Preparing The Way

Preparing The Way

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Rev. Amy Bruch is the Associate Minister for Children and Youth at the Congregational Church of Topsfield, MA.


Scripture:  Matthew 4:1-11 (The Message)

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.

Reflection: Preparing The Way 

We have just begun a period of preparation with forty days ahead to ready ourselves to hear and remember a story many of us know well. A story that is both heartbreaking and inspiring. A story of love and pain, compassion and fear. There are a number of ways to prepare: we could devote time each day to quiet reflection, prayer, or fasting. We could accept God’s invitation to let go of those things that have a hold on us, the kinds of things that tempt us away from moving in God’s direction, choosing our own direction instead. We might even choose to lay down those little computers we carry around in our pockets, our phones. We could let go of the constant connection, the relentlessness of the daily news cycle, emails, texts and tweets, the desire to please others or prove our worthiness or success. Yes, lay them down awhile. Consider instead your empty hands. What could they hold, offer or create?

Some of Rev. Bruch's Pottery

I find that no matter what is happening in the world or in the sphere of my one life, when I sit at my potter’s wheel and feel the smooth clay move through my hands, I am renewed. Despite the confusion, violence and rush of the world, it is grounding to sit and make something beautiful from a lump of clay. Creative work brings me joy, allows me to clear my mind, helps me make connections between ideas, teaches me the importance of process, hones my problem-solving skills and encourages me to celebrate the rewards of hard work. What brings you joy?

Maybe you like to work in the garden, write or take photographs. Maybe you build furniture or sew quilts, knit or collect vintage movie posters. Whatever it is, be sure to devote some time to those activities and passions that bring you the most joy…even at the approach of the doubt and death we will soon face in Holy Week. Because if we are prepared, if we have grounded ourselves in God and in the gifts God gives us, we can face anything, even death.

Words I have long loved by a potter named Carla Needleman, are that “the work of craft is a preparation, one of many.” Indeed for me, making things out of clay, using my best tools, my hands, to craft pots made from earth, air, fire and water, is something that has the power to help me focus on what is most important in my life, the practice realigns my purpose with God’s purpose and helps me leave the rest, the things that worry, confuse or scare me, to God.

In Matthew’s gospel passage for today, Jesus was led into the wild by the Spirit in order to be tested. But he was prepared. When the Devil tempted him with bread, Jesus fed himself with scripture from Deuteronomy and the word of God filled his mouth. When the Devil tempted him to put God to the test, Jesus did not fall for his slick thinking or his slippery words. He knew God didn’t need to be tested. God had already shown Jesus great love and care. Finally, when the Devil offered Jesus everything, as far as he could see, though he had feet of clay, like ours, Jesus’ preparation gave him strength. He knew he was a child of God. We are all children of God…a God who knows what brings us the greatest joy, the deepest satisfaction and the most powerful love. Make your preparations with trust and creativity from your heart and you will be prepared for anything.

PRAYER

Gracious God, like you, we are makers. May your Holy Spirit work through our hands and our hearts so that we might create a world where we find joy, hope and peace, even in the face of sadness, despair and violence. With your help, we are prepared for whatever comes.

Amen.


New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at paged@sneucc.org.

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the many suffering from influenza and other viruses this season
  • For those grieving or suffering after a shooting near Frankfurt, Germany left 11 dead
  • The people of Turkey after an earthquake killed 9 and left dozens injured

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For our churches who worship beyond the walls and seek to stand with their neighbors in the many fights for justice
  • For the hope and promise that comes with the beginning of Lent

Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:

First Congregational Church of the UCC, Wellfleet, MA
Wellesley Hills Congregational Church, UCC, Wellesley Hills, MA
The Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, MA
United Church of Christ Federated, Webster, MA
Armenian Memorial Church, Watertown, MA
First Congregational Church, Watertown, CT
First Congregational Church of Waterbury, Inc., Waterbury, CT
Hopeville Church, Waterbury, CT
Mill Plain Union Church, Waterbury, CT
First Congregational Church of Washington, Washington, CT
First Congregational Church of Warwick UCC, Warwick, RI
Trinitarian Congregational Church, Warwick, MA

This Week in History:
February 25, 1870  (150 years ago) Hiram Rhodes Revels becomes the first black member of the U.S. Congress representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate, only five years after the Civil War. His opponents tried to block Revels' election by stating that he had not been a U.S. citizen for the minimum 9 years as required by the Constitution, since the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment were recent laws. His proponents argued that he was born in the U.S. and therefore was a U.S. citizen despite earlier laws not recognizing him as one. Revels was an ordained minister who was chaplain for two Union army black regiments before being elected to Congress. He later served as president of a historically black college.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Confucius

February 24, 2020
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