Call to Worship
“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name”
*Praise # 11 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
*Invocation (Lord’s Prayer) Almighty and everlasting Father, whom all of heaven and earth cannot contain, grant us awareness of your presence as we worship. Cleanse us with your grace. Empower us with your Spirit that we may genuinely praise you, humbly learn from you, and readily serve you.
*Gloria Patri # 575
Psalm for today Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16(NRSV)
Assurance of God’s Protection
1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
Our Offering to God let us give with glad hearts, sharing in the hopes of our God as we bring our gifts this day.
*Prayer of Dedication O God, we are glad to bring these gifts to you as small tokens of our love for you and the world. Receive them now and enlarge the love in our hearts as we look at the needs of others.
Scripture Reading Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (NRSV) When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5 you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
*Hymn of Prayer insert “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” (um269)
And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Luke 7:50
Praise God for... smooth sailing.
Ask God for... watchover all whom we love this week.
Thank God for... the continued medical improvements.
Healing for... those dealing with depression and addiction.
once again we rejoice in this opportunity that is ours to worship, to have our hearts lifted by music that stirs our souls, and to have our minds opened by the hearing of your word. May the experience of this hour carry over into our attitudes and actions in the days that lie ahead. In our prayers we would think, not only of ourselves but of others. We would lift up to you those who are suffering in mind or in body that,
through you, their pain may be eased. Some of these are hungry, some are filled with anxiety, some are lonely and just need to be loved and appreciated. May they hear you saying to them in a very personal way, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”
And then there are others who appear to be managing very well, who give of themselves in service to others, in an effort to make this a better community, a better society, a better world. They, too, need your guiding hand and words of encouragement. We would offer a special prayer for all those men and women who serve their country. May we see them as preservers of the peace, a peace that allows freedom and justice for all.-- James S. Ferris
*Hymn of Praise # 130 Tell Me the Story of Jesus
Scripture Reading Luke 4:1-13
The Temptation of Jesus
(Mt 4.1—11; Mk 1.12—13)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ ”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Message Rev. Lilliana DaValle, ABCORI Executive Minister
*Hymn of Response #127 Who Is He in Yonder Stall?
*Sending forth May Wisdom speak into every silence, the Creator transform every possibility before us, and the Christ wait in love in every wilderness.
We begin Lent with this monster story, known as “The Temptations.” What we see in this stark and ominous imagery of the lonely Jesus amid desolation and wilderness is not a solitary, never-to-be-repeated encounter. We see, rather, a moment illustrating an incessant alternate claim on the life and ministry of both Jesus and the Church—a claim no less persistently made on us who would follow this challenging Galilean.
I. I want to suggest, first of all, when the Tempter approaches Jesus with the promise of turning stone into bread, we see a deal so right, so decent, so creative that to deny it appears simply irrational. What’s going on? What lies at the heart of this encounter? Could it be the temptation to substitute the expedient good for the courageous best? “Turn these stones into bread?” Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’d been Jesus out there in the wilderness,
steeped in the prophets and their urgent cries for justice, I’d have said, “Thank Heaven!
Finally, an opportunity to win the war on hunger. That’s what starving kids need. We can take care of low birth weight, the crises of malnutrition, infant mortality. Finally, a platform a real Messiah can run on.” I’d have surrendered then and there.
Why didn’t Luke picture Jesus surrendering? I think it’s because in light of the cross (in whose light every Gospel narrative is offered), Luke pictures Jesus deciding to go for the courageous best rather than the expedient good.
I think that choice tempts us all. I consulted on a collection of essays not long ago by Harry Stein titled “Ethics and Other Liabilities . . . Trying to Live Right in an Amoral World”. Stein titled one essay “The Curse of Right and Wrong,” and he points to a variety of men and women over history who sought the courageous best over the expedient good—and paid for it—from Nathan Hale to John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. “Why is it,” asks a writer I know, “that so many rotten people get ahead? Do you really have to be amoral to
“The answer,” says Stein, “is that it helps a lot. And acting ethically, in and of itself does not. In the real world, the meek generally earn $15,000 a year and never get their names in the paper.”6
It’s true. The courageous best often costs a great deal in our world. Failure may be the price of the courageous best. Our readiness to confuse conventional success with high character tends to pervert our judgment. It nudges us to settle for the expedient good rather than the courageous best. Careful!
