Feb. 14, 2016 sermon
O This Wretched Body
I once told you that I love movies. Today I am going to tell you the story of the movie called Chocolat. It is based on the novel of the same title. It’s a story about a nomadic woman who moves to different towns in France to spread the chocolate knowledge and recipes of her people during 1950’s. The story starts at the beginning of Lent and ends on Easter Sunday. It’s a small French town during the 1950’s where everyone is expected to go to mass every Sunday, and the mayor of the town controls everything, including the sermon messages of the young priest. So this chocolate woman Vianne who doesn’t go to church and is a single mother is considered a threat to this “wholesome” little town. And opening a chocolaterie during Lent and tempting people who should be fasting? Uh, scandal! The mayor tries to make the villagers boycott her chocolate shop; but the villagers slowly befriend Vianne and get to love her kindness as well as her special chocolates. There is a scene where villagers confess their sins of indulging in chocolate to the priest, and another one where a woman secretly eats chocolate during mass. The mayor wages a war against the chocolaterie, but of course in the end, he has to lose. He loses the battle, and Vianne’s warmth and kindness wins him over. During the Easter morning service, the young priest who had been constantly manipulated by the mayor during the story preaches something spontaneously. He says; “I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about his divinity. I’d rather talk about his humanity. I mean, you know, how he lived his life here on earth; his kindness, his tolerance. Listen, here’s what I think. I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, by what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include”. Sounds very much like the United Church of Canada!
On this first Sunday of Lent, we are meditating on the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert for 40 days. But if you look at this story in the Gospel of Luke, you will notice something a little odd. Jesus gets baptized, God affirms him, and then he is driven out to the desert by the spirit to be tested; but out of the blue, the author of Luke’s gospel brutally interrupts the flow of the story with the genealogy of Jesus tracing back to Adam, and God, which is different from the genealogy in Matthew. Why would he do that? Actually this weird interruption gives the desert story a new meaning. Jesus starts his public ministry with a baptism and trial in the desert. The author of Luke is saying to his audience, with this seemingly bad piece of writing of interrupting the flow of a story, that God’s plan for the ministry of Jesus is about the whole humankind and its history. The first human was tempted and lost. The people of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years like Jesus did for 40 days, and they kept losing to temptations and sinning before God. Now contrast to all that, look at Jesus being tested. He doesn’t lose to temptation. He’s the one who will undo the damage done to our relationship with God from the first man on earth. He’s the only super hero in human history who can beat evil and make our relationship with God right; this is the message of Luke’s gospel.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. This past Wednesday, we had an intimate Ash Wednesday service where we had a chance to write down our Lenten resolutions and offer it to God. Traditionally the Christian Church spends Lent in fasting, prayer, and works of charity. We might think of something to give up during Lent, something for which we have weakness and that prevents us from getting closer to God. For example, for me a major culprit is the internet, so I decided to spend less time on the internet everyday so I can spend more time with God. A woman in my Garden View Bible Study class said, since she can’t fast because of all the medicines she has to take, instead of fasting she will give up the goodies she usually take with her coffee. There are a lot of creative and meaningful ways of participating in this “Lenten fast” tradition. Also traditionally, while fasting, we are encouraged to donate the money we would use for our meals to charity. Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean not eating anything. In the Catholic Church, they fast by eating one full meal and two light meals, and not eating meat on Friday; I take a smoothie for my light meal, for example. Every year during Lent, I collect my “fasting” money and donate it to a charity or a mission project; since we don’t have a collective project as a church this year, I will be donating mine to the Kimberley Refugee project. I encourage you to join me.
As we have seen in today’s story of Jesus, we are constantly met with temptations in our lives; temptations that try to pull us away from God and God’s way. As we have seen in today’s gospel story, devil tempts us with human instinct; Jesus was hungry so he was tempted to create food, it is human nature to want power and glory so he was tempted to worship the devil to gain the whole world, and so on. We are also constantly tempted by things of similar nature. And as we have seen in the stories of the Hebrew Bible, with the first humans and the people of Israel, we are not likely to beat temptations. Devil is more powerful than humans; what can we say? As the Apostle Paul said in Romans, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” O our wretched body that we can’t control, eh? This is how weak we are. But do you know who is more powerful than the devil? Yes, that was a rhetorical question. This all-powerful God is more than willing to be with us and strengthen us. How do we access the power of God? By maintaining an intimate relationship with God through daily spiritual activities such as prayer and meditation. Remember that everything we do with God is prayer, and prayer includes showing God’s love in our words and actions.
This Lent, I invite you to find ways to spend more quality time with God. Fasting, prayer, spiritual reading and meditation, expressing our transformation through acts of love, whether it’s just being extra nice to people around us or working for a global mission project. I pray that during this Lent, God will save us from this wretched human self, help us to beat temptations, draw us closer to God, and change our lives. I pray that this transformation will lead to changing our damaged society and the world. Those of you who are on Facebook, I will try to share Lenten articles to help you spend a more fruitful Lenten season; so stay tuned. Now I would like to send you off to your personal Lenten journey with a prayer. This is a prayer that cis in VU page 110. Let us pray; “God of love, as in Jesus Christ you gave yourself to us, so may we give ourselves to you, living according to your holy will. Keep our feet firmly in the way where Christ leads us; help our lips speak the truth that Christ teaches us; fill our bodies with the life that is Christ within us. In God’s holy name we pray. Amen.”
Rev. Sunny Kim