Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Well, folks, the time has finally come. After about 2 years of having two separate blogs, neither of which I updated with good regularity, I've decided to merge my pastor life and mama life into one. This blog will not be deleted, but will go dormant. If you'd still like to keep up with me and read my rambling thoughts, please head here.

Thanks for being on this journey with me!

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Forty Days- Sermon on Luke 4:1-13 and Deut 26:1-11

Preached Sunday, February 17, 2013, first Sunday of Lent.

“Trust me.” Two short words, filled with meaning and baggage. I think, on the whole, that we want to be trusting people. We want to give others the benefit of the doubt, right? Especially as Christians, we don’t want to judge people unfairly, or interact with them based on their appearances or reputation, treat anyone differently from anyone else. We want to offer them trust.

But we live in a cynical time, in a dangerous world. It seems naïve to trust anyone. Seeds of doubt have been planted. We are wary, insecure. We look at everyone twice, with narrowed gaze, trying to figure out their angle, their ulterior motives. We are afraid, frankly. And we have transferred this distrust to God, as well.

Of course, this is not really a new phenomenon. We might idealize the 1950s as a time of perfection in America, the way life should be, imagining Wally and the Beave and the rest of the Cleavers, but it was also the time of a Cold War, and fear of communists and anyone else who didn’t conform to that standard ideal. Go back further, and there are the Salem witch trials. Further than that, Inquisition. The beginning of the Christian church. Keep going—all the way back to Adam and Eve. When we read that creation story, we stopped before their time in the garden. Genesis 3:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that theLord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

This was the first temptation, and it was accomplished by creating distrust. It wasn’t so much that the tree was so fabulous that Adam and Eve could not resist. The serpent got them to question God. “God’s not telling you the whole story,” says the serpent. The trust starts to crack. Ever had that feeling? You put your trust in someone or something, and then something happens or someone says something and all of a sudden, in your mind, in your gut, in your heart, there is the tiniest catch. Doubt. Hesitation. No one wants to feel like a sucker, made to be a fool. Adam and Eve were no different. They shifted their trust from God to the serpent, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And then there’s Jesus. Just before the passage we read this morning, Luke traces Jesus’ lineage through Joseph back to Adam, makes that connection to him, and to God. Jesus is about to begin his ministry at thirty years old. He has just been baptized by water and the Holy Spirit, and this same Spirit now leads him out into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and temptation. We don’t know how the temptation is framed during that forty days, but at the end of that time, we find the Devil trying to cast that shadow of doubt on Jesus. “If you’re the Son of God,” the devil says, “turn the stones to bread.” The Devil tries to cast doubt not only on the authenticity of Jesus’ identity (which was affirmed during his baptism), but also on Jesus’ trust of God’s plan. “You’re hungry, Jesus. You don’t know when you’ll get bread next. Go ahead, turn this stone here. You haven’t eaten anything for forty days! You need to eat! You deserve it!” Jesus responds with scripture, part of Deuteronomy 8:3, “God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not lives by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

“Ok,” Devil says, “Look around. I’ll give you power over all that you see, if you worship me.” In other words, do you really have Divine power? Can you trust God’s word on that? Jesus again refers to scripture, Deuteronomy 6:13, “The LORD your God you shall fear; God alone you shall serve, and by God’s name alone you shall swear.”

The Devil tries one last time. “Ok, Jesus. If you’re really the Son of God, nothing bad can happen to you, right?” The Devil pulls out some scripture, too, from Psalm 91. Ha ha!, the Devil says. Two can play at this game. “Go ahead, Jesus, jump from the top of the temple, and if you’re really God’s Beloved Child, the angels will catch you and make sure you’re not injured.” Jesus responds a third time with scripture, mindful both of God’s promises and of God’s expectations. Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested God at Massah.”

First of all, I think it is no accident that all of Jesus’ quotes are from Deuteronomy. He uses scripture from the time before the text we heard this morning, a time when his ancestors were wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Those people certainly had doubts aplenty. I know I would—in their time, forty years was literally a lifetime, so probably very few saw both the beginning of the Exodus and the arrival in the Promise Land. But as we heard in this lovely text, God does provide, always, and does so abundantly.

Jesus knew this. I wonder, honestly, how much he was tempted in those forty days. He certainly doesn’t seem to hesitate in the least during those last three tests. If you have internet access, I encourage you to look up a video called “40” (that’s the number)—search for “Jesus 40 days video” or something along those lines and you should find it easily. Or check out our Facebook page—I put the link up this morning. It’s a video of cartoons by Simon Smith, set to various pieces of music, of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, his reflection on what it might have been like. In the end, the face of the Devil is Jesus’, suggesting that Jesus’ mightiest struggle was with himself.

