Sermon- 3.20.16

We humans were created to be in relationship with other people. When the Bible says we are made in God’s image and a little lower than the angels, it shows our value to God. This is a truth we believe, because we can back it up with scripture. God also gives us a few simple rules to live at peace with the people we meet and stay in relationship with God. Through the prophet Micah, God says be fair, be kind and to walk humbly with God.
God walks with us-side by side. This is how teaching happens and how conversations occur. God does not sail ahead or lag behind, but walks with us, yes, even when we’re in the bathroom or the casino or in an alcoholic or a narcotics anonymous meeting. God saw it all long before we were born.
God walks with us in jails and prisons, teaching, listening, encouraging toward God’s wholeness and mutual relationship. When we’re too weak to stand on our own, we’re held in the strength of God’s love for God’s people. We are held, mended, healed by the only One who can mend our broken hearts. God picks up splintered lives and puts us together again.
Our side by side walk with God doesn’t change. We invite our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren into the same side by side walk with God as we’re walking. We know it’s important and valuable, but we can’t always explain why. There are some things you feel inside that can’t be explained in words. Sometimes you are able to show those in actions, the very actions that God encourages-fairness, kindness and humility, learned at the side of the Master Teacher, who heals and saves.
While we meet our always humble Jesus in the gospel lesson today, no one is fair or kind to him. This says a lot, because he’s brought before church officials and government officials for his trial.
The meal he shared when he empowered his disciples is over-the Garden prayers asking God’s strength are over. Judas lied to his face and the disciples evaporated into the shadows. Jesus has been beaten, blindfolded and ridiculed as a common criminal. But worse than that, the future prophecy he gives them is mocked and ridiculed. Are you the Son of God, they ask. You say that I Am, Jesus replies. What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!
The accusations continue before Pilate-This man has perverted our nation, forbidden us to pay taxes, claims that he is a king! He stirs up the people with his teachings! Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who sends him back to Pilate, who tries to have Jesus freed. But given the choice between freeing Jesus or Barabbas, the crowd chooses Barabbas. Pilate hands Jesus back to the people and they take him out to be crucified.
If you walk the journey of the cross that Jesus walked, you’ll be walking the Jerusalem marketplace. The shops are inside, with a narrow channel of alleys connecting them and leading out of the city. High on the walls in Roman numbers, you can find the stations of the cross-each of the places where Jesus stumbled, rested, stopped or was helped by people-each of the places where relationship allowed him a rest and a moments connection with God, who walks with each of us.
Finally, on a hill, Jesus was raised up on a cross, between the crosses of two criminals. Now, if history had its way, they would call this a God forsaken place to be. But history’s vision is limited to only looking backward. Only God’s people understand God’s forward vision to the future, knowing Jesus taught us how to live in God’s peace on earth, as well as pointing us to the eternity waiting in heaven.
Roman crucifixion warned troublemakers-crosses with bodies lined the road leading to Jerusalem. It was the ultimate humiliation, to hang naked on a cross, arms nailed out, legs nailed down, impossible to breathe. If family didn’t take the bodies, the birds did. Three men, all condemned to death, hung on crosses in this way, waiting to die.
Jesus’ closeness affected both of the men. One man ridiculed Jesus-prove you’re the Savior and get us all down from here. But the other man asked, Don’t you fear God? We’ve been properly condemned and punished. But this man has done nothing wrong. When he begs, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus gives the comforting response. Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise.
While Jesus and the criminals hung on the cross, one man made his peace with God, while the other ridiculed Jesus with his dying breath. All three men came to the end of human life and died-it was finished, although it was finished in different ways.
The soldiers at the foot of the cross were silent witnesses. The angry crowd who demanded crucifixion were silent witnesses. The friends and families were silent witnesses to the suffering and death of three men on a cross. Only God Almighty, abba, father, broken hearted, covenant making God knew that the only thing that was finished-was death. There would be resurrection. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 3.13.16

Many of us are affected by our senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, to name a few) and the memories they bring back to us. I learned that smells can take me back in time. If I smell Walmart’s fresh bread baking and their rotisserie chickens roasting, I want to buy them. Food smells remind me of comfort foods. I’ve learned to shop later in the day.
