Lent One

Sermon Title: LENT ONE
Date: 14th February 2016
Preacher: Revd. Susanne Chambers
Lectionary Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 4:1-15

I am a loved child of God.  You are a loved child of God. Can we hold onto this truth and to know for sure where our identity comes from?

I want to begin with Moses. From the book of Deuteronomy we hear the words from Moses who revisits instructions for the celebration of the Feast of Weeks which he first talked about ten chapters earlier.  The Israelites were to celebrate the first harvest “by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you” (16:10). What we heard read today was the actual liturgy for that first-fruits celebration ritual.

“Picture the worshiping Israelite standing in the Yahweh-sanctuary, holding a basket filled with yield from the harvest.  As the priest receives the basket and lays it down in front of the altar, we can hear the worshiping Israelite offer the liturgical recitation along with the first fruits.

The recitation reviews the saving actions of God, reaching back through the story of the ancestors:

  • Their initial homelessness (“a wandering Aramean was my father [ancestor]”);
  • Their migration to Egypt (“lived there as an alien”);
  • Their suffering there (“treated us harshly and afflicted us”);
  • Their cry to God for redemption (“we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors”);
  • Their redemption out of enslavement (“the Lord brought us out of Egypt”);
  • Their settling into a fertile land (“flowing with milk and honey”).

This was an instructive vision of what it means to be the people of God.

During this ritual the worshiping Israelite identifies with the ancestors not according to any power or glory attributed to them, but rather in their powerlessness (“afflicted us, heard our cry, brought us out”). More than anything else, the liturgy celebrates the faithfulness of God, as it is manifest in the rescue of the powerless.”[i]

The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, we have heard many times before and we have probably seen the movie.  He was tempted for the 40 days and we actually only hear about the last three. Jesus, having not eaten during that time, would have been in a vulnerable state….and the devil knew this.  The devil begins each of these three temptation with ‘if you’ are the Son of God, trying to undermine Jesus’ identity straight away.

The three temptations: There is the promise of bread when he was hungry, and Jesus responds with an affirmation of trust in God. Then the promise of glory and power of all the world, and Jesus responds that he will serve only God the one who gave him his identity and the last temptation was the promise of rescue paired with the suggestion that God is not sufficient to keep Jesus safe and Jesus responds by refusing to put his relationship with God to the test.

“In each case, the devil seeks to undermine Jesus’ confidence in both God and himself. He seeks, that is, to erode Jesus’ confidence that he is enough, that he is secure, that he is worthy of God’s love. And in the face of these temptations, Jesus quotes the sacred story of Israel in order to assert that he is a part of that story and therefore reaffirm his identity as a child of God. Rooted in the Scriptures, Jesus is reminded not only that he has enough and is enough but that he is of infinite worth in the eyes of God.”[ii]

The worshiping Israelite recites, and remembers the saving actions of God, reaching back through the story of the ancestors.

We too, in our liturgy, recite and remember God’s actions through our ancestors in the Scriptures and also through the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian community over the centuries. For example, our Collect for Purity we say at the beginning of this service (almighty God, to whom all hearts are open), was writing in Latin about the 11th century.  A beautiful prayer.

This is our story. We are part of the story and nothing can take that away from us; except the temptations to say we are not enough, don’t have enough. And so scarcity and fear fill us instead of a sense of abundance and courage and knowing we are of infinite worth in the eyes of God.

Every day we are tempted to draw our allegiance from God towards some substitute. It’s sometimes very subtle.  Other times very obvious. The temptations could be around confidence, fame, and security. Or those statements from people who are angry at the violence in the world and attack us: ‘If you are a Christian, how come?…why does? All these temptations can undermine our identity as Christ followers; and can cause us to question, to fear.

On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another they are all the same, as they seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more secure identity.

The season of Lent is a good time to sit quietly each day and remember the ancient stories, remember that God loves everyone very much. Right from the beginning of creation. Everything God created, God said it was good, including us!

We often focus in Lent on things we shouldn’t do, or cut down/fast from sweets or alcohol. I’m not knocking this.

I wonder though, if you could also or instead, remind each other and ourselves of the love and grace of God we know through Jesus.

Most of us have been baptised and when you were baptised, the sign of the cross was marked on your foreheads to say that you are God’s loved child forever.

Can you really believe that?

I would like you now to do something.  Turn to the person beside you and trace the cross on their foreheads and say to them “you are a loved child of God”.

God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what, and for this reason we are enough. I know that I need to hear this declared again and again!

So let’s spend a moment to trace the cross on someone’s forehead and say the words: “You are a loved child of God”.

We are each holy and precious in God’s sight.  Believe it. Meditate on it.  And I believe that as we come to accept this truth more and more it will change us, transform us and consequently how we relate to others and our earth-world.

The Lord be with you.

[i] Commentary on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 by William Yarchin: working preacher website 2016

[ii] David Lose: In the Meantime 2016