Our Journey Begins

A Sermon for 1st Sunday in Lent; Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

 

Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Wednesday we started our Lenten count down, a forty-day journey that brings us to Good Friday. This morning the journey follows Jesus’ Baptism, where his identity as the God’s Beloved Son is revealed. Following a short history of his ancestry, we hear how Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is lead into the wilderness. The wilderness is unstructured space and time a chaotic primal state of waste and void, the very antithesis, exact opposite, of the divinely created cosmic order. On the ground, it is the haunt of wild predatory animals, a place of demons and angels. In our souls, it is a place of existential limits, a journey to knowing our deepest, innermost selves; a time of transformation (Sakenfeld).

In this wilderness, Jesus is tempted by the devil. This temptation is difficult for us, not because we are not capable of resisting temptation, we are; however, we live in a time when many people reject the notion of the devil (Tew). I have my concerns that belief in such a being, as the personification of evil, allows us to escape responsibility for our own decisions and actions, both as individuals and collectively, as businesses or governments or other organizations. I also have concerns, that the rejection of any notion of the devil or tempter, or some sort of divine tester leads us to reject the notion of evil. In the last 8 weeks or so we have seen that evil exists, what is it 7 killings, including one over a hamburger. That a human life is less valuable than a hamburger is a sign that evil is present, somewhere, somehow. Evil exists and is the source of Jesus’ temptation, and ours as well.

The word ‘devil’ here is a cognate word, or a similar word to ‘Satan’ in Hebrew; think of the Satan in Job, who is the accuser, the tester, and a member of God’s court. This can help us to slightly shift the emphasis of Jesus’ wilderness experience from a contest between Jesus and Satan, to a time of experiential learning, in which Jesus, fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to all the faults we are, as Job did, discerns something not only about God but about himself.

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo and Sam are wondering if Strider is a friend or evil? Sam notices his dirty, scrubby looks, and abrupt behavior. Fordo replies something like If he were evil, I suspect he would look fairer and smell worse. In short evil, and or temptation present themselves cleverly. We are seldom tempted by evil things, much more often we are tempted by good things that divert us from our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Epperly). The devil doesn’t challenge Jesus’ identity as the Son of God; in fact, the devil uses his identity; the temptation challenges how Jesus lives into his identity (Jacobsen). Will Jesus choose to fully embrace his mission, and fulfill his divine mission (Harrelson), or will he use his divine gifts for his own self-interest (Gaventa and Petersen)? Yes, we witness Jesus resist this round of testing. Because we know the rest of the journey to come, we also know Jesus continually resists similar temptations throughout his ministry, even the final opportune time (Culpepper).

I mentioned that Jesus is fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to temptation as we are. This excludes any notion that Jesus’ equally full divinity, is some sort of failsafe that keeps Jesus from falling to the temptations he faces in the wilderness, and throughout his ministry (Hoezee). Given this truth, what is the source of Jesus power to resist? This morning’s story begins with Jesus full of the Holy Spirit. Throughout his ministry, we witness the power of the Spirit in Jesus’ life. He frequently prays, often retreating to a quiet place to pray, and most always before any big decision. The presence of the Spirit is revealed in the company Jesus keeps, a compassionate presence to outcasts, lepers, sinners, those who are sick, blind, dying, those who are marginalized: sinners, tax collectors, women and children (Culpepper). Allan Culpepper notes that Jesus’ life and ministry follows the Shema, Israel’s confession of faith:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Culpepper).

We are more familiar with it as the first and second law (Luke 10:27). In the temptations and his life and ministry, Jesus follows the Psalmist’s advice, keeps his focus on God, discovering and drawing on God/Spirit’s loving presence and power (Psalm 91) (Epperly).

For the next five weeks, we will follow Jesus’ journey to Good Friday. While we explore his journey, we have the opportunity to explore our own journey. Jesus has a vocation revealed in his baptism; we also have a baptismal vocation. Jesus time in the wilderness is not limited to these forty days, elements of the wilderness are present throughout his life and ministry. Life today, with all its distractions, social media gathering likeminded people, rejecting any thought that differs, the lure of beauty, wealth and prosperity as the singular signs of success, the rush to judge of people who are different than we are (Romans 10:8-13), the willful failure to till and tend the land, given us as a divine responsibility (Genesis 2:15) are all signs of the wilderness in which we live, move, and have our being; are all sources temptation. For the next five weeks, indeed for the rest of our lives we will face the decision to be who we are, beloved children of God, made in the image of God, to follow our calling to love God and to love each other, or to reject our baptismal vows and act in our self-interest. For the next five weeks and more we have the chance to trust the divine promise revealed in the Psalmist’s verse:

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him,
because he knows my Name (Psalm 91:14).

For the next five weeks and more we have the opportunity, to begin our journey, to stop, pray and seek the presence of the Spirit, we have the opportunity to trust that the Spirit, present for Jesus, through his wilderness and ministry journey, is present for us right here, right now. Our journey will be long, it will be challenging, it will be dark, and through it, we can, as Jesus did, discern something of God’s love, and something about ourselves as God’s beloved.


References

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The First Sunday in Lent. 10 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 4:1-13. 10 3 2019.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:1-13. 10 3 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Tew, Anna. “Jesus, Daniel, and Johnny, Lent 1 (C).” 10 3 2019. Sermons that Work.

