Deuteronomy 26: 1-11 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Luke 4: 1-13 March 10, 2019
“Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Prayer: May we find our strength in you, O God, as we grow in faith. Amen.
Our bulletin cover and the second image for our worship series is a Norman Rockwell painting, one of a set of four called “the Four Freedoms.” This one is called “The Freedom of Speech” (1943). It features a working-class man standing up at a town hall meeting to make his passionate point. Everyone focuses on him. Everyone is listening. He is free to say what he believes. He has a look of strength and determination on his face very likely conveying Rockwell’s conviction that everyone has a right to free speech.
The man standing up in the painting, in one way, stands in support of his right to speak, but in another way, isn’t he also standing as a resistance to anything that denies that right (https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2017/feb/07/norman-rockwell-four-freedoms-trump-roosevelt, retrieved March 8, 2019)? Anytime you say “yes” to something, most of the time, you also simultaneously say “no” to something else.
In the spiritual life, it is the same way. When we participated in the Sacrament of Baptism, Lindsi and Andy, Beckett’s parents, stood up here and were asked if they wanted Beckett baptized in the Christian faith, and if they promised to raise him in a Christian home, preparing him for Holy Communion and Confirmation. To stand up and say “yes” to that not only affirms their belief in God, God’s love for Beckett and for them, they also promise to help Beckett grow in that love, to grow in the Christian faith.
As soon as they said “yes” to all that, aren’t they also saying “no” to certain things that might deny Becket from receiving that love? Might they resist anything that would refute Beckett’s full humanity as a child of God?
God, I believe always works with us when we stand up with strength and conviction for God, God’s values, and God’s ways. Simultaneously, God is in covenantal partnership with us as we resist fear and the destructive forces in the world that would deny God and God’s values and ways.
Now, our “Finding Strength in God” worship series began last Wednesday night with the conviction that God is first and foremost our strength as we live our lives on the faith journey. The first line in the text from Ephesians encouraged us to be strong in the Lord and to rely on the strength of God’s power as we face life.
Going forward, the Ephesian’s passage offers us war and battle imagery that is to encourage us on the faith journey. “Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” it says. Obviously, these are spiritual metaphors for finding strength in God.
Our author understands that as people seeking God’s strength while living in this world, we will need to be equipped to stand up for God and what God values. Because there will be temptations to do otherwise. Several examples: there will be inner urges to fall back on our sense of privilege in order to get what we want or need. The devil tempted Jesus to use his status and privilege as the Son of God to deal with his hunger. “Turn these stones into bread,” he said to Jesus. “You’re the Son of God!” But Jesus resisted because knew his voracious hunger is for God above anything else, and his status as the Son of God was not to be misused.
Another example, we might be tempted to think that privilege constitutes entitlement, but as we find strength in God, can we be empowered to stand up against this? Because really, doesn’t privilege confer responsibility? We live a blessed life in many ways. God, I believe blesses our lives for the benefit of others.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day last January, a restaurant called JBJ Soul Kitchen served free lunches at one of its restaurants to federal workers furloughed during the government shut down. JBJ Soul Kitchen is owned by rockstar Jon Bon Jovi. He said, “Since founding the Soul Kitchen, we wanted to ensure that anyone struggling with food insecurity had a place to go” (Century Marks, Christian Century, February 13, 2019, p. 8). Jon Bon Jovi’s faith convictions strengthened him as he stood up from a place of privilege to assist those who were underprivileged.
We will need to stand up against devilish ploys and stunts that will try to get us to ignore God’s ways of grace and humility and seek glory for ourselves. Jesus was tempted by the devil to make a power grab, to get authority and glory. Have the world.
Anyone tempted by that? To have power? To be the one in control? Or, the one in charge? To be the one who sets the rules and desires people to obey them?
But, Jesus knew that true power and authority and glory all belong to God, and it is God alone whom we worship. So spiritually he stood up and resisted the devil’s temptation.
There is always the temptation to not trust in God or to rely on God’s strength. There’s an insistence, sometimes from your own thoughts, sometimes from people around you, or from other sources, that you need to rely on your own wherewithal, to do things with your own strength.
Anyone tempted by that? To pull yourself up by your own bootstraps? To do things on your own? To believe that things won’t be done right unless you do it yourself? Tempted NOT to delegate? That’s one I have to resist!
We might hear devilish statements in our consciousness or from the world that speak deceptions to us… that we are not valued by God, that God doesn’t care we exist, that we aren’t good enough to receive God’s love or love from anyone else. Or, we might hear subtle seductions that seem innocent enough, but are ruses and trickeries to get you, to slowly catch you.
A few years ago, a singer/songwriter was interviewed on public radio. She and the host were talking about the music business and the ways that the big music industry can limit what an artist can do. The interviewer asked if the singer felt economic pressure to sell out her vision for her own work. She replied by saying, “It’s not like someone comes up to you and says, ‘We want you to sell out your vision of your work.’ No, what they say is, ‘We want you to talk to our wardrobe consultant,’ or ‘Our people will touch up your photo for the CD cover.’ The moves toward losing yourself,” she said, “are very subtle. Sometimes you can get pretty far down the road before you know what’s happening”— how the big music industry people all of a sudden now own you (“The Life That Really is Life,” Rev. Mary Hinkle Shore, Journal for Preachers, Lent 2018, p. 42). It’s subtle subterfuge.
We might be tempted to think that human dignity is something earned and only for people we like or who think and act like us, or who were born in our country. But, God I believe gives us strength to stand up against this deception and to see all people as made in God’s image… that all people are children of God. Every person has a right to human dignity that is upheld by everyone.
I was amazed at the story of Davidson College Head Coach Bob McKillop who wanted to have his entire basketball team experience the idea that human dignity is needed for everyone. The way he did it was to take the entire team to Auschwitz. In his own words, “The volatility of our world requires a response informed by both a respect for human dignity and an understanding of what happens in its absence. We stepped into a moment of time where, for millions, evil triumphed and humanity vanished… Our world needs leaders who aim to lead and to serve… We need advocates for, and defenders of human dignity… that is why we are going.” The team spent four days there. Their guide was a survivor of that very camp (“Stronger and More Tender,” Journal for Preachers, Lent 2019, p. 21).
The good news, friends, is that when we come to God seeking strength that helps us stand up against all these forces and more, God promises to not only strengthen us, but to work with us.
When we stand up for what God loves and values, God gives us strength as we stand. Notice how the text from Deuteronomy has God as the one who is strong? We know Moses was the guy who led the people out of Egypt, but Moses’ words say it was God’s strength that did it. So, essentially Moses and God worked together. God is the one who stood up for those held in bondage, those who were suffering. God and Moses stood in resistance to the powerful systems of government that created enslavement of the Hebrew people.
My prayer is that we, too, will find strength in God to say “yes” to God, trust that God is working with us, and to stand up against the wily devilish ploys that we face on our journeys. Amen.