Posted by: owizblog | March 8, 2017

Resistance Is NOT Futile: Sermon, Lent 1, 5 March 2017, UCB

Reading: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A15-17%3B+3%3A1-7++&version=RSV

Reading: Romans 5:12-19

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+5%3A12-19&version=RSV

1

I’d like to talk to you this morning about resistance.

Darth Vader was wrong. Resistance isn’t futile.

In Star Trek, the Borg were wrong. Resistance isn’t futile. It’s perhaps one of the central lessons of the twentieth century is that the people who say “Resistance is futile!” are the people who, in the long run, are going to lose.

But resistance is sometimes very hard.

darth choc

One of the things we want to do as a congregation is reach out into our parish community, and one of the ways we very much want to do that is by inviting the community in here, into these buildings, in events, but also in groups, that “lower the threshold.”

There is, as we all know, a “threshold of the mind” between out there and in here, for many people. For us, it’s gone. Our lives switch easily between out there and in here, this holy place, where Sunday by Sunday we encounter God, from where we set out into life in the world, only to return a week later, sometimes joyful, sometimes weary and hard-pressed, yes, always with a sense of those things we did and said that we shouldn’t, and the actions and words that we withheld which should have shown Christ in our lives – but always knowing the welcome and grace and acceptance and love of God which will be here.

For us, there is no threshold.

But for many people, there is. This is strange and exotic and slightly frightening territory. It’s quite a step to come in here, for many people. So anything that “lowers the step,” that diminishes the threshold, anything that makes these buildings seem familiar to the community they seek to serve in Christ’s name, is part of what we do. We have a hard-working Mission and Outreach Committee, but we should also see clearly how Frances and the Hall Committee are a crucial part of our mission and our outreach too. God is welcoming, and infinitely hospitable, and infinitely accepting. The Gospel is proclaimed whenever we are too.

And that’s why we have a Slimming Group in the Hall.

But it’s hard not to feel a warm glow when one looks at a Facebook page entitled “[Slimming Group] at the United Church of Bute”!

Here we are, on the first Sunday of Lent, looking at the story of the Temptations, and starting with the very human issue of losing weight – or trying to…

Now, we have to say, the temptation of a bar of chocolate, or a doughnut, or a bacon roll, bear no comparison with the Temptations of Christ in the Wilderness.

List them: the temptation, yes, to overcome hunger by turning the rocks of the desert into a very big pile of rolls, but in and beyond that the temptation to take the short-cut to a successful Messiahship by giving the people what they want – bread and circuses, food and miracles; and then the temptation to rely on one’s own narcissistic wonderfulness by assuming that nothing bad could ever happen to one, even if one jumps off the pinnacle of the Temple; and then the temptation to fall down and worship sheer power – which can only ever be evil power, because it’s not of God – for the sake of “success”, whatever that is…

These are huge temptations, world-shaping temptations. Isn’t it almost blasphemous to compare the allure of a doughnut or the seductive power of a bacon roll to these things?

Straightforwardly, yes.

But then, think of the commercial Slimming Group in our hall. It isn’t a church group, certainly not a church! But it does actually have one component to its work and its message that actually comes directly from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An implicit proclamation:

Resistance is NOT futile…

In fact, there’s another component of Christian experience reflected in such slimming groups, and the way they work. Solidarity. You don’t stand alone. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

2

Temptations.

devil cutex

These are the ways advertisers go to work, and they are out to do two things. They want to tell us that the product they’re selling is “naughty” – not “evil,” just naughty enough for us to feel a homeopathic kick of naughtiness, just naughty enough for us to feel a bit naughty when we “succumb.” And this plays to something in us that goes very deep, because “reasonable” people like us can distinguish between something that’s “naughty” and something that’s actually wicked or bad.

And we feel that there is something unreasonable, something odd, about people who can’t make that distinction. And we’re not wrong…

neuadd

Not far from the church where I was ordained, in Mid-Wales, was a church hall belonging to another denomination, big, spacious, light, airy, useful and flexible – except for one thing. The person who gifted it to the church in 1932 saw to that. In the middle of the floor of the main hall, which must have been twice the size of our own Church Centre, was a single step. It was a death-trap, because it made no sense, and people didn’t expect it to be there. When the tables were set out for a coffee morning, they had to have people on duty standing by this single step in the middle of a huge floor to make sure that nobody took a header down it.

It was put there by the person who gifted the hall in 1932 so that you couldn’t use the hall for dancing.

That is extraordinary. It’s also completely unreasonable. To assume that dancing is the Royal Road to Hell is absurd enough anyway. To assume that you can head temptation off at the pass by making dancing physically impossible in the one space in town that you control is bizarre.

To try to put people off dancing, and save their souls, in your church hall by effectively imposing the Death Penalty – because it would be easy to break your neck over that single step in the floor – is, quite simply, Pharisaism gone mad.

And, paradoxically, that sort of thinking opens the door to temptation, by reinforcing the obvious point that reasonable people get tempted occasionally. It makes it feel like the essence of reasonableness to be tempted! Wouldn’t anyone with a grain of sense choose temptation over this insanity?

