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AUDIO and TEXT of Sermon Preached 2/17/13- "The Time Will Come"

click here for AUDIO

 

Sermon Preached by

The Rev. Fulton Porter, III

 The First Sunday in Lent

February 17, 2013

at

St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Luke 4:1-13

 

The Time Will Come

 

In the name of God the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen.

 

Have you ever been hungry?  I don’t mean just needing a little bite to eat, I mean hungry?  Have you ever been so hungry that your head ached and you were nauseated and dizzy?  Have you ever been so hungry that you had a knot in the pit of your stomach and your hands were shaking and your body was trembling?  Have you ever been hungry?  No, I don’t mean that you just have a taste for something.  I don’t mean the kind of hunger that causes you to seek out certain foods- (Harold’s Chicken or Taco Bell or your favorite barbecue joint).  Have you ever been really hungry; hungry enough to eat just about anything?  Hungry enough that a cracker would do; hungry enough that a mayonnaise of ketchup or butter sandwich would be enough (some of you know what I’m talking about); hungry enough that something out of the garbage can will do.  Have you ever been hungry, famished?

 

There are people in this world who are beyond hunger; they have reached the point of starvation.   More than 850 million people in the world go hungry.  In developing countries, 6 million children die each year, mostly from hunger-related causes.  In the United States, 12.4 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.  They are so desperate that anything will do.  That is why I will be calling upon the Dorcas guild to help me organize the St. Thomas emergency food pantry to reach out and meet the needs of the poor and hungry of this community, for there are people all around us that are hungry.  Have you ever been hungry?  Have you ever been famished?

 

Our Gospel today tells us that after Jesus had fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, he had eaten nothing, and he was famished.  My dictionary tells me that famished means that someone is so hungry that they are starving and at the point of death.  Jesus was at the point of death.  Our bodies can survive for an average of 30 days without food, and Jesus had gone well beyond that point.  Jesus was famished and in his time of extreme hunger, the devil came to him and tempted him as he began the long and lonely journey to Calvary and the cross.

 

I have to stop here and wonder why it is that temptation, the devil, and evil come to us at our weakest hour.  Temptation comes to us in our most vulnerable circumstance.  When we are desperate, it seems that we will do almost anything to relieve our suffering, accept anything, bargain for anything, hustle for anything just to make it.  Just when we were getting low on our money, the clerk gives us too much change.  Just when we are in the depths of despair and hopelessness, there is that bottle again calling our name.

 

Temptation, the devil, comes to us at opportune times when our resistance is lowest and our resolve has left us.  And we end up making decisions and choosing avenues that we regret.  The problem with evil is not simply that it causes trouble in our lives, but that often the trouble erupts in our times of greatest weakness.  Evil and temptation like to kick us when we are down.

 

We must understand that the narrative in Luke 4:1-13, our gospel text for today, connects Jesus with the historical experience of Israel in the wilderness and thereby connects Jesus to our experience as God’s imperfect people in this wilderness of life.  This text, on this heritage Sunday, connects Jesus to a slave people, a people who endured persecution and temptation as they journeyed from slavery to freedom.  In this regard the testing of Jesus is like the testing of God's other "son"--Israel. "When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos. 11:1).   Jesus, recognized by God as the Son (Lk 3:22), will be tested. However, in contrast to the experience with Israel (see Hos. 11:2--"The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols"), Jesus would be faithful. Israel was 40 years in wilderness; Jesus was 40 days in wilderness. The people of Israel experienced hunger and thirst, complaining against Moses to God (Ex. 15:24), while Jesus experienced a famishing hunger but remained steadfast in faith to God.   

 

And if we are honest with ourselves as individuals and as a people on this day, our journey has been filled with failed faithfulness and drunkenness with the world’s wine.  And in our low points, temptation has gotten hold of us.  We even bowed to the evil temptation to sell our own people into the hands of the oppressor, all for a few coins.  We bow every day, some of us, to the temptation of profit over people when we continue to deal drugs in our neighborhoods.  We enslave our people again when we bow to the temptation of political power over the good of the community.  We allow the devil to use us when we allow our children to believe that being smart is not cool and listening to music that degrades our women and touts a gangster lifestyle is ok.  That is why James Weldon Johnson prayed: Lest our feet stray from the places our God where we met thee.  Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee.

 

The children of Israel, if you remember, forgot God in their time of weakness and they forgot God in their time of temptation.  Since the Israelites were so hungry, they even wanted to go back to their slavery.  Pharaoh, if you remember, caught up with the Israelites on their journey at a very vulnerable moment in an effort to recapture them.  They were at the banks of the Red Sea and surrounded by mountains and it seemed they had no place to run.  What we must understand beloved is that when you are trying to go forward or do something worthwhile, expect what you are trying to outgrow or get away from to come after you in your vulnerable moments and tempt you to do something foolish.  Pharaohs never cease trying to recapture their slaves, whether the pharaoh is called racism, sexism, an abusive past, guilt, fear, lust, lying, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine or even overeating.  Pharaohs always look for a vulnerable moment to recapture slaves.

