Written by Bryan Niebanck
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.Luke 4:13
Do you have a most cherished memory? What are the memories that you take with you through a life time? We all have many memories, but there are some that we will never forget. One of mine is talking with my friend, Serena, on her front porch four months before she died. It was the last time I spoke with her; I was not sure whether to try to bring her hope or to try to understand the inevitable, which was her terminal diagnosis from brain cancer. She died much too young, at age 23. I remember and cherish this conversation not only because it was the last that I had with a friend who I had had since grade school, but because it was a moment in time where we were just there for each other. Nothing else mattered but the moment that we were spending together. In that moment, she inspired to me to write more in the form of letters, and I have been doing that much more now with friends and family. I think of this moment almost every time I sit down to write.
Thinking about our cherished memories help us to refocus on the things that really matter. We know that we always have things to get done, and the pressure builds, but sometimes it is alright to tell yourself that it will be okay. What really matters? We could spend our entire lives rushing through it, and we will barely remember a day of it, or we can make the effort to spend time with friends and family, to make these special moments with one another. Take that trip together that you both have been dreaming of. Call up that friend whose number you have taped to your refrigerator but that you haven’t used since 2015. Make those plans to go out to eat with that Spanish teacher you have somehow kept in touch with who always talks about getting together in her Christmas cards. Make cherished memories. You do not know which ones will become cherished when you are making them, but if you don’t make any, you won’t have any.
Jesus made cherished memories with his disciples. One of the big ones that his disciples remembered for their lifetimes was the big meal that he had with them the day before he died. He told them at the meal, as he passed the bread and shared the cup, to continue to do those things in remembrance of him. It is akin to writing letters in remembrance of Serena. I am sure that you do certain things in remembrance of a family member or friend that you have lost too.
We have lost a lot of our friends and family over the years, and when we look around the church, those who have been here awhile might be able to see Hank in his usual pew, or Ed standing out front shaking hands. “Spend time as a congregation in active remembrance. Remember those who have passed and the gifts that they brought. Remember the ones you could not visit and their seat in the sanctuary. Remember your family members, neighbors, and loved ones who have died because of Covid or other causes. Acknowledge human loss, offer thanksgiving for their legacy, and joy that death is not the end of life. Celebrate Holy Communion as a congregational act of remembering, that at this sacred table we gather together with those on the journey of life and with those who are in our great cloud of witnesses” (Ministry Matters, Path of Healing). We all partake of the bread and wine together. We build on the legacy that others have built and sustained.
In Deuteronomy, we also read about remembrance. As the Israelites come into the promised land, they are told to remember what God has done for them by giving part of the fruit of the land back to God. God was the one who provided this land, who delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians: “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; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:8-9). These instructions prompt us to worship God with remembrance. By remembering what God has done for us, we are worshipping God and giving glory to God’s name. When you tell the story of your life, and how God has come to meet you in it, you are worshipping God through remembrance. You are worshipping God when you build on the legacy of others who have gone before you. You are worshipping when you sit in this moment, tired and hungry for spiritual fulfillment, because you are now reminding yourselves of that cherished moment where God met you, of that memory with a friend, or that wedding day, or when your first child was born, or the day you gave your life to Christ. First, we need to take every opportune time that we are given to spread our story of God. We celebrate this in worship, in communion with one another, and by remembering those moments when God picked us up and carried us across the sand.
Second, do remember your temptations as Jesus remembered his. In order for Luke or whoever it was to write down this story, Jesus must have found meaning in the moment of his temptation to share it with others. Otherwise, we would not have known this story. It can actually be a blessing to someone else if you share how you have been tempted, and tell about how God led you not to give into that temptation. Or, if you were dragged in, you can tell about how God went searching for the lost sheep and dragged you out. This is how we inspire others with our faith and lead others to Christ, sometimes without even realizing it. Though in addition to being a blessing to someone else, it can also be a blessing to ourselves. To remind ourselves how God led us from a moment of despair can lead us out of the current moment of despair. There is always hope. Even in Nazareth.
Third, just as we tell our stories of temptations to ourselves and to others, we recognize that they will not stop. Luke 4 tells us of how Jesus heroically fended off the devil. Have you had that moment when the devil may have reached out to you, just told you that it would be okay to eat those five cookies, or that bag of goldfish, because what’s the worst thing that can happen, and you told him off? Did that not feel victorious? And then you turn around the next week and fall to that temptation because you were not prepared for it. Luke 4:13 tells us, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The devil was not finished with him. The devil would continue to try to win him over. The same goes for us. We all have so much that tempts us to turn away, either to our own personal health, or worse, to our own spiritual health. He asks you, “If God were with you, wouldn’t your husband still be with you? If God were with you, wouldn’t you not have suffered that heart attack? If God were with you, wouldn’t you have more money?” We need to tell ourselves over and over again that God is with us, regardless of the situation, just as God was with Jesus on the cross.
As we prepare our hearts to grow closer to God in this season, remember God. Remember the moments where God has met you. This will give you confidence in the moments to come where you will meet God again. Look for those opportune times to make memories where God might find you, even if you feel like crawling into your bed and not waking up until June. Remember the times that God has rescued you from temptations and prepare yourself to pray when you encounter one again. Victory once does not mean you have defeated the devil’s tricks because he will continue to look for opportune times to win you back up until the day that God takes you home forever. We need to keep true to our God if we are to see the promises of Psalm 91 fulfilled: “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them” (Psalm 91:14-15). Over the coming weeks, we will review other ways to stay true to God. Your challenge this week is to start with remembrance. Remember what God has done. What has God blessed you with? What has God blessed humanity with? The short answer, of course, is Jesus. Jesus is the answer to every Bible question in Sunday School class. God has blessed us with Jesus, and it is to Jesus who we can turn to escape the powers that try to defeat us. When you live, remember the life that Christ lived. Remember the meals that Christ shared. Remember the people whom Christ conversed with. Jesus does not make things easy, but he brings hope for everyone, including for communities ravaged by war and those shaking by the existence of it. That is worth our remembrance. Thanks be to God. Amen.
26:1 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,
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.
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.