Thursday, 11 February 2016

"If": An innocuous word filled with temptation

Two simple letters “I” and “f” change everything.

If you are the Son of God.

The moment this little two letter word is stuck in front of the assertion that Jesus is the Son of God it brings into question the certainty of identity.

If you are the Son of God.

And the same uncertainty springs in to our lives as well, constantly harassing us with doubts as the word turns statements into questions.

If you are a good person?
If you are loved by your children?
If you are loved by your parents?
If you have had a decent education?
If you have faith?
If you are loved by God?

Two letters that take us from a place of security into a place of uncertainty and doubt. And from doubt into temptation.

If you are…

Questions our existence, questions our meaning, and questions our purpose.

When Satan, the devil, Jesus adversary asks if you are of Jesus I believe that the devil is trying to lead Jesus into that place of insecurity that most of feel; the questioning of our existence and its value.

Of course, this tempting by the devil that is reported to us, we are told, comes after a period of 40 days of testing and temptation in the wilderness.  But let us not be naïve about these 40 days and this moment of confrontation that is reported to us, temptation is a daily event, a daily grind, a daily exercise that we all must face.

We get out bed in the morning and idols of this world and messages inherent in our culture question the inherent value that we already have as God’s children.  They say to us we must earn our place and our place is valued only by what we do and what we own.

We live in a world where the buying and selling of goods has been sanctified and in this world, this free market economy that has been given a life of its own, we have reduced human beings to another commodity.

In every business place, and even in our Synod office, we have human resource managers whose very title betrays what we think humans are – things, resources to managed, measured by their skills and outcomes.

The value we place on a person and their gifts is constantly being quantified.  You are $15 and hour or $25 an hour or $50 an hour and the list goes into the thousands and even for some the millions.
The culture tells us the value you add or the cost you create for the community and in this our identity as amazing creatures of God is questioned if you are?

The signs of our personal value are measured by what we consume – the size of our house, the make of our car, the latest device that we have bought.  The signs of our personal value are conditioned by the outcomes we achieve – the businesses we build, the studies we complete and the positions we hold.

Here is our temptation to make an identity for ourselves.  To seek our 15 minutes of fame as Andy Warhol once suggested.  Or maybe to create our own identity on Facebook, or through Twitter or Instagram.  Constructing meaning for ourselves because our society constantly ask if you are.

The nature of Jesus three temptations to turn stones to bread, to accept glory and authority from what the devil offer, and to test God are all tied to this fundamental existential question.

Do we accept who we are?  Do we accept who others are?  Do understand that we have a place in the world that transcends what we can do and how we have been commodified?

Jesus answer to the devil on each occasion is to affirm the primacy of God and God’s purposes.  For it is from God alone that our true identity and our true meaning is found.

It is in this relationship with God that the word “if”, those two innocuous letters, can be removed and we can discover and remember that we are; that you are.

For Jesus it was a moment of clear proclamation – he was the Son of God, he did not need to prove by doing tricks or by showing the devil or the world his value.  His value originated in his creation through the divine hands of love.

And we, we who also struggle with our asserting our identity, who are constantly confronted by this word “if”, day by day, moment by moment, can find a twofold hope in this scene.

Firstly, a hope in Jesus who is able to know himself as God’s Son so thoroughly that he does not need to draw on the resources of this world to find or define himself.  It is a hope that in our lives being tied to his we are consumed by the moments that we fail to resist the temptation to turn to the world and its idols to carve out our own existence.

Secondly, we hear and see in this interaction the possibility of following Jesus lead and removing something of the doubt and uncertainty from our own minds.  No longer do our lives have to be controlled by the existential uncertainty of the word “if” we can know:

You are…
You are a created, wondrous being of God.
You are loved by your maker.
You are a reflection of God’s glory.
You are unique and you are a blessing and you are blessed. And,
You are invited to share in God’s very eternal life.

When we hear not “if” but simply “you are” then the temptation to make something of ourselves and our lives by the world’s standards is subverted.  Rather, confident that we are loved and valued simply in our being, in our existence, we can be released to live as God’s children learning to love one another.

For the temptation to compete for authority and define ourselves by our perceived value puts us into competition with one another and scales human beings as if some are worth more than others.

But when we see Jesus ignoring the “if” we know not just the good news that he is indeed the Son of God but that too as children of God are all of value.

It does not matter how much we contribute or how little.  You are loved.
It does not matter how old or young you are. You are loved.
It does not matter if you are in your prime or standing at death’s door. You are loved.
It does not matter if you earn a lot or a little, whether you own many things or a few. You are loved.
It does not matter if you have intellectual impairments or multiple degrees. You are loved.
It does not matter if you have a physical disability or are as fit as an iron man or woman. You are loved.

This is the starting point for understanding how we might resist temptation and to live honouring those who are loved alongside us.

I am not naïve, like you I constantly give in to the temptation to define my own existence.  To accumulate knowledge and position and wealth as a reflection of my identity but here in this place we are reminded together of God who is the origin of all that we have and all that we are.  Here in this place we are reminded that we are loved and valued and do not need to fight God or each other to know that.  Here in this place we encounter the one of whom we can say “You are the Son of God” and we can with Jesus, say to ourselves, say to each other and say to the world with all its pressures and temptations:

“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
“It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”


This is the good news, there is no “if” because God “is” and you “are”. Jesus knew this and resisted for our sake so that we might know that we too simple "are"
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