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Herders Of Ducks

Children's sermon
For March 6, 2022:

Dean FeldmeyerHerders Of Ducks
by Dean Feldmeyer
Luke 4:1-13

“Boys,” my father would yell from the porch, up at the house, “I paid for those rocks for the driveway, not the pond. If I wanted them in the pond, I would have told the guy to back his truck up to the pond and dump them there.”

I was a teenager in rural Indiana and we had a pond by the driveway, down at the road where my brother and I waited each morning for the school bus. Occasionally, to amuse ourselves during the wait, we would pick up limestone rocks from the driveway, often a couple of inches in diameter, and throw them into the pond.

If the rocks were flat, we would see how many times we could skip them across the surface of the water. If they were round, we would see who could make the biggest splash and the most ripples. But the most fun we got was from herding the ducks.

A pair of domestic white ducks had somehow found their way to our pond and taken up residence, paddling around and eating the feed corn we put out for them. While waiting for the bus, we discovered we could herd them around the pond by tossing rocks, not at them, but near them. Splash on the right, they turn left. Splash on the left, they turn right. Like that. It was a hoot. Dad didn’t get it.

As a teenager, you don’t have much influence over the world around you. But there, on the bank of the pond, we could exercise just a little bit of power, making the ducks turn left and right at our will.

There is something in all of us that wants to be a herder of ducks. Truck drivers in Canada, Vladimir Putin in Russia, American politicians on the extreme left and right, even the toddler throwing a temper tantrum in Walmart. They’re all throwing rocks and we’re the ducks, frantically paddling left and right for their amusement.

This morning, Luke reminds us that even Jesus was tempted to throw a few rocks of his own.

In the News
The story of Jesus’ 40-day sojourn in the wilderness tells of him being confronted with two temptations: the temptation to power and the temptation to personal comfort, both of which continue to plague us, 2,000 years later. We see it in the news.

Martin Hyde, who is running in Florida’s 16th Congressional District, was pulled over by Sarasota Police Officer Julie Beskin on February 14, and mistakenly assumed that his position as a candidate for office gave him the power to berate, belittle, insult, and threaten her into abandoning her duty and letting him off the hook.

He was wrong.

Officer Beskin informed Hyde that he was driving 57 mph in a 40 mph zone and was also seen texting on his phone as he drove but the candidate refused to cooperate, threatened her job, and asked her if she was behaving that way because she was an immigrant.

Then he asked her the give-away question, the question that showed what this was really all about: “Do you know who I am?” Then he launched into a tirade that belittled, insulted, and threatened her. Apparently, toddlers aren’t the only ones who use temper tantrums to exert their power over others.

In fact, she did know who he was, and she gave him the ticket anyway.

In another example, it seems difficult to find anything that Vladimir Putin and the so-called “Freedom Convoy” truckers have in common but, with a little thought, it becomes clear: the lust for power.

Putin is sacrificing the lives of Russian soldiers, the sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers of his people as well as the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians in a megalomaniacal attempt to demonstrate for the world nothing more than the claim that he is a powerful man.

The truckers who blockaded the Ambassador Bridge in Ottawa called themselves the “Freedom Convoy” and to demonstrate their love of and dedication to their own personal freedom, they denied freedom of movement and the freedom to earn a living to thousands of their fellow Canadians, not to mention the American auto workers who were laid off because necessary auto parts could not get to the assembly factories. Now, truckers in the United States are attempting to rally other truckers to a similar event in Washington, DC.

The only thing that we Americans love more than power is our personal comfort. Being comfortable isn’t a privilege in this country, it is an entitlement. We presume to have the right to be comfortable in all circumstances and no one, not the government, nor the owners of businesses, have the right to require us to do something that makes us even a little bit uncomfortable. The most recent example of this entitlement to comfort is the controversy over mask mandates. I do not enjoy wearing a mask. I have asthma and they make breathing difficult for me. They make my face sweat, the bands irritate my ears, and I just don’t like being told what to do. Okay?

On the other hand, I also realize that I could be unknowingly carrying a virus that is deadly to some people and wearing a mask makes it a lot less likely that I will spread that virus to one of those vulnerable folks. So, when I’m out and about and going to places where I’m going to be in close contact with lots of other people, I wear a mask. And instead of showing up at the school board meeting and threatening the board members and screaming at the principal, I try to help my grandchildren learn how to cope with having to do something that is uncomfortable in order to protect other, vulnerable people.

Listen again to the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness as Luke tells it, how he warns us that personal comfort and power can become idols that lead us away from and poison our relationship with God and each other.

In the Scripture
In chapter three of the gospel, we see Jesus baptized by John in the Jordan River. There is a brief coda while Luke shows us a picture of Jesus’ family tree, then we move to chapter four where we find today’s story.

