2.14.16 sermon–There is no greater escape than sitting in a comfortable chair and reading a book. If we’re reading a good story, it can take our minds and send them flying into the world of possibilities the story offers. Sometimes we use the stories of other people to help us put our own lives in a familiar context. No matter how we use them, stories have a great deal of power behind them.
We find powerful stories in the Bible, because many of the prophets weren’t speaking their own words, God was speaking through them. God spoke through their words and actions and accompanied them on their journey until God’s work was finished.
In the first lesson, Moses, the first prophet through whom God spoke, is teaching the people how to celebrate the harvest in the promised land; remember, they aren’t there yet. Moses can’t enter with them; Joshua will lead them into the promised land.
On this last day of his very long and difficult life, Moses remembers the history of his ancestors, the sorrows and joys that brought them to this special day and the faithfulness of God through many generations.
At the time of harvest, a freewill offering would be made to God, to celebrate the abundance the people found in this land. While generations of people have died since they left slavery in Egypt, Moses hands down God’s prescribed worship-the proper worship of the God who brought them to this place and time and into a homeland of their own.
The words for worship are the story of their ancestors, starting with the move by Joseph’s family to Egypt when there was a famine in Canaan. That story happened all the way back in the book of Genesis. Moses’ story began in the book of Exodus and the story continues.
The words tell a beautiful and powerful story of the faithful power of God, who lead and guided them to this land they will soon inhabit. With this worship, God is recognized as one who sets us free.
A basket of the land’s abundant harvest will be presented to the priest at the altar, while the farmer tells the story of his own heritage. A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power and with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.
After this dedication, the offering is shared with the priests, the people and the widows and orphans living in the community. The offering is given, dedicated, consecrated and immediately sent out. This is the end of wandering; this is the day that God’s people will take possession of the land promised them. They are no longer hoping that God gives them food and water each day. They now know and trust the God who is leading them. They are called God’s people and they’ve finally come home.
But I want you to remember the back story of the actual exodus-they weren’t always God’s people. They were lead out of slavery by Moses and that was great, they literally danced into the desert because their enemy was gone. At that point, they’d follow Moses anywhere, because they thought he was the one leading them.
But after the excitement died down, they realized they were in the desert-away from the city lights, buildings, spices and temples. They’d forgotten the God of their ancestors, but God had not forgotten them. With Moses’ instruction over the next forty years, a pillar of cloud and fire, some manna and quail, a new relationship was built between God and the Hebrew people who were now set free. The people learned that God, who had made promises, always kept those promises.
In the gospel lesson, we find a similar story of temptation. Ever since the Garden of Eden, humanity would be tempted away from God. We might think the grass always looks greener on the other side when it comes to temptation, that there’s some added award or freedom in choosing our way over God’s way. When we are tempted, we can only see the benefits we might receive from disobedience toward God.
But throughout the Bible, we read the story of one broken relationship after another. The characters in the story can never find peace until the relationship is restored. From Adam and Eve’s removal from the garden, to the conflict between Jacob and Esau to the story of Joseph and his brothers, we see the same pattern. Once the relationship has been damaged, you can’t undo the damage. Over time and with age, we become wiser and we see our own desire for attention or power are childish. We come to see the power of God for the miracle it is-forgiving and forever calling us back, to restore our relationships with each other. This is the peace God gives us.
Once again, today, we look at the topic of temptation and this story is as big as temptation can get. Jesus, the son of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit is lead into the desert and tempted by the devil. These are a couple of heavy hitters here. Jesus, God who came in human flesh vs the greatest evil in the world. We might remember this story as Jesus’ great defeat of the devil, but consider that Jesus is a human being, in the desert, for forty days and nights.
And think about the doubts and mistrust that the devil is trying to illustrate. He’s not trying to break Jesus’ relationship with God, just bend it a little, put a little distance between them. All the devil is doing is asking the same questions we hear all the time. What if there’s not enough food, what if you go hungry, or thirsty? What if there’s not enough money or enough clothes or enough shelter? Shouldn’t we share what we have? Hm.
If we believe we are people living in God’s abundance, we share because we were once wandering Arameans bringing our firstfruit offering to God, who provided it all. We bring our offering to the altar, to be offered, consecrated and immediately sent out so all of us can celebrate God’s great and abundant blessings together.
So how does Jesus answer the devil? He answers as only a son can-in faith, in total trust, love and devotion. Jesus answers the devils temptation in the same way we answer temptation in the world.
Have you ever been asked to prove you’re a Christian? And have you ever tried to prove it by showing a long, Sunday School attendance bar? Or maybe a cross necklace or a cross pin or a Bible with your name in it? Or by saying, I’m in church every Sunday or I belong to Zions.
When it comes to our trust and devotion to God, it should go as deeply as God’s trust and devotion to us. It should go to the level of total trust, total dependence. If you work at the relationship, it can bring peace into your life, in spite of the other earthly things we endure. That peace is worth working for. It has everything to do with trusting God with everything-even with money, a topic no one wants to talk about.
The first lesson, the firstfruits offering to God, are an example of giving to God first. Why? Because the people were wandering, without direction, crying to God for help. God heard them and answered them and cared for them simply because they asked.
In the gospel lesson, the devil is ready to rumble with Jesus, but Jesus isn’t playing that game. The devil’s saying, Come on Jesus, prove who you are, I want to see some miracles here. Make these stones bread- you might go hungry. Take these kingdoms now, while you can-maybe you don’t have the power to make God’s kingdom come. Throw your human body off the temple steeple-let’s see if the angels come to your rescue.
We humans all have something we’re afraid of or concerned about. As much as we’d like to have a solid faith, it’s more liquid and it comes and goes with the days events. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is as present in your life as it was in Jesus’ life. It gives us guidance and direction, supporting us in our weakness, simply because we’ve asked for God’s help. Amen.
Rev. Dawn Richie