10th March 2019 Lent 1 C Remembering our identity
‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt…
The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm… Deuteronomy 26: 5, 8
‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Romans 10:13
‘If you are the Son of God, … Luke 4:3, 9
“If you, then, will worship me, … Luke 4: 7
In our passage from Deuteronomy we hear the liturgy of thanksgiving for the harvest festival in Israel. Part of the liturgy is the creedal statement that reminds each person bringing their produce exactly who they are. They are descendants of Abraham who was a wondering Aramean. They are descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson who went down to Egypt. And they are descendants of those who followed Moses out of Egypt and finally into the Promised Land. Knowing exactly who they are makes sense of the act of giving the produce as a thank offering. The Lord has blessed the descendants of Abraham, led them out of slavery with Moses and continues to bless and provide for them in the promised land.
In his letter to the Romans Paul is keen to let the Christians know that it does not matter if they are Jews by birth or Gentiles. It is their faith in the Lord Jesus that gives them their identity as Children of God. I love Paul’s powerful conviction of the bond between us and Christ. He writes:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul wants us to know that our roots as Christians go deep into the soil of Hebrew faith connecting us with Abraham and those who fled Egypt and became the people of Israel. Even more importantly our identity as Children of God is based on Jesus Christ and the grace of God. It is in Christ that we are made children of God.
Now why hark on about our identity? I felt that was important because as we see with the temptations of Jesus, the very thing that is undemanded by temptation is our identity. Remember prior to heading out into the wilderness Jesus was baptised by John. He heard the voice, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Luke 3:22) Remember his experience of the Holy Spirit descending on him. Luke then goes on to underline Jesus identity by giving us Jesus’ genealogy going right back to Adam and to God. [Luke didn’t get the email reminding him that this reading would come up two days after international Women’s day, so he doesn’t mention any women. Matthew has four women, Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.]
But in the wilderness temptation story Satan says if you are the son of God, make bread from stone, jump of the temple and God will catch you. And he says turn your back on God and you will have all power and authority. The Lutheran Scholar David Lose describes it as “Identity Theft”. He says
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, that is, Jesus is reminded not only that he has enough and is enough but that he is of infinite worth in the eyes of God.
If you don’t hear anything else today, then hear this: Like Jesus we are rooted and grounded in the faith of the Hebrew people that nurtures us in the Hebrew Scriptures. On top of that we have the Christian Scriptures that we are immersed in. So like Jesus we are reminded that we have enough, we are enough, and we are of infinite worth in the eyes of God. So, let those temptations to purchase the half price chocolate or to have one cup of coffee or whatever, to remind you of your infinite worth in the eyes of God.
Jesus resists the temptations and grows in his deep identity as the Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit with a vocation to proclaim Good News to the poor. Luke underlines Jesus’ identity once more after leaving the wilderness. Jesus moves around Galilee preaching in their synagogues. It is in the Synagogue of Nazareth we hear him read from the Prophet Isaiah:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
Another important part of Jesus identity only comes out as we read the stories of Jesus ministry and teaching. In our study on Wednesday on forgiveness the author Wuellner points to “forgiveness” at the core of Jesus identity. She says Jesus forgave from the heart.
More deeply than mere words, he forgave, even when forgiveness was not asked. He healed the sick servant of the Roman centurion with no questions asked. (remember the Romans were the occupying Army in Israel.) One of his brothers James became one of his disciples. (Remember the story in Mark’s Gospel of the family wanting to detain him because they thought he was deranged.) On the night in which he was betrayed be broke and shared bread with all his disciples – knowing that one would betray him, another deny him, and that all would flee.
Wuellner’s list keeps on going. But again the point she really wants us to hear is that we too can begin the journey of forgiveness not because we have forgiveness at the very core of our being but we because we can be immersed in lifegiving stream that is God’s love and forgiveness. She says you can’t forgive in your own will power.
The realm of God’s merciful empowerment already surrounds, embraces us and springs up within us. Our ability to forgive flows from our increasing oneness with that realm.
Forgiveness… is God’s power flowing towards us, in us, through us, like a mighty river. When we start the journey of forgiveness we enter that great current.
In a moment after some silence we will say our creed together. Hopefully it will remind us of our identity as beloved children of God. During Lent we will never-the-less be conscious of temptations that will try to undermine our relationship with God. We may be seduced by power, or glory, or security, the highs of various addictions or the desire to hold onto anger, or just plain food. Each will satisfy a perceived need while leaving us empty the next day. Each seduction will turn us away from our deep identity in Christ Jesus. As we resist temptations and know ourselves to have enough, to be enough and to be of infinite worth in God’s eyes, we then grow to be more and more like Christ and generous forgiveness bubbles up within us naturally.
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