First, Luke sets the stage: Having been baptized by John, Jesus has gone back home to Nazareth and from there the Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness. This is not the North American wilderness that we modern Americans tend to think of with its beautiful, snow-capped mountains and verdant pine forests. No, this is a rough and brutal wilderness, a place of three-digit heat, arid, sandy landscapes, scorpions, lions, hyenas, and outlaws. For the authors of the gospels, the wilderness bears theological symbolism. Life is out of control there. Human beings are not in charge. They are vulnerable and life is lived at the edge of existence. But it is also where God teaches some of God’s most important and lasting lessons to God’s people.

Remember, the Exodus from Egypt, the most important symbolic event in the life of the people of Israel, took place in the wilderness. It is to the wilderness that the prophets fled when they sought to be in closer contact with God. And it is into the wilderness that the Spirit of God leads Jesus as the final preparation before he begins his ministry in the world.

Jesus is in the wilderness, fasting for 40 days, a symbolic number that simply means a long time and he is tempted not just at the end of that time, according to Luke, but throughout it. Luke offers us a glimpse of three typical temptations. The first temptation comes at the end of the 40-day sojourn when Jesus is hungriest and it is a simple one. Use the power God has given to you to ease your hunger and make yourself comfortable.

The second temptation is as simple as it is common: “Look,” the devil says. “Worshiping YHWH and obeying the God of history is no way to become powerful. If you want real power and influence in the world, worship something other than God. Worship things like strength and the capacity for violence. Worship money and wealth and political influence and those who wield them.”

The third temptation says that you can’t be powerful by doing small things no matter how good and helpful they are. If you want real power, tell people what they want to hear and do it in a really big, grand, and spectacular way.

Real temptations — I mean, who doesn’t want to be comfortable, liked, loved, admired and followed? Even Jesus must have been tempted by these very obvious offers from the tempter. Make no mistake, these temptations were not to see if Jesus really was the Son of God. The devil knew full well that he was. These temptations were to see if Jesus deserved the power that God gave him.

Turns out, he does. He manages to overcome these temptations using the tools God has given him: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. (In the United Methodist Church, we call them the “Wesley Quadra-lateral,” but anyone can use them.)

In the Sermon
The story of the temptations in the wilderness are more than an historical account. They also provide us with a powerful parable to guide us in our own faith journey.

First, we learn that the things to which Jesus and those of us who follow him are tempted are empty and valueless. Comfort is nice as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far. It doesn’t take us to a genuine and authentic life. It is a thin and fleeting thing, yet we fight for it and count ourselves victims if we don’t have it.

Our kids learn something at school and want to discuss it with us but it’s a topic that makes us uncomfortable, a topic like sexuality or race, so we march to the school board meeting and demand that it be removed from the curriculum.

The sight of homeless people living in tents in our cities makes us uncomfortable so we demand that city council pass laws that move them to where they can’t be seen.

We are uncomfortable with our own obesity so we insist, in the name of “body shaming,” that our doctor not weigh us or even talk about our weight.

Convinced that comfort is our right, we seek power to enforce new rules and laws against the things that make us uncomfortable, power to make others bend to our will. And, being Christians, our tendency is to use our religion to seize that power and claim it in the name of the one who eschewed worldly power.

How is it that we fall prey to that kind of temptation? The answer is in the story:

First, we learn from the story that we are vulnerable to the temptation to worship at the altar of comfort and power when we are tired. Being exhausted and burned out can easily lead us into a state of resentment and despair where we say, “What the heck,” and just give up and give in. We need to tend to our own spiritual health before we can faithfully help others.

As they say on the airplane, put your own mask on first, then help the person next to you.

Secondly, we are vulnerable when we are alone. Being alone can easily lead us into the fantasy that we’re the only one in the world facing the hardship and discomfort that is presently before us. Everyone has it better off and easier than we do, or so it seems.

One of the keys to building a solid and nurturing spiritual life is to do so with others. Having a supportive group to which you can go and with which you can share your struggles and who will support you and help you through the low times and places is essential to building an authentic spiritual life.

Thirdly, we are vulnerable when we are hungry, especially when we are spiritually hungry or empty. We cannot expect to have the strength or insight sufficient to help or teach others if we are not being fed ourselves.

That is not to say that our only goal as a Christian is to be fed like a child in a highchair, crying because our pablum is not being given to us fast enough and in the way we like. We are called to be not just consumers of spiritual nourishment but feeders as well.

There is something in all of us that wants to be a herder of ducks.

There comes a time in all our lives when we want to have the power to make people dance to our tune, turn left or right at our command, treat us and each other as we think they should. And history has taught us that religion offers us vast opportunities to have and wield that kind of power.

But the one we call Lord offers us a different kind of power, the power to change the entire world if only we have the courage to use it: The power of love.