There are other smells that connect to memory. I learned, while driving the Turnpike to Philadelphia, not to leave the car vent open between the Quakertown and Lansdale exits. There are miles and miles of chicken farms there and they spread the manure on the fields. After closing the car vent and wiping my eyes, I drove for fifteen miles until that smell disappeared.
Last week brought a new memory to me. Driving home from Ohio, I found dairy farms along Route 80, before you get to Williamsport. Those farmers spread cow manure on the fields. I grew up cleaning stables on a dairy farm, so it wasn’t so offensive. To me, it smelled like spring was here.
Our senses often connect with memories we’ve had in the past. From time to time, I smell the soft musk perfume my grandmother wore and it reminds me of Nanny, who died years ago. Or I’ll notice the mingled smell of dirt, sweat and fresh air-a reminder of my childhood, my own children’s past and the fact that spring is coming again.
Stories are always tied to our memories. Today, I want to take you away from thinking of the past and the present and take you into the vision of the future God shows to God’s people. We people of God, God’s creation, need to start living there on a permanent basis and we can do that when reading the words that God spoke through the prophet in the first lesson.
The prophets give us the beginning and middle of stories, but then they point us to what is the ending for us humans-to the place of freedom, hope and love that God always offers. While our lives end, God is eternal. God is always making all things new and keeps telling us to look ahead and see the plans God has for us. There is so much more to come!
God’s new plan today in the book of Isaiah reminds us of God’s agreement with God’s people in the past. Their religious heritage, called the festival of Passover, was freedom that God gave them. This was when God lead them out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, with Moses leading them. Their past years in slavery are remembered each year, as the story is passed from generation to generation. The story is shared to remember how God heard their cries, cared for them and set them free. As God speaks in this first lesson, they aren’t free. God’s plan will set them free again.
Using the familiar story of the journey through the Red Sea and across the desert wilderness, God tells the people that once again, God will make this miracle happen. They will be set free and will travel in safety across the desert, protected, because God has not forgotten them.
Can you not see, do you not perceive it, the prophet asks. Do not remember the past, look to the future, to the new thing I am doing. If God has provided in the past, don’t you think God will keep the promises made to us for the future? We can ask ourselves the same question. Do we trust that God keeps and cares for us today? Or have we abandoned the hope God has given us and try to live our lives apart from God?
Our gospel lesson takes us to the simple home of Jesus’ friends- Mary, Martha and Lazarus-and to the dinner party that Jesus attends with his disciples. Jesus is the guest of honor because he raised Lazarus from the dead just a few days earlier and his friends want to thank him. They’ve been friends for a long time and they believe he is the son of God, not because they saw him raise Lazarus from the dead, but because they’re friends-they know each other very, very well. And while they don’t like what Jesus has said will happen soon, as friends, they honor and support him.
This home in Bethany holds many memories of their times together; the smells of cooking are a result of the dinner they share at this moment. But the smells and memory of death are still with them; Lazarus was in the tomb four days before Jesus raised him.
This is no simple dinner party here; it’s a heartbreaking memory of the past and a hope against all hope for a future. As they come together, Mary uses an expensive jar of perfume to wash Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. The memories within these walls are mixed with the perfume fragrance and it’s a sacred moment, when time stands still.
No words need to be spoken, because everyone understands what’s happening. This perfume is used to anoint bodies for burial, after the person had died. But in a moment of love, intimacy and extravagance, Mary pours it on Jesus now, as a seal upon the relationship they’ve shared. Even at his death, just days away, Mary will be faithful. She will continue the work that Jesus began.
All of the disciples have seen the miracles that Jesus can do, but they also know Jesus’ plans for the future. They know he’ll go to Jerusalem, where he will face beating, crucifixion and death. Now, Jesus is with them as they share this meal together. As all of these memories swirl in their minds, the smell of the perfume lifts their spirits. No words are necessary.
