Fairhaven Sermon 2-25-2024

Fairhaven Sermon 2-25-2024
Fairhaven Sermon 2 25 2024


In this week's Lenten sermon by Rev. Peg Bowman, she delved into the theme of being a "desert people" – individuals who leave their former lives behind to follow God's call with newfound loyalties in His kingdom.

Ancient Israelites, like Abram, embarked on desert journeys to answer God's call and become part of His multitude. This theme resonated in the early church as people went into deserts to fast, pray, and focus on their spiritual growth during Lent – preparing their hearts for the annual remembrance of Jesus' cross and resurrection.

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before his crucifixion, where he prepared his disciples for his suffering and eventual rise again. His teachings about the Son of Man being killed and rising after three days held significant meaning to Jewish ears – as they believed the Messiah would lead a military triumph against their Roman oppressors. However, God emphasizes relationships over human power, and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was necessary for Him to confront and overcome the darkness within humanity.

As desert people, we follow Jesus' example by trusting in God and worshiping Him while loving Him in return. We identify with those who are disenfranchised, persecuted, homeless, and hungry, extending a helping hand as part of our covenant with God. By giving and sacrificing for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, we experience love, freedom, and the unexpected blooming of life in the spiritual desert.


Well, on this second Sunday of Lent, our theme for the day is a desert people. And Pastor Dylan mentioned in our Thursday night group a couple of weeks ago that in the early church, both men and women sometimes went out into the desert to fast and to pray and to get away from the temptations and busyness of the world. And even today during Lent, people still fast and pray to draw nearer to God. The theory behind observing Lent, as the family of faith has always taught, is that the annual remembrance of Jesus' cross and resurrection are things that we need to prepare our hearts for.

We use this time to walk more closely with the Lord through fasting or through acts of charity towards the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the homeless. But what does it mean to be a desert person? For me, one of the first things that pops into my mind is the old movie, Lawrence of Arabia. Yes, I know I'm dating myself. But the movie was based on the life of a real person whose last name was Lawrence, who was born and raised in England and joined the army in 1914.

He was stationed in Arabia during the First World War. And he worked alongside both Brits and Arabs. But over time, he became close friends with the Arabs and basically ended up sort of going native. And there's a point in the movie, which if you've seen this, you know what I'm talking about.

Lawrence has been given Arabian clothes to wear. And he puts on this turban that has long flowing in the back and baggy white pants like the guys over there wear because they need a lot of air. So it's very hot over there. And this lightweight white abaya robe over top.

And he's by himself when he's doing all this. And he walks around in these new clothes like this with the wind blowing through them. And you can almost see him changing from a Brit into an Arab. He's a new man with new loyalties.

And he will never again be completely comfortable being British. In a similar way, people of God are people who are called to the desert. The people of ancient Israel traveled through the desert. And Jesus was tempted in the desert.

And today we live in a world that is a spiritual desert. And so as Christians, we like Lawrence, we're called to a new loyalty, a new country, the kingdom of God. And when we become Christians, we put on the right robe, the white robes that Jesus gives, and we become new people with new loyalties. We can no longer be comfortable with who we were before.

In our scriptures today, we will see what this means for God's people both in the Old Testament and the New, and perhaps find in their experiences a few things that we can relate to today. So we turn first to the Old Testament and to the story of Abram. The Bible does not tell us, by the way, a whole lot about Abram's background other than to say that he was from Ur of the Chaldees. Ur was back in those days about 200 miles southeast of where Baghdad is today.

So imagine this, when God called Abram, Abram left everything he knew, his homeland, his culture, his extended family, traveled northwest following the River Euphrates through Babylon, which is modern day Iraq, then through Syria, and then turning southwest through Damascus and Hebron, and then Bethel near the Dead Sea. Total distance of about 2,200 miles that Abram walked with his family and his herds of animals. That's a distance from about from New York City to Tempe, Arizona. And Abram did this because God asked him to.