II. The second proposition the Tempter makes provides for sovereignty over all the nations of the world. In this day-and-age, what a temptation that is! And aren’t you intrigued that the Bible believes that nations belong to the devil in the first place? The devil—Satan—bears the power of chaos. And surely we witnessed plenty of that in this past century and in this one—nations, races, and tribes slaughtering one another with an almost nihilistic virulence.
There’s no end to it.
And so of necessity, we may be tempted by the insidious voice of realism to cut development aid and build missiles: the expedient good for the courageous best—the United States and “Pax Atomica” goes a contemporary expression. We might better listen to Martin Luther King Jr., who wonders, “Where do we go from here?” And as we see the half-trillion-dollar defense budgets, the distrusts surfacing between East and West, North and South, the flag-waving and religious symbols used as rationale for war, we come to realize “we can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of
6Harry Stein, Ethics and Other Liabilities (New York: St. Martins Press, 1982), p. 78.
nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path. As Arnold Toynbee once said in a speech: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore, the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”7
Are King and Toynbee right? Which will it be: the expedient good—that big defense budget and the imperial reach across the world—or the courageous best: the drive to love our neighbors as ourselves? It could be the courageous best—the ethic of pure love and service— is really the only true expedient for good in this world of ours. Our Lord has shown us the way, and it’s up to us to make the choice!
III. And last, the Tempter takes Jesus to the top of the Temple and promises, for God’s sake, to keep him from harm’s way. Here friends, we confront the ultimate bargain. It goes like this: for our sake, Jesus, if you won’t feed the hungry, if you won’t bend the nations to your will, then somehow prove to us you’re in God’s camp; show us truly who you are, what you’re about, and why we should believe any connection between you and the will, the love and the purpose of God.
Here we get the gospel straight! Now hear this: the will and love of God make themselves evident, not by some arbitrary act of power, intervening and bending the distortions of our life together to some preordained design. The will and love of God make themselves visible and present in our common life by vulnerability and do not violate our freedom. The will and love of God are such that even as we violate them in order to do things our way, we realize God’s love will not violate us. We have been given the choice to eliminate hunger—if we want! We have been given the choice to unify the nations into the human family—if we will!
We have the choice to follow the One who lives and loves, not for the expedient good but for the courageous and loving best. And we know in this world of reason and realism, this world where our basic principle seems to be “a person’s got to do what a person’s got to do”—that in that kind of world the proof of God’s love for us rests in a readiness to risk life for us, never counting the cost, for love’s sake. You see, there is no a way to protect love from harm’s way.
That’s where love finds itself. Right in harm’s way. It is open-handed, open-hearted, high-risk, and highly vulnerable, finally, even to crucifixion. It does not sell out to the expedient good as a reasonable substitute for the courageous and loving best!
So you see, friends, living the Christian life is no easy task. It’s a matter of courage and risk and hope. It makes a claim on us. It puts our faith on trial, not once, not twice, but a thousand times over. Yet be assured—be assured—it asks not more of us than has already been given. Therefore, as we walk into Lent together, I pray we heed that sublime admonition in Charles Wesley’s hymn:
Leave no unguarded place, No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole.
From strength to strength go on; Wrestle and fight and pray
Tread all the powers of evil down, And win the well fought day.8—James W. Crawford
7Martin Luther King Jr. Where Do We Go from Here? (New York: HarperCollins, 1967), p. 191.
8Charles Wesley, “Soldiers of Christ Arise” (hymn text), The Pilgrim Hymnal (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1958), Hymn Number 384.
//The Promised Land is God’s gift to Israel. At harvest time, the first basket of produce is to be taken to the priest and presented as a thank-offering to God. The person bringing the gift is to recite a brief history of Israel, from the time God called Abraham (‘a wandering Aramean’), to the present day. In this way, individual Israelites take their very own place in the story and life of God’s people.
