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Mar 01, 2020

Hiding (begins at 25:46)

Hiding (begins at 25:46)

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: March 2020

Category: Lent

Audio of 2nd scripture reading, Matthew 4:1-11, followed by the sermon begins at 25:46.

Matthew 4:1-11

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”4But he answered, “It is written, 

     ‘One does not live by bread alone, 

          but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 

     ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ 

          and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, 

     so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 

7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

 “Hiding”

          I was ready to give a sermon on the goodness of hiding.  We often think of hiding as a bad thing.  We associate it with deceit.  When one hides something from another, we suspect trouble.  This goes back to the Genesis of our tradition, literally.  In the Garden of Eden, the first couple hides.  Notice though, their sin is hiding from God, not hiding altogether.  There is a good side to hiding, you see.  Children know this.  Do you remember having a good hiding place as a child, a closet in the house, a homemade fort or under the covers?  What about a tree you’d climb to get away, or one you’d tuck underneath?  Recall how you felt there—safe, protected, held, allowed not to be on display.  We’re increasingly on display all the time.  Have you noticed how our children respond to our endless taking of their picture?  They recoil because they’re constantly on display.    

Everyone needs a little good hiding.  Someone once said to me, after appreciating the lightness and openness of this worship space, that we also needed little prayer room or chapel that was darker, more closed in.  Prayer is where you bring your most vulnerable parts to God and it begs a safer place to hide while bearing the soul in prayer.  She said it should feel like a womb, nurturing and safe.  It was a keen observation.

My family just visited the San Diego Safari Park and we learned something on a tour.  There, most of the enclosures in this conservation facility are huge, simulating conditions closer to what the animals would experience in the wild.  They told us about a giant impoundment they had built for the flamingos, but they wouldn’t lay a single egg in it.  It was only when they reduced the size significantly that their breeding took off.  They needed a space to feel tucked in, protected, not so exposed.  Adult humans too need good hiding spots in order to thrive, and we they don’t get them, they often turn to destructive alternatives to meet that need. 

The psalmist makes a remarkable claim about God, that God is a place where we can hide (Ps. 32:7).  Isn’t that a marvelous image for God?  There not only can we find rest under the covers, but our iniquities can be covered, not in the sense of being covered-up, but cleared away.  Having a hiding place in God allows this process of forgiveness and renewal to be done in private preserving the dignity of the one in need.  If in Genesis, the sin is hiding from God; in the Psalm, the invitation is to hide in God.

          I was ready to give that sermon, and I suppose I just have, when the shadow side of that other kind of hiding reared its ugly head again.  Like every preacher who went to a seminary like I did and has served at churches like I have, I have more than once mentioned the name Jean Vanier in a sermon.  Vanier, who died last May at the age of 90 became world-renown for founding L’Arche, a network of homes in which for lack of a better term traditionally non-disabled people live in intentional community with those living with intellectual or developmental disabilities.  It has been lifechanging for many in each designation for decades now.  Vanier has been the inspiration for many.  If you ever heard him, you know he was this giant of a man with this gentle voice. 

What we also now know that the Catholic church began investigating him shortly before his death, and the investigation has concluded that over a period of decades Vanier took advantage of women, not those who were differently abled, but those who came to learn from him and be disciples of sorts.  He took advantage of them emotionally, spiritually, and sexually.  He did so in the manner of his mentor who was a known abuser, though Vanier denied knowing so.  That denial has been revealed to be false.  I think we accept the idea that all people have the capacity to do harm, but when such figures take this from idea to reality it is a punch to the gut.  In an era of “me too” another disturbing refrain we find ourselves uttering is “him too?”

          Maybe if we better hid in God, that sanctuary of healing, if we took up residence in communities of health and accountability, we wouldn’t inflict so much hurt on others.  This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent for millions of Christians, a time of intentional prayer and reflection leading up to Easter.  When people came forward for ashes, I said to them “May all that needs to die in your life turn to ash.”  That’s not to excuse anyone from seeking deeper support or help, from doing their own work for transformation.  Rather, it is to offer a holy charge and commission for that work, and some comfort that there is one in whom you can curl up and hide when your work becomes wearying. 

          Our psalm of hiding isn’t the only text we read today.  We are given, as we are every year, a version of the story in which Jesus is—and how appropriate is this—tempted by the devil.  Let’s not get caught up in this character; the Greek διαβόλου (Mat 4:1 BYZ) just means accuser, slanderer.  The slanderer presents Jesus with three temptations, which Jesus resists in a display of spiritual strength.  We make a mistake by assuming Jesus was simply born able to resist such temptation, missing how he spent time in holy hiding—training, practicing, and fortifying for moments such as this.  Each of his temptations is about acquiring or demonstrating power and Jesus wants nothing to do with it.  Perhaps he is aware of how dangerous such power can be, particularly accumulated spiritual power, over others.  A case such as Vanier’s sheds new light for me on why when Jesus is called “Good Teacher,” elsewhere he responds sharply, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:18-19).  Our perfect images of Jesus don’t allow for the possibility even he could have been corrupted, but perhaps it was his awareness of human corruptibility not his incorruptibility that made him who he was.

          Jesus tells the questioner to rest in the commandments, the law, the teachings.  Don’t elevate a person to dangerous heights.  The hero will only fall harder and let you down in the process, and part of what will be shattered is your faith.  May I offer you another hiding place, one that belongs not on a pedestal, but a simple table?  A hollow ritual for some, maybe for you, I wonder if communion might take on new fullness if we imagined the table as a place where you can come to be put directly in touch with the One who promises to meet us here, and who is practiced at resisting the temptation for exerting power-over.  Officiated by many a broken vessel, the cup and plate here symbolize, and maybe mystically become, a safe place where you can meet God in the light of day and yet also carry your innermost secrets, delivering them for healing and forgiveness, without fear of having them used against you or put on display.  I am here, we are here as clergy, merely to set the table, to invite you out in the open, in the company of fellow travelers, in the safe light of day, to be nourished by the One who gets the produce of life straight from the garden, the One in whom you can take refuge, the One in whom you have a hiding place, like that tree, the One who says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them—it’s always mutual, always consensual—those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.  Amen.