First Congregational Church
March 24, 2019
Third Sunday in Lent
“When Being Slow Is a Good Thing”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I usually don’t do this, but I’m telling you all to buckle up. I’ve not ever come across this story before, and I’m sure there will be a response to it - of some sort. I met a talking fig tree once. Actually, it wasn't the tree that talked, it was the figs. They would spend all day talking to each other as they grew on the tree. One of the figs, who's name was Justin became a very close friend of mine. He was rather difficult to understand, so sometimes I had to ask the other figs what he was saying. One day, I was talking to him, and he came up with a phrase "your magic-nation', and as usual, I had to ask the others what he had said. "Don't worry," said another fig, "Justin the fig meant 'your imagination'."
Cutting to the chase, our scripture passage this morning, without context, is like left-over post-it notes, after the paper is written, and not wanting to lose them, the Gospel writer inserts them where they seem to make the most sense to him - sort of like some of my own sermons. I go out on the preverbal limb in suggesting that maybe Luke hopes that one of these pieces will make sense to someone who suddenly comes back to the present, after leaving the mental grocery list and the after-church events of their mind. But the more you know about the background, the more the pieces seem to fit - at least with each other.
The passage is actually two: verses 1-5 and 6-9. The first part of the passage refers to two events that were probably well-known by the ancient audiences. Although the details have been lost over time, apparently Pilate Antipas ordered an attack on some Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem. We don’t know why the Galileans were massacred while at worship, but the passage is rather poignant in light of the recent shooting at the mosque in New Zealand. Pilate, however, went a step further in his brutality, mixing the blood of the dead Jews with the blood of the animals that were sacrificed that day by the priests.
The second event - in the first section - refers to a tower in the wall around Jerusalem that apparently collapsed without warning and crushed eighteen ill-fated Jerusalemites. These two events, along with a little parable that Jesus tells, seem to be part of that which took place within a single day - as Luke tells it. Jesus was talking to the disciples, with thousands of their closest friends listening in, and just perhaps, as Jesus was using the two current events, he saw a far off fig tree, crafting it into a sermon illustration - rather than looking something up on sermon-illustrations.com.
Luke 13:1-9 Repent or Perish
13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Thank you, Dawn. So I was at Watson Benzie a few months back, probably doing the oil change thing, and they had a white Viper in the showroom with a note on it that said, “Do Not Touch.” I knew it was probably expensive, but not $90,000 expensive. Still, I knew that if I touched the car, being who I am, knowing that Murphy’s Law lives in the house next door to the parsonage, if I were caught, I’d get to wear the green badge of embarrassment and shame for a long time. So I didn’t touch it.
I was back at Watson Benzie on Thursday, and while they were working on my car, I got to thinking about that Viper and the note. So I went to the sales guys, and asked them what percentage of people they thought had touched the car. I was flabbergasted that the answer was “most of them.” Most of them! They said that they put the note on the car mainly as a cautionary memo for parents with kids who were likely eating the popcorn they make there. They also said that they told a lot of people that they could go ahead and touch the car. But still. The car belonged to the dealership and they asked the public not to touch it. Temptation abounds.
I was at Munson hospital on Friday, and when I got off the elevator, there was a sign at the entrance to the unit where Andy Mollema is staying, saying that there was a procedure in progress. Other people waiting to see Andy had been there 40 minutes while this procedure was going on. Other people had said that they had looked through the door, but didn’t see anyone around. The temptation to pull out the Reverend card and poke my head through the door, beyond the door, to see what was going on, was huge! But I didn’t even go up to the door. I never did find out what exactly happened, but I surmised it was a situation that needed all hands on deck and a couple of crash carts that sat outside one of the rooms while people were quickly cleaning up what looked like the aftermath of a tornado. When I thought about what it would have been like for any of the staff, having to fend off curiosity seekers while trying to save a person’s life, especially if it was the life of someone I knew or loved, I realized how sad my curiosity was.
