READINGS: Genesis 9: 8-17 ~ 1 Peter 3:18-22 ~ Mark 1: 9-15
The writer of today’s gospel is a person of very few words. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who go into great storytelling detail about the temptations of Jesus, Mark’s gospel simply says, Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. And leaves the rest to our imagination.
And the truth is, there is lot for us to wrestle as we join Jesus in the Lenten wilderness. Today, I am looking at our struggle with temptation from the perspective of our Ash Wednesday litany of repentance and Yuval Noah Harari’s international bestseller, Sapiens: a brief history of humankind (McClelland & Stewart, 2014).
The jacket of Sapiens claims that it Astonishes with its scope and imagination … is brilliantly clear and erudite. And while all this is true, it is also a rather long, uncomfortable and somewhat sobering read that points out how our history, our cultural view of the world and our place in it, impacts the way we think and live, often even more so than our religion.
Take, for example, our understanding of our role as stewards of creation. Our scriptures tell us that God considers creation to be very good. In our first reading we hear God establish a covenant with Noah and his descendants and with every living creature on earth. Five times we hear God repeat that the covenant is with all flesh on the earth – not just humankind. Yet, we have a tendency to forgot that second part and think that we are more important than any other living creature or this planet.
Historically, humankind has not been good stewards of creation. For many years, even people of faith believed that having dominion over creation meant we could do anything we want with it. Including exploit and destroy. Only recently have we come to realize how important it is that we change our ways and becomes responsible caretakers even when it is not convenient, comfortable or profitable to do so. (e.g. pipeline struggle)
The final piece of our Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence asks God to accept our repentance for our waste and pollution of God’s creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us. As we move into this Lenten season, it is good for us to ponder, both as individuals and as a community how to better live out our baptismal promise to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
Well, I am only half way through Harari’s book, but the part that brought me up short was his insights on how our cultural world view influences the way we treat each other, even when we are not aware of it. And again … often even more so than our faith.
It goes something like this: in order to get a large group of people (more than 150) to work together, there needs to be a common understanding or story that people can buy into and allow to influence their behaviour. The Jesus story holds together Christians around the world.
But often of greater influence is the story of our culture. The most effective way of keeping a group working together is by convincing everyone in that group that outsiders are a source of pollution, (See Sapiens, p. 139). And then you perpetuate and justify that myth.
For example, countries that used to practice segregation did so on the premise that integration would contaminate the supposed superior race. In the States and beyond, Caucasians (white folk) were led to believe that black people were mentally and morally inferior. All this was meant to justify keeping black people poor and less educated, which meant that they didn’t fair as well, which only reinforced cultural prejudices. It was and still is a vicious cycle.
For those claiming a Christian faith, this practice was justified by a misuse of scripture, claiming that people with dark skin are descendants of Canaan, the grandson whom Noah cursed as the lowest of slaves to his brothers. We are quite happy to use God, nature or scripture to justify our prejudices. European settlers used a similar approach to justify our mistreatment of our First Nations, Inuit and Metis brothers and sisters. How many times have we heard something like, They are just ignorant savages? And that became justification to treat them as inferior and not entitled to white privilege. And for the longest time, we used the same approach with members of the GLBTQ community…deeming them ‘unnatural.’
All this to say that if we are going to live up to our baptismal vows and practice the great commandment to love God and care for neighbour, we need to be aware of how our cultural prejudices influence the way we live out our lives and our faith. We have always known that things like pride, impatience, envy, self indulgent appetites, and intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts can lure us into thinking we are somehow more deserving
than others. And that can give way to some uncharitable thoughts and prejudices – which opens the door to hostility, manipulation, exploitation and indifference to injustice and cruelty. Now that we know that many of our prejudices are learned and justified in our particular culture, we can wrestle against them. This is actually a message of hope.
Interestingly enough, we have seen similar behaviour inside our churches. In our history, it is not uncommon for one denomination to be segregated from another on the premise that the other was somehow impure or deficient and therefor, a threat. And it happens within a church, when one group believes their prayer book or type of music is somehow superior.
Two of the things that I love about the Anglican way is our strong belief in the goodness of God’s creation and the call to social responsibility. As part of God’s good creation, we are confident that God can bring us to our full potential as members of God’s human family. Yes, we sin but we are not inherently evil. We are capable of repentance. Repentance implies we are ready to turn around and change our ways. But in order to do that we have to be aware that we are going in the wrong direction.
We are at a unique time in human a history. A time when we get to reconsider everything. And that can be terrifying. Or it can be hope filled for a better way.
Hopefully we will take our lead from Jesus. His challenge was to figure out how to live out his ministry in a way that is good with God and respectful of the free will and dignity of people. He leaves the wilderness knowing that the path before him will be hard and uncomfortable. But he also knows the way of the Lord will be the way of compassion and integrity and good news for all.
Self-examination and wrestling with temptation is never fun but it’s a really good starting point for our journey of repentance and renewal. And if we truly want to reconnect with the path of Jesus, to let it be the way that influences the way we live, then we need to follow his example, the way of prayer, integrity, self discipline and and sacrifice.
Here are a few suggestions:
Begin each day by grounding ourselves in God in prayer- a daily reminder of our prime directive to love God and neighbour.
Try to walk each day with compassion and integrity – considering our own biases and the possible unintended consequences of our actions.
Since our covenant with God is also linked to God’s covenant with all creation let’s do something that is good for the environment this week and beyond.
Other Lenten resources available (at the back of the church, and on our website under Resources)
The kingdom of God has come near. Let us repent and believe the good news. Amen.