Thursday, 14 February 2013

Who Am I? Where am I going? How will I get there?

Peter Lockhart

Reading the temptations again this week I heard the scripture challenging 3 fundamental questions I constantly ask of myself:

“Who am I?”
“Where am I going?”
“How am I going to get there?”

I suspect many of you ask these 3 questions as well – in fact you might actually see them as prime questions of our life journey.

Now it is not my intention to tell you any kind of answer to these questions for you but invite you to listen to how the story of the temptation critiques these fundamental questions.

In the first conversation between Jesus and the tempter Jesus is challenged to prove his identity by turning stones into bread. The issue at hand is not about sustenance rather it is about the tempter getting Jesus to answer the question “Who am I?”

Jesus answer is to allude to the Old Testament story of the Exodus as he says, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Jesus critiques the notion of proving self and answering the question “who am I?” by asserting something about whose we are. We live not because we carve out our own identity but because God has spoken us into existence.

The journey of our life is not essentially about self discovery and so Jesus shifts the focus from his human identity to the one who gives life.

The second question, which the tempter places before Jesus, is a question tied up with authority and it culminates in the invitation, “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” The reason I associate this with question “Where am I going?” is that it raises the question who determines my destination.

Jesus answer once again shifts the focus away from the notion that human beings have been given dominion over the creation towards the one who gave it in the first place. ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’

The pinnacle of the story of creation is the day of rest on which God was to be glorified and worshipped. So the pinnacle of our existence is not seen in the control over our lives and of the creation we might think we have but in the glory of God that is both reflected and articulated in that creation.

In the third conversation the tempter suggests that Jesus put God to the test. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”

Of course this third temptation is tied closely with the first question of identity but it also about whether or not Jesus thinks God can be trusted to be faithful. How are we going to get to where we are going?

Jesus answer exposes the falsehood involved with putting God to the test. By putting God to the test we are essentially saying we don’t trust God.

What I find Jesus essentially doing in his conversation with the tempter is shifting the focus from an anthropocentric view of the world to a theocentric one.

The key questions that I ask:

“Who am I?”
“Where am I going?”
“How am I going to get there?”

Are challenged in favour of:
Firstly, an acceptance of whose we are;
Secondly, a definition of where we are travelling, and;
Thirdly, reassurance that God is with us.

What I find interesting as we begin the journey of Lent is that we do not hear the details of the story of the forty days Jesus retreated to the wilderness. One would assume Jesus conversed with God in this time.

It is not that inner prayer life of Jesus with his Father which is given to teach us about who we are rather it is the conversation with the tempter.

As I reflected on this I wondered whether this is because of the prevalence of those recurrent themes in my life, almost daily I ask:

“Who am I?”
“Where am I going?”
“How am I going to get there?”

The problem you and I face is that we find ourselves constantly in that dialogue with the tempter because we forget whose we are and that we can place our trust in God.

I suspect much of the depression and discord in our Western society is because we feel like we are adrift without an anchor or maybe we feel that we lost wandering in the wilderness as if we are trying to recover who we are and where we are going.

Of course the good news is that each day as I somewhat errantly ask these questions Jesus is responding on my behalf and so binding my future to his.

This is grace – God draws us into Jesus future despite our continual doubt of who we are and where we are going.

To make a quick left hand turn into the Old Testament for a moment the story from Deuteronomy is all about setting up processes in the worship life of God’s people to help them remember God’s grace and presence with them.

They share a communal memory that I have little doubt as individuals at times they did not quite understand.

So too when we gather on a Sunday much of what we do is about trying to remember.

We remember that through Jesus God has already given significance to our lives, we do not have to become someone because we are already.

We remember that in Jesus we have a future; we do not have to search a map because we are already travelling on journey home to be with God.

We remember that Jesus is with us; we do not have to worry about how we are going to get there because we are already there through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The story of the Temptations does not invite us to worry about how we might resist the tempter but to celebrate that Jesus has and maybe in it God also invites us not to worry so much about who we are and where are going and how we are going to get there, but to trust in God who made us, who loves us and who has a future for us!

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