I paint these pictures not because I’m looking for accolades for good behavior, but to point out how common-place temptation can be with such innocuous seeming issues - within the big scheme of life. In either case, had I succumbed to the temptation, I would have been justified in any reprimand that I might have received.
But the Galilieans and the Jerusalemites didn’t do anything to deserve their fates. God didn’t cause bad things to happen to those people - good or bad people - things just happen. Life happens. But then, Jesus tells the disciples and other listeners - not once, but twice - that they need to repent, or they, too would perish. So what’s up with that?
Ironically and unknowing how relevant it would be, I snuck in the 2002 version of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine this week, too. I’d never read the book or looked at the comic book version or seen either of the other two movie productions, the two television versions or listened to any of the five radio interpretations. So I still don’t know if all those other versions carry the underlying reason for wanting to time travel - to change history.
The young scientist who creates the machine does so because his fiancé is killed in a robbery. When he goes back in time to change the circumstances that led up to that event, the fiancé still dies. So he goes some 800,000 years into the future to get the answer to the question: why can’t we change history? Surely people would evolve enough to discover either the answer to the question or how to change history or both. Why will bad things continue to happen to people, regardless of what they do or don’t do? In the end, the broken-hearted scientist learns that sometimes things happen, and there is no cause and effect. It is just part of being human and living.
But then there is the fig tree parable, and it would seem to support the idea of punishment for anyone or anything that is unproductive. The tree is trying to grow. It’s given that hallowed time of three years, and nothing’s happening. Did it receive enough water? Did they even give it anything to eat, i.e., fertilizer? Some Bible versions call it manure. If it isn’t given the right help, then the tree is not at fault for its lack of fruit. If there was not proper care of the tree, then it was the vineyard owner who was responsible for the barrenness of the fig tree - not the tree itself.
Of course, it’s a parable - meant to impart wisdom - so we can’t count on any back story to help in the understanding of this passage. But it does give us plenty of room for contemplation.
This season of Lent, the season of confession and truth-telling and contemplation opens the opportunity for self-discussion: have I jumped to conclusions that I didn’t realize had extenuating circumstances? Have I easily, automatically, unknowingly judged an individual or situation to be a certain way before understanding the reasons and events that brought that person to their present place? I’ve heard a son talk about his mother at her funeral, whom people often thought to be drunk, except she had narcolepsy - a sleep disorder that causes overwhelming drowsiness. How might I have wrongly judged that person myself?
Jesus’ words are rather stark and harsh: repent or you, too, will all perish. We’re so used to the Jesus that is inclusive and loving. And I’m guessing that we all like that Jesus. But being the good, church going people that we all are, how does this passage speak to us in ways that make a difference?
There was an article that came my way this week by a pastor named Chris Katzer, called, “I’m Sorry Church, My Hope Is Gone.” There was a sentence in this blog entry that got right to the heart of its message. “What we have in so much of American Christianity is beyond simple human error, imperfection, or oversight, but a callous lust for personal gain and all the blatant disregard for people and integrity that comes with it.” In other words, it is a disingenuous claim to follow Christ and not act like it.
At one point in the blog entry, Mr. Katzer wrote, “The bar my family attends for food and drink, the cubicles in which I work to live and breathe, the nature in which I roam, the secular in which I live, all are far more spiritual, holy, and pure, at least for me.”
Mr. Katzer’s words are harsh, but I would venture to guess that they ring true for some folks. And that’s really sad. What’s more sad is the part I have perhaps played in contributing to this situation. And I use the word I to mean we.
There is a phrase that says, “Therefore but by the grace of God.” What it means is that in any other circumstance, I could have been the one in that car crash, the one whose child overdosed, or any other bad thing that happens. But when we use that phrase, there is a certain separateness implied. I’m not like that person. Except that I am. We all are.
I remember hearing that sarcasm is actually hostility disguised as humor. In an article in Psychology Today, Clifford Lazarus points out that despite smiling outwardly, most people who receive sarcastic comments feel put down and usually think the sarcastic person is a jerk.