But you know how it is, in these special moments, sacred, holy and united with God, someone has to speak. Someone always has to say something or needs to bring attention to their own importance. Judas, the treasurer, breaks in to complain about the waste. Judas can only see as far as his own greed and this perfume would have put some money in his pocket. But Jesus stops him with the reminder that this anointing is for his burial. This anointing is Mary’s goodbye to her best friend. It’s a sign of her devotion and her discipleship. Mary will carry on the work that Jesus began. Judas will die as the cheater he has chosen to be.
It’s difficult to tell this story of Jesus, to stress how important the events of the coming weeks will be. If we are the disciples we claim to be, we are called to follow Jesus’ example-he came to show us what God is like. He came to remind us that we are beloved people of God, called into action for the sake of Christ.
While we are the hands of Jesus, our hands will never bear Jesus’ scars. While we can show the heart of God’s love, we will never know God’s heartbreak at loving a creation that does not love back. We have the privilege of a special, precious memory. That memory is that God’s words of love are written on our hearts, we are empowered through the Holy Spirit and we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 3.6.16

I’ve had four opportunities to travel to Europe and the Middle East and let me tell you, each of my journeys showed me a world you don’t find here in Weatherly. When you travel to a foreign country, you have a chance to enjoy and to experience a culture by being fully immersed in it. You hear the language, you meet the people, you experience the surroundings.
I remember visiting Dresden in Germany and Galilee in Israel and thinking all of this is so old. Galilee is the same Galilee from Jesus’ time and in Dresden, we find the mother church with the statue of Martin Luther standing in front of it. When you visit these places on vacation or on tour, time stands still. We are held in the stillness of God’s time, as our experiences wash over us and change us forever.
Although these experiences are typically called vacation, they are little windows into the realm of God’s world. I believe God helps hold us still, in quiet, so we can experience God in each of these places. Whether I was visiting churches in Greece or mosques in Bahrain and Turkey, it’s clear that we have found special ways to worship God within our own religious parameters. This is important, because we are all people of the Bible. All of our religions got their start there and God’s protection for God’s people started with Abram, who became Abraham, who was the father of both Ishmael and Isaac. God doesn’t love us because we’ve found the perfect way to honor or love or worship God. God’s love, mercy and forgiveness happens because God the Creator cares for, loves and nurtures the creatures that God made. God is the perfect parent, who loves perfectly, lavishly, even recklessly. And that brings us to our gospel lesson today.
This story of the prodigal son is a favorite story, a very familiar story, but maybe for the wrong reasons. I thought a prodigal son was a repentant son, a foolish son who saw the error of his ways. Doesn’t it make sense to think that in Lent a son would see his foolish ways and come back to his father to ask for forgiveness? We keep hearing, Return to the Lord, repent, change your ways. But prodigal is not about repentance. The word prodigal means wasteful, reckless, out of control with no thoughts for the future. It’s not just spending lavishly, it’s about giving as lavishly. The prodigal bug has bitten every member of the family-young son, older son, even the father.
Now, most of the time, we take a superficial look at the characters in Jesus’ story, the arguments between them and then we get down to the real point that Jesus is making. It’s Jesus who is the Savior and Messiah. Today’s lesson tells the true nature of God, who eats with tax collectors and sinners.
The lesson shows how God interacts with the creation God loves. It’s an unusual story for us, but it’s typical of God. Maybe this story is here in the middle of Lent, just before the cross and crucifixion, to help us better understand, worship and love the God who so loved the world.
Let’s start with the youngest son, the baby in this prodigal story. Life is good, but life might be better somewhere else-in another country or another culture. This guy is all about himself-self serving, self absorbed, just plain selfish. If he honored his father, like a good Jewish boy should do, he’d wait for his small share of the inheritance and bide his time working in the family business. But he wants his money-now. He wants his share-now. And his foolish father agrees, cashing in stocks and bonds, taking a hit in this market. He gives the kid his money and off he goes. He’s cut himself off from his family forever through his disrespect for his father. He is as good as dead to his family and may never be seen again.
