Sermon: Do Not Be Afraid, Stand Firm

Painting of Moses and Red Sea
“Moses and the Red Sea” – Mural at the Visionary Art Museum

Ex 14: 5 – 14, 19 – 25
John 14: 18 – 20, 25 – 27

When Moses leads the people of Israel out of captivity, they go out boldly, rejoicing in their liberation, confident in God and Moses. But then Pharaoh and his officials change their minds. I imagine it suddenly dawned on them that there were a lot of major building projects, and road construction, and gardening, and farming, and fruit picking, and laundry, and cooking, and cleaning, and childcare…

Basically, a lot of hard labor wasn’t going to get done without the convenience of an enslaved people under their control. So Pharaoh decides to re-nig on his deal, and he and his soldiers take off in hot pursuit.

When the people of Israel see the soldiers coming, their boldness dissolves like sugar in water, and they cry out to the Lord in fear. They turn on Moses and bitterly criticize him for leading them, not to freedom, but to death…their shouts of rejoicing turn to shouts of accusation and recrimination.

Moses says to them, “Be not afraid, stand firm. See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”

“Be not afraid.”

We hear that a lot in the Bible. When angels appear, the first thing they say is, “Be not afraid.” Jesus is always telling the disciples and those who gather to see and hear him “fear not.”  In the face of seeming, certain death, Moses says to God’s people, “Be not afraid.”  It’s much easier said than done. Maybe that’s why we hear it so often in Scripture.

There are just so many things for us to be afraid of…afraid of losing your job…afraid of not finding a job. Afraid of not being able to pay your bills or put food on the table…afraid of losing your home…

…afraid of not getting into college… afraid of not getting into a GOOD college …afraid of not being able to pay for college…..

We are afraid of our physical failings…afraid of falling…breaking something…afraid of cancer…or the return of cancer…afraid of heart disease and diabetes…afraid of hospitals…

Our media feeds and inspires fear because it helps get good ratings. We are flooded with stories about threats from terrorists, ISIS, stagnant and divisive government, scary immigrants, and immigrant children who are coming to take over our schools and bring crime and disease into our midst…

And now this past week, we are once again afraid of random shootings, lone-wolf gunman, concealed carry laws, living with guns, and living without guns…

And then there is the weather to fear…rising temperatures, fearsome storms, increasing climate issues.  There are even the mundane close-to-home scares…local sightings of wild cats, coyotes, bears, infected ticks, rabid mosquitos…and on…and on….and on…and on. There is so much fear in our country, that the use of anti-anxiety meds continues to increase among adults, teenagers, and even children as young as three and four.

I am not in any way criticizing the use of medications when they are needed and can provide relief. I am lamenting, that as a society, we have allowed ourselves to become so scared and anxious, that we are making ourselves and our children sick with fear.

Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing. Fear is helpful when we are in dangerous and risky situations. A healthy dose of fear when mountain climbing; or walking on unfamiliar, dark city streets; or being on a subway platform late at night; or getting lost in an unfamiliar place, keeps us alert and prepared.

Healthy fear, provides adrenaline that sharpens our responses, clears our minds, and wakes up our senses. Fear is not healthy when it begins to consume our lives and influence our ability to set goals, or accomplish tasks, or to find joy in our lives. Fear is not healthy when we become trapped and paralyzed, unable to move or grow. When fear becomes toxic … it is a tidal wave that washes over us and threatens to carry us away and drown our spirit.

Moses says to God’s people, “Be not afraid. Stand firm. See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”  Being fearful is a part of being human. And it is difficult to just stop being afraid.  So what are we to do when we become entangled in our fears?  What are we to do to go boldly into the world?

I would revise Moses command and say, “Be courageous, be firm in your faith in God, and face what you fear.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, a mystic and world advocate for peace, says, “Fear keeps us focused either on the past, or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”

He teaches us that one way to overcome fear is to “Be,” to be here and now, and to live mindfully, in the moment…or to break down what we fear into something that is manageable.

