Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Homily for Lent 1 - Year A The Rev. Claudine Carlson

For the sake of clarity. it’s helpful to know that you’ll be hearing a different kind of sermon today. It will be delivered as a first person narrative, and the words you hear come from an unexpected, even shocking source. Though I caution you to be skeptical of the speaker’s spin on what happened, I nonetheless believe that  his thoughts offer important insights into the nature of Jesus’ temptations, as well as our own.

Before hearing from our guest preacher, however, I invite you to close your eyes and recall a wilderness time in your own life. A time when you had some important decision to make and were confused about which path to take. A time when you felt very alone as you searched for answers…

I’m reluctant to begin my time with you on a negative note, but I consider myself an honest person and need to let you know, right up front, that I object to that lesson you just read. In fact, I find it downright offensive. To begin with, this inaccurate, one-sided account of what happened puts me in a very bad and most unfair light.  And next - and this really, really ticks me off -the story doesn’t even get my name right! I’m referred to as “the devil”! The DEVIL!! That’s NOT my name. My name is “Lucifer” and it means “angel of light”. It’s the name given to me by the Lord God, Almighty, for heaven’s sake… and it’s the name my friends call me. So at least that’s straight now, right? Okay. We can move along now.

Let me make it clear that I like Jesus just fine. He’s a bright young man with good intentions, but incredibly and dangerously naive. Green as spring grass. He doesn’t have a clue about how things really work on planet earth. Amazing to me how a person with a good brain like his can be so utterly stupid about things that matter… like how to get by in this life. But he doesn’t. And that’s where I can help him - that’s why I tried to help him. After all, I am the “Prince of this world”, and if I don't know how things work and how to get things done here - on earth - then let me assure you, nobody does. NOBODY!

Jesus had recently been baptized by John when I first met him. Quite the hell raiser, that John was. Way too serious for my taste, but I had to respect his fire. Anyway, Jesus saw this as the beginning of his ministry and, wisely enough, wanted to take some time to think about the “what-happens-next?” sorts of questions. Do some strategizing - to work on a game plan, you know?

But does he hire a consultant? Do any serious career planning? Even sit in on a few focus groups? No! He heads off into the wilderness and wanders around listening to the voices in his head, which no doubt got crazier and crazier the hungrier he got. Yep! That’s right. When I found him he was was ambling about the Judean wilderness with only snakes and scorpions for companions. Starving himself to death!

Well, I’m sure you’ll understand why I had to make an intervention. You should have seen him - he was emaciated! Nothing but skin and bones. Looked like he was within hours of death - that lean, strong carpenter’s body of his was just wasted away. How he thought this starvation exercise was in any way “holy” is beyond me. I mean, he says he’s here to help people, but think about it - how can you help people when you’re on the verge of starvation?

And so I appealed to him. Reminded him of his status. “C’mon, Jesus. If you’re the Son of God you can turn these stones into bread. You need to eat something, for God’s sake!” But does he listen? NO! “People don’t live by bread alone”, he says… as if I don’t know that. Of course you need more than food, but we do need food if we’re ever going to enjoy the other things we need.

But I thought maybe he wasn’t as hungry as he looked, so I moved on and encouraged him to begin his ministry with some pizzaz - to get it launched on a strong note. Do something that would give him credibility from the get-go. So I took him to the top of the temple, where all the important religious people gather. To strengthen my suggestion, I quoted scripture to him: “Hurl yourself off, Jesus. God’s angels will protect you, you know. And think of how impressed people will be! You’d have the high priest’s attention from the start! In a split second you’d have the endorsement of religiously significant folks - the ones who can help you in your career.” But his answer was a flat-out “No!”. Not supposed to tempt God and all.

Finally I appealed to his mission. Presumably he came to this world for the sake of this world, so I gave him a vision of all the kingdoms on earth - the world he came to help, to “save”. He could’ve had it all in his pocket if only he’d agree to worship me. Now please understand that I wasn’t demanding complete and total allegiance - I know better than almost anyone that you humans have divided, complex hearts and motivations. I just wanted him to acknowledge that, in the earthly realm, I’m the boss - the “go-to” guy. Recall that I am the “prince of this world”. And since he was operating on my territory, it seemed like a reasonable request.

But he throws scripture at me again. “Worship and serve the Lord your God only”
he says  He just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand that you can be an upstanding, religious person and still show devotion to me…. and to the ways of the world in which we live!  He’s a purist, an idealogue. “Love the Lord your God only”! Good grief, I know plenty - plenty - of religious men and women who care more about their bank accounts than they do about God. And they’re fine people - people you’d be proud to call your friends. More than likely, people who already are your friends. But Jesus….

This man is so frustrating! I just couldn’t reason with him. Couldn’t get him to understand - or even listen to - the most effective, time-tested ways of winning people’s hearts and minds… which, of course, is what you have to do if you’re going to make a difference in the world. He wants to help people - fine. But you know and I know that you have to look out for yourself first. He’s not doing that, and so he’s made mistakes - big mistakes. And he keeps making them.

For starters, he hangs around with the wrong people. Seems to just love the down and outs and losers - whores, tax collectors, lepers. He’d rather spend time with them than with the folks who could really advance his career. He also seems to delight in offending the truly religious people who could assist him. He treats the nobodies like they’re somebodies and the real somebodies like they’re nothing special at all. It’s as though he lumps the good people in with the great unwashed sinners of the world. Well, I’ve known a sinner or two in my day, and I can tell you there are much bigger (and better!) sinners than Jesus’ nemesis,
Caiaphas, the high priest. In my opinion, he’d do well to make friends with him…. and to do so in a hurry.

But he’ll likely continue on his stubborn, “principled” path, and quite frankly, I’m worried about him. Really worried. Things are heating up quickly and powerful forces are rising up against him. Oh sure, he has a little band of dough-headed devotees who talk about this healing or that feeding, but those folks matter not a bit - they have no significance whatsoever. If Jesus is hauled off before the courts of the High Priest or Rome, those friends of his won’t even be heard - they simply do not matter. No one would listen to them. And they’re such a crew of weaklings, they’d probably go mute at the first sign of trouble anyway.

So, yes, I’m concerned. But I still have hopes he’ll listen to me…. that it’s not too late. As I said, he’s a bright young man, a quick study. He could turn things around even now if he’d just take my advice. But if he doesn’t, he’s on a dangerous path indeed; in a short time, he’ll be past the point of no return, and even I won’t be able to help him. The clock is ticking and Jesus needs to make a choice. Change course, listen to me, and live, so that his voice will continue to be heard…. or keep on going the direction he’s going. Mark my words, people, and mark them well. If he stays on this current path - doesn’t make an about-face and make it quickly - he will soon be a dead man.Trust me when I say I’m not exaggerating here. They will kill him and he will be a dead man. And let me ask you the same question I’ll ask him when next I see him: Honestly now, of what possible use is a dead man?!?  

The Rev. Claudine Carlson

The Reverend Claudine Carlson, SSJD Alongsider