The first two sections of our passage - standing alone - could make a good enough sermon - lifting up the fact that no matter what happens, God is with us - in each and every moment - we are never alone. But then there is the parable about the fig tree, and that gives us the need to look deeper, to see our part in helping others heal and bloom in Christ.
I’m not implying that there is rampant naming and blaming and shaming going on here. But I do think that we can be more thoughtful, more deliberate about leaving this place in as good condition or better than when we found it. We have done that to a large degree in the physical aspects of this church home, but how is our spiritual legacy doing? It’s great to see our friends here, and I hear lots of people talk about how friendly our church is. But we let us remember to water and feed the new folks that come to us, including them and making spaces for them, noticing when someone sits alone and trying to discern whether they want to stay alone. When that happens, and life happens, we will all have not just one or two, but a whole family to come around us to support us and love us. As it has been, so may it be.
God of grace, thank you for always giving us opportunities to repent, to start again, to remain humble people after your heart. Thank you for the rains that fall on the just and the unjust, because we are well aware that sometimes, we are the unjust. Forgive us, God, when we don’t live up to the high calling you have on all of us, to further your kingdom - not just in breadth of location, but in the span of time. Thank you for those who have gone before us and for each one you send to us - today and in all the days ahead. May we all know, deep in our hearts of not just your love and joy, but your grace and mercy. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
March 17, 2019
Second Sunday of Lent
“Just Like Jesus - Mostly, Sort Of”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One day the first grade teacher was reading the story of Chicken Little to her class. She came to the part of the story where Chicken Little tried to warn the farmer. She read “…and so Chicken Little went up to the farmer and said, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”The teacher paused and then asked the class, “And what do you think the farmer said?” One little girl raised her and hand and replied, “I bet he said: ‘Holy cow! A talking chicken!”
From today through the next four Sundays, the lectionary scripture passages are all over the place: Luke 13, Luke 1, Luke 15, John 12. I’d welcome anyone who would join me for a cup of coffee with the people who create these lectionary lists of prescribed Bible passages.
So there is call for a little set-up before we step into today’s passage. Five chapters before the one for today, Jesus had turned his face to Jerusalem, somehow knowing that his days on earth were not only numbered, but focusing and pointing to that last Holy week. But more than his frame of mind, we need to know his physical frame of reference.
Jesus returned to the area called Perea, the place where John the Baptist had been baptizing some two and a half years earlier. Perea was an area like Galilee, Samaria and Judea: territories like how we refer to Shipshewana, Appalachia or Midwest. Perea was east of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and a tad north, maybe 10 miles or so. It wasn’t a geographically specific place, but it was part of the landscape for this morning’s passage.
I didn’t think about it before yesterday, that historically, Jewish people would not bury their dead inside the city walls, so Jerusalem is surrounded by tombs. The tombs were cut out of rock, so as they were cutting and chiseling resting places, plain to elaborate, there were chunks of rock and stone lying all over, even as far out as three miles from Jerusalem. Jesus may not have been laying his eyes on the actual tombs, but everyone knew they were there; not just stones that could be easily picked up, but stones that were related to death, some that could be used for stoning, and others not so unlike tombstones and stone sculptures in our American, modern cemeteries in the north.
Amidst this area that was perhaps perfumed with au de death, maybe in a synagogue, Jesus had been teaching about the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The Kingdom of God is like the narrow door.
Luke 13:31-35 Jesus’ Sorrow for Jerusalem
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Thank you, Noreen. I will admit that this passage had me thinking for a few days. And even after a some fair bit of study, I was still trying to sift through what I thought God might desire for us to hear.
If only I could have waited for the bulletin printing until yesterday, then it would have been easy! Jane Anne Ferguson of sermon-stories.com pointed out how the story of the Little Red Hen would be such a perfect fit.
Since I tend to get the Little Red Hen and Chicken Little mixed up these days, the Little Red Hen is the one who found a handful of grain, and knowing that it would produce more if it were planted, rather than if she ate it right then and there, asked if anyone wanted to help her. “Not I,” said the lazy dog. “Not I,” said the sleepy cat. “Not I,” said the sloppy pig.