I hate shots. Who doesn’t? The way I have learned to manage shots is to ask the nurse to tell me “Now” and “Done”. That lets me be worry free until I hear “Now”, and I can always hold on through “Done.”  That small space between “Now” and “Done,” is completely manageable for me. That is a small example of living in the moment.

Let’s practice!! I invite you to close your eyes for a moment, and simply “Be” present in this moment. Take a deep breath in and slowly breath out. Relax your neck and shoulders. Sink into your seat.  What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you sense around you? What do you feel?

Embrace this moment, this moment, where you have shelter, warmth, the company and support of people who care about you and that you care about….Delicious smells that promise coffee and a lovely meal later…the sounds of birds chirping…the whisper of soft rain.  Here, in this place, and in this moment…be not afraid.  Rest in God. That is the peace beyond understanding that Jesus prays for us.

As a spiritual practice, I invite you to look for, and to create, these “not afraid” moments in your life, moments of safety and comfort, moments of love and joy, moments of peace and hope, in the presence of God.  Notice them.  Savor them.  Hold on to them.  Collect them in your heart like precious jewels. These moments are the divine antidote that will inoculate you against the power of fear.

Moses says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm. God will fight for you.” God is with you…face your fear, even though what you are facing seems impassable or impossible, step forward with faith and God will open a way…God will get you through.

Facing our fears means taking that first step onto dry land where water was only a moment ago.  It means stepping out in faith, standing firm, acknowledging and carrying fear, but not letting fear carry you away.

One of my favorite books is a Sci-fi classic called Dune. The main character’s mantra that gets him through is this, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Let your fear wash over you and through you and then imagine it draining out of you, emptying like the Red Sea, until you find yourself standing on dry land, standing firmly on God, the rock of ages, the foundation of creation.  Letting fear pass over and through us and letting it drain out of us, allows us to remain intact, strong, and firm within ourselves and within our faith.

Moses says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm. See the Deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”

When you are afraid, Step out boldly, with faith in God. See the Deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you….today.  This day…this blessed, gift from God, day.  Not tomorrow. Not some day in the distant future.

Today!

Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see what the Lord will accomplish for you!

And So I Walk…

 img_4301

The platform at Woodland station was crowded as my daughter and I waited for our ride into Boston to join in the Women’s March for justice. When the door of the overly packed D train opened, the irate driver shouted out the door, “Trump is already elected! What is the point of all of this?!”

This is my reply…

There are still hungry people in this great country
Pinched faces pressed against the warm cheery windows
of the latest trendy restaurant
Not knowing when they will eat again.

And so I walk.

There are still discarded people in this great country
sleeping on cold concrete sidewalks, living in dirty alleys
calling collapsing refrigerator boxes “home.”

And so I walk.

There are still women and children in this great country
who are afraid in their own homes
who live with the threat of violence not from without…
but from within.

And so I walk.

There are people different from me in an infinity of ways in this great country:
different skin color, eye color, hair color, education, gender identity, religious practices and beliefs, heritage, language, upbringing, food preferences, skills, talents, and perspective…

…like snowflakes, each unique…

…all the same human family…

yet, too many are afraid to leave their homes or walk the streets of OUR country…

One

afraid

is too many.

And so I walk.

It’s time!
Time for quiet, decent comfortable sideliners like me
to stand up for what we believe in.

Time to stand up
and be counted.

Even though it takes me a minute or two
to get to my feet these days.
Feet which hurt
Back that aches
Knees that pop
Ankles that crack
Feeling every one of the extra 40 pounds I carry.

And yet, like Tolstoy’s guardian Ents,
those ancient tree shepherds,
Creaking…

I rise.

I am walking.

And the march has only just begun.

The threat of oppression already tests my spirit and my stamina.
The weight of the world slows my steps.
I am only one.
I grow weary.
I fear that on the long road ahead
I will falter or fall.

Then I look at my daughter
Walking at my side
I look at my sisters and my brothers
Spread as far as I can see.

And I remember…

WE are walking

Together

Stronger

TOGETHER!

Stronger than fear.
Stronger than apathy.
Stronger than hate and prejudice and cynicism
and selfishness and cruelty and greed
and injustice and oppression

and ignorance.

