Monday, March 11, 2019

"Turn This Stone to Bread"

I planned on having wheat seed downstairs for us to plant for lent. We have packets of flower seeds instead. I could have bought a 50 pound bag of wheat from the co-op, but that seemed like a waste of 49 pounds of wheat seed.. The challenge of buying a pound of wheat seed would seem to be a first-world problem. One person I asked found it on Amazon, of course. But we still have soup downstairs, and we will have that fellowship together in a little bit and we will plant flower seeds instead of wheat.

And we have mason jars that we will give out like this one. When I was young, I remember we had these folders during lent where you would slide in a quarter for each of the 40 days of lent. Then at the end of lent, you would have $10 dollars to take the folders to church. The donation would go either to the Berks Mission District, or the Highlands Retirement Community, or Lutheran Hunger Ministries. I forget the charity, but I remember the folders.

These jars are for Lutheran World Hunger. You could put in a quarter a day, or you could put in $2 a day. I am planning on 89 cents a day, about the cost of a candy bar. Now, I do not eat a candy bar every day. But 89 cents time 40 days equals about $36 dollars. So I am giving up candy bars and putting the money in here to remind me how quickly candy bars add up. You can do the same with meatless mondays and place the money you would use for meat in the jar. The same holds true for sodas at McDonalds or coffee at Starbucks. 

I saw a connection between growing wheat and these mason jars collections. I saw time as the connection. How much you can collect a candy bar at the time becomes more visible in a mason jar. The time it takes to grow wheat and harvest it and make a loaf of bread becomes more visible when you have to grow the wheat. Because hunger still is one of the plagues of the world and the solution to hunger involves time.

The adversary tempts Jesus to turn stone into bread and the strange reality is many people want God to solve the problem of world hunger in similar fashion. Just turn stones into bread with a snap of the fingers, or an honest prayer. Feeding people takes time and the adversary plays with that reality and challenges Jesus and us as well. 

Today, our scripture invites us to define evil. The adversary of God places three temptations before Jesus. As you read scripture, you quickly realize that evil exists without bloodshed. No one dies in our passage. No war, no bloodshed, no sickness and the only one hungry is Jesus. We tend to view evil in terms of war, bloodshed, rape, sickness, disease, tornados, famine. We view evil, we define evil in terms of that which denies life. This provides a good starting point for our definition of evil. That which denies life. You heard me say starting point, which means more of a definition has to exist.

Besides that which denies life, how does evil function in our gospel passage. I would encourage you to listen to Jesus’ responses as we figure this out together.

“One does not live by bread alone.”

“Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Jesus’ responses affirm trust and faith in God. Trust and faith in God and only God. 

“One does not live by bread alone.”

“Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

The adversary tempts Jesus in three ways to turn away from the Father. It is not just about bread and it is not just about earthly kingdoms and it is not just about proving for all to see that I am indeed God’s chosen one. The adversary tempts Jesus in three ways to turn away from the Father and Jesus says, "No."

We can now add this to our definition. Evil: that which denies life as well as that which denies faith and trust in the one true God. That includes the challenge not to trust God as well as the challenge to trust and believe in something else.

That could make the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama last weekend a double whammy. It could or maybe not. Twenty-three people died from the storm, including children and families. That which denies life, matches the first part of our definition. To be frank, the temptation following destruction and death is to doubt God. But also in that place and time one has opportunity to give witness. In the aftermath of the tornado, people gave witness to God.

Miles Tatum, went into a closet with his two sons. The closet was full of clothes, winter coats, outside the closet a bow and arrow hung on the wood paneling wall. Outside, the wind howled while trees twisted and snapped in the wind. After the storm passed, Miles and his sons came out of their shelter and saw the damage of the structure. It was still standing, mostly. He walked with journalists through the chaos and said, “The only reason this part of the barn is here, I am convinced, is that the Lord saved us and my kids.”

Given opportunity, the temptation, to see only destruction, Miles focussed on rescue and on God and gave him the glory. I know some of you nod your head in agreement, all the while thinking about those who perished and those who grieved. What would they say?

Elizabeth and I watched NBC news on Monday night. In a day and age of six second sound bites, we were captivated (our hearts were captured) by the family that talked about their ten-year-old daughter who had spent the night with a friend the next town over. NBC evening news has only 21 minutes of broadcast time. They spent two full minutes of that allotment talking with these grieving parents whose young daughter died. Lester Holt, NBC’s anchor said to them, “You are a family of deep faith, is that what you’re hanging on to?” and Ashley Thornton's response twenty-four hours into their grief was touching “All in the Lord. The only thing getting us through, that and friends too.”

In the midst of tragedies that break our hearts, come these opportunities to give witness to God and for us to hear the witness of people who find strength and hope in God. Personally, it seems to me that Jesus has it easy here. If you come face to face with the devil, then you know to work against the temptations he offers you. 

You and I often have to work against temptations presented by friends and family. The most challenging temptation you will ever face is a friend or even a family member who says, "why bother?" And they will blame the problems of the world on God rather than on greed, and they will sell you the illusion that we all should live forever, or live long and prosper comfortably. 

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Some test God that way and they tell God, “I will worship you and believe in you if you make my life easy, simple.” This forgets that our hardships make our testimony all the more impactful. This forgets that our hardships call us into the lives of friends and neighbors (and strangers too) when they face challenges and when they face temptations. In these times and before them, God gives faith that endures.

In the book of Job, the adversary of God takes everything away, all his livestock, all his hired hands, and in a great windstorm, even all of Job’s children. Job’s body is covered with sores and he says to his friends, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job’s friends actually discouraged him from such faith. Job persists, “The Lord Giveth and the Lord take away, bless be the name of the Lord.”

“One does not live by bread alone.”

“Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

To be frank, the adversary of God here only gives a first glimpse of those who will call on Jesus to turn away. Pharisees and scribes will critique him, try to trip him up and prove him wrong. His closest followers will argue about who is the greatest. When he hears about the cross, Peter will say “This must never happen to you.” Jesus will turn his back on his friend and say, get behind me satan. The disciples, the twelve will all abandon him as he walks to Golgotha and the cross. Jesus does not turn away from God. He turns and faces the cross squarely and walks on.

God does not promise an easy life. God does not promise a happy life. But God gives (blesses) you with life. And in that gift of life you experience moments, precious moments, of grace, moments of joy, and precious moments of love. Those precious moments are blessing upon blessing. And when they come in the midst of hardship and suffering, the value of those moments grows immensely. God is full of grace and mercy, and our worship and study of scripture helps you to see that.

Today I give thanks for Jesus faith that lives in you. For faith that lives in Miles Tatum along with Ashley and David Thornton down on Alabama. We give thanks for bread that feeds the world and our hands in the ministry of God.

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.