Sunday, February 14, 2016

Free From Worry

Free from Worry- From despair comes hope
Have you ever been tempted to make a deal with the devil? How’d that work out for you?
Tales of dealings with the Devil have long been part of the human experience. In contemporary lore, the devil shows up in cartoons- like the one the girls were watching the other day which had a cute little dog who was conflicted about making a choice.. one option would benefit just him. the other would be good for all his friends...
and then poof above one shoulder appears a little angel with a halo and
poof above the other shoulder a little talking devil with horns
both trying to persuade him on the choice...
SLIDE: Me and the Devil blues
There are popular plays like, "heaven bound" which tours year after year depicting a devil who is trying his darnedest to cause people to make choices that will prevent them from going to heaven...
The devil shows up in all kinds of music. Of course, growing up going the the laser show at Stone Mountain, one of my favorite stories is told by the Charlie Daniel's band:
"the devil went down to Georgia,"
He was lookin' for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind. He was willing to make a deal
When he came across this young man sawin' on a fiddle and playin' it hot.
And the Devil jumped upon a hickory stump and said "Boy, let me tell you what."
The boy said, "My name's Johnny, and it might be a sin,
But I'll take your bet; and you're gonna regret 'cause I'm the best there's ever been."
Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard.
'Cause Hell's broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals the cards.
And if you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold,
But if you lose the devil gets your soul."

