I took a week off which wasn’t really a week off. I went to the Forma conference in Philadelphia and introduced my WeMo colleagues to the joy and wonder of Wawa. Then I took a train up to NYC for a few days because it has been over 2 years since I have been in the city, and that is just plain unacceptable.
I saw lots of friends I haven’t seen in a long time, and wandered aimlessly around Central Park and the Met. I ate egg and cheese on hard rolls and drank cheap diner coffee (breakfast of the gods, I tell you) and rode the subway like a pro. And oh yes, I SAW HAMILTON. (Will probably write more about that later. Will probably also goad every single person I know into going back to see it with me for as long as it runs.)
Now, back in the swing of things, everything has picked up pace again. Lent Madness is back up and running (go vote! www.lentmadness.org! ) and they are foolishly letting me write for another year. And we’re packing up the office to relocate to the 4th floor tomorrow for a series of months as the east wing is renovated.
On the preaching front, Hype Baby got some competition on Sunday. Behold, the advent of Hype TODDLER!
I don’t know what is happening, but evidently, my manically-waving hands and odd faces attracts the attention of small children, who then feel free to chime in loudly. Which makes for a pretty epic church experience. Longer story at the asterisk.
Here’s what I said:
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 14, 2015
Conflict between Satan’s idea of who Jesus is, and how Jesus sees himself (existing to serve God/others)—Who are you?
This passage from Deuteronomy is a lot of fun, though granted it doesn’t immediately sound like it. It’s one of the many passages that feature heavily in the traditional Seder meal, and has coordinating action that goes along with it—as a big part of that service, the people all recite the formula “My Ancestor was a wandering Aramean,” and then you dip some matzoh and trade it around. You say it several times. (The other really fun charade-like passage is “God saved us with his mighty arm, and outstretched hand.—and overtime you talk about the mighty arm of God doing something, the leader is supposed to either point to or wave their lamb bone around emphatically. See, liturgy is fun, y’all.)
Now, I grant you—this, like most liturgical actions, can seem slightly strange to outsiders; it’s not quite clear what this is talking about, since Abraham isn’t an Aramean insofar as we can tell, and who knows why the writer of Deuteronomy thinks he was?
But the sense of it, the overall meaning is clear—because it neatly sums up who God wants the Jewish people to see themselves as. When this line was recited at the Temple, and even now at the Seder meal, Jewish people recall the same story: They were descended from wanderers, had been saved from oppression, and now, their job was to protect and save others. Bam. There it is in one. My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, so I might save others who wander.
That’s part of why we have holy texts—to remind us of who we are, since we’re liable to forget. The scriptures we have collect for us the record of other people’s relationship with God and who they were—how they struggled and what they figured out, or didn’t figure out. The goal is that we can take all that knowledge—that huge story— and use it in light of our own story.
Problem is that scripture is confusing. There’s some weird stuff in there—giants, sea monsters, and a dragon at one point.*** And also, scripture is contradictory. One moment, there’s a story about being kind to the widow, orphan, and alien in the land—the next, there’s a story about driving a spike through the head of an enemy. The idea that the Bible speaks with a unified voice on much of anything is pretty odd.
And exhibit A of this is the Gospel
Where, hello! The devil himself quotes scripture to Jesus. Who quotes it right back.
Please note that neither of them quotes it incorrectly, or twists the meaning—they’re both pretty much correct. Though, this is a good argument for why prooftexting is going to land you in trouble.
In this episode, the devil comes to Jesus and starts to tempt him with some really nice stuff: free food! Unlimited power! Flying!
And for each temptation, Jesus argues back with a nice scripture quote. But Satan is ready with some of his own.
It’s worth noting that ‘satan’ here isn’t quite what we think of as the devil—the embodiment of all evil. It’s pretty close, but the Hebrew ‘ha-satan’ was originally a courtroom term which meant “The accuser.” The idea was that heaven was set up like an actual courtroom, and God needed someone to argue with, so there was this prosecuting attorney figure. They weren’t good or bad, necessarily—they just were there to argue the other side of things. Largely because God was always the one who judged, and interceded for humanity—something that couldn’t happen if God just talked to himself all the time. (See, they had thought this out.)
Satan comes in, and does his arguing thing, but it’s a little more than that. He offers stuff. And all the stuff that he offers is predicated on the same idea—Jesus should really be way more flashy than he currently is being. He’s the Son of God? (Which Satan doesn’t dispute, BTW) then he should make himself some magic food! He’s so smart and wise and loving? Then he should take over the world and coerce EVERYONE into knowing and loving him! He’s so holy? Then he should make God prove how much he loves him!!!
The through-line here is that Satan has a clear idea of who Jesus is—a wonder-working, glory-seeking, magic worker who is out for himself. Self-focused. Self-involved. The definition of sin.
But Jesus knows better. Jesus’ idea of himself comes not from himself alone, but from his relationship with God—from the knowledge that it is this relationship that gives him identity—not himself alone. Jesus repeats the idea that he’s great, yet he’s still dependent on God.
Jesus by himself is awesome, and could totally make himself a magic sandwich. But it is through his relationship with God that he is able to become more. Able to reach people, and realize his vocation to be the Messiah for a whole world. It’s through being humble, and relying on God, not just himself, that he becomes more. That’s who he is.
As wonderful as we are, and we are, we aren’t the be all, end all. We need other people and we need God.
We need other people to give us different perspectives and to challenge our preconceptions. We need them to be vehicles of God’s love for us.
And we need God to remind us of who we are. We need God to be bigger than we are, —to lift some of this weight off our shoulders, and to inspire us to do better. We need God to knit together all of our stories.
We are never who we are alone. We are always who we are in connection with others, and with God. It is these other relationships that help guide us to who we are, that help us construct our stories. In the midst of competing voices and claims about who we might be.
Lent is a time to reconnect with who we are. To recall our story, in relationship with God. In service to others. To tease out the story of ourselves as we truly are, and not as the accusers around us would have us be.
A time to reconnect with our core identity and story as beloved children of God, who don’t have to save the world, but do have to love it. Who were chosen by God in baptism, and never have to be any more or less, than that.
***It was at this point that a 3 year old boy in the front row turned around and loudly whispered “SEA MONSTERS!!!!!” in great excitement to his parents and assorted family members. I didn’t hear until later that he proceeded to hush them quiet, and comment that “Wow, she really knows some deep stuff!”
After church, he approached me with great trepidation, and at his mother’s urging, told me that I did a good job. I returned the compliment, and thanked him for listening to what I said so attentively.
Hype kids for the win, y’all.