The First Sunday in Lent, 2007
"One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism"
The First Sunday in Lent
Trinity Episcopal Church
25 February 2007
The Last Temptation
I don't know how many of you have read Nikos Kazantzakis' book, The Last Temptation of Christ. Martin Scorcese made it into a film, which more fundamental Christians loved to hate having never seen it. I tried to teach a Bible Class on it, and heard that one of my students got so angry that she threw the book across the room. I like the book because it has left me with two haunting images of Jesus. The first is his harrowing attempts to escape the dark angel that follows him. The readers' first temptation is to equate this to this Sunday's Gospel reading of the Temptation of Jesus. It is not Satan, however, who pursues Jesus in Kazantzakis' book, but rather his own call his own anointing as the Messiah the Anointed One, the Christ.
The second vision is of Jesus on the cross in a dream state. In this dream temptation, he and Mary Magdalene have settled down somewhere in Galilee in a nice house with a white picket fence, and 2.5 children, and have lived happily. That is the temptation one with which we can identify a little. It is the temptation to be normal, to fit in, to not cause a ruckus.
What are the temptations that are facing this church The Episcopal Church? I've never been so proud of a church leader as I was of our Presiding Bishop and her gracious attitude in the face of adversity in Tanzania just last week. I appreciated how she tied the trials facing this church and the Anglican Communion to our Lenten journey. "We may have to fast for a season," she said. The temptation is what? Unity? Inclusion? Tradition? The Spirit? There is a sense in her leadership and in the leadership of our own Bishop, Marc Andrus, of not standing down from the position to which we have been lead by the Gospel. The temptation to be "normal" makes no sense here, for we are many in our traditions, the words of our faith, and the hope of our prayers. A lock step Episcopal Church is not the fire that I wanted to jump into. Remember, I grew up in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Been there done that!
The Word is near you on your lips and in your heart!
This is what Saint Paul told the Romans and indeed speaks to us this morning. The word is near you a part of you! The word is this "for there is no distinction between Jew or Greek." Chew on that for a bit. There's another word of divine inclusion, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Our world is been riven into cultural camps, lines of distinction and intolerance. That is what is driving the African bishops, their fear of parting from the fierce fundamentalism of their Islamic neighbors. They fight with us so as not to fight at home. This Kultur Kampf is known in this church as well as it is in most American churches. Our culture/their culture is our experience with life/their experience with life.
The Gospel reading of the stand off between Jesus and Satan mirrors this confrontation that we face. Satan quotes Scripture and takes a literalist stance knowing that it will fail. Jesus is all about keeping the relationship with God. That is why St. Paul can say what he says. It is not about race, or skin, or belief, or orientations. It is about God's intense desire to be in relationship with us.
The Great Pesach
If you look at the first reading for this morning, from Deuteronomy, you will see the passage that is read at every Seder:
"A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. "
The great Passover celebrates a nation's salvation. As we move through Lent toward Holy Week and the Great Three Days, the connection of that Passover and our own becomes deeper and clearer. At a family breakfast the other day, the red church doors of Trinity were mentioned. "Where does that come from?" my sister asked. There are all kinds of explanations offered if you Google "red doors", but one of the explanations said that the red doors mirrors the blood of the lamb painted on the lentils at the Passover.
An even more important connection is the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, from slavery to freedom. The prayer over the waters at the Baptism last week alludes to that passage, tying the journey through the sea to the journey through baptismal waters. These are the connections that Christians make in their own Passover.
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism
In Ephesians 4 St. Paul reminds the diversity of the early Church of their true heritage.
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all"
I don't know if, as a relatively new Episcopalian, I am entitled to lecture you all on what it means to be an Anglican but here goes: The great tent that gathers the great diversity of this communion is it to be closed, divided up, unavailable to some, reserved only for others? The via media, the "middle way" is it to be given up for a narrow road on the right or on the left? Scripture, Tradition, and Reason will all continue to be consulted, or are we bound to a literalism of one or two?
Is this great communion to become enthralled with the Last Temptation of normalcy, with little diversity, with little active discussion about what it means to be in relationship with God? As I said before, I've been in a church like that before. The desire for everyone to "be alike" is never enough there is never enough "alike" to satisfy the tastes of everyone. This quest for closeness and opposition to openness, of narrow interpretations instead of active and vital discussion, of being deaf to that Spirit that call us to live in a new creation, these quests are temptations like the ones that troubles Jesus.
It appears as though all of us shall have to fast for a season, as our primate has called us to do. And we shall have to walk through the wilderness, as Jesus did. However, we shall walk through that wilderness fiercely holding onto all who have joined us. For there is one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism, one God and Father of us all.