Every third year, a tithe (10 per cent) of the harvest is to be given to the Levites and to the poor. Israel is to remember that obedience and blessing go together. Responsibility to God is fulfilled through practical care for the poor.
Obedient people (Deut. 26:1–19)
It isn’t enough for a nation to have gifted and godly leaders; it must also have godly citizens who obey the law of the Lord. Confucius said, “The strength of a nation is derived from the integrity of its homes.” But homes are made up of individuals, so it’s the strength of the individual that helps to make the home what it ought to be. “Whatever makes men good Christians,” said Daniel Webster, “makes them good citizens.” The three public confessions recorded in this chapter help us to understand what kind of citizens we ought to be as the followers of Jesus Christ.
Confession of God’s goodness (vv. 1–11). This ceremony was to be used the first time any Jew brought his firstfruits offering to the Lord. It should not be confused with the annual firstfruits offering (16:4; Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Lev. 23:10–17; Num. 15:18–20; 18:12–13). Not only was this special ceremony a confession of God’s goodness to Israel and to this worshiper, but it was also a declaration that the man had now claimed his inheritance in the land. He had worked the land and received a harvest, and he brought the first and the best to give to the Lord. The basket of fruit sitting by the altar was a witness to the faithfulness of the Lord to His people. The entire ceremony was an Old Testament version of Matthew 6:33.
The confession begins with Israel’s entrance into the land of Canaan (Deut. 26:3), and this would remind the worshiper of the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan (Josh. 3). The God who opened the Red Sea for the nation to get out of Egypt also opened the Jordan River so they could go in and claim their inheritance. “He brought us out … that he might bring us in” (Deut. 6:23). The only reason the Jews didn’t enter the land sooner was because the older generation rebelled against the Lord at Kadesh and refused to trust Him for victory (Num. 13–14). The worshiper was reminded that the secret of Israel’s great success was faith in the promises of God. Years later, Joshua would say, “There failed nothing of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (Josh. 21:45; see 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56).
Then the worshiper would speak about Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel (Deut. 26:5), who left home and went to Haran in northwest Mesopotamia (Hosea 12:12; Gen. 25:20) to find himself a wife. After twenty years in the household of his father-in-law Laban, Jacob obeyed God’s commandment and returned to his own land and settled down with his twelve sons and their families. Indeed, Jacob had been a “fugitive” and a “pilgrim” all those years, but the Lord had watched over him and blessed him. Jacob’s twelve sons were to become the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel, and through Israel God would bless the whole world (Gen. 12:1–3).
How would God transform one man’s family into a great nation? By taking them down to Egypt where they were put through the “iron furnace” of suffering (Deut. 26:5–7; 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Gen. 46). Seventy people traveled to Egypt where Joseph had prepared homes for them, and years later, on Passover night, probably 2 million Jews marched triumphantly out of Egypt. The more the enemy persecuted the Jews, the more the Jews had multiplied (Ex. 1). Suffering and trial are often God’s tools for bringing blessing to His people, though at the time we may not understand it. The more the enemy persecuted the early church, the more they scattered and multiplied (Acts 5:41–6:1; 8:1–4).
The confession mentions nothing about Israel’s complaining on their journey or their failure at Kadesh-Barnea. This is a confession of faith, not unbelief. “So the Lord brought us out of Egypt … He has brought us to this place and has given us this land” (Deut. 26:8–9, nkjv). The man calls Canaan “a land that flows with milk and honey,” which is what God often called it. God gave His people a wonderful land that would meet their every need. During Israel’s years of wandering and rebellion, some of the Jews called Egypt “a land that flows with milk and honey” (Num. 16:13). It’s tragic when people are so unspiritual that the things of the world are more inviting than the things of the Lord.