STRONGER!

Walking together for justice
Walking together in Jesus’ footsteps
We will not grow weary.
We will not grow faint.

One body

Stronger

Walking together.

And so,

WE rise!

And so….

WE walk!

img_4291

The Open Door

the-open-door

There was a day not so long ago when I was feeling discouraged.
Grumpy even.

I was feeling sorry for myself,
muttering around alone in the sanctuary picking up used tissues,
tossed music, broken candles, crumpled bulletins,
broken crayons, discarded inserts,
and all the detritus of weeks of winter worship.

I was preparing the way for Easter coming.
The stone rolling away.
The tomb yawning open.
Jesus set loose once again to be among us
until the end of days.

I had the church door open to bring in a breath of spring on the way.
And because the door was open,
there were suddenly two strangers in the sanctuary with me.
A young man and woman appeared excitedly exclaiming as they looked around at the beautiful wooden beams, the glowing stained glass windows, the gleaming organ pipes. They asked me if they could pray for the church. They said they were on a mission to go around town and pray.

I found myself feeling suspicious.

I wondered if this was some sort of scam.
I wondered if they hadn’t expected to find someone muttering around alone in the sanctuary and had made up something to cover their surprise.

I wondered what they were up to.

And then I wondered how I could be so cynical.
Standing in the sanctuary.
Standing in this place where people have gathered to pray together
for over 100 years.

“Yes,” I said, “Please pray for our church.”

The three of us took hands, and they prayed.
Out loud with great exuberance.
They prayed for the life and mission and ministry and people and programs and heart and soul of the church. They prayed for our neighbors and the town and the community and our country and for the whole world.

And then they asked if they could pray for me.

I felt the spirit flowing through our small circle carried by their enthusiasm.
I felt Jesus present in their great daring to pray with strangers.
The spirit was flowing and when they finished praying for me,
I prayed for them.

Tears in my eyes.
Cracks appearing in my hardened heart.
I prayed for us all.
Amen

They smiled.
We hugged.
And they bounced out as energetically as they had come in.

The spirit was flowing.

I felt peace as I basked in the warm flood of colored light streaming in through the stained glass windows. My heart was burning warm within me.

I felt full.

As if I had just finished a delicious meal of all my favorite foods.

As if I had just recognized Jesus in the breaking of a loaf of bread.

Or, in the faces of a young man and a young woman who came into my church
asking me if they could pray.

The spirit was flowing.

Jesus set loose among us.

All because

I had left the church door

open.

Sermon: Consider the Lilies

tiger lilies

Matt 6: 25 – 34

Like Advent, Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation.  We prepare ourselves to once again bear witness to Jesus Crucifixion, and we prepare our hearts for the joy of Easter resurrection.  One of our ways of preparing is with our most essential spiritual practice, praying.

That is why one of our themes for Lent is “Pray without Ceasing.”  Prayer is one of our most important faith practices and sometimes it’s also the hardest one for us to do.  So for Lent, we will be exploring many of the different ways we can pray and we will reflect on some of the things that get in the way of us praying.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life…”  And there is one of our great emotional obstructions.  Worry.  Too much worrying can inhibit our ability to live more in the moment, to live with appreciation, and to live with joy.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life….Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them…consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin…how much more will God care for you?”

It’s easy to say, “do not worry…” but it seems that there is just so much to worry about these days. We worry about our finances, our savings, our college and retirement funds.  We worry about looking for jobs and we worry about keeping our jobs. We worry about budget cuts in our towns, cities, and states.

We worry about the discord and chaos in our government especially with the animosity and chaos we are already seeing in this election year. We worry about who the next president will be and what it will mean for us as a people and as a country.

We worry about Isis, Syria, South Korea, the Saudis, Afghanistan…and our own backyard terrorists…

We worry about our health and well being.  We worry about our medical coverage.

We worry about snow and ice dams, flooding and rain, and drought and heat waves.  We worry about climate change. We worry about our kids, our parents, our families, our friends, and our neighbors.

We worry, worry, worry….

