help us to be present
on this Lenten journey,
even as you are present.
Romans 5: 1-5
Therefore, since we have been made righteous through God’s faithfulness,we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Matthew 4:1-11 (CEB)
Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written,You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.
I’ve only ever run one marathon. I ran it 20 years ago but have managed to mention it about 10,000 times. If you want to run 26 miles you have to stay hydrated. Even elite runners break their stride enough to slurp down a gel pack and pick up a sports drink. Twenty years ago, around mile 14, I started feeling a hot spot on my heel. I did not want to slow down my fleet footed cousin and running partner anymore than I already had. I decided to gut it out. Learning of my heel, Tom said firmly, “You don’t want to let a little blister derail all of the hard work you’ve put into this.” So at the next water station, I sat down, took off one shoe and let a volunteer trainer apply moleskin. Tom jogged in place. His willingness to wait helped me finish the race. We took hands and crossed the finish line together. In the official results I finished a hundredth of a second faster.
Life brings difficult seasons: social distancing, divorce, grief, storms, quarantine, illness, oppression, injustice, and evil. These seasons test us. In the midst of challenging marathons, we must break stride, attend to the raw spots and drink in the Living Water.
Jesus was led by the Spirit to spend 40 days fasting, focusing, and facing temptation. Matthew tells us Jesus was starving. I wonder, did Jesus later share with Matthew how hungry he felt during this wilderness ordeal? Surely Jesus did not go without food and water, for without water, a fully human Jesus would have died. No matter the details, the test left Jesus starving. We might ask “why?” Why do we suffer? “Why” is a good question. However, it comes without any easy answers. May I suggest another question: How do we get through seasons of suffering? If Jesus came to show us how to live, then Jesus in some way came to show us how to go through life’s harder seasons?
Jesus’ 40 day wilderness quarantine was not the only one Jesus endured. In Luke’s telling, Jesus leaves the wilderness on a triumphant spiritual high. (Luke 4:14) Jesus heads home to preach and maybe a home-cooked meal! The good folks at First Methodist Nazareth generally enjoy Jesus’ first sermon. Jesus preached from Isaiah about Good news for poor people, prisoner reform, opening blind eyes, ending oppression,and God’s favor. However, Jesus’ sermon hit a little too close to home. Before the chapter ends, his home church attempts to throw Jesus off a cliff. How can they not love Jesus? How could Jesus make enemies? Jesus’ preaching about God’s coming Kingdom challenged the foundations of the markets and the Empire. Jesus’ easy way of telling people “You are forgiven” or saying “Daughter, your faith has made you whole” enraged the church’s religious door-keepers, who seem to always want to lock doors. As they clamored to toss him off the cliff, did Jesus wonder if he should tone that sermon down? What helps keep us together when life seems to be throwing us away or pulling us apart?
Jesus spent 40 days preparing for 3 years of ministry. Wrestling with God in honest prayer can help us endure. Luke 5:16 tells “But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.” Before the crucible of the cross, Jesus spends the night in prayer. Do we have habits of regularly withdrawing for quiet time with God? There can be no spiritual life without prayer. Mother Teresa counsels us, “Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things, you cannot hear from God.” In the midst of difficult seasons, prayer realigns us with God. Prayer is not so much about asking, but more in abiding with God, seeking the peace that surpasses understanding. Did you notice in our story how the devil is always the one offering a solution? “Turn these stones to bread! Jump off the Temple spire! Grabe the power!”When we learn the spiritual discipline of tuning our hearts to God’s hum, we can find within our souls a sanctuary in which to rest. Prayer breaks our stride and is maybe the most important spiritual discipline.
Next week Darren’s sermon will share how both Jesus and the devil quote the scriptures in the wilderness. We can think about that next week. Today, we see in our passage that Jesus escaped temptation through a deep relationship with the God of the Scriptures. Jesus meets every test saying “It’s written.” It is written: life is about more than your immediate needs. It is written: don’t try to test God. It is written: worship the Lord and serve God alone.” The Bible can be confusing, but inside it’s stories, people, parables, teachings we encounter a God who longs to be present with us. Let us resolve to know Jesus’ life and teachings well enough to actually follow Jesus!
Years ago in a group study or during a sermon, a leader shared how Jesus was praying Psalm 22 on the cross. That little bit of context transformed my understanding of the cross.
My God! My God,why have you left me all alone?
Why are you so far from saving me— so far from my anguished groans?
My God, I cry out during the day, but you don’t answer; even at night my tears don’t stop.
All who see me make fun of me—they gape, shaking their heads:
“He committed himself to the Lord, so let God rescue him;let God deliver him”
But you, Oh Lord, are the one who pulled me from the womb. You’ve been my God.
Please don’t be far from me, because trouble is near and there’s no one to help.
