February 26, 2023
A Congregational meeting will follow immediately after our worship this morning to elect a Pastor Nominating Committee to call our next pastor. We hope all members will stay so we have quorum.
Pastor Joyce will present photos from her trip to Iceland this morning and then we will enjoy a free fellowship lunch. All are invited to stay.
The Ladies Lunch Bunch will gather at Yen Ching’s on March 8. All the women of the church (and guests) are invited. Please RSVP on the sheet outside the Administration Office.
PRAYER REQUESTS Please hold the following in your prayers.
Betty Farwell and JoAnn Grimm who struggle with health problems
Richard Lewis who broke a hip and is recovering at the Alverno.
Arlene Pawlik who is recovering from a broken leg.
Those who are on hospice: Joan Pinkston & Maxine Wagner.
CALL TO WORSHIP (Adapted from Psalm 32)
L: Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven!
P: Happy are those made right in the Lord!
L: We could not hide our transgressions, so laid bare our hearts before the Lord.
P: And God Almighty forgave the guilt of our sins.
L: Therefore, we come to offer prayer to you, O Lord.
P: May you be the hiding place for us, instructing us,
L: teaching us the way to go.
P: We rejoice in the Lord and shout for joy.
L: People of God, sing praise to our Redeemer. Amen.
Lord God. We live in the wilderness of temptation, and despair. So we come, this day, to breathe in the presence of your Spirit. May we be guided around the pits of our own temptations and shown the path to your grace and hope. We praise you, Loving Savior. Amen.
HYMN Come Thou Almighty King #139
CALL TO CONFESSION
Sin came into God’s perfect world, and with it death But in God’s love, his Son was sent to bring us the gift of God’s grace. Let us claim this gift. Let us confess our sins before the Lord.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Today we stand looking into the Garden, Gracious God. The folly of Adam and Eve is before us. How they enjoyed the paradise you provided, until they decided they were smarter than you, and then they disobeyed. We would not be so foolish, we tell ourselves. But like them, we also want to be “like God.” We, too want to be in control of our world. Forgive us, Lord for our arrogance and impatience. Forgive us for trying to yank the reins out of your hands. Forgive us for ignoring your commands. Help us, Lord, to look to the cross that we might discover the way to life and happiness for ourselves and for our world. Amen
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Just as Adam’s trespass led to condemnation for all, Jesus’ gift upon the cross leads to justification and life for all. Believe the good news. Grace abounds, and in that gift we are washed clean. Thank you Lord.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
L: May the peace of Christ be with you.
P: And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
From the Garden of Eden to the wilderness where Jesus is tested, we journey this day. Come with us, Lord, and help us to see and claim your gift of grace and hope and salvation. Amen.
Genesis 2: 15-17
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Matthew 4: 1-11
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
SERMON The Wilderness Becomes the Womb of Faith
Come for a walk with me! It’s October, one of those days when the sun in hanging on to summer’s bliss. The blueness of the sky is only interrupted occasionally by a puffy white cloud made of cotton candy that float lazily upon the earth. The path we walk leads into a deep woods, and as soon as we enter, a secondary level of quiet descends, and we feel ourselves exhale, ridding our bodies of the stress and anxiety we carry these days. The leaves, red and gold, bright orange and yellow rustle above us, and with the gust of a gentle breeze they rain down upon us, making the world a kaleidoscope of color. A squirrel scampers up a tree and watches us with great intensity while munching on the acorn he has just carried up the tree. We hear a hawk far above. We can’t see it due to the arch of trees over our heads, but we can imagine it soaring over the area looking for its lunch. Acorns crunch under or feet and every once in a while we spot the distinctive foot print of a raccoon in the mud on one of its nightly patrols.
It’s an inviting place, this wilderness. It’s a place where we can breathe deep, where we can feel our shoulders relax and our minds clear. We glimpse God’s remarkable gift of a good and beautiful world.
That’s one version of wilderness. That’s the version I associate with the Garden of Eden, a place where the good and joyful abundance of God is known. The word Garden might suggest that it’s not quite as wild, but who knows?
Why is it not surprising that Adam and Eve experienced this wilderness, this joyful paradise, but they couldn’t really appreciate how remarkable it was. They wanted MORE. It’s the human condition, it seems. The serpent came along. He represents the cunning of Satan, and he asked them, quite innocently, what God had told them. When told that they could enjoy all of the garden except the tree in the middle, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest they eat of it and die, the serpent tells them that they won’t die! He challenges them to disregard God’s instruction. “When you eat of the fruit, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God. You will know good and evil. Implied here is that they will be able to judge for themselves what is good and what is evil. They will be able to choose their own course in the world. They will no longer need to rely upon God. To be in control. To be able to do whatever they pleased. Why not? It’ll be OK.
So they ate. And immediately their eyes were opened. What they saw was not some remarkable, wisdom. What they saw was their own nakedness. They had lost their innocence. Shame had come into their world, and that shame became their gift to all humankind—shame and sin and struggle. Let the epic story of God’s call and our human response begin!
At some point our Bible tells about another adventure in the wilderness. This was the experience of those ex-slaves who had escaped Egypt. Their wilderness wasn’t so idyllic. They had Moses, as God’s emissary. They had the manna that fell from the heavens. And they were led to water as they needed it. But this wilderness was also a scary--would they survive? Would they ever come to the place promised by God? Were they really God’s chosen people? Could they live these laws that God had sent down the mountain? Would it be OK? Really?