Pervasive worry can almost become a physical presence, entering and filling our whole body with darkness.  Science has proven that stress and anxiety take a physical toll on us, it strains our hearts, disrupts our sleep, causes us to eat more, drink more, and medicate more.  And worry just makes us worry more…..

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life.”

So, let us consider the lilies of the field for a moment.  Or better yet, a field full of lilies.  Tall, bright orange Tiger lilies.  Or, lemon yellow lilies glowing like splashes of sunlight strewn through the garden.  Or luscious, white lilies that will soon fill our Sanctuary with the fragrant scent of Easter Resurrection.

There is a stand of bright, orange, tiger lilies, in my neighbors front yard.  Those lilies spend their day straining to reach towards the sun.  Each bell-shaped blossom, sitting atop a long, stout stem, follows the sun as it travels through the sky.

On cloudy days, the lilies heads droop a bit, melancholy and morose, waiting for the clouds to clear so the sun’s bright light can and lift them up again.  I have seen lilies flattened by wind and rain, rise up again with the coming of the sun.So, consider the dedication of those tiger lilies in following God’s sun.

Consider the plucky urban flower that, against all odds, burrows a way through the minutest of cracks in the hardened concrete and pokes and pries its way out into the light of day.  Consider the tenacity of the alpine flower, clinging to an inhospitable mountain side, drawn from the darkness, into the light.

A few years ago, we cleaned out our front beds and hauled the dirt and mulch into the woods behind our house.  Apparently, I had missed a few of the tulip bulbs because out amongst the pines and skunk cabbage, there are several bright red tulips that each year herald the coming of spring. Consider the persistence of those tulips, displaced as they were, continuing to grow towards the light.

Jesus invites us to trust in God, to trust that God will provide for us.  Jesus invites us to find peace in giving tomorrow AND today into God’s loving hands.  Jesus invites us to let go and let God, to release what it is that would rob our lives of peace and joy.  Jesus urges us to give it all back to God who gives us all we have in the first place.

Let us not just consider the lilies of the field, let us try to emulate them by focus ourselves on always straining towards the light of God’s beloved SON, and turning our lives to follow where ever God’s light leads us…having the tenacity to persevere against great odds, and persisting even when we find ourselves tossed into unfamiliar circumstances.

And, like the lilies….

Do not worry about tomorrow!  

The gift of this day in God’s creation is treasure enough!

 

 

 

Me and My Good Friend, Job, Sitting in the Ashes…Again

152Jacob’s Blessing*

Is that IT?

 That I want someone to tell me

that this gets easier?

 This wrestling with the Word

This wrestling with God

Wrestling with what I believe

or

do not

believe

on any given day.

 

Each and every day

faced with

 Choosing…

 again

and

again

 Choosing…

 

Choosing Faith

Choosing Hope

Choosing to be vulnerable

Choosing uncertainty

unknowing

bewildering

and baffling

 

unclarity

 

Choosing

to follow

 

Jesus.

 

JESUS!

 

Will it always be this

wrestling match

through the long night?

 

Sometimes surrendering

Sometimes resisting

 

Always

 clinging

with grim determination

 

Always

walking away

wounded

 

Always

 aching

and broken

 and sometimes…

 

……and sometimes….

some

 times

 

walking away

 

Blessed.

*”Jacob’s Blessing”

A “Fabrication” by C. Steinbrecher

Genesis 32:22 – 29

         Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

          Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 

          Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”  So he said to him, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Jacob.” 

          Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”  Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”  But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” 

 And there he blessed him.

 

Sermon: While He Was Praying

Transfiguration 2 sunburst

Transfiguration

Luke 9:28 – 43

Do you ever have a morning when you wake up and you just want to stay in bed?  Maybe a day like yesterday with that cozy, thick, thermal blanket of snow coating everything…a perfect day to stay and linger under the covers, warm and protected.  A day when it takes a great effort to step out of bed and into the work and challenges of the day.

