Saturday, 4 March 2017

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 5 March 2017 Lent 1 Quarterly Communion

Readings: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7    Matthew 4: 1-11

We pray:  Holy God, at this moment of entering the time of Lent, may we be open to your voice in our hearts and minds, allowing your guiding light to shine strongly in all our lives and everything that we do and say.  May we keep learning how to be your presence in this world.  In Jesus name. Amen. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn stones into bread – just imagine how many people we could feed, what a difference it would make to the starving people of the world.
And if we could all be superheros, winging our way around the trouble spots, stopping missiles with our hands and holding tyrants by their heels from a great height until they agreed to stop being nasty and manipulative.
And then if we just had the power – just give us the running of the country for a few days, we say – we would sort it out, make things right, bring about peace and ensure equal distribution of food and keep everyone honest and ethical.

Wouldn’t it be great? 
Enter, stage left, the devil with a bag of temptations slung over the shoulder.
Sitting back waving a magic wand to sort hunger – how long before we would be choosing who was deserving or forgetting that it is about people and caring and sharing
And when does the superhero turn into the autocrat, judge and jury rolled into one?
And the power to rule – would we really give it up after a few days, would it corrupt us without our knowing.

Maybe there is another way!

Jesus knew exactly what was being thrown before him in the desert, these temptations that were particularly enticing and very clever -  not too far different from the purpose of God in Jesus but just insidious enough to bring about his downfall. 

First of all he was being offered the ability to seek solutions to his hunger outside the sufficiency of God’s created world.  When something wasn’t working, use his own power to sort it rather than trusting in God to satisfy his needs.  It is one of the things we know the most about in Jesus – his absolute trust in his Father for all his needs.  He said no – loud and clear.

Then he was presented with a picture of physical invulnerability – of proving God’s power and presence by putting himself deliberately in danger.  Jesus had a swift rebuttal to the scripture quoted out of context – do not put God to the test – this is a misuse of power in everyway.  Imagine the impact giving in to this temptation would have had on his journey to the cross.  He said no.
The third temptation is completely about control – think what he could do with the reins of political power in his hands. The sweeping changes, the judgements, the command and the violence.  Jesus’ influence and persuasion to faith would come instead in a very different way – through God alone and in teachings so removed from the domination and prestige that was the temptation of the devil. He said no.

So how do we identify temptation today – as a church and as individuals living the life of faith?  How do we say no, are our temptations so gentle, so subtle that we don’t even notice we’ve taken a detour from the way of Jesus, the uncompromising no has become maybe. 
For instance, if we can’t be spectacularly successful in our desire for a just and caring world, are we tempted to just not try at all. 
Are we tempted to ignore the poor because we can’t make stones into bread? 
Are we tempted to give up on trying to make a difference to the world because we can’t be a superhero?
Are we tempted to ignore injustice and inhumanity because we don’t have the power to control the world and don’t see how we could make a difference?
It’s that thing of being overwhelmed by the immensity of what is before you and therefore choosing to just not engage.  That’s insidious and subtle, isn’t it?

We as a Christian faith over the centuries would have to own up to making poverty etc easy to ignore.  Belief that the poor and hungry must have done something bad for God to have let this happen – or whether it is brought on oneself by a lack of work ethic – or that they will get their reward in the next world would be two prevailing ways of thinking in the western world at least.  And the opposite - do we still carry a theology of (shall we call it) righteous prosperity – where we believe that comfortable living demonstrates our faithfulness.
What are our excesses that prevent the fair distribution of food and housing and safety and education and health in this country?  I can’t answer that for you but I can look closely at my choices and assumptions.  How is my giving stacking up against my privileges and my possessions?

As for being a super hero – what is wrong with just being a hero – we are surrounded by them – here in this church, this community, this city.  The ripples that go out from one act of helping are amazing.  I want tell you about one from a few days ago.  I was coming out of a house in Signal Hill Rd to discover an elderly gentleman staring rather bemusedly at a huge (to him anyway) pile of soil that had to be carted bucket by bucket up at least 30 steps to his garden.  I didn’t offer to help, did I (see, easy to remain outside of it – had things to do), but he said that a young man had walked by, seen his dilemma and had offered to help.  Then this voice – hey, Margaret – and it was Malcolm Gordon, who didn’t leave till it was all finished.  Malcolm told me after that when his coming along was referred to by the gentleman as lucky, he suggested that better words might be that is was a godsend.  Beautiful.
The plate of baking, the invite to a meal, the taking time to be a local hero in the name of Christ – that is how to make a difference.

And then there is the being in control thing – if only we had the power we could make it right.   We so have the power!  Every time we vote in an election we have the ability to question and the power to vote not on things that suit us but policies that serve the dispossessed and the vulnerable.
Every time we challenge racist or sexist comments or behaviour, in ourselves and in others, when we stand up to speak to an issue or go on a march or write to the paper or …hey you fill in the gaps here.  Workplace, home, on the street or at the club, wherever there is need to stand up and say ‘this is not ok’.

At the beginning of Lent might we take time to look at our lives and see where temptations have insinuated themselves into our choices and attitudes.  And may we celebrate every moment saying no!  And as we symbolically gather round the table today, as we share bread and wine, may we look around and remember and thank God for all those here who care, who share and who love – in Jesus name.

Margaret Garland