While the younger boy is out spending his money, the older son is home, running the family business like a good son should do. With his brother as good as dead, this will all be his someday. It’s a good investment of time, to work hard. Just build up the business, work the farm and property dreaming of one day running the whole business the way he wants to run it. But that will be after he’s buried his father; for now, he follows Dad’s advice.
Off in another land, the younger son has had his fun and his money’s run out. His friends have disappeared and he’s alone and hungry, but he’s too proud to beg, so he takes a job. No good Jewish boy would ever take this job, but right now, his need and his hunger override his religious views. He’s living in a pig barn, taking care of pigs, eating the pods that the pigs eat.
Now that the party’s over, he’s got a lot of time to think. This is a miserable way to live. No one should have to live this way. Even my father’s slaves are living better than me, eating better than me. This is no way for a Jewish man to live. Wow-suddenly he’s stopped thinking of himself and he’s thinking about his faith, his father, his religion? Or is he thinking about his homelessness, his hunger and his fear? Could he be thinking about both?
He makes a plan to go home, to ask his father’s forgiveness and to live as one of the hired hands. It’s a big step down from beloved son to hired slave. But it’s a big step up from disobedience to obedient, from sin to salvation, from lost to found. Even while the son rehearses his speech, his father sees him coming in the distance, his heart rejoices that his son is not dead, but alive and he rushes to greet him, to hug him and pull him back into the family again. He’s not dead, he’s alive. It’s party time! Pulling out all the stops, the slaves prepare a banquet, the father throws a big party and greets his son like the royalty that God sees in all of us. Think about that line-the father greets his son like the royalty God sees in all of us.
Now the older son comes from the field, sees the party and is furious when he hears who the party is for. This son has his own selfishness going on and throws a tantrum for his father. I’ve worked like a slave, I’ve never disobeyed, I’ve never been given. Stop, his father says, what’s mine is yours. You’ve always been with me and you’ve never been lost-until now? The question is will one child leave God’s side simply because God loves another child just as well? We have a very big God with lots and lots of children and a reckless way of loving and forgiving, even before the words are spoken. Jesus asks the religious leaders, Can you live with that?
Has there ever been a time when you’ve really been lost to God-when you feel cut off or abandoned or forgotten? Has there been a time when God has reminded you- it’s been awhile. Let’s talk-we’ve got a lot to talk about.
I believe we can rest in the same assurance as the apostle Paul, who reminds us in Romans 8; We are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s the good news, that’s the gospel. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 2.28.16

There’s an old saying called Murphy’s Law and it goes like this. 1-Nothing is as easy as it looks. 2-Everything takes longer than expected. 3-If anything can go wrong, it will, at the worst possible time. That is Murphy’s Law. Unfortunately, it’s the way many people look at the world-they only see the bad things and blame them for ruining their lives.
Negativity is a real problem. I can tell you about it because I spent twenty years of my life thinking this way. Negative thinking lets you sit in your sorrows for 24 hours at a time, for as long as you want to sit there. Nothing changes, nothing gets better and you’re always the victim in every case. It’s easy to blame the world for making life so hard for you.
Isn’t that interesting? You remain a victim of circumstances-there is never enough of anything and you’re suffering. You are stuck there until the day you realize-the only person holding you back is you.
The only way out of this lifestyle is to take charge of your life and change your view. You need to look beyond the very simple lesson of Murphy’s Law and decide what path you’re going to take to move yourself in any direction. Because negative thinking doesn’t move you anywhere-you remain in exactly the same place as you started out. Only your ability to look beyond this moment will move you toward your own future. And that’s what we find in the first lesson from Isaiah, as God’s promises are made to God’s children.
If there was ever a group of people who experienced Murphy’s Law, it was the people of God in this first lesson. There was plenty of warning by the prophets, that God would pass judgment if the people didn’t start obeying God and caring for each other. In a land of social injustice, the people turned away from God and made deals and treaties with neighbors-yes, even in Bible times there were politics and people seeking power and wealth. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun. It’s all been done before. But we know the outcome; as dark as it seems, God wins at the end.