The Long Game
by Tom Willadsen
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

In the Church
It’s the First Sunday in Lent; wear purple. The season of Lent takes its name from an old English word for spring, which is rooted in the verb “lengthen” because the days are getting longer (in the Northern Hemisphere.)

Christians do a weird thing with our calendar and math as we observe Lent. The season is 40 days because 40 is a number associated with struggle, hardship and temptation. The Israelites wandered for 40 years and Jesus was tempted following his baptism for 40 days. There’s a numerical connection for Christians as we observe this season. But wait, Lent starts 46 days before Easter, not 40! Here’s where we get creative: the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter are considered in, but not of, Lent. Lent is a season of repentance, self-examination and lamenting one’s sinfulness, these activities simply cannot take place on Sunday, the day Christians celebrate the Resurrection every week. So, to put it simply, Sundays don’t count. Think of them like a suburb that has stubbornly resisted being annexed by a city that has grown to surround it on all sides.

I used the “in, but not of,” distinction as I raised my sons. I am a proud native of Illinois who wandered in the wilderness of Wisconsin during my kids’ cavity-prone years. I maintained my, and my sons’ outsider identity by smacking them every time they called a water fountain a “bubbler;” we simply do not do that south of Beloit!

In the Scriptures
Your members will immediately recognize today’s psalm reading; it is the basis of the beloved song “On Eagle’s Wings.” It’s all about how the Lord protects and oversees us. While most of us do not cower from pestilence — unless Covid-19 counts — the song really does offer words of comfort to all people.

More than 30 years ago, when I was in seminary, it was commonly accepted that Deuteronomy 26:5-10a were the absolute oldest words of scripture, a creedal statement from before language was written. These words may have been used at the annual Feast of the First Fruits, which came to be known as Pentecost. The offering made was a pittance, especially compared to the tithe, whose ritual is described later in Deuteronomy 26. I am a native of the Midwest, so I imagine asparagus and strawberries as the first fruits I would offer if I were the “wandering Aramean.” When these words are imagined as coming from an Israelite who has yet to have arrived in the Promised Land, they are a bold statement of radical confidence in “the strong hand and outstretched arm of the Lord.”

Paul and Jesus have something in common which we see in today’s New Testament readings: they both know the Hebrew scriptures very well.

Jesus, famished from his 40 day fast, resists the devil’s temptations by citing Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 6:13,

The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.”

And Deuteronomy 6:16,

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

Shakespeare is one of many people who have observed, “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” A close look at v. 11, however, shows that the devil misquotes scripture in this case, leaving out “to guard you in all your ways.”

For his part, Paul also makes good use of Deuteronomy, citing Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in the verses prior to today’s reading from Romans, and Isaiah 28:16

“therefore thus says the Lord God,…
One who trusts will not panic.”

and Joel 2:32

“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved….”

In the News
In the Be Careful What You Wish For Category…Covid-19 has been pushed off the front pages by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At this writing (February 25, 2022) Russia has invaded Ukraine from three sides and is seeking to capture Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Details and rumors are changing by the minute. “Crippling” economic sanctions have been threatened from western Europe and the United States. The real tension is the threat of a Russian attack on a NATO nation, which would activate Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. Article 5 states that an attack on any NATO nation is regarded as an attack on all NATO nations.

Since it appears that Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is determined to reunite the Soviet Union — and nine NATO states are parts of the former Eastern Bloc and Warsaw Pact, and three NATO states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are former Soviet Socialist Republics — there is a very good chance that the United States will be drawn into the latest European land war by March 6. Some are calling it World War III.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 infection rates are dropping precipitously, following dramatic spikes due to the Omicron Variant. And the start of the Major League Baseball season is threatened by the players and owners’ inability to reach a collective bargaining agreement.

In the Sermon
Forty days fasting in the desert doesn’t sound too bad to most of us, if it will get us away from the headlines. But we’re entering a season of preparation. Let’s keep our eyes on the long game.

The ancient words we find in Deuteronomy could be thought of “pre-joice.” (Here I go with the NIV, which renders שמחת as “rejoice;” the NRSV has it as “celebrate.”) It’s the speech one will give when the wandering has ended, when one’s home is in the Promised Land, and one has put down roots (crops) that are bearing fruit. There is hope in these words but also a profound confidence, perhaps faith is the blending of hope and confidence.

Jesus begins his ministry, jumping in with both feet back up in Galilee after turning the devil aside. The other synoptic gospels mention that he was waited on; Luke just says he returned to Galilee. Perhaps this is an invitation to our members to not fuss or make a big deal out of our Lenten observations; just be a Plugger in the sense of the comic strip.

What comfort is there for Ukraine in reading Paul’s admonition that in Christ we’re all the same? Do our members take any comfort in knowing that, in light of an ongoing pandemic and a war that is looming only more terrifying? Can we really accept the comfort and confidence of the psalmist; our metaphorical feet are definitely getting dashed against stones!