At each stage of the endeavor, the Little Red Hen asked if anyone wanted to join her. And of course, each time, she was turned down. So she planted it, harvested it, ground it, mixed it into flour, and baked it. Then came the moment: would she ask if anyone would like to join her in the fresh bread, or would she keep it to herself? And how would the dog, the cat and the pig answer?
If we had been able to go down that trail, we could have compared the Little Red Hen and Jesus -repeatedly offering grace and opportunity to join in the mission. And then we could have noted that while the Little Red Hen ate the fruits of her labor alone, Jesus reaped the fruit of his sacrifice with those who watched him ascend back to sit at the right hand of God.
And if we had gone down that track, we would have missed out on wondering if the Pharisees were conservative liberals or liberal conservatives in that they were reputed bad guys being good. Or good guys being good. If we’d stuck with just the chicken side of the story, we would have missed the wonder of if or why these Pharisees were in cahoots with Herod, and the fact that when Jesus told the Pharisees to go back to Herod, he was actually telling them to take a hike, too. Had we been able to explore the mothering hen more, we might have missed out on the possibility that maybe the Pharisees warning was a deception, not really to protect him, but just to get Jesus out of their hair for a while.
Had we been able to explore such a fowl theme, we could have raised the Aesop fable of The Hen and the Fox, even though the story is about a male chicken. Maybe Jesus even knew this story, as Mr. Aesop lived about 500 years before him. And it would be a good exploration, because I’m guessing that more than a couple of us have forgotten the story - if we ever knew it.
We might have been able to hear that on one bright evening, as the sun was sinking on a glorious world, a wise old rooster flew into a tree to roost. Before he composed himself to rest, he flapped his wings three times and crowed loudly. But just as he was about to put his head under his wing, his beady eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below him stood Master Fox.
“Have you heard the wonderful news?” cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner. “What news?” asked the rooster very calmly. But he had a queer, fluttery feeling inside him, for, you know, he was very much afraid of the Fox.
“Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on, forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.” “How grand!” said the rooster. “I certainly am delighted at the news.”
But he spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off. “What is it you see?” asked the Fox a little anxiously. “Why, it looks to me like a couple of Dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—”
But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run. “Wait,” cried the rooster. “Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!” “Yes,” answered the Fox. “But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.” The rooster smiled as he buried his head in his feathers and went to sleep, for he had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.
It’s too bad that we didn’t go down the road with the hen/chicken/rooster theme, because we could have pondered a moment on the irony of Aesop’s rooster crowing three times and the rooster crowing before Peter’s third denial. We could have contemplated the courage it takes a brave man to call the reigning king a fox.
Had we gone down that road, however, we might have missed the opportunity to see this whole scripture passage from Jesus’ eyes, from his position juxtaposed against the cross, to note that Jesus had the free will - like us - to back down or step up to the longing of his heart. Just like Jesus, we are free to reject the way and will of God.
Had we gone with the chicken and fox theme, we might have spent a few minutes thinking about the imagery of the mother hen brooding over her chicks, and how parents and grandparents can relate so easily to the idea of trying to help the kids understand what is right and wrong and how frustrating, painful and terrible it is when kids refuse our advice, and how hard it is to allow them to make their own mistakes, to give them their right to make their own mistakes, just like we get to make our own mistake. And in that pain of parenting, we get a little closer to the heart of Jesus.
It might have been a little lighter message, going with the Little Red Hen, the Hen and the Fox and the brooding hen. But it is important to think about all the parts of this passage, in their goofy combination and compilation, to see that one of the parts of our lives that is like that of Jesus is our free will, not despite God, but in respect of God knowing what is best for us, and leading us in those paths of righteousness of the Lord’s sake. It’s an important part of our faith, trusting in God that all things will work out, even when it seems most unlikely. For such wisdom, let us pray.
