What Land Do We Possess?

March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent, Year C

Opening question

What land do we possess, where have we settled, that does God continue to give to us, that continues to produce for us that we can share with others?

Ripples – not alone.

The land that God gives us each minute has ripple effects on us, which catch the light of Christ, resplendent.

Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?

 Isaiah 58

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
 when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing shall spring up quickly;
 your vindicator shall go before you,
  the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

In Deuteronomy’s reading for today the promised land is possessed and settled. The land is survival and security, the land is yearly crops for food, for trade to provide for other needs, the land is status and a place to call home … sort of.

For the land is provided by God. It is not earned or deserved. God one sided promises it. God continues to give it each day.

Knowing our history is key to living life abundantly. We know history, not just to avoid repeating bad history, but to know the good of history, to know God’s story, and our place in it. To remember how much God has blessed us.

What is it for each of us that God promises and gives us to posses and settle, that provides us survival and security, that is a place to call home, to share with our family. A place from which we are known to be grounded and where we come from.

For a few of us it also includes land, literally, a piece of ground that we hold the title to. For most of us it is something else, a profession, a career, or a job that included a retirement plan of some kind that still produces some kind of an income for us. Or perhaps it is family before us or after us, who have provided or still provide for us, security, survival, a place to call home. Or perhaps it is our reputation, that brings us recognition, respect, and a sense of worth. Or perhaps it is our ability to make friends, or our ability to write, or produce art or music. Or it is our ability to listen, understand, and comfort others in duress.

This is the land that God is giving to us. The text makes the point that God’s giving us the promised land is ongoing, each day.

God sends Isaiah to tell us what our response is to be: Each year at harvest we give first fruits that this land has produced and we recite God’s history with us, how God delivered us, we who were in our past aliens, formerly hungry, once unclothed, used to be captives, once upon a time … before we are what we are now, we used to be those kind of people, if not in this generation then in our ancestors’ time. Now God gives us the land not because we are good, or pious, or righteous, but because the land remains God’s and God chooses to give it to us. Though we posses it and settle it the land is always God’s.

When we are done giving the first fruits then Isaiah reminds us that God wants us to celebrate that God’s land has produced again, and just as we once were outcasts, outsiders, or aliens, so also we celebrate with the outcasts, outsiders, and aliens in our midst. In Canada we call them immigrants or refugees, and others designated as outcasts, outsiders,
personae non gratae.

In today’s Gospel Jesus faces the Devil, the great deceiver. The Devil wants Jesus, hungry from fasting, to feed himself, claim power for himself, and prove for himself that God will save him.

The Devil tempts Jesus with everything for Jesus himself, just sacrifice the teensie, weensie little thing of worshipping Satan. The things the Devil offers are not bad in and of themselves. They become evil when they are hoarded for oneself, instead of provided to everyone!

The Devil tempts us with everything as though life were an if/then reality: if you serve the devil then you will succeed in life.

God assures us that life is not that way, not blessed life lived abundantly. Life lived abundantly is always an because/therefore reality:

because God blesses us therefore we can bless others.

Jesus knows clearly that the Devil is the great deceiver who perverts everything into a private if/then proposition. Jesus knows that bread is good for life, but not just for himself, rather for all people. Instead Jesus gives his life that others may eat and never be hungry.

Jesus knows that power is important, that it can save and destroy people. Jesus is not ready to take shortcuts to gain corrupt power, power promised by the great deceiver, power which is really nothing. Instead Jesus exercises God’s power by sacrificing himself so that all people may live. That’s real power.

Jesus knows clearly that people of faith trust God because of what God has done for them and that God promises to protect them. But to test God is something entirely different from trusting God.

Instead Jesus exposes the Devil’s false use of scripture. Jesus trusts that even as he faces the cross, the most horrific death known at the time, God’s angels will be on watch with him, as he sets right the chaos of the devil in all the universe for all people. Jesus demonstrates so clearly God’s grace and acceptance for everyone, so that we no longer have any real excuse to try to test God.

In Paul’s writings to the Romans Paul makes this very clear: salvation witnessed to by the confession of Jesus Christ on one’s lips and in one’s heart is not reserved for just some people. Jesus’ salvation is offered for everyone. The Holy Spirit can create faith in anyone. There is no closed club, or special skills required, or properly formed faith practices that make only certain people God’s children. God’s grace alone creates children of God. The Holy Spirit creates saints of sinners. God never stops giving to us what we need to be faithful. But the key is this: everything is dependent on God, not on us, not even on our responses.

God is in control. God continues to give land to us.

We get to respond, giving our first fruits and practising the fast that brings justice, freedom, clothes, food, and homes for those without. So we celebrate along with even the outsider, the outcast, and the alien all that God has done for us, through history and in these last days.

God’s Glory Shines, even when we forget.

Amen

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