Or, Have you ever lingered in the theatre at the end of a really good movie?  Every Christmas for three years, I went with two of Bob’s brothers to see the newest episode of Lord of the Rings.  The music and visuals were so captivating that I was transported for 3 hours.  The three of us would sit there all the way through the credits until the very last note of the music stopped playing.  And even then, we would sigh, and sit a little longer….in silence.  We didn’t want to leave that world.  We weren’t ready to move on.

When I used to ski, the best part for me was the view from the top of the mountain.  I would get off the lift and ski over to some little flat place and drink in the beauty of the cold, crisp air, the majesty of the mountains, the endurance of the old gnarled pines, all pointing towards the infinitely deep blue sky.

I was never in a hurry to descend back down the mountain into the frothing flow of humanity lining up for the lifts, packing the cafeteria, clomping and bumping, boisterous, noisy and demanding, and sometimes, simply overwhelming.

Is that how Jesus felt?

In this moment of blazing light and revealed glory?  Do you think he wanted to linger awhile in God’s cloud, clinging to God’s presence, and be warm and protected?  For just a few more moments?  Does Peter tempt Jesus to linger in this sacred moment with his offer to build 3 booths and with his exuberant exclamation of awe-filled delight…”it is GOOD for us to be HERE!”

It’s not always easy coming back to the real world – sticky underfoot, trash strewn about, people shoving and jostling, noisy and demanding.  How much better to be like Puss and Boots and just magically skip from mountain top to mountain top and have all the glory with none of the hard work to be found down in the valleys, down among disgruntled, desperate, needy, complicated, and annoying people.

Poor Jesus.

He “went up on the mountain to pray, and while he was praying, the appearance of his face changes”...was it Exultant? Ecstatic?  Joyful?  Was he laughing?  How often do you imagine Jesus laughing?  His clothes become dazzling white…and in the midst of this blazing glory, Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus about what lies ahead for him.  They talk with him about ‘his departure which he was to soon accomplish in Jerusalem’.

Talk about a buzzkill…talk about having to wake-up to harsh reality…

Poor Jesus.

Maybe Moses and Elijah are offering words of encouragement to get him through what is coming; just as Jesus has given Peter, John, and James this glimpse of glory, to give them encouragement for what lies ahead for them.

Jesus went up the mountain to pray, he brings Peter, John and James.  And while he is praying, he is transformed.  While he is praying, Jesus is transfigured, and the disciples can SEE the light of his Spirit pouring out of him.  I don’t think the light stops flowing when the disciples stop seeing it.  I think that light of Spirit is always flowing from Jesus…It is just that “since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.” 

In a moment of spiritual wakefulness…there is a clarity of seeing what must always be there…that light of Spirit shining out into the world, a light that is revealed to them and transforms how they see Jesus…for a moment, transforms how they SEE.

 All this, while Jesus is praying….

Jesus is equipping the disciples for what lays ahead the best way he knows how…by demonstrating for them the power of praying….

So caught up in the moment, Peter is overcome by the impulse to “do,” to do something to capture this moment…it is so hard for Peter to simply “be” in that moment.  It’s the Martha/Mary challenge, learning to pause in those sacred moments when you catch a glimpse of glory…a hint of the holy…It’s important to stop and savor those moments because they don’t last for long.  Like Manna, you can’t put them in a box and keep them for later.  You have trust in God that there will be more of those moments along life’s journey.

Peter is inspired and moved to “do”…Jesus teaches us that sometimes it’s ok, more than ok, that it’s necessary and awesome to just “be” in a moment…We cling to our moments of glory because we don’t want to hurry back down the mountain into the frothing flow of humanity, bumping and grating against each other in the struggles of every day.

Even Jesus, when he comes down the mountain, vents his frustration at the inability of those he left behind to take care of people while he was gone.  Jesus knows that all too soon, they will have to carry on without him…

He comes down from sacred ground into the muddy, murky reality of every day life and he can see how hard it will be for his disciples to build God’s kingdom…how hard it will be to change how we think and act, and feel towards one another and towards God.

Just like the boy who Jesus heals, Life sometimes mauls our spirits and dashes our hopes and dreams into pieces on the ground..  Our negative emotions and disparaging thoughts and ideas can seize hold of us, poison us, drain our spirits, overwhelm us, cast us down, and break us.