I’m poured out like water. All my bones have fallen apart.
My heart is like wax; it melts inside me.
My strength is dried up like a piece of broken pottery.
They divide up my garments among themselves; they cast lots for my clothes.
But you, Lord! Don’t be far away! You are my strength! Come quick and help me!
If Jesus can feel that weariness of soul, then let all who suffer know that God is never far away. God hangs on the cross. Let us know that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts” by the suffering servant Jesus the Christ. Let us open the Scriptures together and see a God who does not abandon us.
In December of 1997, Connie laid in a hospital bed with a drip line holding off her contractions. The Advent readings spoke of Elizabeth and Zechariah “both righteous” with “no children”. Zechariah was overcome with fear. “How can I be sure of this?” Somehow even the angels rebuke of Zechariah brought me comfort: “because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent until.” God, who gave us the Scriptures, found purchase in my frightened soul as I read over and over again about Zechariah’s anxiety and doubt. What Wesley called “searching the Scriptures” can hold us together when life seems to be pulling us apart.
The spiritual life is not found only through private prayer and personal study. Jesus was never a monk retreating into the monastery. Jesus radiated a winsome welcoming presence that drew crowds. Jesus traveled with a community of disciples, asking questions and unpacking difficult teachings. And within the 12, Jesus kept an inner core of Peter, James and John. Jesus found refuge with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus ministry is powered by times of withdrawing to pray. We need the community of faith to practice our faith and endure life’s storms. So how do we maintain spiritual community in times of social distancing? Well perhaps we dare use these wonderful phones to create a prayer circle? Or maybe we dare text some friends and ask them to zoom or facetime with us as we work through Kate’s Field Guides?
Luke 4:16 tells us Jesus’ normal practice was to go to the synagogue and worship every sabbath. Practicing weekly worship resets our lives to sacred rhythms centering us in God and reminding us who God created us to be. When worship becomes our highest priority, it brings order and peace to our lives.
Weekly worship, christian community, daily prayer, along with searching the scriptures build the foundation Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7, a foundation able to hold us together during life’s worst storms. We add to these 4 tools, the practice of faith. James thunders, “faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.” (James 2:17) Let’s put that into positive terms. “Faith is made complete by faithful actions” (James 2:22) Let’s put that into positive terms. In doing good our souls find an inner goodness. In giving we become generous. Forgiving produces a deep sense of forgiveness. (Matthew 6) Loving others perfects God’s love in us (1 John 3&4)
We live in an age of amazing speed and delivery. The other day, I opened my closet and there by my gym bag was a white plastic envelope with a blue smile on it. I could not remember what was in it. Inside I found a new pair of swim trunks that I ordered a few weeks before. I needed new trunks but it was so easy to get them that I had forgotten I had them. I wish I could tell you that spiritual living is that easy. But the hope that endures is not often downloaded in one quick prayer. An enduring faith grows through the steady application of spiritual practices. And so let us break our stride and attend to souls, let us pause and rehydrate. Let us remember these pillars and practices: 1) Daily prayer or quiet time with God, 2) regular thoughtful searching through the Bibles stories and teachings 3) weekly worship 4) weekly connecting to Christian community, and 5) service to God and neighbor. These refuges will carry us through life’s storms. Amen.
God of the wilderness,
your Spirit leads us to face the truth,
unprotected and exposed:
in our times of trial
help us to resist the worship of empty power,
so that we may find our true food
in Jesus Christ, the broken bread. Amen.1
Passing the Peace Take a moment and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for our church community. Maybe call or text someone who would enjoy a contact. You could just say, “I am not at church to tell you, May the peace of Christ be with you”
Offering Please remember that our financial needs continue whether we are physically present, present in spirit, or worshipping online. As we encourage worshippers to stay home, we did want to remind you of several ways you can still contribute your offering:
1) Mail a check to Belmont UMC, P.O. Box 120098, Nashville, TN 37212.
2) Contact your local bank to set up bill pay and have them send your check to the church. Most banks provide this service at no cost to you.
3) Contact Mark Hagewood at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a monthly auto-draft from your checking or savings account.
4) Make a payment online with a credit card, debit card, or checking account by visiting https://onrealm.org/BelmontUMC/-/give/now .
Beyond our normal work, our laity and staff have poured themselves into tornado relief. You may give to local tornado relief by visiting https://onrealm.org/BelmontUMC/give/TNTornado2020.
May we not live accidentally but intentionally,
May perseverance and resilience be our close friends,
May we know we are stronger together than we are apart,
May we be faithful with our lives. Amen.
1 from Prayers for an Inclusive Church 2009, alt. Posted in “Trial Use Collects and Prayers Over the Gifts for Year C” on the Anglican Church of Canada website.