Lent 1 ~ Which God Do We Worship?

March 5, 2017

Readings: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 – Romans 5: 12-19 ­­– Matthew 4:1-11

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted by the devil. And we might wonder why? After all, Jesus has just been baptised and claimed as God’s pleasing beloved. He seems to know who he is and why he’s here – his purpose in life- why not just let him get on with it?

One thought is that the gospel writers are intentionally invoking thoughts of Moses who also fasted 40 days and nights as he prepared to receive the Ten Commandments and lead the people to the land of promise.  Might it also be that even Jesus needs to wrestle with the temptation to misuse his power for personal comfort, exploit his relationship with God for the thrill of wowing the people or change his loyalty for a seemingly easier path with better benefits?

Maybe this time of wrestling with temptation in the wilderness is meant to prepare Jesus for the road ahead. Maybe, the Holy Spirit is making sure Jesus is well grounded in God and God’s way before he steps out into a world that encourages the abuse of power, misguided shortcuts and shifting loyalties.

Now we are so used to hearing this as story as the temptations of Jesus that we forget that its also a warning to us of the importance of having a good sense of who we are and our purpose in life – and of keeping ourselves grounded in God so that we are not easily side tracked or misled.

And therein lies part of our challenge today. Many people don’t know who they are or why they’re here – and carry images or understandings of God that are seriously flawed or shallow.

To loosely quote Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar and priest, this is important because

We become the God we worship. In other words, our image of God creates us. If we get the image of God wrong, everything else that builds on it is going to be rather inadequate. And that has been especially true in Western Christianity.  

The operative image of God for most Christians (except for the mystics) is a powerful monarch, usually an old white man sitting on a throne –something akin to Zeus – the ancient Greek God of the sky and Olympus. *

 Rohr goes on to say,

At the risk of shocking you, let me say that Christianity hasn’t moved much beyond the mythological image of Zeus. Yet this is not the image of God revealed to us by Jesus, a vulnerable baby born in an occupied and oppressed land; a refugee; a humble carpenter whose friends were fishermen, prostitutes, and tax-collectors; a political criminal executed on a cross. In other words, Jesus shows a vulnerable God much more than the almighty one Christians often assume.

Two thousand years after the revelation of God in Christ, most of Christianity is still quite immature in terms of its ability to process what Jesus taught & demonstrated. *

*Trinity: Week 1. The Nature of Being (Centre for Action and Contemplation. Wednesday March 1, 2017). Available at: http://cac.org/the-nature-of-being-2017-03-01/

Okay, so pretty strong words for us to hear – hopefully strong enough to make us want to re examine our understanding or image of God as we take a walk with Jesus through the Lenten wilderness.

Who God is to us and how we understand our relationship with that God is the central part of our faith life because it affects the way we live our lives. And how we live our lives is important.

Jesus wrestles with the temptation to misuse and cheat his way through and thereby serve a false god, with little to offer. But he has a living relationship with God, is well versed in scripture, and knows the importance of his mission.

Yesterday, some of the nearby parishes came here to get to know one another and consider if there are things we can do together – ways in which we can use our resources for the good of the common wealth of God.   As a parish, we are trying to discern what God wants from us and we are trying to make decisions that are not only concerned with our own comfort but with the good of the whole.

In Genesis we are told that the original purpose of humankind is to till and keep the garden. In other words, we are here to tend the earth-not exploit or destroy it for our own gain. That would be to give in to the tempter.

Just like Jesus, we live in a world that encourages the abuse of power, misguided shortcuts and shifting loyalties. How we choose to live our lives is up to us. But if we want to try and avoid living what Pope Francis calls a double life, we need to make sure that we stay grounded in God and the way of Jesus Christ. That gives us a way to filter out decisions / choices that fail to take into account love of God, care of neighbour and planet earth.

Jesus knows that Moses brought water out of a rock – and he also knows that it was to quench the thirst of the Israelites in the wilderness – not self comfort.

Jesus resists the temptation to coerce God into a Superman moment in order to dazzle the people because he knows God doesn’t work like that.  And he knows the importance of putting God first, even when its hard to do so.

Our questions to ponder /wrestle with this week:

  1. Who is God for you? What kind of God do you serve? And who are you in relation to that God?
  2. How do we deal – both as church and as individuals – with the temptation to use our gifts and resources just for our own comfort?
  3. When it comes to God and church, are we more interested in and attracted to the show or to the actual worship, mission and ministry of the church?

It’s not much fun spending time in the wilderness. In fact, sometimes we have to die to ourselves in order to live for Christ. And evolve into what God has in mind for us now in our journey with Jesus and each other.

It’s not always fun. But it can be healing and enlightening and life-giving if we are willing to follow Jesus down that road.

Pat Martin +