In our reading today, Abram has just settled in his new land, and it's been a few years since he heard God's voice, but now God comes to him again and speaks with him and says, I will make a covenant with you. I will make your descendants exceedingly numerous. I will make a great nation out of you, and kings will come from you, and I will give you a new name. You are no longer Abram, which means exalted father.

You are now Abraham, which means father of multitudes. And God also says, Sarah, I will become Sarah, which means princess. And the other thing that's interesting about that is in the Hebrew language, the letters that make up the word Sarah and the letters that make up the word Israel are the same. Hearing all of this, Abram falls on his face in worship.

He believes God. He believes what God has said, and Abraham orients his life around walking with God, and he teaches his family to do the same. So all of them together have become God's people. It's amazing though to step back and think that Abraham and Sarah only ever had one son together.

Abraham had other children by other wives, but only the son of Abraham and Sarah would build the nation of Israel. This couple with one son will become a multitude, the Jewish people through whom God has blessed every nation on earth. Even to this day, there are Jewish communities in just about every country on the planet proving how trustworthy God's word is. But from where Abraham stood, he took it all on faith.

Abraham never saw with his own eyes the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham trusted God, and he knew that God was faithful. Moving then to our psalm for today, the part of the psalm that we read out of the hymnal just a while back is taken from the tail end of Psalm 22. The first part of the psalm, which we did not read, is a prophecy written by King David.

Now I don't know if David knew that he was prophesying when he wrote this, because David was bringing to God his pain at being betrayed and attacked for no reason and being unable to find justice. But what David wrote is a detailed description of crucifixion written a thousand years before crucifixion was invented. Let me read you the part that we missed. And as I do this, see how many references to the crucifixion and death of Jesus you can hear in this psalm.

How many can you count? Here's what David wrote. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night but find no rest. Yet you are holy and thrown on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted, they trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried and were saved. In you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not human, scorned by others and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me.

They make mouths at me, they shake their heads. Commit your cause to the Lord, let him deliver, let him rescue the one in whom he delights. Yet it was you who took me from the womb. You kept me safe from my mother's breast.

On you I was cast from my birth. Since my mother bore me, you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me.

They open wide their mouths at me like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast. My mouth is dried up like a pot shirt and my tongue sticks to my jaws.

You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me, a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled, I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me.

They divide my clothes among themselves and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O Lord, do not be far away. O my help, come quickly to my aid. Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog.

Save me from the mouth of the lion, from the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I'm not sure the exact number of references to the crucifixion there are in that passage, but I counted at least 12. And to list them all would be another sermon for another day. What I want us to see here is this.

There will most likely be times in our lives when all of us feel like God is far away or has abandoned us. But the truth is, and Jesus knew this, that God can be trusted. Jesus said from the cross to the thief next to him, This day you will be with me in paradise. Jesus knew, even at the very worst point, that God hears those who are in distress, that God listens to anyone who cries out to God.

This prayer of David is the prayer of a desert person, someone who is in deep trouble and distress crying out to God to save. And this prayer has been paralleled to Israel's history as well. Israel is a nation who was enslaved and then liberated. And for the same reason, it can also be paralleled, for example, to the black American history.

It is not hard to imagine a slave in the deep south a couple hundred years ago praying the words, Why are you so far from me? Why are you not hearing the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer. It's not hard to imagine the people at our southern border today praying that same prayer. At this point then, set that just aside for the moment, and we turn to Mark's gospel, where Jesus, who is another desert person, spent 40 days in the wilderness not too long ago. He is now in another kind of wilderness, one where he alone knows what's about to happen.

Jesus knows that the cross is on the horizon, and he wants his closest friends to understand what he's facing into. So he says to them, The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be killed, and after three days rise again. Now in Jewish ears, which of course was Jesus' disciples and everyone who was listening to him, they were all Jewish. In Jewish ears, the phrase Son of Man had a specific meaning.