Jesus knows life is hard.  Jesus knew the difficult road the disciples would follow after he was gone…and to bolster and sustain them, he taught them that when they gather together, to pray.  He taught them to withdraw alone from time to time, and pray.

He taught them when you are afraid of the path ahead, to kneel in God’s garden and pray.  Jesus showed them that transformation comes through the power of praying.

Prayer prepares us for what lies ahead of us.  Prayer grounds us, connects us, opens us, molds and shapes us…prayer prepares for us all that lies ahead of us each and every day.

People are complicated and challenging.  But Jesus comes back down the mountain because he love us.  Jesus comes back down the mountain because we are God’s beautiful and beloved children.  Jesus comes back down into the complicated mess that is humanity, because he knows how much we need him and how much we need what he has to offer us.  Jesus knows how much we need to see the light of the Spirit and experience the joy of God’s glory.

In the midst of Peter’s building plans, God covers them with a cloud, cocoons them, and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him!”  “Listen.”

Listen, because it is in the silence, not the fire, or the earthquake, or the whirlwind…that we discover God’s presence.  Praying has the power to transform us and to reveal the light of Spirit that flows from all of us.

God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him.”

Listen to Jesus.

The only way we can listen….

…is by being silent.

Let us pray…..

Sermon: An Opportune Time

cartoon angel and devil

Luke 4: 1 – 15:  Jesus is Tempted in the Wilderness

When I think about temptation, I think back to when I was watching cartoons as a kid.  There was one cartoon where Sylvester the Puddy tat, was eyeing Tweetie Bird in his cage, and suddenly a red devil Sylvester with horns appears on one shoulder and says, “do it.”

Immediately, an angel Sylvester, dressed in a long white robe, complete with harp and halo appears and says, “don’t do it.”  Sylvester is clearly torn until finally the devil Sylvester jumps across to the other shoulder and kicks the angel Sylvester out of the picture. Sylvester grins, Free at last, and attempts, as always, to gobble up poor Tweetie Bird.

As a child, I would often imagine those two figures, devil and angel, balancing on my shoulders whispering “do it”/”don’t do it” with great enthusiasm, when I found myself internally debating the wisdom of one of my Mom’s rules regarding sharing with my little brother; or the practicality of my teacher’s admonitions against peeking at my neighbor’s test when I didn’t know the answer; or even debating the reasonableness of the great commandment about loving everyone, because the boys that lived next door to us could be so annoying!

I would like to say the angel always won out…but that is far from true, apparently I was quite a handful.  But I can look back at those childhood times of wrestling with temptation, and see the beginning of my development of a conscience, and a heart, and a sense of justice, and a consideration for others, all within a child’s idea of what it means to try to tag along behind Jesus.

I wish I could say that as an adult it’s easier to wrestle with temptation but the dilemmas we face get more challenging and the choices are not as simple and clear cut as when we are children.

Wouldn’t it be great if temptation really did appear to us as a red devil with horns and cloven hooves, and a long pointy tail?  It would be so much easier to resist because the right choice would be so obvious and temptation would be so scary that we would run away screaming in fear and terror instead of giving in.

Unfortunately, temptation comes to us with a pleasant smile and an outstretched hand of friendship.  Temptation speaks to us with a soft spoken voice that makes solid and logical arguments, or a vibrant and commanding voice that seems to make complete sense.

Temptation comes to us covered with chocolate frosting, or wearing our favorite color, or offering us our heart’s desire for nothing more than the cost of shipping and handling, or our mere signature on a deal that’s too good to be true.  That is because our greatest tempter dwells within our own hearts and therefore, intimately knows our wants and our desires.

Today, when we join Jesus, he has already been in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, eating nothing at all, tempted by the devil.  His 40 days are over and he is famished, starving to the point of death.”

During this time of testing, Jesus is his most human, his most vulnerable… What is more fleshly than starving?  What is more human than being near death?  And his time of depletion and suffering is exactly when Satan, the tempter, the adversary, raises his most insidious and compelling arguments.

