Sunday, January 20, 2019

Temptation


Matthew 4:1-17

Back in the early years of my ministry,
I led a group of senior high youth through a 30 hour fast.
It was a trend among youth groups at the time,
we got people to support our fasting
by donating money to the cause
which sent resources to a community
in the developing world that faced starvation.

We ate a generous lunch on our own on a Friday afternoon and then gathered at the church that evening for a lock-in.  We filled our time with conversation,
bible study, service and
education on the multifaceted structures that led to extreme poverty.

In the afternoon around hour 27
we went to a local park,
it was in February, during a rare thaw. 
The temperature soared to the mid 60s,
in a time when the average was around 30,
so everyone and I mean absolutely everyone,
was outside enjoying a brief break
from the blistering cold grey days of winter. 
The sun was shining,
the birds were chirping,
dogs were happily playing fetch
and every single family gathering there was grilling.
And there were a lot of people in the park.

We laid in the grass,
watching the clouds pass by,
stomachs growling,
hunger pains ensuing,
as the delicious aroma of food filled our nostrils.
A veritable temptation indeed.
We could taste the cooking delicacies.

Peer pressure worked in a positive way,
we had committed to our donors not to eat and we only had a few hours left. We could make it.
Yet we wallowed in the irony of it all.
It seemed as if we could not escape food.

If you have ever fasted before,
you may know that it is ridiculous how much you think about food.

We broke our fast with the associate pastor of the church at the end of hour 30.
She joined us with large loaves of freshly baked French bread and jugs of grape juice.

We were each given sizeable hunks of bread
and generous glasses of grape juice to wash it down
as she blessed the bread, juice and our community.
The familiar liturgy of blessing and breaking took on new significance.
An abundant feast of bread and cup. 
Communion had never tasted so good before.

Surely Jesus knew all too well what hunger felt like after 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
A nuanced challenge grounded
in an ancient story of hungry sojourners in the wilderness, longing for the former days of slavery
and the provisions of Pharaoh …
IF you are the Son of God,
IF you are the beloved,
worthy of doves descending and God proclaiming,
then prove it,
why don’t you just feed yourself?

Jesus sustains three temptations at the end of 40 days of fasting, to teach us many things …
the one I want to reflect on is that he is present in our temptations,
our temptations to be self-reliant (not in a “good job you made your own bed way”, but in a “I don’t need the help of anyone to make it in the world way.”) In other words self-reliant at the cost of community. 

He is present in our temptation to place ourselves
above others and use that place to exploit
those with lesser means;

and he is present in the temptation
to be bigger than the world, to seek
someone other than God first and foremost.

These temptations literally remove us from the beloved community that we are kneaded into. 

He is present because he has been there. 
This is what it means that God-is-with-us, Emmanuel.
The struggle then isn’t to avoid temptation but
To change our perspective and to see it as an opportunity to seek out God’s presence in the midst of our wilderness moments.


Monday, January 14, 2019

The baptism of Jesus


Matthew 3

The church tells the story of Jesus’ baptism
every year during the season of Epiphany.

In the early church, baptismal candidates
would be in prayer all night with the community
at the end of their catechism,
so that at dawn they could stand on the edge of the water
and boldly renounce anything and everything
in our world that claims us as something less
than a beloved child of God,
before immersing themselves in baptismal water. 
Dying to their old self and rising a new.

In baptism we claim what we know to be true, that God claims us as beloved.

I grew up in a church that baptized babies and confirmed teenagers.  When I was a young child,
my mother volunteered at the church. 
I have this vivid memory of my mom filling up a golden pitcher
with water from a water fountain in the basement of the church opposite the old serving counter
of the first kitchen in the church. 
Too short to see over the counter and peer into its darkness,
the location was lost on me.
The kitchen had long been abandoned
to the newer updated one in the larger expansive fellowship hall.  Since she was using a water fountain
tucked away and no longer used,
in an unfamiliar part of the expansive building,
in my younger self I imagined
none of the practicalities that I have mentioned
but believed that the fountain was reserved for filling this golden pitcher for baptism because it held within holy water. 
In my young mind, baptismal water had to be holy and special.

It wasn’t until I was an intern at my home church during seminary that I stumbled across the old water fountain
and my childhood memory returned.
Eyes now able to see the bigger picture.
Old abandoned kitchen.
It all became clear.
The fountain and its proximity to the chapel.
 How silly I was to think that the water was holy. 
Clearly it is just good old city water,
treated with some chemicals and cooled inside the fountain. 
But is it just good old water?

Isn’t the scandal of the Good News finding God in the ordinary elements of our world, in broken bread and poured out wine, in water offered to mark new life?
Of finding God
in the valleys,
on the mountain tops, and
in hidden away spaces no longer used or useful to the masses.
Of hearing the invitation to be part of a beloved community, led by the incarnate God who is willing to stand in line along with us, as we wait our turn, to feel the muddy bottom of the river bottom, with river current upsetting our balance.

Easter ... ready ... set ... go!

Matthew 28:1-10 About three years ago I committed to the Narrative Lectionary.   It is a four-year cycle that takes the congregation t...