 

And then on our wilderness journey, on our long journey, we can expect some shortages.  We can expect shortages of money and faith and patience and endurance.  Not only did the children of Israel have shortage, they ran out of some things.  Not only did they run out of bread, they also came to places where the water was bitter or where there was no water at all.  On our journey through life’s wilderness and to any place worthwhile, expect some bitter disappointments and bitter discouragement that will tempt you to give up on God.  Sometimes people will present things to you that you just can’t swallow and at other times you will find yourself in a place of drought.  The devil will say command this stone to become a loaf of bread, and what will you do?

The devil will lead you up and show you all the kingdoms of the world and say that if you but sell out, these can be yours.  If you give up your integrity, this power belongs to you.  What will you do?

 

And then we will pray and receive no immediate word from the Lord, no sign from the Spirit, no clue as to what you should do.  No inspiration to keep you going.  No hiding place from the pressure, just barrenness on the horizon and emptiness in your soul.  Expect the drought that drains, where everything is going out and nothing seems to be coming in.  If you are walking through the wilderness of life, the time will come when you are at your lowest point and temptation will dangle before you a poisonous apple.  What will you do?  The time will come when you have no fight left in you.  The time will come when you are at the end of your rope.  The time will come when your character as a child of God will be tested against the needs and wants of your flesh.  What will you do?  What did you do when it happened to you?

 

There is the story of a man who reported his observations of the effects of a hurricane on a southeastern Gulf Coast town.  As he walked up and down the ravaged streets, he observed that the palm trees had been uprooted and flung about.  Once tall and majestic, their root systems were too shallow to withstand the hurricane force winds.  But as he proceeded, he came upon a lone oak tree.  The leaves had been blown away and some of the smaller branches ripped off, but the roots had gone deep, and the tree held its position.  And in due season, it would again produce leaves.

 

So it is with us.  If we are to endure in times of great stress and difficulty, we must have beforehand put down some deep roots, and it is Jesus who shows us how.  Jesus is our connection.  Jesus is our example here of how to make it on the long and difficult journey through the wilderness in our times of weakness, our times of famishment, without yielding to the temptation of evil.

 

I love this account because it reminds me of a mental tennis match.  Jesus and the devil go back and forth but Jesus had the roots to withstand the assault because his soul was anchored in God’s word.  Sometimes we are unable to endure because God’s word is not hidden in our hearts; we can’t call upon it for strength in times of adversity.  The antidote that Jesus used in resisting temptation was a profound understanding of scripture. In each of his answers he appeals to a passage from the scriptures.  “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”  “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

We cannot afford to be without God’s word, because it is by God’s word in our time of temptation that we are able to make it through.  The antidote for contemporary believers is a deeper immersion in the scriptures.   The time will come when the devil tries to turn us around and mix us up in our time of weakness, but all we need to do is pick up our compass, which is the Bible, the word of God.  This is what our ancestors did as they traveled through the wilderness of slavery and segregation.  They picked up the word of God and when Satan told them to hate, the bible told them to love their enemies.  When Satan told them to that they would forever be enslaved, the bible told them that whom the son set free is free indeed.  When Satan told them that they were less than, the bible told them that they were the apple of God’s eye.

 

That is why we must know the word.  First century Jews knew the power of words.  Words were not simply sounds in the air, but they were units of energy and effective power.  A word not only said things but it did things.  Thus, when we read the account of the Creation in Genesis, God speaks and things happen.  Over and over again we read, “And God said…”  And in response to what God said, light was created, water was gathered, earth was sculpted, stars were hung, birds swam, animals roamed and human beings were formed in the image of God.  God’s word is powerful, and in order to resist temptation to do and be wrong, we must know God’s word.

 

And I submit to you, my dear brothers and sisters, that the time will come when you will need the word, but glory be to God that we have a living Word in Jesus Christ, who was tempted in every way that we are yet did not sin.

 

That is why the power of Christ as the Word of God is always able to conquer the works of Satan.  Jesus as the Word is God in action and he has a message to communicate to us in our times of extreme hunger and famishment which can feed us and make us full and strong and alive.  If you are divorced like he woman at the well, Jesus is a word of restoration.  If you’ve been caught in sin like the adulterous woman, Jesus is a word of forgiveness.  If you’re bound like one demon possessed, Jesus is a word of deliverance.  If you’re mourning like Mary and Martha, Jesus is a word of hope and resurrection.  If you’ve given your all like the widow and her two coins, Jesus is a word of affirmation and support.  If you’re old like Nicodemus, Jesus is a word about a second birth.  If you’ve denied him like peter did, Jesus is a word about second chances.  If  you’re young like the boy with the loaves and fish, Jesus is a message about using what you have.

If you have been hung up to die like the thief on the cross, Jesus is a word of salvation.  Whoever you are, Jesus has a word for you.  That is why, especially during this season of Lent and in every season, I challenge you to read God’s word!

 

Beloved, the time will come.  The time will come when the great professor of the universe will give you your final test, your final exam.  Will you pass it?

 

Amen.

 

 

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