God is faithful; these are confusing times. A celebration is out there, somewhere, our challenge is to find God while we wait, endure and trust.


Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

Luke 4:1-13
Until an Opportune Time

Often when we see a movie, the end of the film is a set-up for the sequel. The dead person isn’t really dead, the romance isn’t really over, or the villain has one power left. Luke ends his story of Jesus’ temptations in the same way, with a set-up for the future, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time,” Luke tells us. The power of evil isn’t finished, and Jesus is just getting started.

As Lent begins, Jesus reminds us of the power of things yet to unfold. Rachel Naomi Remen tells about an unfolding in her own life. “Often, when he came to visit, my grandfather would bring me a present. These were never the sorts of things that other people brought, dolls and books and stuffed animals. My dolls and stuffed animals have been gone for more than half a century, but many of my grandfather's gifts are with me still. Once he brought me a little paper cup. I looked inside it expecting something special. It was full of dirt. I was not allowed to play with dirt. Disappointed, I told him this. He smiled at me fondly. Turning, he picked up the little teapot from my dolls' tea set and took me to the kitchen where he filled it with water. Back in the nursery, he put the little cup on the windowsill and handed me the teapot. "If you promise to put some water in the cup every day, something may happen," he told me.” This made no sense to her, and still she promised.

At first, curiosity carried her. Then she says, “As the days went by and nothing changed, it got harder and harder to remember to put water in the cup. After a week, I asked my grandfather if it was time to stop yet. Shaking his head no, he said, "Every day, Neshume-le." The second week was even harder, and I became resentful of my promise to put water in the cup. When my grandfather came again, I tried to give it back to him but he refused to take it, saying simply, "Every day, Neshume-le." By the third week, I began to forget to put water in the cup. Often I would remember only after I had been put to bed and would have to get out of bed and water it in the dark. But I did not miss a single day. And one morning, there were two little green leaves that had not been there the night before.”

The tiny plant grew bigger each day. “I could not wait to tell my grandfather, certain that he would be as surprised as I was. But of course, he was not. Carefully he explained to me that life is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places. I was delighted.”

He asked him, "And all it needs is water, Grandpa?"

"No, Neshume-le," he said. "All it needs is your faithfulness."

So it is with Lent, as we wait for the presence of Jesus.

* * *

Luke 4:1-13
Jesus Skips the Positive

“Just focus on the positive,” is the advice we so often get. There is power in gratitude, and in where we focus our minds, and yet Jesus in the desert offers us another way. Rooted in God, he’s ready to embrace hunger, frustration and temptation, and to see what’s on the other side. Researcher Susan David says that this kind of spiritual honesty is the way we thrive. “Instead of trying to push our emotions aside or trying to put on a happy face — what I call bottling and brooding — instead, literally drop any struggle that you have within yourself by ending the battle. Not saying to yourself, “I’m unhappy, but I shouldn’t be unhappy.” Or, “I’m miserable in my job, but at least I’ve got a job.” Really just open up to the fact that we have a full range of emotions. These emotions have helped us and evolved to enable us to position ourselves effectively in the world.” She adds that “Our difficult emotions point to the things that we value.”

David says, “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. We’re healthy until we’re not. We’re with the people we love until we aren’t. We nag our children to clean their rooms until one day we walk in and the child is off at college. So developing this capability is really important, and absolutely we are raised [with] display rules. Display rules are the implicit or sometimes even explicit rules that families have about which emotions are okay. “Go to your room when you’re angry, and come out when you’ve got a smile on your face,” or “we don’t do sadness here.” We carry these display rules into our lives, and this can lead to situations where we no longer trust our emotions or are open to what we experiencing. First, try to welcome your emotions. To not fight with them. They’re there for a reason, and that reason is to help us calibrate and position ourselves more effectively in the world.”

Jesus, in his own spiritual strength, welcomes all that comes to him in the desert, and it becomes fuel for his work in the world.

* * *

Luke 4:1-13
Identity in the Desert

What did Jesus learn in his forty days alone? I’ve always imagined the time alone being about connection to God, and a reflection by Tyler Orion made me ponder how the time alone strengthened his identity, anchored in God. Orion chooses to live alone, sorting out questions of gender identity and dealing with health concerns. Tyler says, “I live alone in a small cabin surrounded by forest and fields. There are no human neighbors within shouting distance, and I mean a real bellowing holler. When I venture beyond this solitude, I tend to curl into myself, hide from the stares of people who can’t figure me out…[When I go out] I am always anxious. It is exhausting. But then I go home. In northern Vermont, winter lasts six or seven months of the year, and my Class 4 road isn’t plowed by the town or me. I park in the spot that I dig out after every storm and snowshoe a mile to my cabin. During these long winter months, when it is easy to stay sequestered inside by the woodstove, I spend a lot of time outside walking to and from my car.”