In today’s lesson, God’s people get a reprieve as Isaiah paints a rosy picture of hope after years of exile.
Isaiah extends an invitation to this wonderful, free and lavish banquet that everyone is invited to attend. God pronounces forgiveness through the everlasting covenant made with David and tells the people to come in. God tells the people listen carefully and choose carefully, seek the Lord and call on him, returning to the Lord who is merciful.
Through the season of Lent, we hear a lot about returning to the Lord, who is merciful. In returning to the Lord, we talk about relationships between people and God and between people and people. The ultimate relationship on Good Friday will be the relationship that aligns Jesus’ will with God’s will. God gives Jesus the strength to endure crucifixion and death, then raises him from death, so we can live with him in eternity, under God’s care.
If you want the bottom line on salvation, it’s about believing and trusting that God really does love us and Jesus did die and rise, so we could have life together. This life together starts here on earth where we care for God and for other people-it’s all about relationship.
This is what Isaiah promises the people, as they return from exile. While God’s covenant of everlasting care for David’s descendants might have been bent, it was not broken. God pointed them to God’s hope and future promises in the visions Isaiah shared.
People have always had some odd ideas on why bad things happen in the world- your viewpoint has everything to do with what you believe. It’s a matter of religious preference or not. Some people believe everything happens for a reason or what goes around comes around. It might make us feel better to have an answer, but remember, our human minds can only come up with human answers. God’s mind will explain the mysteries of the universe one day when we see God face to face. But for now, we’re left with questions.
The people in the gospel lesson had serious questions. Some people were killed while making their offering at the temple. Wouldn’t you think that people would be safe in the temple? If they were there to worship, shouldn’t God protect them? If God didn’t protect them, then what did they do wrong? Were they immoral people or didn’t their sacrifice please God? Did God kill them or did Herod? We are left with a lot of unanswered questions.
Jesus tells them to repent, to turn from selfish ways and turn back to God’s ways-we know what they are. He explains that life and death are uncertain and nothing is guaranteed. We could die today or tomorrow. We could die as Christians or pagans. We could die in a church, in the middle of saying our prayers, or in a high rise office, swindling people out of their life savings. There are no guarantees or security when it comes to life and death.
So Jesus says, If we want to secure our future, it’s in following the way that God leads us. It’s about our relationship with God and our care for people besides ourselves. Remember when the Bible said if you don’t judge people, you won’t be judged? Think about that. If you’re busy judging or talking about other people, you bring God’s judgment on yourself. But if you’re busy serving people, you’re bringing God’s justice to the world and there’s no judgment necessary where justice lives.
Jesus says that the death of people in the temple is just as tragic as the people who died at work, building a tower. Bad things happen. Good people suffer. People live and people die and we celebrate life and mourn death. There is so much more to life than the three simple rules in Murphy’s Law-so very much more.
The great commandment Jesus will leave with us is to love other people as much as we love ourselves-this is the bottom line. We are wise enough to know that life doesn’t go on forever and whether people are good or bad, people die. Our security is in Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection bridges the gap between our limited life and God’s eternal love. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 2.21.16

If we are to be called the church that follows Jesus Christ, we need to be a community of love and belonging. I borrowed these words from Caroline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary. As we look at today’s lessons, we can see the longing and desire to belong to someone or something greater than we can ever be.
We will also see the longing to be loved as much as we love, but this love isn’t returned. By looking into the stories, we see how relationship and faith grow in our lives. We learn why the church needs to be a community of love and belonging as we grow in faith as part of it.
In the Old Testament, the very first Bible book, Genesis is the ancient story of the ancestors and their new and changing relationship with God. In the lesson today, poor old Abram is about to begin his relationship with God. Before this time, God spoke and Abram listened. But now Abram has questions to ask and this relationship between them will change.