The adversary makes very reasonable and practical suggestions to Jesus, after all, why shouldn’t Jesus satisfy his hunger with a little bread – it’s only a stone after all – no harm, no foul; and wouldn’t it be GREAT if Jesus ruled the world instead of all the corrupt and oppressive rulers, like Rome for example; think of all the good Jesus could do if he took their place…what a better world it would be with Jesus in charge of everything…

…and how impressive would it be if Jesus flung himself from the temple roof and a thousand angels came to rescue him?  That would show the Sadducees and Pharisees who was boss!  That would be all the proof anyone would ever need!  That would end all debate and convert every non-believer in one grand, heavenly gesture, Wouldn’t it?  Huh?  Wouldn’t it??

Wouldn’t it be worth it Jesus…to just bend your knee…to me?

Seems like a fair trade-off, but Jesus reminds us with each of his replies that what is at stake, is his trust and faith in God.

-“One does not live by bread alone…but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

 -“Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

 -“Do not put the Lord your God to the test…you must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God…do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord…”

The greatest temptation going on here is that Jesus has the power to change the whole world for the better, but it would change Jesus…it would change who Jesus is…it would change Jesus relationship with God, and he won’t do that….not for anything.

Jesus prevails because he rejects power as defined in human terms illustrating most clearly that he is a Messiah unlike any other.  Jesus’ time of testing increases his reliance on God and makes it clear that his ministry is going to be about saving, not enslaving,

…that his power will only be used for others, never for himself…not even when he is starving to the point of death, or taken prisoner in Gethsemane, or hanging from a cross.

Temptation hits us at the most opportune time…when we are weak and vulnerable…when we are hungry or hurting.  When we are feeling frail and fearful….that is when we are most vulnerable to doubt…

…in the midst of our suffering when we most need God, we most often distrust God’s ability to help us, to lead us, to comfort us, to heal us…to save us.

No one ever said that following Jesus would be easy….and yet here we are…doing our best to resist the daily temptations in our lives that can separate us from God and God’s word…that can isolate us from one another, that can trip us up as we try to tag along after Jesus.

The disciples had no idea what they were getting into when they left their nets in their boats and followed after Jesus.  Neither do we when we gather together to try to discern God’s will.  That’s where the trust part comes in.  That’s where the faith part comes in.

That’s when we brush the little devil off our shoulder or at least put a finger in our ear…and try to listen for where the voice of God is calling us…we to try to reach out and grab hold of the hem of Jesus robe so that we can follow blindly, faithfully, where he is leading us.

Jesus resisted using his power to save the whole world.  He left the whole world in God’s hands and instead, he used his power to save people, one at a time, face to face, heart to heart, renewing their faith and trust in God with a smile, a touch, a look, a loaf of bread, and water jugs filled with wine at a wedding.

Jesus didn’t use his power to save the whole world, he used it to build God’s kingdom…he was God’s kingdom. Everywhere we go is God’s kingdom.  Like Jesus, we carry the power of God’s kingdom within us.

And so each week we gather and we pray as Jesus taught us to pray saying, …lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil..

Each of us has our own demons that we wrestle with…those things that cut us off from God, or interfere with us being our own best self, or isolate us from others.  And Our trials and temptations are many….There are all manner of things that lead us into wilderness places where we can wander lost, feeling abandon and alone, but,

“John Stendahl, a local pastor and blogger, says, “the desert is not God-forsaken nor does it belong to the devil.  It is God’s home.  The Holy Spirit is there, within us and beside us.  And if we cannot feel that spirit inside of us or at our side, perhaps we can at least imagine Jesus there, not too far away, with enough in him to sustain us, enough to make us brave.”

So next time you feel lost and alone in the wilderness being tempted with doubt and hopelessness, Imagine Jesus on both your shoulders, patting you on the back, pointing out the way to go.  Imagine Jesus at your side, his gentle voice cheering you on.  Imagine Jesus, opening you to the presence of the Spirit and strengthening your trust in God.

Imagine Jesus leading you through the wilderness and bringing you safely home to God.