Tyler adds, “I stay in my home because it is affordable and utterly quiet, which allows for deep rest. But it also pushes me to the extreme in the long winter. I heat only with wood, so I must bring in daily armloads to feed the fire. My stress levels are heightened by my survival, but also alleviated by the nurturing I feel from the natural world around me.”

“Out here in the wild,” Tyler says, “I feel human beyond identity. I experience being in community without judgment, embraced by all the rooted, furred, feathered beings around me. I am learning how to love myself from every tree, stone, and star. I feel unconditional acceptance in a way that no human quite knows how to offer. Recently, I was hiking in on a still night, the only sound the crunch of my snowshoes, when directly above me came the resounding hoot of an owl. I stopped suddenly, startled by the call that interrupted my noisy thoughts, and waited. Not long after, I heard another owl reply. The two went back and forth, their hoots reverberating through the night. Eventually they fell silent, but I still felt eyes on me. These eyes confirmed my existence. I was seen, witnessed, and as I walked on in the direction of home, the echoing call still lingered in my body.”

Tyler’s reflection makes me wonder more fully how Jesus experienced the solitude of the forty days, and what acceptance and companionship he found in the time that he was alone.

* * *

Luke 4:1-13
A Friend in Isolation

Jesus is profoundly alone in the wilderness — so alone that I sometimes wonder if he enjoys the company of the tempter, just to break up the day. Illness is another kind of place where people are deeply alone. Amy Irvine spends her own long, isolated nights with her daughter, who has a seizure disorder. She says, “For the past fifteen years, I’ve spent most nights on the floor of her bedroom in a sleeping bag within arm’s reach of her bed. Before her limbs begin to stiffen, my mind turns to metronome, counting the seconds she fails to breathe. I could not even tell you my name in those moments, as I reach for her quaking body and a syringe full of interruption. But I could describe to you how adrenaline chainsaws my cells, how a seizure lasting sixty seconds is an eternity. I could measure my desperation in the number of prayers I dole out at night, to every deity known to humankind. I could tell you how rote things get when gods fail to answer. Since Ruby’s fifteenth birthday, the episodes have grown more dramatic and dangerous.”

They have tried every possible treatment, and every possible healer, including two shamans, to end this life of incredible worry and stress. A service dog is finally the companion who leads them out of the isolation. Hachi, the dog, curls up with her daughter at night, and, miraculously, everyone sleeps. Amy says, in all these years, “not once had I achieved what Hachi had. After Ruby climbed under the covers, the Lab curled tightly into the small of her back and stayed there until Ruby woke the next morning. She had only two seizures that night — the most mellow I’d seen in months, if not years. The dog sat up and cocked her head, her forehead wrinkled with concern for each one…In Hachi’s case, she is driven by her sensitive nose. Like working dogs who sniff out dead bodies or illegal drugs, some service dogs can detect odor molecules in parts per trillion, which enables them to alert a client or caregiver to changing glucose levels in a diabetic or seizures in an epileptic. Often, a seizure dog can alert its person before the seizure happens.”

The end to the isolation comes as a precious gift for all of them.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating:

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Stewards of the Land

Deuteronomy invokes Israel’s memories of oppression as a way of centering the gift of land in God’s gracious provision. As the place where they are called to dwell, the land Israel enters is to be honored as an inheritance requiring faithful stewardship. The Deuteronomist calls Israel to an act of deep remembering — perhaps not unlike the practice of acknowledging traditional inhabitants of the places where we gather today.

The call to acknowledge native land offers opportunities for acknowledging and correcting stories and practices of indigenous people’s history and culture. Cutcha Risling Baldy, a professor North American Studies at California Polytechnic University in Humboldt, explains that land acknowledgement creates a relationship with place. Risling Baldy emphasizes the need to practice land acknowledgement by the payment of an “honor tax,” a voluntary offering paid to the Indigenous tribe’s territory you occupy as a “way of recognizing that the society that has been created around you is a result of the theft of Indigenous land, wealth, and livelihood.”

She notes:

“…if Indigenous peoples were in charge of even half the land that they were supposed to be, you would already be paying taxes to them, it would already be a system that existed,” said Risling Baldy. “Knowing that, how are you going to participate in making sure that they get at least some of what they would deserve in that situation?…it’s a way of saying, ‘I acknowledge, I honor and I want to do something about this situation.’”

