Who are you?

Who are you?

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Who are you? What kind of Christian are you? Indeed, what kind of person are you? And how often do you think about it?

If you remember, last time I was with you, we looked at Isaiah 6 and Luke 5. Isaiah was in the temple with the seraphs flying round him and he was saying: “send me” and the disciples were in a boat overwhelmed with fish.  We saw that all of us are being called, or nudged, into some sort of vocation or ministry or generally into helping others. This week we go back a chapter in Luke to the temptations of Jesus. I think vocation or ministry is a useful way to look at this very familiar passage too. And it should prompt us to ask questions about ourselves.

Who are you?

Who he was

Just after today’s reading in Luke 4, we have Jesus preaching that first sermon in his home synagogue in Nazareth. We had that back in January. That was when he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and declared what his vocation, his ministry, would look like: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

In two sentences Jesus boiled down who he was what he was here to do. And then he sat down. Perhaps he sat down because that’s what Rabbis did when they were teaching. Or perhaps he sat down in the sudden realisation that these few verses in Isaiah crystallised exactly what he was all about.

Who he was not

In contrast, the story of the temptations in the wilderness which came before that show us what he was not here to do. And maybe Jesus needed to go through that time of testing first. Perhaps he needed to wrestle with what the voice from heaven had said at his baptism. Did he need to figure out what being the Beloved Son of God would actually mean in practice?

And it’s a shame that we don’t each have a Bible here for this service because there’s another son of God mentioned in Luke. It comes immediately before this temptation story. Luke 3 gives us the genealogy of Jesus. He starts with Jesus and works all the way back to Adam – and Adam is identified as the son of God. We’re being implicitly invited by Luke to compare and contrast the two Sons of God – and the story in Genesis with the temptation of Jesus. The succumbing to temptation in the Garden of Eden damaged our relationship with God. Jesus’ resistance to temptation in the wilderness began to restore our life in God’s presence.

First temptation

So, I don’t think it’s an accident that the first temptation is about eating. This time it’s bread in the wilderness rather than fruit in a garden. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus would be vulnerable and suffering and hungry!

In Jewish thought, the devil’s role was to test the righteous (Zechariah 3:1-2). And when the devil says “If you are the Son of God…” it’s not meant in a hypothetical sense. This is more “Since you are the Son of God…” Both Jesus and the devil know the reality of Jesus’ identity. The question is about how Jesus will carry out his spirit-filled and spirit-led vocation.

Because in a broader context the devil’s challenge here is whether Jesus would use his authority to meet his own personal needs. But from when he’s reading from Isaiah in his home synagogue up until he’s hanging from the cross, his ministry is always focused on others and not on himself.

Who are you?

Second temptation

The second temptation was to be the Messiah that many expected. That is, to be a political and military ruler. But Jesus rejects this and shows how his kingdom will be different, alternative. The contrast with what he later announced in the synagogue is clear. His mission is to save others, the poor and the oppressed etc, not about asserting worldly power for himself.

Who are you?

Third temptation

The third is harder. Jumping from the top of the temple is a showy thing to do but would probably just be interpreted as some sort of illusion or trick. Is the temptation one of fame, riches and adulation – rather than a life of service?

Or is this a prefiguring of what happens at the crucifixion – where Jesus is taunted by the onlookers to get himself down off the cross. That’s also a reminder that temptations can go away, only to return later.

Jesus, the Beloved, was tempted for 40 days – and we’re only seeing 3 of those temptations. I wonder what else he faced during that time. The 40 days should make us, and the original listeners of this Gospel, think of Moses fasting and waiting on the mountain for the two stone tablets of the law (Deuteronomy 9:9). Or of Elijah as he walked to Mount Horeb to meet with the still small voice (1 Kings 19:8). Perhaps also of the 40 years of the Children of Israel wandering in the wilderness – who were also tested to know what was in their heart (Deuteronomy 8:2). Indeed, Jesus’ responses were all verses taken from Deuteronomy, the last words of Moses, at the end of that wandering and on the edge of the Promised Land.

Our own 40 days

And what do we face in our own 40 days of Lent? How can this passage help us as we consider the events leading to the cross? As we consider who we are.

I think firstly we should note that Jesus was full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit into the wilderness. All this happened because he was where he should have been and where he was called to be. It wasn’t a punishment for being in the wrong place. We, also, might face difficulties when we’ve been obedient. The fact that they are happening might be confirmation that we’re doing the right thing not the wrong thing!

The second thought is that there is a common thread in the 3 temptations. They are each an alternative to the mission and destiny that Jesus later proclaimed for himself in the synagogue. As we saw last time, we are each called or nudged to a vocation or ministry. We are each called to continue the work of Jesus in the proclamation and enactment of God’s kingdom, in all that we say and all that we do. But we too, like Jesus, may instead be tempted to look for ways of self-fulfilment, or power, or spectacle.

We have a choice

Like Jesus, figuring out what it meant to be a Beloved Son, we each need to figure out who we are and what our ministry, our calling, will look like. If it’s to be a priest, then what kind of priest will we be? What kind of warden or treasurer will we be? What kind of prayer partner? Maybe what kind of mother or father, husband or wife, son or daughter or friend will we be? Like Jesus, perhaps sometimes we’re given options or alternatives – and we have to make a choice.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we too can resist temptation. Unlike Jesus, but just like Adam and Eve, we will undoubtedly fall and fail at times. Lent is a time for confession and redirecting our steps in the way trod by Jesus. But if we do find ourselves troubled, and in a wilderness, asking questions about ourselves and who we are, then it may help and bring comfort and strength, to know that, just like Jesus, we too are Beloved…

Beloved Is Where We Begin – Jan Richardson

If you would enter

into the wilderness,

do not begin

without a blessing.

Do not leave

without hearing

who you are:

Beloved,

named by the One

who has travelled this path

before you.

Do not go

without letting it echo

in your ears,

and if you find

it is hard

to let it into your heart,

do not despair.

That is what

this journey is for.

I cannot promise

this blessing will free you

from danger,

from fear,

from hunger

or thirst,

from the scorching

of sun

or the fall

of the night.

But I can tell you

that on this path

there will be help.

I can tell you

that on this way

there will be rest.

I can tell you

that you will know

the strange graces

that come to our aid

only on a road

such as this,

that fly to meet us

bearing comfort

and strength,

that come alongside us

for no other cause

than to lean themselves

toward our ear

and with their

curious insistence

whisper our name:

Beloved.

Beloved.

Beloved. Amen

‘Who are you?’ was delivered by Ian Banks at St James, Heywood on Sunday March 6, 2022 – and earlier online. It was based on Luke 4:1-13.

References:

stjohnstmarkchurchbury

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