Sermon 5 March 2017

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 05 MARCH 2017, LENT I

Listen Here: https://youtu.be/y9Y1iFOh3XA

 

 “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4

 

The streets of London are full of wizards – but fear not!

They are generally diminutive, and mostly accompanied by parents.

Thursday was World Book Day and it seemed like many schools

had declared it the day to come dressed as your favourite book character.

Hence, the 211 bus was packed with Harry Potters, male and female.

JK Rowling’s tales of youthful superpowers – spectacles and spectaculars;

clearly enchanting a new generation.

 

From a more ancient tradition of story-telling, the myth of Antaeus;

son of the giants of the earth.

As I understand it, Antaeus was possessed of enormous muscles.

His superhuman strength had a particular source;

it was gathered and replenished

by resting/sleeping on the ground.

Whenever he battled his enemies,

if they threw him to the floor –

he would immediately bounce back, strength redoubled.

It took Hercules to subdue him – you can guess how.

By holding him aloft; uprooted.

Suspended from the earth, his might drained away.

 

Then, another old story, from this morning’s gospel;

a sketch of the character and core commitments of Jesus.

The first chapters of Matthew introduce the credentials of the messiah –

carefully crafted genealogy, wondrous birth, stars and wise men.

Then to Jordan for baptism;

The note-worthy insistence that John baptise Jesus, not the other way round.

The heavens opening, Spirit-dove descending, and the Voice from heaven:

“This is my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

An epiphany and a covenant.

 

Then, led by the Spirit…the desert; biblically, always a place of struggle.

For Jesus a deliberate drawing aside;

not a hiding place – rather, a place of fierce self-examination.

If I am the messiah – what sort of Messiah will I be?

 

So, to the prize fight in the desert, the combatants circling warily.

We know the Tempter’s punches; we know Jesus’ parries.

Stones, towers, kingdoms – feed; evangelize, rule.

 

The Tempter does not dispute Jesus’ identity/call;

He searches for weakness over means.

On offer – enticing upgrades and short cuts:

Free yourself from human constraints,

insulate yourself from vulnerability,

be powerful, as the world understands power.

A Crown, without the Cross.

Easter, without Good Friday.

 

What happens? The myth of Antaeus tells us how –

removed from the earth, he lost his life force.

Jesus, knowing heaven, keeps his feet on the ground.

 

Matthew’s story warns us Jesus won’t correspond to the Messiah

we often want him to be.

He won’t turn our stones into bread.

He won’t “prove” God to us by spectacular means.

He won’t offer loyalty/worship to the signs of success we so strive after.

 

“We long for a Christ of power,,,

Those who hope for Christ and attempt to exclude the Crucified

have no knowledge of the mystery of God and humanity.” Paul Tillich

 

How does this mystery of God and humanity relate to Faye –

newest baptised member of the church family? To any of us?

Let me try to answer that by describing two moments of recent days

that have felt like, pay attention moments.

 

From the world of mini wizards with which we started.

A school pupil comes home.

Before bedtime there is a melt-down, which eventually prompts the parental question:

Did something happen at school today?

Amid a torrent of tears, it spills out.

“At play time I didn’t have any friends – no one wanted to play with me.”

 

In that particular school playground,

there is a place known as the Buddy Bus Stop.

A child who hasn’t “pal-ed up” waits – and hopefully, before long,

another child comes along and playtime follows.

Only this day – no one stops.

And in the child’s own bruised words:

“It was like I was invisible.”

It is the same lament one hears from the rough sleeper,

the elderly, the below-minimum wage earner.

 

And also the encounter this week, with a professional,

highly educated, globally travelled,

who no sooner than he had taken early retirement,

receives the diagnosis of cancer –

with all its attendant fears, uncertainties, and lack of control.

As he put it: “Our lives have been turned inside out.”

 

How does our story of Jesus in the wilderness, relate to such things?

Because when we welcome Faye into the family of faith, with the waters of baptism, we sign her precious forehead with the sign of the cross – linking her story to all that we know of Christ – from his own baptism to his cross and beyond.

 

The choices Jesus makes in his time of desert discernment

led eventually to that Cross.

Jesus’ refusal to play the wizard

means we have someone who knows us in all our frailty.

We are blessed by Jesus’ miracles of restraint.

It is his standing beside us, that blesses our humanity.

Discarding his own protective armour,

his wounds speak to ours.

A super-hero Christ offers nothing real

to the tearful child or the shaken adult.

Or the fledgling family.

 

But Christ of the Gospels – the mystery of God and humanity –

Christ of the Gospels – the true companion –

in sorrow and joy –

willing us towards abundant life,

however short or uncertain its span;

he has something to say and something to show.

 

For as he stands with us – feet on the ground –

we can do something of the same for others.