* * *

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Buried treasures
Environmentalist Bill McKibben, writing in the March, 2022 issue of Sojourners, urges Christian groups to attend to the connections between creation and theology by participating in studies such as Yale Divinity School’s online course, “Religions and Ecology: Restoring the Earth Community.” As the Deuteronomist instructs, restoring our connection to the buried treasures of creation honors God as creator. McKibben notes that this work is vital if we are to disrupt the global climate process. “Until people looked, searchingly,” McKibben writes, “they understood the chief dramas on our earth as the conflicts between people and the conflicts within each of us. But now we add to those an understanding that our conflict with the physical world around us may be the most consequential of all. It’s all a reminder that our great traditions are time capsules, full of ideas we won’t fully understand until we actually need them.”

* * *

Luke 4:1-13
Fierce Landscapes

In 2007, Presbyterian minister and theologian Belden Lane explored the spirituality of wilderness places in his work The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. Lane’s life-long appreciation of backpacking and hiking provides a backdrop for his theological musing. He combines these experiences with accounts of his dying mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Lane argues that the danger of the desert can become an opportunity for nurturing faithful spirituality. Jesus’ own descent into the wilderness is a reminder that “intimacy in all relationships — especially with God — can occur only as vulnerability and inadequacy are owned.” Lane also adds, “God’s invitation to the spiritual life is a call to the high-risk venture of being loved more fiercely than we ever might have dreamed.”

* * *

Luke 4:1-13
Escaping the bounds of the accepted

In 1963, poet Wendell Berry moved away from life in cosmopolitan metropolises to embrace the simplicity of a “long-legged house” and farm in his native Kentucky. Just as Jesus was ministered to by the angels in the wilderness, Berry has found his escape from “the bounds of the accepted” to be a place of connection to what ultimately matters. A profile of the prolific poet and writer in The New Yorker (February 28, 2022) delves into Berry’s relationship with nature. Dorothy Wickenden’s piece is filled with insights into Berry’s work as a writer and a farmer, including this comparison of the process of writing to life in the wilderness:

“On a bitterly cold winter day (Berry) had to leave the comfort of the house; his livestock was out, and a fence had to be mended. His gloves made his fingers clumsy, so he took them off, freezing his hands as he twisted the wire. ‘What’s curious to me is that, once started, you’re interested, you’re into it, you’re doing your word, and you’re happy. That applies to writing. Sometimes I don’t believe I can stand it another day, but then I’m working at a problem I know how to deal with, to an extent.” Still, Berry harbors no romantic sense that translates into a call for everyone to flee city and suburbs for life in the country. “I am suggesting,” Wickenden recalls Berry writing, “that most people now are living on the far side of a broken connection, that this is potentially catastrophic.”

“Jesus,” Berry observes, “said ‘Take no thought for the morrow,’ which I take to mean that if we do the right things today, we’ll have done all we really can do for tomorrow. O.K. So I hope to do the right things today.”

* * * * * *

Katy StentaFrom team member Katy Stenta:

Luke 4:1-13
Silencing Negative Voices

In the movie Luca (not to be confused with Encanto), when a voice of negativity and anxiety starts, Luca’s confident friend Alberto tells Luca to say “Silenzio Bruno” to that voice. That voice is the one that tells you that you need to cheat or that you are not worthy. It is definitely the voice of the tempter that whispers through your brain. How comforting is it that Jesus also has faced those voices and temptations and had to tell them “Silenzio Bruno” for the power of love, God, and self-affirmation is much more powerful.

* * *

Luke 4:1:1-13
Lent isn’t always about giving something up. Sometimes it’s about walking through the desert and surviving without giving into hate, or the voices in your head that tell you that you aren’t worth living. Sometimes you need to focus on surviving and that is okay. Being here, as a child of God, is enough. Here is a blessing about that.

* * *

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Deuteronomy 26:1-11

It is hard to think about the Lord our God as our deliverance when the world is constantly at war. Even more so when Europe, which we identify more closely with, is at war. What are we praying for when we pray for God to deliver us? How do we make sure God is our refuge and not power, money, oil, or especially comfort or nationalism? We in the United States have trouble separating out God from other things. In Deuteronomy God promises that God will be the one who provides for us, just as God did for the Israelites. And we will live side by side with our enemies. What a hard promise to hear. Lord deliver us from fear, hate, racism, and ethnocentrism / nationalism. Help us to trust in God alone as our refuge and strength.

* * *

Romans 10:8b-13
Live in Hope

The hymn says “live into hope of captives freed.” We are freed from hate and sorrow and freed to the joy of the gospel. We are freed from the constraints of custom and privilege and to the duty of putting our neighbor before ourselves each and every time. Once our hearts declare Jesus as our Lord and Savior, there is no going back. Jesus is not something only the brain can know, for faith is not about tricking your mind to make all reason bend toward God. It is loving God when things are uncertain and you are lost, wandering in the wilderness, and trusting that God is in the wilderness with you. For God loves us in all our uniqueness — without distinction — between Jew and Greek, but instead, exactly as we are, not despite our sins, but instead in fullness. And through that love we become better versions of ourselves. For when we start living into the hope of captives freed, already our lives start becoming better. It is the miracle of declaring Jesus Christ as our Lord.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship
One: When we live in the shelter of the Most High
All: We abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
One: We will say to God, “You are our refuge and our fortress.”
All: It is our God alone in whom we place our trust.
One: When we call to God, we are answered.
All: Praise to God who shows to us our salvation.