In response to the goodness and grace of the Lord, the worshiper presented to God the first and the best of his labors, for there would have been no harvest apart from the blessing of the Lord. But in presenting the firstfruits, the worshiper was actually giving the entire harvest to the Lord. Stewardship doesn’t mean that we give God a part and then use the rest as we please. True stewardship means that we give God what belongs to Him as an acknowledgment that all that we have is His. We then use all that is left wisely for His glory. To bring the Lord 10 percent and then waste the 90 percent that remains is not stewardship. It’s foolishness.
The Lord “gives to us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), which explains why Moses admonished the Jews to rejoice in every good thing that the Lord gave to them (Deut. 26:11). While at the sanctuary, they could bring a thank offering to the Lord and enjoy a feast of good things, all to the glory of God. But note the mention of the Levite and the stranger, those with whom we need to share the gifts of the Lord (12:12, 18; 16:11, 14). This introduces the second confession.
Confession of honesty and generosity (vv. 12–15). This scene would take place two years later, when the Jews were supposed to bring the extra tithe to the local officers (14:28–29). The previous ceremony occurred only once, after the first harvest in the land, but this ceremony was repeated every third year. The seventh year would be the Sabbath Year, and then the cycle started again. This confession was tantamount to a summary renewal of the covenant that Israel made at Sinai, their promise to obey the Lord and His promise to bless their obedience.
The tithe of the third year was kept in the towns and used locally to feed the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. In giving this tithe, the worshiper was to confess to the Lord that he had been honest in setting aside the tithe and using it as the Lord commanded. He was not to take the tithe for his own personal use and certainly not to use it for any sinful purpose. He had been careful not to defile the tithe by touching it while unclean because of a death in the family. In other words, the setting aside of this tithe for others was a serious matter and had to be done with dignity and obedience. The ceremony would end with the prayer of 26:15, asking God to bless the whole nation and not just the individual worshiper.
Both the first and the second confession express appreciation for the land “flowing with milk and honey” (vv. 9, 15). It’s a good thing when God’s people appreciate all that the Lord gives them. During their forty years of wandering, the older generation had frequently wanted to go back to Egypt and enjoy the food they had eaten there, but this backward look only got them into trouble. When it comes to the circumstances of life, we all need to follow Paul’s example: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil. 4:11). One of the best ways to learn contentment is to share with others the blessings God gives to us.
Confession of obedience (vv. 16–19). The first two confessions looked forward to the time when Israel would be settled in their land and reaping the harvests. This confession brings us back to the plains of Moab where Moses was equipping the younger generation to enter the land. “This day” (vv. 16–18) and “today” were words Moses used frequently as he addressed the people (2:25; 4:26, 39; 6:6; 7:11; 8:1, 18; 10:13; etc.). It was indeed a solemn time when Moses reiterated the law and reviewed the nation’s history. The future of the nation depended on the people receiving, understanding, and obeying the Word of God that Moses was sharing with them.
The constant danger was that the people not receive God’s Word into their hearts but only hear it with their ears and then forget it. Like the Jewish people in Jesus’ day, they had ears but could not hear (Matt. 13:13–15). A mere casual acquaintance with the Word isn’t sufficient. If God’s Word is to nurture us and change us so that God can bless us (Ps. 1:1–3), we must devote ourselves to it, heart and soul. God had claimed Israel for His own people and promised to bless them if they obeyed Him (Deut. 26:18), and Israel had declared that Jehovah was their God and that they would obey Him (v. 17). There was no doubt that God would keep His promises, but would Israel keep their promises?
God had great things planned for Israel, just as He has great things planned for each of His children (Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 2:6–10). If the people kept their covenant promises to the Lord, He would bless them and make them a blessing, but if they disobeyed Him, He would have to chasten them. “But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn hearts, to walk in their own counsels. Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries.… He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you” (Ps. 81:11–14, 16, nkjv).
God is faithful to us, but how much we miss when we’re not faithful to Him!
Knowles, Andrew: The Bible Guide. 1st Augsburg books ed. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg, 2001, S. 101
Wiersbe, Warren W.: Be Equipped. Colorado Springs, Colo. : Chariot Victor Pub., 1999, S. 124
Wiersbe, Warren W.: Be Equipped. Colorado Springs, Colo. : Chariot Victor Pub., 1999, S. 121