March 6, 2022 Reflection and Worship Link


Lent One: “Ordinary Lives can be Holy”

Scripture Reading: Luke 4: 1-13

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The other day I was reading over the scripture passage for this morning when suddenly an image popped into my mind. In case you are wondering, it was not an image of a red horned devil prodding Jesus in the wilderness with his trident (although it was a similar kind of caricature.) It was an image of King Herod from the 1970’s movie Jesus Christ Superstar in which Herod, sporting yellow lensed sunglasses while standing at the side of his swimming pool, was tempting Jesus by singing “Prove to me that you’re divine, turn my water into wine.” If you remember that scene you will also recall Herod tries to provoke Jesus to walk across his swimming pool and feed his household with this bread “You can do it on your head!” and going on to say that he is only asking Jesus to do what he would expect of any superstar.

It’s such a brilliant portrayal of what is essentially the temptations we hear about in today’s reading. It cleverly illustrates the assumption most of us make that anyone or anything that is heavenly must be, well, perfect by human standards – larger than life, flashy and basically able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The irony being that this is the complete opposite of who Jesus was and is, as we will see when gather around his battered and beaten body on Good Friday.

Author Kate Bowers reminds us that the Christian season of Lent is about being on the losing team. It’s a great equalizer for those us who couldn’t leap a tall building in several bounds let alone one.

It’s refreshing actually to know that we don’t have to be successful at our jobs or our retirement or look supermodel young and beautiful or be uber rich or even win a war in order to be on the Jesus team. What’s truly powerful about the Jesus story is that it tells us that the places God shows up are far more likely to be the ordinary, even insignificant places in our world and in ordinary people like tax collectors and fisherfolk. God shows up in ordinary citizens defending their country for the sake of freedom and in those daring to protest their oppressive political leaders in the name of democracy, goodness and peace, in people like you and me and often in places where it seems there is little hope of overcoming an enemy.

And that’s a very good thing because many of us spend a good portion of our lives either aspiring to be greater, better, stronger or more successful by worldly standards or thinking we are not very great at all. And yet the gospels tell us that it’s in our ordinary, good enough lives that the sacred is most likely to be found. We don’t have to walk on water to be loved or to be faithful. But that should never make us underestimate the power inherent in living an ordinary, good enough life.

Our reading today talks about three ways we can be tempted away from living a God-given, good enough life.

The first is in relationship to material versus spiritual nurture. After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, Jesus is starving. Turn these stones into bread the tempter says, to which Jesus replies “we do not live by bread alone.”

Material nurture is what we do when we go shopping, not to feed our stomachs, but to feed our feelings of emptiness or unworthiness or our sense of failure. Sometimes we seek status or feed our sense of importance through our material acquisitions. Material nurture might give us temporary satisfaction but it rarely lasts for long and it can require a lot of maintenance. Spiritual nurture feeds us on a much deeper level and has a much longer lasting effect.

Last summer after months of being cooped up in our bubbles, Brenda and I were invited to have dinner with a group of our friends we hadn’t seen in over a year. We shared stories about the impact of the pandemic on our lives and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Suddenly in the midst of one of our bouts of laughter I looked over at my friend Barbara to see tears streaming down her face. They weren’t tears of joy. They were tears of lament and tears of release with a bit of joy mixed in. In between her sobs she managed to get out the words “You have no idea how much I needed this.”

In so many ways what we were sharing was an ordinary meal, something we had done together many times before but it wasn’t until that ordinary ritual was taken away from us that we were able to see just how soul nurturing it can be to spend time with people we love, breaking bread at table. It doesn’t even have to be at table and it doesn’t even have to be our dearest friends and family with whom we connect to feed us. A telephone conversation, a connection over the back fence with a neighbor, a smile from the clerk at the grocery store, ordinary human connection is what we need more than anything to feed and nurture our souls in ways that truly last. I can’t help but wonder if the more we feed our souls through human connection, the more our material needs take care of themselves.

The second temptation is possibly the most seductive temptation of all. The tempter takes Jesus to a great height, shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says “worship me and all of this will be yours.” This is the temptation to worship false gods or gods of our own making for the sake of feeling empowered. All of us do it in one way or another to try and maintain control and certainty in our lives. Mostly the gods we worship are the ones that don’t demand too much of us, the ones that allow us to stay comfortable, things we’re attached to that give us what’s ultimately a false sense of security in the world but a sense of security no less.

But from time to time people give in to this temptation in order to secure power and control over others and we’re seeing that being lived out through the use of violence and intimidation in our world right now. It’s is a very frightening thing to observe and to experience. But in the face of this attempt to amass more power, we are also seeing another kind of power on display, the power of courage, the power of integrity and the power of true freedom. We are seeing it displayed in the likes of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy who is using humour to instill hope and in the likes of ordinary

Ukrainians standing in front of tanks or handing out sunflower seeds to the Russian soldiers who have invaded their country. We are seeing it in those who instead of running away from this conflict are running towards it to lend a helping hand, chefs making vast quantities of food, people loading medical supplies onto trucks and strangers delivering children to borders to reunite with their parents.

The final temptation Jesus faces in the wilderness is the temptation to believe that he is special. “Come on, jump off the top of this temple, you’re God’s special son, God will save you” the tempter taunts. Jesus calls this putting God’s loyalty to the test.

The other night Brenda and I were watching the news and listening to an update about the fire that had broken out in the nuclear power plant in eastern Ukraine. The person being interviewed said that by the grace of God the fire did not cause a nuclear explosion. Both of us reacted to this description because if it was by God’s grace that the nuclear plant didn’t explode, we have to ask ourselves where God’s grace was when a day or two earlier, a nursery school did explode.

The truth is that everyone and every place is special and that “specialness” is what saves us. People get sick, nursery schools get bombed, innocent people die and a multitude of other bad things happen to us in life that we do not get spared or saved from but that doesn’t mean we are not special. What truly saves us in life is knowing that even when we are losing, when we are failing and falling, perhaps especially in those times, we are always winning because we are always beloved in God’s sight. Even King Herod and Vladimir Putin are beloved children of God and if we forget that, then God help us.

The Latin word “sacramentum” from which we get our word sacrament describes a holy in breaking of the Divine on or in something quite ordinary. Like the way ordinary from a baptismal font becomes holy when we bless it and use it to remind us of our belovedness, or the way bread broken and a cup shared reminds us we are one or the way our ordinary lives give witness to the power and presence of God at work in the world.