One: Come and rejoice in the presence of our God.
All: With joy we come to be with our loving God.
One: God comes to us not only in worship but in all of life.
All: We are thankful to know God here and in the world.
One: Find God in all so that you may share God with everyone.
All: We will share God’s love with all the world. We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have listened to the voice of temptation and have sought after power and our own comfort before seeking after the things that are eternal. We would rather be comfortable than to stand for justice with those who are denied their rights. We withhold our money from those who need food, clothing, and shelter so that we can have food we do not need, clothes we do not wear, and housing that is too big for us. Forgive us for listening to the Tempter instead of listening to you. Renew your Spirit within us and help us to follow Jesus through this season of Lent.   

Hymns and Songs
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
UMH: 110
H82: 687/688
PH: 260
AAHH: 1124
NNBH: 37
NCH: 439/440
CH: 65
LBW: 228/229
ELW: 503/504/505
W&P: 588
AMEC: 54
STLT: 200

Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days
UMH: 269
H82: 142
PH: 81
NCH: 211
CH: 180
W&P: 252

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
UMH: 117
H82: 680
AAHH: 170
NNBH: 46
NCH: 25
CH: 67
LBW: 320
ELW: 632
W&P: 84
AMEC: 61
STLT: 281

If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee
UMH: 142
H82: 635
PH: 282
NCH: 410
LBW: 453
ELW: 769
W&P: 429

How Firm a Foundation
UMH: 529
H82: 636/637
PH: 361
AAHH: 146
NNBH: 48
NCH: 407
CH: 618
LBW: 507
ELW: 796
W&P: 411
AMEC: 433

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
UMH: 526
PH: 403
AAHH: 430/431
NNBH: 61
NCH: 506
CH: 585
LBW: 439
ELW: 742
W&P: 473
AMEC: 323/325

By Gracious Powers
UMH: 517
H82: 695/696
PH: 342
NCH: 413
ELW: 626
W&P: 75

Stand By Me
UMH: 512
NNBH: 318
CH: 629
W&P: 495
AMEC: 420

You Satisfy the Hungry Heart
UMH: 629
PH: 521
CH: 429
ELW: 484
W&P: 705

Bread of the World
UMH: 624
H82: 301
PH: 502
NCH: 346
CH: 387
W&P: 693

The Steadfast Love of the Lord
CCB: 28
Renew: 23

Refiner’s Fire
CCB: 79

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is present in abundance and in the wilderness:
Grant us the wisdom to seek you and to listen to your voice
that we may choice wisely the way the leads to life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We come into your presence, O God, aware that you are always with us. We thank you for this time of worship which calls us to be aware of you being here. Help us to seek you in the joys of life and in the dry, hard times, as well. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our seeking power and comfort in all things.

All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have listened to the voice of temptation and have sought after power and our own comfort before seeking after the things that are eternal. We would rather be comfortable than to stand for justice with those who are denied their rights. We withhold our money from those who need food, clothing, and shelter so that we can have food we do not need, clothes we do not wear, and housing that is too big for us. Forgive us for listening to the Tempter instead of listening to you. Renew your Spirit within us and help us to follow Jesus through this season of Lent. Amen.

One: God is gracious and ready to offer grace and forgiveness. God offers us the power of the Spirit within so that we can defeat the temptations that arise. Receive God’s grace and love today.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory to you, O God, giver of all good gifts. We praise you for your constant presence in our lives.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have listened to the voice of temptation and have sought after power and our own comfort before seeking after the things that are eternal. We would rather be comfortable than to stand for justice with those who are denied their rights. We withhold our money from those who need food, clothing, and shelter so that we can have food we do not need, clothes we do not wear, and housing that is too big for us. Forgive us for listening to the Tempter instead of listening to you. Renew your Spirit within us and help us to follow Jesus through this season of Lent.