Years before, God promised Abram both land and family, but now Abram’s wondering when God’s promises for land and family will be given to him. As it is now, he’ll die without an inheritance to give and without a son to give it to. Abram has questions and God gives Abram visions into the future, so Abram can see what God can see.
Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be great, God announces as Abram is drawn into God’s vision. It’s the desert sky, in the dark of night, ablaze with brilliant, glittery stars. Count them if you can, God says. Your descendants will span many generations.
I am the Lord, who brought you from the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess. But how can I take this land, Abram asks, people are already living here? God tells Abram to prepare a sacrifice and when Abram falls into a deep sleep, God comes to it and approves the sacrifice, making a covenant with Abram. I give this land to your descendants from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates. It was a lot of land and the land had many different rulers, as kings and kingdoms came and went. But through it all, God continued to be faithful to the people called precious and beloved.
The writer of Psalm 27 writes centuries later, in the same land, but with a different experience with God. God made several covenants with the people, as their relationship deepens and grows stronger. These people know that they are loved by God and they love in return-sometimes. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Living in the land God gave them, being ruled by the king God has chosen, the people live in a time of peace and safety. But we know from the stories of the Bible and our own lives, that life is always moving and changing.
We are forced to change with the changes and they don’t always seem like good changes. Yet, it’s amazing, because God has the power to work through whatever or whomever happens to be in power, to bring about God’s kingdom. If we read through the next 15 books of the major and minor prophets who spoke for God, we would see how God continues to be faithful to God’s people, even when the judges, priests and kings were not.
In the gospel lesson, which is supposed to be the good news, we read some not very good news. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus predicted his impending death by crucifixion-but the disciples didn’t believe him. On the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah and received the mission that he would soon accomplish. Turning toward Jerusalem, which would be the final showdown, Jesus began the journey he had to make.
Throughout the gospel, Jesus’ work of teaching, healing and saving people continues. He meets people wherever they are; he meets the demon possessed in the graveyard among the tombstones, he meets people with the skin disease leprosy in the garbage pit outside of the city where they were sent to live, he meets the widows, the orphans and the beggars on the roads that lead from one village to the next. If there was ever the need for a community of loving and belonging, it was here. And here is where Jesus Christ ministered to all people, bringing the healing and health and the salvation that God had promised long ago.
Jesus goes about his work, very much aware that time is running out. Today, he’s warned by the Pharisees that King Herod is looking for him. This same Herod who beheaded John the Baptist is now looking for Jesus, but Jesus brushes off their words. Remember, this is a battle of wills here and Jesus assures us that God’s will WILL be done, no matter how difficult, frightening and impossible it may seem. If Jesus could defeat the devil’s temptation in the wilderness, Jesus will handle what comes next. While facing sure and certain death, don’t forget the hope, love and promise of resurrection. It belongs here.
In the middle of all of this, the pressure of time working against him, Jesus looks back on the Jerusalem he sees and it’s not a good sight. Jesus sees a city that kills the prophets and apostles sent with God’s word-a clear reflection on Herod, who now wants Jesus’ life, because killing John the Baptist didn’t solve his religious problems.
But there’s a quiet moment here, when Jesus dreams of the Jerusalem that he would have them be. While the foxy Herod tries to kill Jesus, God would gather the Holy City into arms of security and forgiveness. Jesus would pull them together under the canopy of a hen’s wings, which are soft enough to protect, yet wide, powerful and strong enough to resist what could kill. With this protection, God would hold the city as the holy city it had once been and could be again. But Jerusalem has a different idea; it does not want to be gathered into God’s arms or Jesus’ salvation. It wants to be left to it’s own destruction. And so it is.
Jesus ends his lament with the resignation many parents feel when they see their children heading in a direction that isn’t good for them. Being a community of love and belonging sometimes means standing by, until the lost have found their way back to the wholeness that the community offers. Sometimes loving means letting go, in the hopes that there will be a change of heart and a happy return. But at this moment of resignation, Jesus warns, See, your house is left to you. You will not see me again until the time when you say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. ¬†Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 2.14.16

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