Sunday, March 1, 2020

OOOH, The humanity!

Fred Craddock shares this story;

“I began my ministry in Appalachia. The majority of the congregation served could not read and write. I appointed myself, while I was there, economic adviser.  These people lived in what the government called a ‘Pocket of Poverty.’ Very small incomes. They got those little checks, those measly little checks, and invariably spent part of it buying flowers, or whatnots to hang on the wall, or baubles of some sort. I would argue with those people. I’d say, ‘Look, why should roses and petunias cover the ground when you could plant potatoes and onions and feed your kids?’ So impractical. So impractical, the little trinkets on the wall, and those beads, and there’s a man with a little thing hanging down from his bib overalls on his chain. It cost him three dollars - It’s nothing, it’s a trinket.
            One day I was fussing at Miss Glover. She didn’t have the money, and there she was with some little something; you couldn’t eat it, you couldn’t play with it, you couldn’t do anything but look at it. And I said, ‘Miss Glover, it’s a waste. You can’t afford that!’ She looked at me and said, ‘Brother Craddock, everybody’s got to have some pretties.’ Now you would say it another way, but if your understanding of human nature is the being who traces the course of the stars, thinks the thoughts of God after God, understands the Pleiades, sings, dances, writes poetry and music, then she’s right for you too. Everybody’s got to have some pretties. Once in a while, pretty rare I must admit, I would have a phrase or a line in one of my sermon, and I noticed the people repeating them. I’d go down to the store and somebody would say a line from my sermon. And in conversation, maybe months later, somebody would be saying that line. Why? Because that was the one true thing that I said? It wasn’t because it was true. It was the way it sounded. It was true, but it was the way it sounded.
            I remember what Miss Glover said; ‘Everybody’s got to have some pretties.’ That’s not decoration; that’s not embroidery; that is a fundamental human need. T.S. Eliot said of poetry, ‘Poetry is not simply the assertation of something being true, but the making of that truth more real for all of us.’[1]

Today’s Gospel is about making the truth more real for all of us.  What is that Truth? Jesus is fully human. Today’s Gospel points to Christ’s humanity but in that humanity Christ’s divinity is also affirmed.

“On this first Sunday in Lent, we follow Jesus into the wilderness, and watch as the Son of God confronts the fullness of his humanity.  As Matthew's Gospel describes him, Jesus is "famished" after forty days of fasting. Physically, he's at the end of his strength.  Socially, he's alone and friendless.  Spiritually, he is struggling to hang onto his identity as the glow of his baptism recedes into a hazy, pre-wilderness past.  And it’s in this state of vulnerability that the tempter comes, ready to pull Jesus away from his belovedness, and his vocation.”[2]

We often hear of Jesus being human, and we will speak of it, but, more times than not, it is like, well Jesus is human, but not too human. But here we have Jesus doing something that is very human and very traditional. He is going into the desert to fast and pray. There are various kinds of wilderness fasts practiced by many diverse ancient cultures, including the Hebrew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Aborigine, and the North and South American Indian. This is not something out of the ordinary for a deeply spiritual person of Jesus’ time or any time really.

So, what does this human Jesus looks like.  Well he has just been baptized in the river Jordan where he saw the spirit of God descend like a dove and come upon him and he heard “a voice from the heaven’s say This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” (Mathew 3:17) Then the Spirit leads him out into the desert for a time of discernment… to be tested by the devil the direct translation reads.  He fasts and prays for a long time, this is literally what the forty days and forty nights means…he is tired, he is hungry, he is open to something, anything, this is a very human show me the way kind of moment…

And so, the tester shows up, “As Matthew tells the story, the devil comes to Jesus in the guise of a brilliant interrogator.  ‘Can you be like God?’ is the savvy question he posed to Adam and Eve in the lushness of the first garden.  ‘Can you take hold of a higher wisdom, a keener knowledge, a more divine humanity?’  
Now he comes to the exhausted Son of God with a shrewd inversion of those primordial questions: ‘Can you be fully human?  Can you abdicate power?  Exercise restraint?  Work in obscurity?  Can you bear the vulnerability of what it means to be weak and mortal and human?’”[3]

“For the first time now, we see Jesus in action, in a kind of single combat with the enemy. He is not quite alone, however, for we are told that the test takes place under the orders of the Holy spirit, and at the end angels emerge from the shadows and look after him. The single combat is clearly won by Jesus, effortlessly matching with the quotations from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13) to each of the Tester’s suggestions; and notice the devil also quotes scripture (Psalm 91:11, 12). It is a well-crafted story; like all the best stories it comes in three parts, and circles around the question whether or not Jesus is the Son of God. We already know that he is, of course, on the best possible evidence, so what we learn here is the Kind of Son of God that he is: one who does not do selfish magic, who does not put God to the test, and who worships nothing that is not God.”[4]

But the fact that Jesus passes this test, I must emphasize, the kind of Son of God Jesus is, is human.  He is tested by things we can be tested by any day. If I we are engaging in a fast and I know I can just go get some bread and make a midday sandwich…there is the temptation.  I know I can. I know I can get bread, or crackers, or candy anytime I want.  The choice is do we give into temptation or do we stay on our spiritual path.
Ok that’s easy but what about this test to jump. And let Angels catch you? You ever see kids jump off a porch hoping their wish to fly might come true?  Even as adults we sometimes take these leaps or at least are tempted by them.  I know many people who have jumped into things that they had know clue about, often with the false notion I can always depend on so and so or such and such to support me.