Gracious and Loving God, we thank you that you give us choices; choices that are free of coercion and offered in grace. Give us your courage to hope in the face of evil. Give us your patience to serve under stress. Give us your faith to work for justice in the face of threat and opposition. Give us your pluck to persevere when it is hard. Give us your love, for our love itself changes the world. May we meet fear with healing and hate with love, side by side with you, who die and rise daily with us. And may you grant us all these things in the name of your Son, in whom all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent
“Trust and Certainty”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
When the doctor asked Ole about what he did yesterday, Ole told him. "Well, yesterday afternoon, I waded across the edge of a lake, escaped from a mountain lion in the heavy brush, marched up and down a mountain, stood in a patch of poison ivy, crawled out of quicksand, and jumped away from an aggressive rattlesnake.” Inspired by the story, the doctor said, "You must be an awesome outdoorsman!” “No," Ole said. "I'm just a bad golfer.”
Two new deer hunters decided to separate to increases their chances. “What if we get lost?” says one of them. “Fire three shots up in the air, every hour on the hour” says the other. “I saw it on TV.” Sure enough, one of the hunters gets lost, so he fires three shots up into the air every hour on the hour. The next day the other hunter finds his friend with the help of the Forest Ranger. “Why didn’t you do what I said?” asked the hunter. “I did! I fired three shots up into the air every hour on the hour, until I ran out of arrows.”
Over the last weeks, based on the lectionary passages, Jesus has been preaching on a plain, a mountain, and today we find him with some alone time in the wilderness. This place is often interpreted to be a desert, but our passage today uses the word “wilderness.”
Either word works, even though they relate to different aspects of life. Desert tends to denote a barren, lifeless place while a wilderness is perhaps more chaotic with lifeforms of different sorts. Deserts are generally thought of more in terms of heat while wildernesses can definitely be cold and hot. Potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, Jesus was, for once, not surrounded by the curious and followers.
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Thank you, Jennie. There is a guy named David Schnasa Jacobsen, who is Professor of the Practice of Homiletics and Director of the Homiletical Theology Project at Boston University School of Theology. That’s a really big title, but it would seem to fit, because this guy had a really interesting insight to this passage. He commented that having this passage on this Sunday - the first Sunday in Lent - can be tempting to imply that it is a passage about us - fasting for forty days and all that. Professor Jacobsen’s point is that it is really about God and Jesus.
It’s not about abstaining from eating, coffee or chocolate for Lent, and heaven knows what Good News that is! Professor Jacobsen pointed out that although three of the four gospels include this desert wilderness retreat, Luke is the gospel that paints it as a passage about Jesus’ unique vocation as Spirit-anointed Son of God.
That insight makes sense. The passage begins with the Holy Spirit filling Jesus and leading him. In all of the temptations, Jesus deflected not to himself, but to God. All of Jesus’ responses to temptation were quotes from the book of Deuteronomy, the Old Testament book that documents the forty year wandering in another desert. The big temptations there were for people to become bored with manna hotdish, manna pot pie, manna on a shingle, manna primavera and manna crumble. In other words, the temptations were about the humans, not about God, Christ or the Holy Spirit.
Going back to Professor Jacobsen’s point, what does Jesus’ unique vocation as the Spirit-anointed Son of God mean to us? What does Jesus’ job as a member of the Trinity mean for us everyday people?
Earlier in Luke, Jesus pointed out two things: that 1. he is the Son of God and 2. that he came to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Symbolically, as a son, Christ is the bodily representative of the One who gave him life. In the Old Testament, kings were sometimes called God’s son, to mean that they were God’s earthly representative to the people. So Christ’s job was to serve as God’s representative, releasing from bondage those bound with burdens, insight into truth and justice and to help us understand what our next life will be like. But most of us already get that - to one degree or another.
A few moments ago, I alluded to temptations fitting the individual. Twice Jesus was tempted with the words, “If you are the Son of God….” If you think about it a minute, that Son of God reference to Jesus hearkens back to Jesus’ baptism, when God said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This whole temptation scenario is to find out if the voice from heaven was telling the truth about Jesus’ identity or not.
