The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r153.htm
s153g04 Lent 1 29/2/2004
Command this stone to become a loaf of bread". Luke 4.3
Obviously there is a good deal of power contained within this conversation. There is clearly a clash of wills. The temptation for Jesus is to use his power, and each and every time he avoids the temptation to use power by quoting scripture.
Jesus could have got the crowds to follow him by providing food miraculously, to institute a new world order, or to demonstrate God's miraculous concern for himself. All are ultimately about how to get others to follow him. Each time he resists the temptation to subvert other people's free will - by using passages of scripture.
So the first message that we might usefully get this morning is that to use scripture, or indeed any other means, to force or cajole people to follow God might well be to misuse it. We are all familiar with the term "bible bashers" &endash; people who use the words of scripture as a weapon to beat people into submission. God wishes all people to be lifted to their feet not beaten into submission.
So similarly the phrase "the power of the Spirit" with which Jesus returned after his sojourn in the wilderness, is again no spirit of compulsion. "The power of the Spirit" is again about all people being lifted to their feet - not beaten into submission, only using different weapons or tactics.
I sometimes worry that as I preach, week after week, and the message doesn't change a great deal, whether I could be accused of beating you over the head with my theology :-). However I hope that I am as accepting of difference as I hope to encourage you to be. And I hope that my preaching will encourage everyone to be courteous and respectful one of another, rather than having everyone agreeing with me.
There is a multitude of people who would like me to get someone else to do something by virtue of my collar or this pulpit. I was recently at the Diocesan ordination and I was reminded of the words about proclaiming nothing in worship except as can be proven by scripture. Giving notices about this or that is not something that can easily be demonstrated in scripture and doing so relieves those who organise events or occasions to have a personal relationship with those they wish to attend or from whom they hope to receive help.
For me, I really don't care what we do or do not do, as long as we are doing it together without coercion. We have no need for words like "should" or "shouldn't" in our vocabulary - we are here to build people up, not give others directions in life.
And the heilsgeschicte in the Old Testament reading &endash; the history of salvation - that thanksgiving the ancient people of God annually gave to God, was all about thanking God for bringing them out from Egypt, out of the land of slavery. God acts to free people &endash; not to enslave them &endash; and not so that those who are made free can enslave others in turn.
The second reading for today also speaks about the nearness of the word to people. The word has not to be brought in from outside, involving the power either of heaven or of the underworld. It talks about there being no distinctions between people. The classic distinction between people at that time was between Jew and Greek &endash; now we might say there is no distinction between people of faith and others. For me, my experience of the Church is that so often it seems that we have just replaced an old and outmoded distinction with one more convenient to ourselves.
The essence of our faith is that God does not make distinctions between people, so no matter how much we worship "Jesus" &endash; if we make Jesus into a heavenly bouncer, it is not the Jesus of the Cross who we are really worshipping, but an invention of our own.
I was somewhat bemused at the headline in the "Advertiser" a while back now that Mr Rann (the Premier of our State - and a good job he is doing too) was going to put the bikies out of business. Was he gong to stop me riding my little 250 cc machine around the parish? :-) (It is alleged that bikie gangs control the nightclub bouncing business and that they are active in the distribution of drugs.)
We do not, of course, have to go into the wilderness to find either God or that which opposes God. We do not have to go into the wilderness to find ourselves tempted to use power to subvert other people's free will. We can find God in our ordinary and very routine lives, as well as opportunities to manipulate others rather than love them.
I suppose it is one of those things &endash; if we are worshipping God we are at least not trying to manipulate those around us - and we can be certain that if we are attempting to manipulate God - it is an exercise in futility.
A word about the phrase in the Lord's Prayer "lead us not into temptation", which we now felicitously translate "Save us from the time of trial". Our reading tells us that Jesus was "led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where É he was tempted by the devil." It is Matthew who has the words: "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted É" Mark has: "The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan É" Clearly the gospel writers also have difficulty with the concept that the Spirit of God could lead Jesus to be tempted. The God I worship does not lead anyone into temptation, so for me this is a rather infelicitous translation. But of course it is also unnecessary to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread" for God already has, and if any are missing out it is not God's fault!
I was reading that lovely passage from Jeremiah the other day: "Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit." If there is a choice between living in the middle of the salt pans at Dry Creek or among people in ordinary society, I would certainly choose the latter. I do enjoy quiet times to myself, but I could never be without the fellowship and inspiration that other people bring to my life.
In fact, if one lived among people with whom one would never disagree, what would be the point of the injunction to love or the need for the grace of God? I was struck by some words from a report of the Executive Council of the ECUSA meeting, which stated: "In a sermon offered in Spanish at one of our daily eucharists, Wilfrido Ramos-Orench, Bishop Suffragan of Connecticut, struck the theme of our friendship, our companionship, in Christ - a friendship that must be sacrificial and must endure the tensions of our differences. We cannot claim to be friends if we do not struggle to understand one another and to walk with one another despite our differences." (ENS 021304-1 Friday, February 13, 2004). In fact, the grace of God comes through people who do not just reflect back to us our own perceptions of life and living.
We have to make a deliberate choice about not using power to get our own way or to model other people's lives on our own. We have to come to the conclusion that this is actually what God wants. If getting our own way, or converting everyone else to think in the same terms as we do, is the most important thing in our life, then this end will always justify the means with which we employ to achieve it. I strongly suspect that this is not of God.
It does not matter what miracles we do, how much good we are able to achieve, what kingdoms we are able to call our own &endash; we are called to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Acceptance for who we are would be something we would like that others might do for us &endash; then we as the Church and the people we claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God &endash; will need to take the initiative and accept others for who they are. Our theology tells us, in no uncertain terms, that we can't wait for others to bring this about in the world &endash; though sometimes I think that some people who would not claim to follow Christ have got this message better than some in the Church, and have got on quietly doing their bit.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.