Saturday, February 16, 2013

Where Do You Put Your Trust? (Lent 1 Feb 17 2013)

Homily:  Yr C Lent 1, Feb 17 2013, St. Albans
Readings:  Deut 26:1-11; Ps 91:1-2,9-16; Rom10:8b-13; Lk:4:1-13

Where do you place your trust?
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life,
Say to the Lord ‘my refuge, My God in whom I trust.’

Today’s readings are about trust.  In whom, or in what, do you place your trust?
The psalmist urges us to place our trust in God.  In the beautiful words of psalm 91, which we sang in our opening hymn, we are given what is perhaps the greatest promise of our Christian faith:  that if we put our trust in God, if we make God our stronghold and our refuge, we will be made safe.  If we trust in God, we will be rescued from our troubles, raised up on eagle’s wings and protected from evil.  We will, as it were, be held in the hands of the angels, lest we dash our foot against a stone.

It is one of my favourite hymns.  Often when I sing it, I feel a depth of emotion well up within me, a feeling that seems to be a gut response to the beauty of the promise that is on offer, a promise that resonates with our deepest longings for assurance and well-being, for a solid place in which we can put our trust.

That’s what my gut is telling me.  But at the same time, my head tells me that all is not well.  Evil, and pain, and sorrow are a part of our lives, sometimes the largest part.  Those who trust in the Lord do dash their feet against stones.  It is easy to think of examples.  So how do we reconcile the promises of the psalmist with the very present reality of pain and suffering in our midst?

The psalmist knows the tension that exists between the promises of God and our present reality.  In psalm 91 he speaks of the plagues and pestilence that threaten human existence.  He knows that there are times of trouble, times of oppression when we call out for help.  He knows that despite the promise that all will be well, we live our lives in the wilderness.
And yet, he is able to put his trust in God.

Where do you put your trust?  When times are good, it is perhaps easy to say that we place our trust in God.  But what happens when you enter the wilderness?  When life gets rough, when obstacles get in the way.  Where then do you put your trust?

Or let me put it another way.  Suppose there was an alien from another planet who arrived on this planet earth, right here in Ottawa, and as part of her reconnaissance mission, she was given the assignment of reporting back to her superiors on where we as human beings place our trust, based on her observations of our behaviour.  What do you think that report would say?

It might say that some of us humans trust in ourselves, in our own power and abilities.  That we strive to be self-reliant people, people who put their energies into education and self-development, finding ways to increase their power so that they can be in control of their own lives.

It might say that some of us place our trust in our possessions, in our houses and our bank accounts, in our good jobs and our pensions.

It might say that some of us place our trust in our health, in daily exercise and good nutrition, in our access to good medical care.

It might say that some of us place our trust in powerful people or institutions that we can align ourselves with, trusting that in return for that allegiance, they will look after us.

It might say that some of us place our trust in drugs or alcohol, or in pleasure and distractions, allowing these things to comfort us or to numb us as we make our way through the wilderness of human life.

That’s probably what the report would say.  

But there is another way through the wilderness.

Our Gospel today tells us that Jesus was led by God’s Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil.  In that wilderness, Jesus had no possessions.  He had no companions.  He had no power, no fame, no glory, no food.  The promise that he had received at his baptism, that he was God’s son, his beloved must have started to seem a bit ironic.  Was this any way to treat a beloved son?  And so the devil, the personification of the forces of evil and chaos and pain in this life, puts Jesus to the test.  He starts by sowing the seed of doubt.  “If you are the Son of God . . .”  Notice the “if”?  The voice at Jesus baptism had said “you are my Son”.  Jesus had been given an identity.  But the devil puts that identity in doubt.  “If you are the Son of God . . .”  Are you sure? And having sown the seeds of doubt, now he puts Jesus to the test.  Why trust God?  Why don’t you place your trust in your own power?  Change this stone to bread, not only can you satisfy your own needs, but those of others too.  Or align yourself with me, and you can achieve political power and glory.  Or if you still insist on trusting God, then put God to the test, force his hand and make him save you now in a display of power.

The journey into the wilderness is one of the central images of our Christian faith.  In our first reading today from Deuteronomy, we are reminded that the foundational story of the people of Israel is the story of the Exodus.  This is the story that gave them their sense of identity as the people of God.  In the story of the Exodus, God brings the people out of Egypt, ending their oppression as slaves. He makes them pass through the waters of the sea, declares that they are his people and leads them into the wilderness.  The wilderness is meant to be the place where the people come to know God and place their trust in him.  But the temptation to place their trust elsewhere is too strong.  The people complain about the lack of food, they put their trust in idols and false gods, and they put the Lord their God to the test, telling Moses that they’ll head back to oppression in Egypt unless God starts doing things their way.  In the wilderness, there is a great temptation to place one’s trust in the wrong things. Or to put it another way, when we fail to trust in God, when we forget who we are and whose we are, that is when we’re vulnerable to temptation.

The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness that we read in our gospel is a deliberate re-telling of the Exodus story.  Jesus passes through the waters of baptism and the voice of God declares him to be Son of God.  He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  In the wilderness he experiences the same hunger and the same temptations that the people of Israel experienced.  But in response to each temptation, Jesus re-affirms his trust in God.  And ironically, he does so by quoting the words of Moses from the book of Deuteronomy, the very words that the people of Israel failed to heed during their time in the desert.

Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to show us another way, to show us that there is a way of reconciling the tensions of this world with the promises of God.  It is the way of faith, the way that puts its trust in God.  Our human journey will take us to difficult places.  We pass through the waters of baptism and we enter into the wilderness.  Our journey will take us to desert places where our experience of evil and suffering will cause us to doubt the promises of God.  It will cause us to question our identity as children of God.  There are times when we will wonder whether there is indeed a happy ending to our story.  And at those times we will remember the story of Jesus’ own journey, the story of a man like us who fulfilled his purpose in life not by avoiding pain and evil, but by confronting and overcoming them, bringing compassion and healing to those who suffer, light to those in darkness, and reassurance to those who place their trust in God.

Especially in this season of Lent, we too are called to journey through the wilderness, bringing light into the darkness, experiencing hunger and sorrow and temptation along the way, yet placing our trust in God, knowing that in him we are safe.  Jesus trusted in God and came through his time in the wilderness, and so will we.

“You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life,
Say to the Lord ‘My refuge, my rock in whom I trust’
And he will bear you up on eagles’ wings, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”


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