3

Reasonable people do get tempted, of course they do. We do! People get tempted. And the temptations come large and small.

I said that advertisers are out to do two things. They are out to persuade us that a little temptation is a little temptation, and that it’s unreasonable to lose our sense of proportion over these things. In that, they are right. We really are in trouble if we can’t tell the difference between dancing in a Calvinistic Methodist church hall or eating a doughnut on the one hand, and on the other the temptations to selfishness, callousness towards the poor, hatred of the other, the stranger, the different, the rampant self-interest which seems to govern our society and which infects us all with the temptation to say “It’s just the way the world is; you have to look out for number one…”

There are big and small temptations.

So advertisers want us to believe that “It’s no big deal…”

burger tempting

But far more dangerously, they want us to believe that Resistance is Futile. Resistance is futile, because we don’t have it in us. Resistance is futile, because that’s not who we are.

4

Again, we need to be sure that we don’t overreact. I’ve said to you before that I’m one of those people who gets annoyed, watching commercial channels, when my watching is interrupted every so often by programmes. Adverts are a real study, not only because they reflect human nature, but because they play to perceptions of human nature, and reinforce them.

Advertisers need a sense of who we are, in order to appeal to who we are, in order to persuade us that who we are is this: we are people who need this product, want, desire this product, can’t live without this product, and ultimately, can’t resist the temptation embodied in their advert for this product.

Resistance is futile.

And we laugh! And so we should.

But there is something really serious here that we need to see.

We need to see the message.

Resistance is futile because of what you are.

You are human beings. You are a human being. Therefore, ultimately, you can’t resist temptation. It’s who you are.

Now, that’s both amusing and a bit chilling when it comes to television advertising. But once again, and far more chillingly, it’s becoming how the world works.

There have been times before when that subterranean murmur “Resistance is futile! This is who you are! This is what human beings are like!” has been used to control whole populations, and shape the world and its history. It’s ‘natural’for some to be superior, and some inferior. It’s ‘natural’ for countries and their populations to put themselves first, defend and extend their territory, to suspect, even expel, the stranger – for which you need to decide who belongs, and who doesn’t – to seek a “place in the sun” or ampler “living room.” It may seem cruel and heartless – though that can be thrilling and exciting – and it may seem to run completely counter to the values of, well, whatever you want to call it…  Judaeo-Christian values… the Gospel…; but you can’t go against the grain of human nature. This is what we are. As a human race, as a species, this is our nature.

It happened eighty years ago, and unmistakeably, it’s stirring again.

Resistance is futile. You can’t change human nature. The world is as it is. This is who you are…

And that is a really huge postulate, whether it’s used by entertaining imaginative advertisers, who want to sell us fast food, or by demagogues and ambitious politicians, who want to use fear and suspicion and mistrust and even hatred to steer whole populations. “Your whole being is compromised. You will never be any different. This is what you are. There is no point of resistance.”

That’s temptation…

5

And to that, Paul answers “It isn’t true. There is a point of resistance. Jesus shares your whole being. What you are, as a human being – what you should be, living out of the most basic relationship in your existence, your relationship with God as the very foundation of your being – is what Jesus is. And Jesus is not that.”

And in him, your relationship with God is restored.

For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

And because your relationship with God is restored, you aren’t resisting alone.

You say “Resistance is futile…” and you are saying “I’m lost, compromised, weak, stupid – that’s just who I am…” You say “I’m lost, compromised, weak, stupid – that’s just who I am…” The Gospel says “No, that’s not ‘just who you are.’ On a bad day, yes; and on a bad day we all fall short, all succumb to the things we know we shouldn’t do and say, all stuff up, all ‘fall short of the glory of God.’ But that’s not who you are. You are whom God will have you be. Resistance is not futile…” You have solidarity with God in Christ. We have solidarity with each other in Christ. Resistance is not futile…

And that’s what the Gospel reading today is all about. Resistance is not futile. Because Jesus Christ is the point of resistance. Jesus Christ is the point at which the immovable object demonstrates that the force is not irresistible. At the beginning of his ministry, in the Temptations, and at the end of his ministry, on the Cross, Jesus is resistance to the way the world is, and the way the world tries to get us to think we are: “Your whole being is compromised. You will never be any different. This is what you are. There is no point of resistance.”

That’s temptation…

And yes, we succumb. Yes, we despair. Yes, we think “That’s the way the world is, and that’s how I am in it!”

But it’s not…

Jesus resisted. Jesus resisted in the desert. And the Tempter went away. Jesus resisted through his ministry, and every healing, every forgiving, every setting-free, everything that proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom was an act of resistance against the way things are.

Jesus was crucified. And his going to the cross was the act of ultimate resistance, in which a human being surrenders himself to the brute force that proclaims “Resistance is futile!” in order to show that force, power, evil, have their limits, and that resistance may be unspeakably costly, but is never futile.

And Jesus Christ is risen.

And that’s why the Gospel is the very proclamation, in the face of everything that looks to separate us from God, that resistance is not only not futile. Resistance has already won.

Gospel Reading Matthew 4:2-11


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