 

 

 

Dare we risk the ride?

A sermon for Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

Preface: This was preached last week, immediately which we started our move. Boxes are just now unpacked enough to blog my thoughts.

A long time ago I saw a movie, I don’t remember the title, I don’t remember the characters’ names or who stars in it, I do vividly recall the parts about the challenges in a small country church. [1] James is the pastor. David is the … well, we would say sexton. James takes care of the people. David takes care f the building. David’s job is challenging, the building is old and in need of some significant maintenance. James’s job isn’t any easier; no, the people are not that old, it is just that there are two wealthy families in the community, who are always trying to outdo each other, so much so that their impulse to help, a mildly disguised effort to impress, mostly results in ~ not much. Each family has developed a cadre of supporting families. And there are a couple of independent cadres determined to not have a thing to do with either family, but they tend to split into fractions of their own. This complex web of cadres of families in the county makes James’s job even harder.

David’s job is also made harder by the still he is secretly running in the basement. One day, when David has fallen asleep at the fishing hole, the still explodes, setting the church on fire. The fire brigade is slow arriving; the alert system donated by one family cadre doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter, when the hoses, donated by the rival family, are connected they leak so bad no water gets to the nozzles. The smaller rivals start blaming the two big family cadres, those two, start blaming each other. The arguments grow at the same rate as the intensity of the fire. James had enough; he shouts: “Oh, please just everybody shut up, and let this church die in peace!” then he turns and walks down the road. Everybody else stands in stunned silence.

The next day David is trying to apologize to James. It is an awkward conversation at best. David really does love the church, her people, and building. James can see that, and he wants to help David discern what to do but is so overwhelmed by his own grief that he can’t respond. All he sees is a bitterly divided community, and a church literally splintered. There may be a county left, at least the lines on the map; there is certainly no community left, that went up with the smoke of the church fire. Once again James turns to walk down that country road.

2000 years ago, the Jews, God’s people were scattered all over the world. There were ten or fifteen different forms of Judaism (Bratt). Many believed God has withdrawn the presence of the Spirit (Nelson). Most of the diaspora Jews, from 17 countries within the Roman Empire, spoke Greek (Keener and Walton), meaning they could speak with each other. So, each hearing the disciples speak of the gospel and Peter speak of prophecy in their own language is not simply a miracle of language. It is reminiscent of the theophany at Mount Sinai, and Israel receiving the 10 commandments and the making of a community (Gaventa and Petersen; Wall). Pentecost was about the miracle of the remaking of a community, re-forged across many differences that was made possible through the transforming work of the Spirit (Day). The outpouring of the purifying, empowering Spirit is not a unique event from a time long ago. God’s presence continues to be among those who seek God/Jesus/Spirit (Wall). We have witnessed the power of God’s presence. In 1906, on Azusa Street, a revival forged a community across all kinds of community boundaries, black men laid hands on white women and black women laid hands on white men to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Hearts were transformed, lives tuned to the eternal presence of divine love of all (Day). Those lives continue today in the many Pentecostal churches across the nation and the world.

Just as the destruction of that country church signified the mess that community was in, the incivility, disregard for life, and the destruction of God’s people of all origins and faiths signify the mess we are in. We know our communities, our international, national, state, county, city, school, business, civic, church, and social communities are in a host of messes a long time in the making. This political moment is enabled by the complete loss of mutual understanding, and civility, it is powered by a total loss of community (Day). We know we need a transformation. We know we need the power of the Spirit.

James knew the power of the Spirit. He always had. The difference is at this moment he is so overwhelmed he is vulnerable enough to sense the Spirit’s presence. Before he gets around the first bend he is met by a long procession of trucks loaded with supplies and cars loaded with people. The real surprise is that the families are all intermingled. All signs of the previous cadres are gone. The church family, in fact, the whole county family is gathering to rebuild the church. Well, the church building. The Spirit started rebuilding the Church in the searing fire that exposed divisions that needed spiritual cauterizing. As David directs the caravan into the church parking lot, you can see James watch in amazement, and you can see his insight; David was wrong, the still was not the cause of the fire, oh it exploded, but there was a little Spiritual help. James watches the Spirit continue to work as once divided families begin working as a single divine community.

Like James, we know the power of the Spirit. The question is will we be willing to be vulnerable, are we willing to experience holy disorientation, as the disciples, and gathered Jews from all over did those millennia ago, as white and black worshipers at Azusa Street did some 112 years ago, as James’ community did (Day). Will we risk the disorientation of the Spirit, will we risk shaking everything up and breaking down all the barriers we use to separate humankind, will we dare ride the unpredictable winds of the Spirit (Epperly). and follow her to a reorientation and the presence of divine love for all. The Spirit is right here, right now. Dare we risk the ride?


References

Bratt, Doug. Pentecost B Acts 2:2-21. 20 5 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Acts 2:1-21. 20 5 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Charles, Hoffacker. “This Sacred Discontinuity, Day of Pentecost (B).” 20 5 2018. Sermons that Work.

Day, Keri L. “We need a Pentecost.” 9 5 2018. christiancentury.org. <https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 5 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Nelson, Thomas. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

The Living Church. Entirely Yours. 20 5 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

 

[1] A parishioner knew the movie, “An Angel in My Pocket” starring Andy Griffith and Jerry Van Dyke, 1969