For them the wilderness was a place of struggle and questioning. It was a place and a time to learn again how to be God’s people, and it wasn’t an easy lesson.
There are many more wilderness stories in our Bible, but for today we will concentrate on these two plus the story of Jesus in the wilderness. God had led Adam and Eve. Moses led the Israelites, and now the Spirit of God led Jesus. He’d just had an amazing experience. He’d gone into the baptismal waters of the Jordan, and upon his emergence he’d received the Spirit. He’d heard the words from Heaven—God’s own words in God’s own voice. “This is my Son, the Beloved with whom I am well pleased.” In that moment he became, not Jesus from Nazareth, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
But what does it mean to be the Christ? What does it mean to be God’s Son? What was he to do? How would he do it? Where would he do it? Who would accompany him along the way? So many questions. The first task was to get his head around all of this and to figure some things out. So the Spirit led him into the wilderness. It’s a place to be alone with God, to sort things out, to feel what we feel and ask our questions.
But, you know, at one level Jesus wasn’t alone. Satan was there. Whether we think of Satan as that supernatural agent of evil and sin or that dark part of ourselves that selfishly wants to promote ME, I leave that to you.
Satan has 3 tests for Jesus. He offers 3 things that might call this Son of God to aim his ministry in a particular direction. The first is as simple as food. Jesus was hungry. He as human with all the human needs that we experience. You know the feeling when your body is screaming for nourishment. There were a lot of people out in the world who were hungry. Maybe his ministry would be about feeding people, about helping them to attain the things they needed for their bodily survival. But is food the answer?
Jesus responded to the temptation with words from scripture. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Those wandering Israelites in the desert were given bread (Manna) but that wasn’t enough. They needed God. Temptation #1 answered.
Then to the pinnacle of the temple. The temple is a place of mystery and faith. It’s a place where the people of God practiced their faith. Satan tells Jesus he can throw himself down and the angels will catch him. It’s perhaps a way of saying, “You can show them your high priestly standing. You can become their religious leader.” But Jesus responds, “It is written. Do not put the Lord to the test.” Jesus’ ministry is bigger than managing people’s religious practices.
Finally Satan pulls out all the stops. He takes Jesus to the top of a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. “Wouldn’t you like to have control over these? Just think of how things can work if you’re the boss? All you have to do is put me in the place of God.” Jesus knows it’s not that simple. He knows that it’s one twisted idea. He responds, “ It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God alone.”
Three temptations averted. Aren’t these the exact temptations that the Hebrew people in the wilderness experienced? To have what we need for our bodies, to manage our religious experiences, to have control of the world around us. Aren’t these our temptations, too?
Jesus said “NO” to each of these. He would be led by God. He would engage in all of these realms at one level or another, but not as a means to collect power and prestige unto himself. Rather he offers blessing to all the world by helping us to get engaged in these things. He helps us to show the world how to understand our place in society and how to partner with God.
Jesus comes to turn the wilderness that we experience back into a place where we can walk and talk with God and to know God’s goodness.
We all experience our own wildernesses. Now I’m talking more metaphorically. Wilderness is a place of struggle, of fear, of questioning and doubt. We experience wilderness when we unexpectedly get that pink slip at work and we haven’t any idea how we will manage that pile of bills on our dining room table or how to move forward.
We experience wilderness when the doctor tells us or our beloved that the biopsy shows cancer or some other life-threatening illness.
We experience wilderness when we get divorce papers delivered to our door by a police officer or when the door slam as our spouse with his or her suitcase is walking out in a huff—no word about when or if they will ever be back.
We experience wilderness when we stand at a newly dug grave and wonder how we can possibly survive without this special person in our lives.
There are so many examples of wilderness when our life is turned upside down in unexpected ways and we question whether we don’t know what to do next. We might shake our fist at God and ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” It feels like such a betrayal. (By the way, I think shaking one’s fist at God is perfectly acceptable at such times and even healthy. It’s healthy because we are engaging God. We’re laying it out before our Lord.)
Sometimes we stay in the wilderness, that questioning pain and confusion and anger for days—weeks—months—years. But isn’t that the experience of the Israelites. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years! If God is with us in that wilderness, God will lead us out when it is time.
He led the Hebrew slaves and he led Jesus. Jesus was given what he needed to do this Messiah thing, and to become for us life and well-being, to help us reach out to others who need bread, to show them how to live in relationship to God, to think wisely and compassionately about how to organize our world for the benefit of all.
That woodland path in which we began our time. It’s the other side of a wilderness, At times, we begin our journey in the dark and frightening forest and find our way out through the tree lined path where squirrels play and colorful leaves rain gently down. God engages us in these places, and God invites us to know his power and goodness, his love and mercy.
Let’s go for a walk. Let’s take all of us to the wilderness to know the release of God’s abiding grace. Amen.
HYMN Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley #80
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR LIVES
DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #59
HYMN Precious Lord, Take My Hand #404
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH From The Confession of 1967-- 9.08
In Jesus of Nazareth, true humanity was realized once for all.
He lived among his own people and shared their needs, temptations, joys and sorrows. He expressed the love of God in word and deed and became a brother to all kinds of sinful people. …Many rejected him and demanded his death. In giving himself freely to them, he took upon himself the judgment under which all of us stand convicted. God raised him from the dead, vindicating him as Messiah and Lord. The victim of sin became victor, and won the victory over sin and death for all people.
CHARGE & BLESSING
We will remain seated throughout the service.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation