The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s153g10 Lent 1 21/2/2010
'if you are the Son of God' Luke 4.3
How fascinating that the temptations put to Jesus by the devil were all to prove to the devil and others his divine status! And the church, endlessly proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, essentially eternally challenges Jesus to prove it to us, by fulfilling all our wishes.
The feigned concern the devil has for others, to feed them, was really all about demonstrating who Jesus was. Three times Jesus turns down the opportunity for personal glorification, so it makes me wonder why the church then has spent centuries telling Jesus that he is someone he doesn't actually want to be! The devils in the synagogue immediately recognise Jesus' divine status and they are commanded to be silent. Even on the high mountain of transfiguration, the disciples were commanded to be silent about their experience. The theologians call this the 'messianic secret'.
Jesus' messianic status wasn't the message, it isn't the message, it's the devil's distraction, and I suspect that the church has often been hoodwinked by this very distraction.
The message is God's love for all the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners as well as the righteous, rich and poor alike, the sick as much as the well, women as much as men, gay people as well as straight. Jesus' message is about God's love for all, whether they glorify Jesus or not, whether they call G-d: Yahweh, the Lord, Allah, Buddha or even if they don't attend worship like us. Jesus' message is about God's love for all, especially when they include others, consider others, assist others.
And this shows the motivation and the desire to be distracted which is deliberate. Indeed to not see this as the message is to close our ears and to shut our eyes to all that Jesus said and did. For this message means that our relationship with others will be forever changed. And it is precisely this fact that our relationship with others that God wants to change for it is only when our relationship to others is changed that transfiguration of our life and our lives here and now, will be ours that the kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
Recently I have been thinking of the saying 'if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword'. We can live unhappy lives and we will inevitably die unhappy. We can live happy and fulfilled lives and we will die happy and fulfilled. If we amass monetary or spiritual capital, that very monetary or spiritual capital will be our downfall, for it will ever be at the expense of others. If we live for ourselves AND others we will die for ourselves and others.
I write this as I am attending the annual national chaplains' conference in Melbourne which is inaugurating the new 'Spiritual Care Australia' organization. Dr Rachael Kohn spoke inspiringly about real faith that is characterised as humble, tender, open this is where the true presence of God is found. Of course, this is music to the ears of chaplains.
And as I reflected on this, I feel an immense sadness because I have some friends who attend churches where there is lively worship, because of that lively worship; yet those churches have separated themselves off from their parent denominations in opposition to their 'liberal' stance on the ordination of women and the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons. These people are good friends, they are wonderfully caring in their daily ministry, and I suspect that they personally don't have an issue with ordaining women or including gay people. But they like the lively liturgy. As I thought about this more, I suppose that the more main-stream churches have avoided the issue for years so I really can't point the finger elsewhere from my own tradition. My own 'established' church, the Anglican Church, has been content to build impressive structures, to conduct impressive liturgies, to be seen to be companions of the 'movers and shakers' in society, yet we are being ripped apart by the fundamental questions we have managed to avoid for so long, the marginalisation of women and the alienation of gay and lesbian persons. I was told recently that the Alpha movement originally sidestepped the issue of the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons, but eventually was forced into issuing a condemnation. This is the real issue. This question will not go away, because inclusion of all is fundamental to the gospel, not an optional extra.
I think that I am most concerned that people are being tricked into supporting discrimination.
And so the real issue is whether our love for others is genuine or it is feigned. Is our charity really for the benefit of others or really about how great the church is, or how great we are? Is our motivation about having authority over others through our impressive buildings, orthodox / scriptural faith, devotional liturgy or possession of the 'spirit', or on the other hand being equally loved with all others? Do we worship to obtain personal comfort and aid from the Almighty rather than a care for all people, sometimes to our own detriment?
St James is not speaking idly when he says: 'You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe ‹ and shudder.' Demons have faith but not good works they don't consider the welfare of others.
And Jude knows of people within the congregation who are not concerned for others when he writes: 'certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God .. These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves .. It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions.' (verses 4, 12 and 19).
I want to say that there is a real contest going on here. Satan, again and again, challenges Jesus to do something, to prove something. I have commented before that so often I hear 'christians' challenging others in the name of God, thinking that in doing so they are loving others. Satan certainly doesn't love Jesus. Jesus doesn't call us to challenge others to prove to us, to themselves or to God that they are worthy of anything. Jesus loves us and all people quite independently of worth on anyone's part. This is the good news, for ourselves and for all.
I must confess I've been a bit naughty. At the hospital, during my service, I have replaced the usual creed with these words: 'We believe in God, who as Lord of all creation, loves us, as well as those who do not live like us, those who do not believe like us, those who do not worship like us and those we do not love;
'We believe in Jesus, who was crucified because he loved others; and rose again because this love that God has for all could not be extinguished;
'and we believe in the Holy Spirit, who inspires and enables us to love others as Christ has loved us. Amen.' It seems to me that this focuses squarely on the message of God's love for all people, rather that the divine status (or not) of Jesus. For it seems to me that the divine status of Jesus is ever conjecture, whereas the fact that Jesus associated with all is scripturally unquestionable.
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