Most of us, being smart enough not to liken ourselves to God, won’t be tempted in the way Jesus was tempted. But we will be tempted. None of us are going to be tempted to provide food in abundance, to rule over kingdoms or give undeniable proof of identity through spectacular spiritual feats. I don’t know about all of you, but that’s a small load off one’s mind.
In like manner, none of us will give the world something better than those things. None of us will be able to do what Jesus could, can and has done: giving himself in all of his truth, God with us, not as we might like God to be, but as God really is.
From time to time we all have doubts, uncertainties about the reality and truth of the Christian faith. Jesus’ temptations are all related to certainty. Proof. Facts. Undeniable, irrefutable evidence. If Christ had not been tempted, then you and I, in our testing, could never have said, “Well, I’m being tested, and that’s okay because Jesus was tested, too.”
And here’s a golden oldie: note that to every test, every tempting offer, Jesus said, “No.” He refused to perform these spectacular spiritual tricks, these undeniable miracles to prove who he was. Instead, Jesus gives us something better. He gives us himself, physically present among us, a human being who is divinely able to resist the wiles of evil and temptation. He gives us something better than certainty. He offers us his love.
C.S. Lewis once said “only the person who never yielded to temptation knows the full strength of temptation.” If a hurricane roars ashore somewhere, which person will be in the best position to talk about the strength of the wind: the one who was blown over immediately, the one who managed to stay on his feet until the wind hit 75 MPH, or the one who never was blown over, not even when the wind topped out at 130 MPH. Obviously the one who was able to resist the storm’s fullest fury is the one who knows better than anyone what all it took to stay on his feet. So also with temptation: Jesus never wavered. When temptation threw everything it had at Jesus, took all its best shots, Jesus never fell.
We aren’t going to be tempted with transforming stone into bread, jumping off buildings for power or tempting fate. But we will be tempted with the little things in our lives, all the little compromises that take us farther from the goal of finishing our races well.
I can hear some brains wondering, “So what, Ms. Miraculous Elocutor of Truth and Knowledge?” To which she replies: When we are sitting in the doctor’s office, wondering about all the various outcomes of the upcoming appointment, we can also realize that Christ sits in one of the empty chairs with us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, will go with us through whatever to the very end - and beyond.
When we wonder how and if we are going to get through the situation with the family member or friend, we can rest on the understanding that even should we fully display our humanity and fail to meet our targets of loyalty and compassion, Christ doesn’t. Christ will remain faithful, courageous, obedient and steadfast, no matter what.
When that person has had one thing after another fall into their laps like cement blocks, we can also remember that Jesus’ temptation didn’t simply go away that day. Luke reminds us that Satan slinked away until a more opportune time. Some forty days later, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, the crowd tempted Jesus, “If you are God’s Son,” the crowd said, “then act like it. Throw yourself down from the cross.” But Jesus doesn’t submit to human demand for certainty. He just hangs there in agony. He looks down from the cross and says, “Sisters and brothers, I love you still.”
A question of implication: Are you able to bet your life as a matter of trust rather than a matter of certainty? For such an answer we most certainly make our best calculations with prayer.
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we confess that the power to make things as we wish them is overwhelming. Turning stones into bread could lead to so many good things. But we renounce our hunger for power and that your love alone is our power. We confess that we sometimes want, more than anything, to manage what others think of us, wanting authority, the kingdoms of the world. We renounce our hunger for status and that you alone are our belonging. We confess that we want the security of freedom from pain, risk and sacrifice, as if we could leap from a height and be unhurt. But we renounce our fear of suffering, because you alone are our security. God, we sometimes wonder if faith’s claims about Jesus can be trusted. But we ask that your Spirit of love be our power, our security and our belonging, that the fears of our egos and desires may be re-directed to trust you more, belong to you more surely, and bear your love more surely. Thank you for your truths, that give us much appreciated certainty, as we breathe in that love, through your Son and the power of your Holy Spirit. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.