First Sunday of Lent 2010
Deuteronomy 26:1-1126:1 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,How near? How near, in fact, is near enough? How near does it have to be before you feel it, respond to it, act on it? As near as your breath? As near as your heartbeat? As close as your skin? Under your skin? Beneath your tongue? Drawn in and pushed out of your nostrils?
26:2 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.
26:3 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."
26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,
26:5 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.
26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,
26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
26:8 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;
26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
26:10 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.
26:11 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.
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
91:2 will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust."
91:9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
91:10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
91:12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
91:13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
10:8b "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
10:9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10:10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
10:11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."
10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
10:13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
4:2 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.
4:3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread."
4:4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"
4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
4:6 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.
4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."
4:8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
4:9 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,
4:10 for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,'
4:11 and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
4:12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
"Word" is "Logos" to Paul, but "breath" is "pneuma," which also means "air" as well as "spirit." It's logical, actually. Without breath you have no air; without breath or air the body has no spirit. Without spirit, you are not alive. How close is your spirit to you? How much does the Logos move you? What if, somehow, you could pack up your sorrows, and give them all away? Then would you feel saved?
Saved? Saved? Yes, saved. If you could pack up your sorrows, would you feel saved? Would you feel safe, secure, able to act on the Logos that is as close to your as your own skin, as intimate as your own breath, "as permanent as death, implacable as stone"? Would you act then? Is that all it would take?
It's hard to understand hard actions as salvation. We need some assurance, first. We need to know the hard part will lead to the good part; but what if we knew the hard part was faithfulness, and the easy part was action? Would we feel safe then? Would we feel saved?
Paul says this salvation is on your lips and in your heart. If it isn't in those places, where else would it be, and what good would it do you? And if it is in those places, what good is it if it doesn't make you act? If it doesn't lead you, drive you, compel you, to behave accordingly? What good is your salvation, if it doesn't make you feel safe? And if it makes you feel safe, why wouldn't you then do what's necessary?
You could go out into the wilderness, and not be afraid. You could go out to where God is most clearly seen, where there are no distractions, no confusion, no mistaking something else, some false idol, some human made object, for God. Where money is useless and the noise is from nature and the sights are God's handiwork. You could go out into the wilderness and not be afraid; if you felt safe.
The wilderness is not a place, of course; it's s state of mind. You could be in the wilderness right now, sitting before your computer, reading these words. You could be safe right now, but in the wilderness tomorrow morning, when the work week starts again. What salvation do you have there, in the place where you don't feel safe? What good is your salvation, if there is a place where you don't feel safe?
Is safety justice? It can be. "A wandering Aramean was my father," but God brought the ancestors of Israel to a place of safety, and then told them to take care of the aliens among them. They were safe because God had made them safe, and that meant they had to remember the lessons of justice, and where their safety came from, and why they should not be afraid, even of the aliens who lived with them, the ones who were not children of Abraham. They weren't better than those aliens; God didn't despise those aliens; there was no reason for the children of Abraham not to feel safe. Because the word of God was as near to them as their lips and their hearts.
Are you safe only at home? What about the journey, then? If you could pack up your sorrows, could you leave them behind and go on the journey, and feel safe? Could you pack up your sorrows and be safe? Are your sorrows what keep you secretly comfortable, secretly secure? Are your sorrows what keep you safe, and you don't really want to pack them up, don't really want to give them away? Are your sorrows what keep you out of the wilderness, out of the truly unsafe places, out of the places where you know you should be but you are afraid to be? If somehow you could pack them up and give them away, would you? Because wouldn't that be the ultimate safety, to know you'd given your sorrows away, and you had no reason to be afraid, no reason to fear the outcome of the next unsafe but just thing you did, of the next unsafe moment when you reached out to another person just because the word was on your lips and in your heart and you knew that faith was directing you, leading you, compelling you? And you knew that you were safe, and saved, and salvation was all it was about, but not the salvation by and by, but here and now? The salvation of your heart?
If you could feel that safe, or even expect to feel that safe at the conclusion, would you go on the journey? Would you pack up your sorrows and give them all away, if you could lose them, would you do it? Would you dare to feel safe, to be saved, so you could go on the journey and not fear the dangers? Would you do that? Would you?
What have you got to lose? If the Logos is in your heart and on your lips, then you "shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house." And you will be safe.
Picture from Vanderbilt University Special Collections.