Sermon on 5th March 2017
THE REVD DR ANDERSON JEREMIAH, LANCASTER PRIORY
Reflecting on Radical Inclusion Matthew 4:1-11
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return”, we began our journey into Lent on Wednesday with those words. This morning we are lead by the Spirit to the wilderness along with Jesus, may be we’ll spend few moments with him, as he encounters those incredible temptations by the devil. Whilst we are there with Jesus, I thought we might reflect on a catchphrase that has been doing the rounds, Radical New Christian Inclusion! What it actually means in the light of the temptations, of Jesus and what it means to us today, especially in the light of recent events?
According to biblical scholars, the main purpose of the temptation narrative is to show, why Jesus did not confirm to the Jewish messianic ideals. Through his baptism he may have been seen as the harbinger of the Kingdom of God. But people around him would have had a question, what is the nature of this new kingdom? What is Jesus’ role in that kingdom? Will Jesus fall into the trap of messianic expectations of his time? Or is he going to chart his own path?
In the context of apocalyptic power struggle between the forces of God the Creator and those of the devil, the cosmic “adversary” or the strong man, the temptations offer us a view of the devil, luring Jesus into achieving a promised status by transforming the social malice or pursue undue personal ambition or even better, align with the devil and have the kingdom and be the messiah at no expense!
If you read carefully the gospel passage, most of the propositions from Satan are prefaced with “if you are the son of God” clearly playing into the messianic expectations!
But as we know Jesus resisted the devil using the scripture. While standing in the wilderness, a place of hunger, testing, and struggle, Jesus says “One does not live by bread alone!
Jesus did not simply disagree with the adversary and explore a path of mutual flourishing, he instead instructed the tempter to read the scripture and turn to God.
In the face of temptation, one turns away from the devil and turns back to God.
It is an on-going task and requires active engagement, shaped by the power of God and scripture. In the process enabling Jesus to imagine and cultivate an alternative vision outside the wilderness
How do we resist the devil?
In the wilderness, Jesus never turned away from God, even in the face of stark temptation. He grounds his defiance of the devil in God. In God’s grace and hope.
Hope and grace, key theological foundations of being radical!
Being a radical, Jesus showed us that he is not your regular messiah; he turns away from ‘power and glory’ to hope and grace.
Firstly Jesus’ Hope has its source in God.
Jurgen Moltmann says, “Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present.”(Theology of Hope)
The hope we encounter with Jesus in the wilderness is not self-assertion but a response to God’s presence, a desire for on-going engagement with God, and an existential and permanent feature of humanity’s relationship to God.
Hope is the radical self-submission to God, who then empowers us to make the radical self-commitment to be God’s presence of hope, revolutionising and transforming the world.
Secondly, the grace Jesus turns to comes as both a gift and threat. As gift, grace can turn one completely around into a transformed life of freedom.
On the other hand grace comes as a threat by casting a harsh light upon what we have done to ourselves and our willingness to destroy any reality!
Grace is a word we use to name the extraordinary process of God’s power interrupting our constant temptations to delude ourselves at a level more fundamental than any conscious error; Grace is God’s power that gradually transforms old habits and out-dated traditions.
What hope and grace does is, it enables us to dream about an alternative vision, beyond the wilderness, beyond the society, were injustice, discrimination and oppression no longer has a place.
As Jesus demonstrated, developing this alternative vision that mirrors the reign of God, which inherently challenges what is destructive, offers us a means of solidarity, in other words radical inclusion.
As liberation theologians have repeatedly pointed out, the hope and grace, we find in Jesus is not a free floating naïve optimism but grounded in justice and shaped by the experiences of victims of exploitation and discrimination!
The oppressor cannot be the source of hope and grace. Jesus showed us that the devil had other plans!
If the church had to embrace radical inclusion, it has to abandon its messianic complex and accept that its stature as sacramental reality, which is not immune to reform.
Rather it has to be a living sign of the dynamism of Holy Spirit and bear witness to the gospel of Christ.
The sacramentality of the church is also defined by its critical awareness of its limitations and sins of impoverishment, racism, sexism, homophobia, and war mongering.
The sacramentality of the church is also defined by its reliance on the Spirit for guidance, weather whole heartedly acknowledging the sacramnatiality of women’s ordination and their ministry or the sacramnetaility of love shared by same sex couple.
Mutual flourishing is not simply tolerating intolerance or in the name of holding different views, allowing injustices to flourish.
As Jesus showed, it is returning to God and embodying hope and grace, grounded in justice.
In this temptation narrative Jesus models a ministry of radicalness by resisting the devil, desire for self-sufficiency, power, and glory. Instead giving himself in obedience to God and living and trusting in the hope and grace of the one who does indeed protect us.
Radical inclusion behoves the church to prophetically challenge the unaddressed injustices, continuing dysfunctional practices, patronising attitude and denigrating theology.
Radical inclusion, without Jesus, will simply be platitudes or insipid inclusion with a befuddled theology. It is nothing but aligning oneself with the devil or yielding to the temptations of self-sufficiency, power and glory!
Friends, let us ask ourselves, does our radical inclusion offer any hope and grace to the people who are disillusioned with the church and actually feeling like they are in the middle of a wilderness?