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

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Homily Lent 1 2017

Romans 5.12-19
Matthew 4.1-11

Through Lent this year we’re going to be looking at different aspects of what it means for us to flourish as a church. So there’ll be a short homily from me and then some time to talk together in twos or threes as you reflect on the readings and what they might mean for us.
Today we begin with Jesus. To consider what it means for us to flourish, we need first to look at the question of what it means for him to flourish. That’s the because the mission of the Church is the mission of Jesus. “As the Father sent me, so I send you”, as he says to the disciples at the end of John’s Gospel.
The mission of Jesus, as St Paul says in the letter to the Romans this morning, is to make many righteous by his obedience. That is to say, humanity, estranged from God by sin, is to be put right with God by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in accordance with the Father’s will. Jesus is the new Adam, the new archetypal human who, unlike the first one, will not go wrong. And all who believe and are baptized are adopted by grace, in him, as part of the new Adam, the new humanity redeemed from sin.
Obedience involves choice. And that choice, for Jesus, must be completely free, made with the full knowledge and consent of his will. And so it is necessary that his choice be tested, to find out if it is free and real.
So Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. God’s Spirit is called in Scripture the comforter, the advocate, the one who comes alongside when we are accused. But sometimes to do that the Spirit needs to take us out of our comfort zone.
To be led into the wilderness is to leave behind comfort, security and certainty. There are no signposts in the desert, no direction to follow, none of the props we fall back to avoid hard reality. There is just us, and God, and the tempter who tests and probes us to see if we are genuine, to see what really is there behind the façade we wear in the world.
Jesus faces three temptations, three tests of his genuineness. And these are in different ways part of the testing that the Church too undergoes as we follow in the mission we have received from Jesus.
First, “Command these stones to become bread”. Here is a temptation to provide. There’s a problem, so fix it! Go on, you know you can!
But Jesus knows this is a temptation to turn away from the Father who provides all that we need. It’s a temptation to stop trusting. It’s a temptation to put himself at the centre. And so he counters by quoting scripture, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He refuses to turn away from the Father and depend on his own resources.
In the life of the Church too we can be tempted like that. We want to fix everything, to provide what everyone needs ourselves. But we need to know that we can’t fix everything, we can’t provide everything. We have to wait in trust on God.
The second temptation, throw yourself down from the pinnacle. Go on, you’re the Son of God, prove it. Put on a show. Convince everyone. That way, everyone will come to believe – and that’s what you want, isn’t it?
In the life of the church this is a temptation to perform, the desire to be a success, to be noticed. If in our mission we determine beforehand what results we are going to achieve, if we refuse to accept the possibility of failure and loss, are we not doing just that?
Jesus says, “do not put the Lord your God to the test”. Our task is not to save the church but to be faithful witnesses. If we are obedient to the Father’s will, then we can safely leave the fruits of our obedience to God, and he will produce those fruits, but in his way and his time.
The last temptation: “all this I will give you”, all the world and its splendour. This is the temptation to possess. For us the glory days of Christendom are in the past. Those days when the church had a sense of entitlement to its assured position and power in society.
But I’m not sure that we’ve left those days behind altogether willingly. Metropolitan Anthony, the great Russian Orthodox spiritual guide, said “the Church must be as powerless as God”. And God does indeed make himself powerless in the world. How resistant we can be to that idea. How much we want God to assert and impose himself, through his Church!
In a largely post-Christian and plural society the Church must be a humble servant presence. Our task is to be a creative minority, the committed community of faith serving as a beacon and a compass point for all those of good will, but not imposing itself by right. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”, says Jesus. Our task is not to point to ourselves, but to God alone.
So we have three temptations, the temptations of Jesus and therefore of his church: to provide, to perform, to possess. There are brief notes in the pew sheet (here) after the Gospel reading as pointers for discussion. In twos and three then, please reflect on two questions:

·      Can we see these temptations in the life and mission of our own church?

·      What answer might we give – what do we, as a church, really need?

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