The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s153g13  First Sunday in Lent  17/2/2013  St Chad's Linwood and healing service

Jesus .. was led by the Spirit in the wilderness   Luke 4.1

We associate Lent with withdrawal from the world and there is often useful purposes for time apart.   I often think how retreats and times of hospitalisation are very much the same.  We withdraw from the pressure of home and work, to a place where we don't have to worry even about feeding ourselves, and we meet and converse with different people and sometimes we are able to think, well, when I go back to 'real' life I might try this or that.   We give ourselves time to think laterally when we are not preoccupied with our day to day affairs.

And so Jesus retreats from ordinary life, and, having just been baptised, he reflects on how he will conduct his public ministry to come.   And the temptations are all about making himself into someone great, someone who can feed the multitudes (which actually he later did, at least twice), strive to convert the world to follow him whatever the cost (and we can surely see passages that reflect this), and to demonstrate that he was immune from suffering and death.   And we are told he repudiated all these ways.

Yet the church, which supposedly follows Jesus, makes itself into something great, an organisation that supposedly feeds the multitudes when it really only feeds her faithful followers, demands the world be suitably compliant disciples, promising an eternal life free from suffering and death and condemning others to eternal punishment.   If Jesus repudiated these things, surely the church aught to also?

Last week I spoke about the bible being a primer about the futility of religion to bring personal health, wealth and escape from death.  In the wilderness Jesus repudiates a religion which promised that he personally would not even dash his 'foot against a stone'.

Last week I spoke about the hospital rather than the gathered worshipping community being the paradigm of the kingdom, and again it is the hospital that tries to lift all people to their feet rather than just some at the expense of others.   So often the gathered worshiping community - on a personal, congregational, diocesan, denominational and faith levels - portrays itself as something great, ultimately beneficent, worthy of unalloyed devotion because it offers protection from illness and death to their followers.   Jesus doesn't set himself up to do any of these things.   It is the secular hospital which offers indiscriminate help as best as technology will allow, not asking for any allegiance, indeed discharging people as soon as they are able, and never promising to save anyone from death.

I am grateful to Anglicans Online (1) for drawing my attention to a tweet by @UnvirtuousAbbey on the day of the (American) Superbowl on February 3rd (4th here): 'For those who think God alters the outcome of a football game while today 30,000 children die from preventable disease, we pray.'   Redirecting the focus of this for a moment, do we want 30,000 people leaving hospital willing and better able to lift others to their feet, or 30,000 people leaving hospital praising the God of heaven and continuing to be active agents of discrimination in the name of the Lord whose 'steadfast love endures for ever'?  (2)   Or 30,000 people entering into an acrimonious debate about marriage equality?

I was pleased to find out that the author of the prayer: 'We confess that we have sinned: We have used our power to dominate and our weakness to manipulate; we have evaded responsibility and failed to confront evil; we have denied dignity to ourselves and to each other, and fallen into despair.' is the feminist theologian Janet Morley. (3)  It seems a prayer that particularly pertains to the parts of the church that decry others as 'liberals'.

So as we come to our time of healing today, it is a sign not that we are so special as Christians that God will heal us, but it is a sign that healing is what God wants for all, and we have a part to play in healing others as we welcome rather than condemn others who believe differently or dismiss others as irrelevant.

Despite his repudiating turning stones into bread, Jesus fed the multitudes because he cared for them, not to impress on all his miraculous powers.   And he does call us to follow him, because we do have a part to play in caring for others, not to set up ourselves as specially holy.   And he does offer eternal life, because the kingdom is ever with others, it is never a personal possession given to one but denied to another.


(2) 1 Chronicles 16.34