In the 1930s folklorist Harry M. Hyatt recorded many tales of banjo players, fiddlers, card sharks, dice players, guitarists, and one accordionist selling their souls at crossroads - a symbolic junction where life can take them in one direction with the devil as their companion, or another. One such guitar player was Robert Johnson: “According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was "instructed" to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large [dark] man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The "Devil" played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument... In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous.” (Wikipedia). One of his most popular songs he called, “Me and the Devil Blues” Which tells of his meeting with the devil at the crossroads. A song later covered by many bands, including Athens band Widespread Panic.
Have you been at a crossroad? Had dealings with the devil? How’d that go for you?
We see deals with the devil in classic literature such as the German Character Faust
in Milton’s Paradise Lost that tells of the origin of the devil.
SLIDE: And we go back to the bible
The Book of Job where God and Satan considering the fate of “God’s servant, Job.”
Or the book of Genesis with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Gen 3).
Humans have been dealing with the devil since the beginning…
What kind of deals have you made with the devil? ;).
Everyone’s doing it...come on.  What’s the harm, really?
To be clear, fantasy and contemporary folklore aside,
for the gospel writers - Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is not a story about a pitchfork, red suits and horns.
But, the implications are serious and most significant.
Let’s look at how the story goes down.
The timing of the tempter is perfect:
Jesus has not yet preached a sermon, cast out a demon, or healed anyone.
He is just on the brink of initiating his ministry; at a crossroad perhaps, wondering about his calling and purpose
Does he know he is on the verge of changing the world forever?
You’ve probably noticed before, it is the Spirit, the same spirit that had descended on him at his baptism, who leads him out into the wilderness.
where for 40 days he didn’t eat food--40 days which recalls the fasting of both Moses and Elijah.
40 days.. a sacred time
Slide (birds and lilies): Maybe 10 days into the fast Jesus started looking around...
And saw the birds of the air--they probably taste good:
they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet my heavenly Father feeds them. Don’t worry about food….
What shape were his clothes in when he saw the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like them.  Don’t worry about what you wear....
Don’t worry…said a hungry unsheltered Jesus
don’t worry? really? don’t worry?
Did Jesus know about the Zika virus?
Gun violence?
The year to date stock market performance?
Drug problems?
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
Studies, Trasie, the doctoral student loves when she hears that general word, “Studies”,
we all know studies show that worry actually takes away from our life span!
Maybe on day 20 of his fast Jesus repeated over and over: strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all the things you worry about will be taken care of.
And maybe on day 30 he composed a prayer:
Father in heaven,
hallowed is your name.
Give me bread today
Lead me not into temptation
Deliver me from evil...
40 days in the wilderness -- a time of preparation.  
And Luke says during these 40 days, Jesus is in conversation with none other than…
Slide William: the devil.
We get no physical description of the devil, but we do get that:
- the devil seems to know what is important to Jesus
- the devil uses scripture in order to convince Jesus of his way.
Note to self: don’t be too overly convinced by anyone who starts quoting the bible to push a particular agenda--something preachers are guilty of doing all the time, present company included.
Jesus also uses scripture as a means of resistance...note to self, study scripture daily.
Jesus is tempted in 3 ways, temptations that would not immediately lead to his demise, but instead if he were to comply with the devil, it would lead to potential “greatness and fame”...because that is what it life is all about: Fame! and being great...again.
Slide: first, the devil wants jesus to prove himself
bread and a hungry Jesus: “turn stone into bread.”
Will Jesus' ministry be one of turning stones to bread?
Wouldn’t those who are hungry hope so! Wouldn’t Jesus who is famished hope so.
Why not do it!? What is it about proving oneself - one’s self worth; or using one's own gifted-ness-- that is tempting?
How does Jesus respond? Let’s say it together (slide):
"One does not live by bread alone"
What does this tell us about who God is and what God wants for our lives?
Slide: Second, the devil will give to Jesus all the political power given to him-- if Jesus will worship the devil.
We have to ask: how did the devil get all that power anyway,
and ,how do people in positions of power get there?
Will Jesus submit to the devil in order to achieve good for the people of this world?   The oppressed certainly would hope that Jesus would take this position in order to liberate them from their oppressors. So Why not do it?!
What is it about power - gaining authority, even with the best intentions to do a lot of good for a lot of people - that is tempting?
What is Jesus response? Say it with me:
Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.
What does this tell us about who God is and what God wants for our lives?
Slide: Third temptation,
the devil wants Jesus to do a jump from a high place without a bungie cord of course, in order for God to prove Godself.
Will Jesus win over Jerusalem by coercing faith, and avoid death by the display of supernatural power?
Those longing for proof of God’s power among them in the form of a miracle, in the form of divine intervention in this often bleak and desperate world... sure do hope Jesus will jump!  
Why not do it, Jesus!?
What is it about asking God to display divine power-- through a healing or a miracle or radical intervention in the world--that is tempting?
Jesus responds ( say it with me): Do not put the Lord your God to the test!
What does this tell us about who God is and what God wants for our lives?
SLIDE: These are difficult dealings Jesus has with the devil.
All three, taking distinct angles, offer Jesus an opportunity to gain power and control... but he instead resists, which suggests Jesus' path is to be one of becoming powerless, meek, humble, giving up control, which leads to a different kind of power: sheer and utter dependence on God.  
Just as Jesus’ 40 days was a time of preparation and learning about powerlessness and giving up control in order to depend on God, we are given this opportunity each year during lent.  
A 40 day time of preparation, a time to re-learn and re-imagine how to live dependent on God.  
What I have proposed for all of us this year is to consider the things that worry us. The things that we fear, the things that cause us great anxiety and possess us
And seek to be freed from these things.
If Jesus’ time with the devil shows us anything it is that the devil may come when we are most vulnerable. Most worried, Most anxious, Most willing to do just about anything to be free from whatever it is. Who do we depend on?  Can we trust God with these most intimate concerns?  What are your worries? Can you see how they may be harming you? Seeking to do you in? Are you willing to fast from these worries for 40 days? Let go of them? Seek to be freed from them? And turn to God in trust. Seeking to be whole?
In a little while we are going to have a time of prayers for healing and intercession.  
I believe in the power of prayer, as do you.  
As you consider your fears, anxieties, and worries, you will have an opportunity to bring those before God.
There will be people your brothers and sisters, in the front and in the back of the sanctuary, to listen to any concerns you may have, and offer prayer for you on your journey of letting them go.
In addition to the time of prayer consider a few other potentially helpful resources:
Karen and Jim Bouchard told me they have a box, and when something is causing one of them worry and anxiety when they are ready to let go of it and offer it to God, they write it down, pray over it, and then put it in the box as a way of letting it go and giving it to God.  (Use Baptismal Font in same way)
The Labyrinth here on this campus is such a wonderful way to live into this. Carrying your burdens to the center in prayer, and there letting them go and walking out experiencing freedom. I encourage you to walk the labyrinth as often as you desire during lent.
If at any time along this 40 day journey you would like to speak with me, you would be most welcome to come to a safe place and I will listen and pray with you.  
In this way, we journey together as we learn to trust in God day by day.  
This story of Jesus, and our story, is less a story about encounters with the devil, and more a story of turning to God in humility and devotion, and dependence, and seeking to be made whole.
To God be the glory, forever. Amen.
Affirmation Psalm of the day

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