The Word Is Near You
Deuteronomy 26:1-11;Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16;Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 10, 2019 –First Sunday in Lent
United Methodist Foundation
We come to the Season of Lent and our paraments turn from white and gold to purple…a royal color. In our denomination, it is the bishops’ color, the color of Easter, and the color of Lent.
We read that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit at the threshold of this royal season…and so he went into the wilderness to be tried by all the temptations the devil could muster against him.
He has just been baptized at the Jordan by John who was causing a great stir among the people who see the greatness of a prophet in John.
You’d better get ready for the day the Lord will appear on earth. Soon you will see one whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. And there was Jesus before him.
If there was ever any doubt among the people, an unmistakable sign has come from the heavens that this is the one God has sent to save the world. The Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove and the voice from heaven has proclaimed him the Son of God, the one with whom God is pleased.
So Jesus should take a victory lap. He should enjoy the adulation, accepting all the favors that the people can bestow upon him.
But God does not call us to a life of ease. God calls us to a life of purpose, and in honoring that call and accepting the purpose for which we have been called we can receive something more precious than gold and more dear than fame.
If you have been called to be a great author and you don’t write, what will you have to show for the time you spend on earth?
If you are blessed to be a great musician and you never sing a song or play a single note, what will you have to show for the gift that was freely given to you?
If you turn from the life that fully explores the gift and honestly expresses the passion God has put in your heart, it will be as if you have never lived.
Oh, it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Abraham Lincoln lost so many elections before he was elected President that the Republican state chairman in Illinois asked him to stop running.
He could sew up the nomination for anything he went after, but he couldn’t win the general election for anything at all. But Lincoln had a calling and he knew it.
Slavery was the great issue of his day and he knew it was evil and needed to go away. It had been at the center of the Lincoln Douglas debates in 1858…the last election he had lost.
But a funny thing happened in that debate. Both men were very good at expressing ideas and one of the Illinois papers decided to send a reporter to the first debate and he simply submitted a transcript of the debate.
That was a novel thing, but in a day without television or radio or cars or roads, it gave the average people a sense that they were there in the front row. It was a sensation and the national papers picked it up, making Douglas even more of a household name and making Lincoln a national figure…even though he had only been elected to a single term in the House of Representatives and had lost so many elections.
So he was invited to speak on the subject of slavery at Cooper Union in New York City in February of 1860. He was a funny looking man with a gaunt face and long arms. Opponents called him “the ape.”
The crowd was not at all sure that they weren’t wasting their time in showing up. But when he began to talk his face lit up with an inner light and his logic and command of the subject was so penetrating that they were standing on their chairs to cheer him by the time he was done.
He would be elected President that year, the object of his ambition, but as he served out his term, he got the sense that he was just an instrument in a cause that was greater even that the office he had been called to and that events were being guided by an invisible hand. He accepted that fate…that calling…and that made him as great as any President.
He was drawn to power, but when he arrived at the pinnacle of success, he realized that he did not have power so much as power had him…and he honored it.
He was so reviled and hated and his job was so relentlessly painful that when a friend asked him how he liked being President he replied it was like the guy who was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. When they asked him how he liked it, he said if it was all the same to everyone else, he would rather have walked.
Humor helps get us through the hard spots.
When President Kennedy announced his intention to send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s, people were skeptical. But he was in dead earnest and he took up the argument at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?”
He got the crowd worked up with that insight, and then he brought the hammer down.
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
So why did Jesus walk away from the river full of the Holy Spirit and then go directly into the wilderness where he would be tempted by the devil? Not because it was easy, but because it was hard. It would serve to organize and measure the best of his energies and skills, and it would get him ready for the even more difficult work ahead.
The devil is pretty sly, and the devil knows scripture so he plays to Jesus’ vanity – since he has been proclaimed by John to be the Messiah – by quoting scripture to him.
Turn this bread into stone. God will command his angels to protect you. But Jesus doesn’t buy it, and he quotes scripture right back to the devil. Man does not live by bread alone, and Do not put God to the test.
The devil is willing to make him famous and rich. Anything you see and want will be yours. But this is not about Jesus the man. It is about Jesus the Son of God, and he does not lose that focus: Serve the Lord your God and him only.
It seems like he is giving up so much to turn the devil down, but he is really showing that he is worthy of the great calling to Son-ship with God. That is what he wanted. That was all he wanted. Only that would make him whole.
I have told you before that this place where we worship between two rivers that flow into one of the greatest lakes in the world just downstream from the most beautiful place in the world is so special that I believe something great is going to happen here one day.
I don’t know what it is or where it is going to come from or who is going to do it, but the elements of God’s grace are so lavished upon us, and the people who are drawn here by that sense of place are so accomplished and so world-wise, that sooner or later big things are bound to happen.
It is a special privilege that we enjoy, then, to be called to be together in ministry in this place. Being a little church is not the same as being a small church. Little might describe the number of members we have, but our faith is not small, our vision is not small and our capacity is not small, and our will is strong.
I think we have been baptized in a way by our capital campaign. We saw what can happen when we lean into our faith in God and act out of our love for this wonderful place.
We are not done with the campaign, to be sure, and there are deferred maintenance issues that we can still address in our physical plant, but the underlying call to this church was to be one in ministry to all the world, and we are finding that to be every bit as challenging a calling.
But we have been equipped for it now, and we know that the capacity to do surprising things is here now. Your secret is out. The whole town knows about it now.
Celie Perleberg came to an Education committee meeting a couple of months ago and reported that she was talking to someone one day about something and they asked her what church she went to.
She told them that she was a member here and they said, “Oh, that’s the church that does everything.” Celie told us that we should name ourselves “the little church that could.”
This might be something that could fill us with pride, but I pray to God that it humbles us to know that we live in a world class place and we might…we just might…be able to grow a world class vision with world class ministry.
Jesus calls us into the wilderness of ministry with him, to walk with him and talk with him and listen to him and follow him so that even the wilderness becomes a holy place and eventually the devil will simply give up and leave us to do the right thing again and again and again…
So that some day that big thing… that really big thing that we can’t see now…that we don’t have any idea what it is now…takes root and grows here like the seed sown in the good soil.
There will be seed that lands in the rocks were it cannot sink its roots. There will be seed that lands along the road where the birds come and eat it. Other seed will fall among weeds and be choked.
But if we continue to sow faithfully, like the little church that could that we are, some seed will surely fall in good soil and yield one hundredfold and more. Something big, really big, is going to happen here one day and it is going to be good.
The Word is near us. We have seen it working in our midst. The Lord has blessed this place in so many ways, and we are one of those blessings. Anyone who believes in the humble Jesus, willing to risk all and suffer greatly that good things might one day yield a hundredfold, will not be disappointed.
It is not about us. It is about God coming into the world to save it through Jesus Christ. We are grateful, humbled and unworthy, but we do not do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard and they are what we have been called to do.
So we carry on. O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.