We thank you for the bounty of the earth and all the beauty you have created. We thank you for the joy of life and the comfort of love and friendship. We thank for the freedom to give us to choose what is good and right for our lives and for the lives of those around us. We give you thanks for the Spirit you placed within us to guide us into life eternal.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We remember those who do not enjoy enough of the good things you created for them: the hungry, the thirsty, the poor and those in need. We pray for those who have listened to the voice of temptation and find themselves bound in chains of addiction and violence. We offer our prayers, our love, and actions to be part of your healing presence in this world.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)

All this we ask in the name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

* * * * * *

Quantisha Mason-DollCHILDREN'S SERMON
Sacrifice, Fasting, and Putting God First
by Quantisha Mason-Doll
Luke 4:1-13
  1. The 40 days of Lent can be a weird time for children and young adults given that fasting can be understood in many different ways.
  2. If a food fast is being undertaken by families and the children or young adults are also participating, it is important to set healthy boundaries. Fasting, if not properly explained, can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
  3. Fasting and Sacrifice are not forms of punishment
Today our gospel tells us the story of Jesus and his forty days wandering in the desert. It is during these forty days our Lord prepares himself not only for the trials of ministry but also the trials of life. This story marks the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is the 40-day period where we remember the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. During this time we retell the major stories in the life and ministry of our Lord. Throughout this period of time, we modern Christians try our best to follow the example Jesus set forth of giving up something important to him so that he could place God first. (This would be a good point to talk about the spiritual practice of fasting and why it was important for Jesus to sacrifice food to honor God. Talk about how fasting and sacrifice do not always have to be negative.)

Two different kinds of fasts and mindful practices
  1. Digital fasts: Can start off small, putting the tech down for one hour a day and increasing that away time throughout Lent.
  2. Mini fasts: Four small fasts each lasting ten days.
  3. 40 days of talking with God
Temptation can be hard to handle at times. Even Jesus was tempted three times. Each time we can assume it got hard and hard to not let temptation win. Do you know what Jesus did to turn away from temptation? He turned to God. He placed God and God’s promises first.

Loving God please help us to put you first.
Guide us so that we may make better choices and become kinder people.
We pray this in your Son’s name.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, March 6, 2022 issue.

Copyright 2022 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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The Immediate Word

Dean Feldmeyer
Thomas Willadsen
Katy Stenta
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George Reed
Quantisha Mason-Doll
For July 10, 2022:


John Jamison
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (vv. 36-37)

Object: A bible, a cell phone, and a bandage or strip of gauze.

Emphasis Preaching Journal

David Coffin
“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement” Psalm 82:1. At first, this psalm suggests there is more than one God. Monotheism as it is written and taught in scripture did take time develop. Polytheism existed at the writing of Psalm 82, but the writer still stakes a claim that the one only God can fill our deepest yearnings, concerns and walk alongside us in life’s ambiguities. Twenty first century public media platforms point to many sorts of idols, false gods and other remedies for lack of meaning and inner emptiness.
Mark Ellingsen
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Amos 7:7-17
We are reminded in this lesson, that Christian faith and politics always stand in tension. This point was so well made by the great social ethicist of the last century Reinhold Niebuhr. He once wrote:

According to the Christian faith, life is and always will be fragmentary, frustrating, and incomplete... There are no simple congruities in life or history. (Reinhold Niebuhr: Theologian of Public Life, p.131)

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Call to Worship:
Jesus told a story about someone who was unexpectedly full of kindness and compassion. In our worship today, let us ask ourselves whether we are Good Samaritans to those who really need our help.

Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, sometimes we fail to notice those who are outside our own social sphere.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes we are so disgusted by poverty that we turn away.
Christ, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes we too walk by on the other side.
Lord, have mercy.


Rick McCracken-Bennett
David E. Leininger
What's Up This Week
"Where Have All the Good Samaritans Gone?" by Rick McCracken-Bennett
"Where Are the Good Samaritans When You Really Need One?" by Rick McCracken-Bennett
"A Church's Reputation" by David E. Leininger

What's Up This Week


Merle G. Franke
Minneapolis is a cool city to live in. In more than one sense is it cool. More accurately, in winter it is cold! But in the other three seasons of the year it is comfortable and pleasant. The city is blessed with numerous sparkling lakes within the city limits, plus a generous sprinkling of parks and playgrounds. And churches — particularly Lutheran churches.
Stephen P. McCutchan
I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees....
-- Amos 7:14b

John E. Sumwalt
In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (v. 15)

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness' sake, O Lord! (v. 7)

In anger and bitterness, and with a stubborn tenacity to cling to what once had been in my life but was no more, at age fourteen I became a church "dropout." For six years I wandered in the wilderness, with God being rejected and pushed out of my life.
Schuyler Rhodes
God is taking stock of the way the gods, and note the small "g" here, are handling things. "How long," they are asked, "will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?" Good question. In a nation where 40% of the people have no health care worth mentioning, and in a time when the promises of pensions can evaporate with the bang of a judge's gavel, it is a good question, indeed. Injustice spreads like an infectious disease as more and more prisons are built in the shadows of crumbling schools and declining quality of education.
Billy D. Strayhorn
Growing up, many kids love baseball. They love everything about it. They love playing it. The neighborhood kids divide up the big kids and little kids, so the teams are even, and then play inning after inning of baseball or softball either in a front yard or a back yard.
Erskine White
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed,
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
(Stuart K. Hine)

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