Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Sermon Lent 1 2016

Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Luke 4:1-13

“If you are the Son of God” – that’s something the Devil twice says to Jesus in this scene of his temptation in the wilderness. Temptation here means testing in the sense of probing something to find out what it is. “Who are you?” The testing of Jesus hinges on his identity. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Son of God?

The Devil proposes to Jesus that if he is the Son of God, he could do anything he likes. He’s the boss! But Jesus always replies by quoting scripture. The question of who he is has to be referred back to Israel’s story, and their call to dependence on God alone, their need to trust in God alone as saviour. Jesus being the Son of God is the culmination of that story, the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation for his people. So it is only intelligible to say that Jesus is the Son of God in the context of the story of salvation of God’s people. Jesus cannot invent his own understanding of being the Son of God, which is what the Devil wants him to do.

The testing of Jesus is more than just his temptation as an individual. He is here as the new Adam, the representative human, the one who is to re-found the human race. The first Adam failed when he was tested by the serpent in Paradise, and he was driven out into the wilderness. Jesus now goes voluntarily into the wilderness to be temped in his turn, but he will not fail, and by his victory over the Devil he will open Paradise to humanity again.

Like Jesus, we need to remember the story of our salvation. The question of our identity, who we most deeply are, is intelligible only as part of the bigger story of God with us, God working through history to save us. God is our creator and we depend on him for our very existence. If we forget that, we are in danger of losing our identity as well.

The reading from Deuteronomy this morning reminds us of that. It begins “‘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”. That’s the point of danger. Because when you possess everything, you can forget who gave it to you. You can forget who saved you. The temptation, then, is to say, all this is mine, I can do what I like! Just the same temptation, in another guise, that the Devil presents to Jesus.

And the way to resist that temptation is to remember your story. The people of Israel were instructed to recite it as they presented the first fruits of the land to the Lord their 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”. And the recitation goes on, detailing the story of God’s intervening to save his people. It is a thanksgiving, a liturgy, a Eucharistic prayer. This is who you are. Remember. Because you cannot know who you are apart from the story of how God is saving you.

This remains true. The story of salvation that began with Israel continues with the Church throughout the world. And for us, as for the Children of Israel, we need to remember our story, remember that it is God who has saved and redeemed us, remember that we depend on God for everything.

The temptation that came to Jesus will come to us too in many guises. The temptation to say, “all this is mine, I can do what I want!” The temptation to invent ourselves, as if we could, to determine our own identity without God.

It is essential, then, that the Church remembers its own story. It is essential that we remember who we are, which is something we can only do if we remember ourselves with God. The Church must remember its own story. It cannot invest itself, or start doing its own thing apart from God, because if we do that we will simply cease to be the Church.

This is what we do every week in the Eucharist, this memorial that Jesus has given us, through which we are embedded in the story of our salvation. It is here above all that we discover who we are, the Body of Christ.

But we do it also in more particular ways, through inhabiting our identity with the whole Church and its story. Here at St Peter le Poer, we are a parish of the Church of England, a part of the one universal church of Jesus Christ, brought to these shores not by a wandering Aramean but by a wandering Italian, Augustine, the missionary from Rome who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. To understand truly who we are we need to understand what it means to be part of that particular church, living that particular story. That is something we shall go into more deeply after Mass today.

So, when we finish Mass grab a cup of coffee and bring it back into church, and we’ll start coffee and chat promptly at 12.15, and aim to finish at 12.45.  I’m going to attempt a whirlwind history of the Church of England, you can have your stopwatches at the ready, and we’ll then have some time to reflect on the connections that makes for us here.

“A wandering Italian was my ancestor; he went down into England and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation.”

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