and pride – even these seemingly obvious evils can be subtle tests.

There is, after all, a time to eat and to practise self-care. There is spiritual power, confidence, creativity. There is God-given pride, dignity.

Luke tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom ... Jesus paid attention. He learned patience, valued the process of learning; open to surprise, discovery, new possibilities for himself and for others. He learned to recognise goodness in himself and in others – to apply the right word in the right way and in the right moment.

Jesus knew the stirrings of vocation and allowed time and space for discernment. Did he enjoy the process?

The desert, ecologically rich, can be a symbol for a certain emptiness – the emptiness of the Sabbath, the emptiness of the Communion chalice, the “gap” between the persons of the Trinity, the heart and womb of Sarah, of Mary, the tomb in the garden ... holy and expectant souls of every time and place.

The desert can be a symbol for the self-emptying of love, the self-emptying of mercy, the self-emptying of play, the self-emptying of silence ...

We watch and wait in this desert with Jesus, Beloved of God. Amen.

III

The psalms are conversations with God into which we are drawn – messily, restlessly, not without joy – for the sake of the world God loves (Walter Brueggemann). 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 desert, Jesus is keenly aware – and becomes keenly aware – of the Spirit. He knows that he is God’s Beloved.

And the good news is this: he chooses to respond to this love, with love for others. “[Jesus] chose an open relationship full of criticisms, challenges, denunciations and disappointments, a relationship with God and all of us, over the perfectionist fantasies that were part of him, as they are part of us (Nancy Rockwell).”

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 testing, a desert 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 desert exam is yours alone, but you are not alone. Amen.



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