“Trust me.” God says these words to us every moment of every day of our existence. The world, though, especially for those of us with more logical, science-minded, or even practical brains, tells us differently. We know that one does not live on bread alone, but we also know that about 25,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes, and 16,000 of those are children. Oh that we could turn stones to bread for them—except we don’t need to. Americans alone throw away about 400 lbs of food a year—that’s EACH PERSON, so multiply that by a population of about 314 million. God has provided, we’re just taking more than our fair share.

“Trust me.” We want to. We really, really want to. We want to let go and let God, as the saying goes. Through our hard times and struggles and uncertainties, we want to trust that God is there, and more than that, helping us. But we don’t. We are tempted by doubt. We want to trust God to lead us by the Holy Spirit, but when we think we’ve discerned where and how and why we’re being led, the trust starts to crack. There is a quote that appears in the film Akeelah and the Bee, incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, that I think really captures this doubt. It’s really by Marianne Williamson, and she says,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.[1]

We don’t trust that God actually is asking us to act. We don’t trust Jesus quite enough to pick up our cross daily and follow him. We don’t trust the Holy Spirit not to lead us astray. We are tempted by the promises of the world, yes, but much more so by self-doubt, insecurity, feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, and that’s when those worldly promises take hold, because they promise to fix those things. Buy this, go here, act like this, wear this, and you’ll fit in, you’ll be confident and have lots of friends and be happy. Those people who are hungry? That’s because they don’t work hard enough, because there isn’t enough food to feed everyone, because their government is corrupt, because they are in this country illegally, because they’ve made bad choices, because they feel entitled to be fed by our tax dollars. It has nothing to do with you, trust me. Don’t get involved in trying to change the system, it will never change, trust me. Don’t bother writing or calling your representatives in the government, they won’t listen, trust me. What can you do? You’re just one person. You’re not famous or rich or influential, and even if you are, you should use that to your own benefit. Let other people take care of themselves. Trust me. All that stuff you have, your possessions, your money, your food? YOU earned it. God had nothing to do with it, really. Sure, if there’s a little money left over at the end of the month, I guess you could give it to the church, but don’t put yourself out. Don’t make any sacrifices or anything. Trust me. You deserve that stuff. You need it. Trust me.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Reflecting Jesus’ time in the wilderness, it is 40 days (not including Sundays) of prayer, penitence, fasting, and alms-giving. It is a time to practice our faith at a deeper level in preparation for the event at the center of our faith, the resurrection, which we celebrate on Easter. Maybe you’ve already chosen a practice for Lent, and started on Ash Wednesday. Maybe you hadn’t even thought about it, or had no idea what Lent was. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Either way, let me suggest that this Lent, we all practice trusting God. We trust that we are God’s child, and that God wants the best for us. We trust that our voice is as powerful as anyone else’s—and that others’ voices are important as well. We trust that we have a say in how our world is run, and whether people go hungry or are oppressed or exploited or not. We trust that God will provide enough. How will we do that? Here are some possibilities, some suggestions to get the ideas flowing. Pick one—two at most. Do not try to do them all!

Don’t buy anything new during Lent. Only eat food that is already have in your cupboards and refrigerators and freezers. Educate yourselves on the political status of a cause which speaks to you and contact your representatives to give them your opinion. Take one of the scripture texts we’ve been learning or one that Jesus used in this lesson or even the Lord’s Prayer, and say it each time you hear that other, tempting voice. Pray each day to be led by the Holy Spirit in all you say and do—and then actually follow where She leads. Each day or each week write down one area of your life where you’re struggling to trust God—a financial situation, or a relationship, or a gift you may have—and pray about it, and try to let go of your doubt. Make a point to give away more than you ever have, whether by buying extra food for the food pantry, or making a daily small donation to one charity or forty different organizations over the course of Lent, or fasting from some other activity in order to create time to volunteer or read scripture. Lent can sometimes have a bad reputation, but it does not have to be about guilt or making life painful or difficult. It should take a little effort, yes. Most practice does. But that’s how we get better at things, with practice. Trust me. And above all, trust God to lead you through whatever wilderness lies ahead. You are not alone, and you are God’s beloved. Amen.

[1] A Return to Love, Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992, p. 190-191

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