The Son of Man was a person the prophet Daniel wrote about, a person who had to do with the promised Messiah at the end times. And the understanding back then was that the Messiah would come and lead a military triumph, in this case against the Roman occupiers, and restore the kingdom of David. And that's most likely what Peter was thinking when he spoke up and said, No, you can't die. Peter and many people like him at that time missed the part in the book of Daniel where the prophet predicted that the Messiah would be disgraced and suffer and die.

And there's a strong parallel between Peter's thinking and the kind of thinking today where people believe that following Jesus means winning elections and writing Christian values into law. God doesn't work that way. God does not conquer using human power. God didn't do that in Jesus' time, and God doesn't do it now.

God's interest is not in power as we understand it. God already has far more power than we can even possibly imagine. God's interest is and always has been being in relationship with God's people. And like Peter, our imperfections and our presuppositions get in the way.

We human beings, we still have a little touch of darkness in us, and we can't always see where God is leading from where we stand. That's why the cross was necessary. Jesus does for us what we can't do for ourselves. On the cross, Jesus faces the darkness and defeats it once and for all.

Jesus knows that the cross is necessary, and he also knows that he will rise again. The disciples, on the other hand, have never seen anyone survive a crucifixion, so they can't grasp what Jesus is saying when he says, I'll be back. So it's understandable that Peter doesn't get all this right away, but the way he spoke to Jesus in our Scripture reading would have been understood in those days as being very disrespectful. To our ears in the 21st century, it sounds like Peter is concerned about Jesus' welfare, but for a Jewish disciple in those days, to rebuke his rabbi was unheard of.

And what's worse, Peter is echoing what Satan said in the wilderness. Basically, Hey, Jesus, there's another way. You don't have to suffer the cross. Do something else, and all the kingdoms of the earth can be yours.

It's probably the most attractive lie that was ever spoken. After confronting Peter, Jesus does forgive him, of course, and a couple of weeks later, Peter will be on the mountain of transfiguration with Jesus. As for us, as we follow Jesus, we become desert people too. We are fortunate to have a lot more of God's words to work with than Abraham did back then.

In fact, Abraham didn't have any of God's words written down. It was all verbal. But we still have a God who makes covenant promises and keeps them. And we keep our part of the covenant.

We trust God, we worship, we reach out to others in God's name, but most of all, we receive God's love and we love God in return. Entering into God's kingdom is not something we can do for ourselves. We enter in because God invites us and because God has opened the door through the cross. When we believe as Abraham believed, we can't help but worship.

Worship is always the response of faith to God's word. Think for a moment of the Asbury Revival last year, how people started worshiping God one day and they got caught up in the majesty of God and the presence of God and the glory of God and they didn't want to go home. They kept going for 16 days. That's just a tiny, tiny taste of what life in God's kingdom is going to be like.

And just like with Abraham, when we say yes to God, God's response will be, Walk before me in faith. I will make you fruitful. I will establish my covenant between me and you and of course for us today through Jesus. Bottom line, God's call on our lives never leaves us where we started.

Like Lawrence of Arabia, God gives us new robes, robes of righteousness. And as we put on these robes, we leave behind the old life and the old self. We step into a new world. We step into God's kingdom.

Like Abraham, we will walk from this time forward in God's way by grace through faith. And just as important, as we follow Jesus and become desert people, we identify with and become brothers and sisters with other desert people. And very frequently these people are the disenfranchised, the persecuted, the homeless, and the hungry. All the people in the world who can identify with David when he says, I groan, I cry, I find no rest, I am scorned by others and despised.

These words describe Jesus on the cross and they also describe people in our own time. We are called to spend what we have and who we are for the sake of Jesus and for the gospel. In the words of St. Francis, you all might know this song, Let me not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are raised to eternal life. One theologian calls this deep physics because in seeking to save one's own life, one loses it. But in giving up one's life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, we find it. It's desert living.

With Jesus, the desert blooms. With Jesus in the desert, we find love and life in the most unexpected places. With Jesus in the desert, we find freedom. And strangely enough, as we give ourselves up to Jesus, we find ourselves.

We are called to be a desert people as we grow in delight at all that God has done. Amen.