As I noted in a previous post Tripp who was slated to preach at Reconciler on Sunday fell ill and I chose to take on the task of preparing and preaching a sermon at short notice. Needless to say I did not attempt to write a manuscript. The responce from most everyone in attendance last night was such that I thought there might be something to glean for people from the notes alongside the scripture texts that I took into the pulpit with me last night. So here it is I hope you enjoy. (LEK 2/26/2007
First Lent: The Language of our Identity
Monte and Journey, but were not on a journey, time will pass and we will find ourselves at Easter. “Journey” attempts to tell us something about Lent that is other than what Lent is. Lent is understood by what it is not!
One may say this is poetic or metaphoric language. Yet we speak not simply to be poetic, the art of Christian language of religious language is to hear the word of God by speaking otherwise. We come to our identity through affirming who we are not.
The language, or the way of speaking in our three texts is perhaps interesting in several ways:
Scripture and the experience of the people of God are used both to thwart and affirm God’s will.
Second words of scripture are used to identify ourselves with God through connecting what is said of Jesus Christ with a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Lastly the people of God are told to identify themselves by what they are not, so they can be who they truly are.
God is described in ways that can seem contradictory to us.
The Word used to protect and to destroy.
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
4:2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
The experience of God’s people wandering in the desert, Israel the Son of god. Manna and rock that brings watter.
4:3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread."
Jesus is not being more wholistic in his use of scripture, in fact he in some sense uses a proof texts to combat an interpretation based on simile: Israel wandered in the derert you are Israel, the Son of God, this is appropriate for you to do as the Son of God. But Jesus here give priority to God, over his own experience. The devils words seek to affirm that God would relieve him of hunger in the desert, or allow him to do so. Jesus simply affirms dependence on God.
4:4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"
This is not an unwarranted conclusion from various texts in portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. Again here the devil is not quoting scripture but it is like the first temptation an extrapolation, perhaps even a contextualization an interpretation that could be.
4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
4:6 And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.
4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."
One may say this is an easy retort, obvious, but the implication of the devils words are that this is the order God has given, that could be backed up by scripture. Note that Jesus does not seek to deny that the devil has this power, nor that god hasn’t so given to the devil the arena of political power in human affairs. Only that even if that’s true Scripture is still clear, one can only give oneself over to God and no one else. No one else has power over us in any ultimate sense. The Devils control is provisional as the devil recognizes
4:8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
4:9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
4:10 for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,'
4:11 and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
Here the Devil finally quotes from scripture, up until now there has only been allusion, in fact it is the quote from the psalm we prayed today
4:12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
The Word identifies us in our words.
Romans 10:8b "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
10:9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10:10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
10:11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."
10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
10:13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Salvation is to be identified by the Word of God. Christ Temptation in the desert is the beginning of our understanding of how to live by the words that come from the Mouth of God.
Speaking who we are not in agreement with God.
26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,
26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us."
26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,
26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.
So far what is spoken is expecte it is memory, this is in the past, but then the ritual changes, and for perpetuity this is spoken as if it is always the present, and the experience of those who are offering the first fruits.
26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,
26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;
26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Then we return to the first person singular.
26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.
26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
I and we know who we are by identifying with that which we are not. Lent is a journey to that place that transforms us into Christ. We are not Christ, and yet we are all little Christs, we are not the Son of God, but we are the children of God, may I say the Son’s of God.
God’s word identifies us and the world.
God and God’s Word as refuge, covering like a mother birds feathers
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
91:2 will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust."
91:9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
91:10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
91:12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
91:13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
Yet what we find in this psalm are two images, one of the protective care of a bird for her young, the overshadowing is that protective sheltering care, which for the psalmist moves easily into militaristic conceptions of a fortress, and armies. We in our conceptualization divide the two.
God is not a mother bird, but there is something of the way a mother bird protects her young that tells us about God.
The one offering the the first fruits off the land did not experience slavery in Egypt (not even the first Israelites to enter the land had known slavery in Egypt for that generation died wandering in the desert for 40 years) yet these agricultural free Israelites were to for perpetuity identify as slaves freed from slavery, they are who they are not, because it is this fact of beign freed from slavery in Egypt that is constitutive of who they are as the people of God, Israel.
Gods word identifies them in a particular way that is other than they are, This is a process of the Word being near to us through confession and faith, we are brought near to God, by being defined by the Word. Our identity comes from something other than ourselves, we speak words foreign to ourselves.
The problem comes though that this operation of the language of faith is not magical, it can be abused as Satan does in his temptation of jesus in the desert. This is why the tradition of the Church warns us away from trusting our experiences. The devil can cause us to make too much of our experience of God, our own sense of urgency and political expediency, our own confidence that our experience of God, should define our language and concepts about God.
My Sisters and Brothers, we are all here called out from who we are to be who we are not. We are here to be formed by the Word of God, we are not the measure of this But god is the measure. God is beyond our language and yet we must speak what God is not to learn who God is. We must conform ourselves to the revelation of God, be aware that some will abuse that very revelation in an attempt to enslave us. We in the end can also enslave ourselves if we give priority to our won experience and grasp to tightly to our identity.