You all know I do some fun things with glass. But I did not run out and buy a big kiln and see what happens knowing if I fail, I can always sell the kiln. I mean it is tempting to jump right in but instead I took a simpler steadier path. I started with a small kit for a microwave kiln. I took classes watched instructional videos and I am still learning and am hesitant to invest in expensive equipment till I am sure I know what I am doing.

But this is not the same as being taken to the top of the temple and being told to jump.  Or is it? I mean Jesus does eventually make it to the temple but not before gathering followers and teaching all over the countryside. In Mathew there are some 20 chapters before Jesus’ ministry rides into Jerusalem. I may be over simplifying but this is how this Gospel is touching me today.

Of course, the final temptation…to rule the whole world, is a temptation that none of us will ever see. Though Jesus has turned down the temptation, eventually, as Christianity has spread, as Jesus teachings spread, in this way Jesus kin-dom covered the earth and we know it covers both heaven and earth. But what is the parallel to us?  How is this temptation human?

Perhaps if we look at this way…Jesus is being offered something fantastic all he has to do is compromise his morals. Just a simple act, that takes no effort, would only last a moment and bam, it’s over and he has the world at his feet.

Has anyone been watching the documentary McMillion’s? It’s all about people who were given a winning ticket to the McMillion’s game. They just had to claim it with a unique story and pay a percentage back. They just have to give up a little bit of what was morally right and the prize would be huge and it was.

How many times as human are we asked to compromise our values. We say to ourselves just this once. No one will know the difference and no one gets hurt. It is a very simple temptation. But as Mark’s gospel says; “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” One simple compromise can make the next one easier. All in all, a very human temptation.

One Commentator put it this way; “I have to confess that until fairly recently, I didn't see what the big deal is with the devil's taunts.  Jesus is starving, after all.  Who cares if he zaps a rock or two into bread?  God is supposed to be Jesus' protector after all, an omnipotent commander of legions of angels.  Why is it sinful for a son to call on the protection of his father?  Jesus is the rightful ruler of all the earth's kingdoms, after all.  What’s wrong with him receiving the worship that's his due? 
These days, I read the story differently.  The devil doesn’t come to make Jesus do something ‘bad.’  He comes to make Jesus do what seems entirely reasonable and good — but for all the wrong reasons.  The test is a test of Jesus’s motivations.  A test of his willingness to identify as fully human, even as he is fully God….

(she goes on to reflect a bit further)

 Many of us have “given up” something for Lent this year.  Chocolate, wine, TV, Facebook.  The goal is to sit with our hungers, our wants, our desires — and learn what they have to teach us.  What is the hunger beneath the hunger?  Can we hunger and still live?  Desire and still flourish?  Lack and still live generously, without exploiting the beauty and abundance all around us?  Who and where is God when we are famished for whatever it is, we long for?  Friendship, meaning, intimacy, purpose?  A home, a savings account, a child, a family?

I write these words with trepidation, because I know what it is to let hunger gnarl and embitter me.  Hunger in and of itself is not a virtue, it’s a classroom.  To sit patiently with desire — to become its student — and still embrace my identity as God’s beloved, is hard.  It’s very, very hard.  But this is the invitation.  We can be loved and hungry at the same time.  We can hope and hurt at the same time.  Most of all, we can trust that when God nourishes us, it won’t be by magic. It won’t be manipulative and disrespectful.  It won’t necessarily be the food we’d choose for ourselves, but it will feed us, nevertheless.  And through us — if we will learn to share — it will feed the world.”[5]

Three temptations, all very human, and in his human-ness Jesus chooses to stay true to his calling and who he is. Jesus chooses to remain Hungry and uncomfortable in that moment because that is the journey he is on. Jesus chooses to walk his journey as it is intended to be as difficult as it may be with lessons learned and lessons taught. Jesus does not choose instant Glory but as we know chooses to take his journey right to the cross as a common criminal though he committed no crime.

There is a ripple that runs through this story that often is ignored, the holy Spirit is the one who leads him into the desert just for this test.  Some may hear this as disturbing. God wanted all this for Jesus? But remember I use the word a time a discernment. Discernment is testing, prayerfully trying to understand what has led one to this point and where one must go from there.  The holy spirit was with Jesus through his time just as the holy spirit is with us through any trying time, any good time for that matter.

Even the wildest of places, the most terrible circumstances cannot separate us from God's love!  If we had our way life would be easy, rich and joyful all the time.  We don’t (for the most part) volunteer for pain, loss, danger, or terror.  But life happens.  Whether it comes to us in the guise of a hospital waiting room, a toxic relationship, a troubled child, a sudden death, or an unshakeable depression, Life happens!
 Whether we like it or not we all have a time of wilderness.

All this means is that God is with us through it and, with faith and prayer we may even see the signs of the God among us in those most trying of times and other times it will seem as if we are alone. But it is said that God is as close as our own jugular. And if God is right here (pointing to my Jugular) She may be a bit hard to see.

Lent is an intentional wilderness time.  Time to take our spiritual life and be intentional in seeking God around us and among us.  It is a time to reaffirm our commitment to a spiritual Journey. A commitment to see it through as a journey not a series of individual events. It may be a time of discernment, it may be a time of thanksgiving, and it may be a time of just discovering that God is here with us. Blessing us and walking beside us while we are busy being human. Because the son of God knows what it means to be human and knows the temptations we endure and knows when we fail and knows when we succeed and still walks beside us every day.


[1] Craddock, Fred B., Mike Graves, and Richard F. Ward. Craddock Stories. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001. Pg. 80-81

[4] King, Nicholas. The Bible: a Study Bible Freshly Translated by Nicholas King. Stowmarket: Kevin Mayhew Ltd, 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment