22 February 2010

Lent 1 C

Sermon for 21 February 2010

Luke 4: 1-13

By Sharyn Hall

The big news these days is the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. We put a great deal of pressure on our Canadian athletes to win medals for the pride of our country. This seems unfair to people who have trained for years to compete at a high standard and then their performance may be over in minutes or tenths of a second. It is important that they give their best effort and compete fairly, not for the glory of a medal or the adulation of the country, but for the noble goal of developing the talents God has given them. Sometimes people inspire us to remember how blessed we are by God and how our blessings can inspire others.

As a nation we experienced a moment of euphoria when Alexandre Bilodeau achieved a gold medal in his sport of mogul skiing. This was the first gold medal won by a Canadian athlete on Canadian soil and the whole country joined in the celebration. Alexandre was overwhelmed by adulation and the celebrations have not ceased, but what was important to Alexandre? While he was pleased to win a medal for his country and he was gracious in accepting praise, his thoughts were focused on his brother. A special person can be our inspiration, and whether we acknowledge God’s role or not, that person can bring us a glimpse of God’s infinite love in the human spirit.

Alexandre’s older brother Frederic has cerebral palsy. Frederic struggles to walk and to talk, and yet he never complains and he never accepts the limitations others place on him. Frederic was standing awkwardly front and centre at the spectator fence, yelling support for his brother, and waving his arms in jubilation as Alexandre was acclaimed the gold medal winner. When interviewed after the race, Alexandre spoke of his brother as his inspiration, and in a poignant moment the two brothers embraced for a long time. Alexandre skied the race of his life, not for himself, but for the love of his brother.

All the athletes at these Olympic games have the temptation to seek glory for themselves. It is natural to want to win, to be the best in your sport. It is human nature to want the admiration of others. Sometimes we humans want to be superhuman, a person with god-like powers.

The familiar story in Luke’s gospel of the temptations of Jesus is not only a story about the divine Jesus; it also is a story about the human Jesus. The devil knows what tempt humans, wealth and glory, but wealth and glory do not tempt Jesus. So the devil offers Jesus superhuman powers over the world, and again Jesus is not tempted. Then the devil tempts Jesus to test God’s love for him, but Jesus has no need to test God’s love, for in life and in death, God’s love is steadfast, not only for the divine Jesus, God’s Son, but also for the human Jesus, God’s Son.

The temptations of Jesus are a battle between the devil and God. Jesus as both human and superhuman is the ultimate temptation for the devil. If the devil can entice the human Jesus to succumb to the human desires for wealth, power and glory, then the devil will rejoice in his power over humanity. If the devil can entice Jesus to display his divine powers in a spectacular miracle of cheating death, then the devil will rejoice in his power to manipulate God’s power. The temptations of Jesus are essentially challenges to God, challenges to take control of humanity, to turn humanity away from God, challenges to God’s principle of human free will. God’s great love for humanity will allow humanity to choose God’s way or the false power of the devil.

This may seem overly dramatic, because the power of the devil rarely invades human hearts in spectacular ways, despite what we might see in horror movies. The power of the devil comes in human weakness through the temptations of everyday life, temptations to jealousy, cruelty, greed, arrogance; the list is endless, but for every failure there is forgiveness in God’s love.

All our scripture readings today are about faith in God’s love and belief in God’s power to save. We read in our passage from the book of Deuteronomy that the Lord God is faithful to God’s people. The great exodus of the Israelites from Egypt was dramatic proof of God’s power to bring salvation. St. Paul writes that anyone who believes in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead will be saved by God.

Many temptations and challenges in our daily lives can shake our faith and make us question our belief. As human beings we cannot expect to be immune to those temptations. Jesus was not immune to those temptations. After days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus was vulnerable to a wily devil, but he firmly resisted every test because he had the strength of God’s love to sustain him. We too can have the strength of God’s love.

God’s love may be sent to us through the unwavering love of another human being. That person lifts our spirit with his/her belief in our ability to overcome obstacles and to succeed despite failures. That person inspires us to be the best we can be. We may be inspired because we see that person persevere through hardship. We may be inspired because we recognize how blessed we are to be loved by them. We all can name famous people who inspire us, but often it is people close to us who transform our doubts and fears into confidence and courage because they believe in us. When we recognize how much they mean to us, we are humbled to realize that we have not succeeded on our own.

Humility and love are what many people saw in the joy of Alexandre Bilodeau as his best was acclaimed worthy of a gold medal. He has no illusions that his accomplishment is of his own making. He recognizes that he has been sustained by the love of others, and he freely acknowledges that he has been inspired to persevere by the perseverance and determination of his brother Frederic, who strives to be the best he can be despite the challenges of his physical limitations. There is irony or perhaps natural symmetry in the fact that Frederic’s physical limitations inspire his brother to excel in such a physically demanding sport. We do not know if that was God’s plan, but those of us who see God in the lives of people, can see the love between Frederic and Alexandre as a reflection of God’s great love for us. Through failures and triumphs, through a race lost and a race won, God calls us to believe in each other, to inspire each other, to be the best we can be, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who was the very best he could be because he knew that God believed in him.

We, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, need to believe that God believes in us. We need to believe that God is with us, around us and within us, inspiring us to be God’s people, the very best we can be to bring the mission of Jesus into the world today. With our doubts and fears, our failures and triumphs, we still have much to offer our troubled world because we believe in God’s love for all creation. Amen.

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