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Placed to Celebrate (sermon)

February 23, 2013
Deuteronomy 26: 1-11, Luke 4: 1-13

Today’s reading Deuteronomy connects to the sermon I preached a few weeks ago on the law of Moses not just as an obscure and outdated set of regulations about purity and sex and sacrificial ritual (and there is that, which is so hard to understand from a modern perspective) but most significantly as an economic vision. The law of Moses imagines a society in which property and land is a gift from God and so is never really ‘private’ property. Every seven years debts are cancelled and land goes back to its previous owners. The rich don’t get richer and the poor don’t get poorer. The whole economy is organised to protect the weakest, so that harvests are shared with refugees and foreigners in the land and with the poor.

 

Today we see this again encapsulated in a liturgy or ritual if you like: The farmer brings the first-fruits of his produce to the priest and there before the priest he recites the story of his heritage – “A wandering Aramean was my Father…” a story of how God has liberated him from slavery and from wandering and given him a place in the world, a place to stand, a turangawaiwai, the legendary land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (a bit like the 100% pure NZ). And after rehearsing his identity the Torah says to the farmer:

You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites (the priestly one’s who didn’t have any land to farm) and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

 

So there are two things here: worship and hospitality, the celebration of the relationship to God, before God, on the one hand, and then there is the celebration of the relationship to fellow human beings – a feast for both neighbours and strangers – on the other hand.

 

Let’s look at them in turn. Worship – in a nutshell means, finding our self before God [repeat]. The farmer brings the first fruits and places it down and bows before the Lord God. The act of bowing down… it is the act in which we are centred beyond ourselves on God, who gives us life and in whom we live accountable lives.

How easy it is… (let me speak from experience here)… how easy it is to go through our lives as if this were not true. There’s worship on Sunday and everything else for the rest of the week.. . Finding ourselves… every day… before God. Oh the investment is due, what shall I do… what’s the best rate? Shall I watch TV? Shall I stop and talk to him? Of shall I move on? Where are you Jesus in this situation? What do you want me to do? If I had your mind (the mind of Christ) what would I see? What would I do? We used to say “I had a good mind to…” … a good mind… “have this mind in you that was also in Christ Jesus”. The presence of God. Finding ourselves in the presence of God.

It’s Lent and every Lent we remind ourselves of Jesus instructions in the Garden of Gethsemane, before his death, ‘Watch and Pray’. Pray with your eyes open. Have your eyes open prayerfully.

In our gospel reading Jesus was tempted to turn the stones into bread. He replied: “Man shall not live by bread alone”. It’s one thing to have a crop from which to make bread. It’s another thing altogether if both the crop and the bread are a gift from God to be enjoyed and shared in the life of God. Worship locates us in something bigger, something greater than survival, greater than the satisfaction of our immediate desires, the great desire in which all desires belong and can be ordered.

 

The second thing is the celebration of hospitality. Having brought first-fruits the farmer is told to throw a feast with those who God has given us as neighbours, especially those who are not so well off. Worship must become hospitality. The feast represents in its own way the economy of the law of Moses. Refugees and aliens are particularly invited. Its very easy to have parties only with good friends. But if our bounty is not ours, it is for sharing.

 

My Dad preached a range of sermons, but there is one he did quite often which still sticks in my mind, possibly because of its catch-phrases. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. And each of the characters in the story has a motto in Dad’s sermon. For the robbers who come along the road, their motto is ‘What’s yours is mine if I can take it?’ I guess its not just people who engage in violent robbery who have that motto. Then there are the Priestly folk from the Temple who pass by. Theirs is “What’s mine is mine if I can keep it.” Finally the Samaritan has the motto: “What’s mine is yours if I can share it”. My Dad was never a communist but that attitude to property is pretty deeply ingrained in him.

 

Places matter… each place has it’s own unique character…(wide open spaces of the Maniototo from En Hakkore)… the roadside defines a certain kind of space. It’s no-man’s land… and yet it is a place of encounter between people on journey’s with purpose – like the wounded man and his good Samaritan.

Jesus is taken up on high with a view of the empires of the world, he is taken to the temple in Jerusalem. There couldn’t be more symbolic, more loaded places to be. This is the centre of the world. The temptations are about power, politics, power over other people. The Satan is, by definition, a power player.

 

He says to Jesus, this place, this place of power could be yours for the taking… power in Jesus world meant Roman power. It meant military brutality. It meant hierarchy and control on fear of death. Insurrection of any kind resulted in people being nailed up on ‘power poles’ on the side of the road. They called it crucifixion. It was a world, like ours which, by its very structure, did violence to the weakest and poorest

A fortnight ago I asked the question. Who pays the cost… of a world which does violence to its weakest and poorest? Those who share their lives with the weaker ones. That’s our job. But how do we pay the cost? … we learn to share our lives… not just give charity from our spare change which leaves us comfortable and feeling better and the recipients feeling indebted. We share our lives by sharing ourselves and our bounty in acts of hospitality. Throw a feast! says Deuteronomy. We get down from the top of the temple with our sights set on the top job or world domination. And we join Jesus in acts of hospitality.

We say No to Satan and Yes to Aliens. And in so doing we create places, on the roadside, in our homes, in our churches which are places of hospitality.

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