Homily for Lent 1A

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I don’t know how catholic your musical tastes are.

Mine generally don’t stretch to 1970s funk R&B,
if that expression means anything to you.
But when pondering today’s Gospel,
and the theme that greets us every beginning of Lent,
the word that stands out is “temptation”.

By the vagaries of internet word association,
I came across a reference
to that famous music group, The Temptations.
And to an album they released in 1980 called “Power”.
Which, while I’d never heard the record,
struck a chord, so to speak.

Because I think those two words,
temptation and power,
are very much to do with this season we call Lent.
With Jesus’ wilderness experience,
and with our lives, collectively and as individuals.

Temptation is about power.

Temptation is the domain of people
who have power of one kind or another,
and of things that seem to have power over us.
Temptation is about how we might use power appropriately.
Temptation is about power.

Jesus is led by the Spirit to the wilderness.
A sparse, hostile place.
A place without distraction.
A place to run away to, precisely because when there
you can’t run away from who you are.

Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness
are a deliberate re-enactment, a reliving,
of the 40 years of Israel in the wilderness.
The wanderings borne of Israel’s
giving in to temptation again and again.

In the wilderness,
Jesus is presented
with temptations that draw on all sorts of powers
and all sorts of hungers.
So are we, each and every day.
Lent is about power.
Power – and about taking it back.

The ancient world looked at the way things were,
and saw all sorts of disembodied
powers and spirits at work.
Maybe they weren’t so far off the mark.

We are ensnared by all sorts of power
that we don’t have mastery of.
This is the landscape of temptation,
this is the terrain of ‘sin’.
This is us not being ourselves,
but caught in the orbit of something
that warps our true shape.

Adam and Eve are confronted
with the lure of one sort of power,
and – as we know – are undone by it.

Jesus is confronted with the lure of power
in several subtle guises,
and is able to recognise what would prevent him being
who and what he truly was.
The devil says to Jesus, “if you are the Son of God”…
And Jesus is not simply offered
food, glory and a chance to prove himself,
his whole mission is questioned.  What is he to be?

Will he be the miracle maker,
turning a stone into bread to feed the very real hunger
that he and others feel?
Is he to be the magician, satisfying desire with a word?
A star?
Jesus says there is more to human existence
than the physical and material.

Will Jesus claim political power for himself?
Glory and authority are there to be grabbed,
untransformed, unredeemed,
if he but denies his real self
and the divine purpose of his ministry.
Jesus points to the One who sent him.

Taken to the centre of the Jewish world, the Temple,
challenged to be exactly the superhero Messiah
his contemporaries expected,
will Jesus reveal himself with power and with signs?
Will he hold his humanity light,
throw himself down,
and have God keep him from hardship and suffering?
Is he to be not super- but in-human?
We know were this story takes us: to Jerusalem, yes,
raised high, but on a Cross.

And before the Cross –
that ultimate confrontation with the powers of this world –
the struggle in the garden
with the cost of being who he claimed to be.

If, in his forty days, Jesus is challenged
to address what it means to be who he will claim to be,
to confront the powers
which threaten to warp our very souls,
how much more is that true for us
in our forty days of Lent?
If nothing else, I would invite you
to travel these desert days with two things.

One, the traditional tasks of this season.
During Lent we are called to three actions or approaches
that challenge power’s expectations:
Prayer.  Fasting.  Almsgiving.

because we often feel we don’t have to talk to anyone,
let alone have any sense of accountability.

Fasting:  because we live in a perpetual sense
of affluence and satisfaction,
and we begin to believe we are totally self-reliant.

Almsgiving:  because we misapprehend
our privilege and prosperity,
and are called to re-evaluate the justice
and the generosity of our lifestyle.
Our focus for generosity should be widespread,
but I would encourage you to remember
both our friends in Christchurch
and our work in Christian Missions this Lent.
The other thing I would invite you to do
this lenten season is to pray one simple prayer.
The prayer in which we ask
to be kept safe from all that tempts.

One of the medieval mystics said,
pray only this prayer, but make it last an hour.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial – lead us not into temptation-
and deliver us from evil.

I would invite you to do,
if nothing else this Lent, simply that.

Sit with that fundamental prayer.
Let each line, word and image resonate within you.

Hear it, pray it, understand it, as if for the first time.

Let the power of familiarity be tempered by intentionality.
And be ready to respond.
For we believe and we pray, The Kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen.


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