Preparing For A Word From The Lord

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston

 I. What is God Saying To Us?

What is God doing in this moment? Where is God leading us in this season?  What is God saying to us personally? And what is God saying to us as the church, the people of God?  These are the questions on our heart this morning as we are standing before God, looking for direction and at some points, probably even, wondering where to go and what to do next.  As we enter into this Lenten season, this special moment within the liturgical calendar of the church, we are looking to God to reveal Godself to us that we might be able to grow closer to God in this season.  But we are also taking this opportunity to hear from God, that we might be led to build Beloved Community, that spreads the love of Jesus Christ to those around us, and be led to proclaim the Kingdom of God here on earth. So, for Lent we turn to Jesus as an example on how we can learn and hear from the Lord in this season.  We look to the place in scripture where Jesus fasted and prayed as he prepared for the journey of the ministry ahead – that we might also be able to prepare for the journey and ministry ahead as we wait and prepare to hear a word from the Lord.  

 II. We Are Waiting on a Word From The Lord

As we look at the world around us, COVID has made doing ministry a bit difficult, not just in the life of Cheltenham United Methodist Church, but in churches around the world. When COVID descended onto our shores, everything had to quickly shut down and the way we did everything had to change.  Nothing remained the same and many churches had to either adapt to a new way of doing things or become obsolete, which is a horrific reality that many churches had to deal with, a thought that pains us deeply.  And while we were able to adapt, we still are looking for ways we can get back to effective ministry in the community around us, while still maintaining the safety protocols that allow us to lovingly care for one another in the midst of our current worldwide pandemic situation.  We don’t use our building to its fullest capacity from governmental regulations and hopes to keep each other safe, we are not sure how to do some of the community events that we have done to interact with people in the past, we have been in social isolation and social distancing protocols for almost a year, and we have really had to wrestle with this being our new normal.  We have to adjust ministry in ways that challenge our way of thinking, where the ministry we do transcends the walls of the church building.  And WE NEED to continue to be the Church in this moment.  So,  we are waiting for a word from the Lord – a word that might show us how to be effective in ministry.

But this is not the only way in which we are waiting on a word from the Lord.  We are in a world in which everything around us is screaming for the touch of Jesus Christ – crying out for the reign of the kingdom of God to be materialized.  Those who are in the deep darkness of oppression are looking for light, those who suffer from hunger with an empty stomach as an unfortunate companion are seeking food that might remove that unwelcomed feeling of the pain in the pit of their stomach, those with financial issues are seeking some sense of relief that reverses their situation, people are praying for a sense of righteousness that tears down the walls of systemic regulations that perpetuate injustice, and society is looking for ways in which we are able to live together in Beloved Community not inhibited by politics, racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, violence, militarism, and all other isms that separate.  In all of these instances, the world is crying out to Jesus, that God might move in a mighty way. We are standing in a position where society is seeking to function in ways that proclaim God’s love, where we can all live with one another in peace. Our  world is looking for a word from the Lord – We as the people of God are waiting for a word from the Lord, a word from the Lord that directs us how to proclaim the reign of the kingdom of God to the world in the midst of all of its chaos.

And it is clear that within our nation we are waiting on a word from the Lord. On the tail end of this week, we have witnessed Texans experience an excruciating week as over 3 million power outages left a record amount of people without power for hours upon hours, that stacked upon each other, and for many dragging out in what seemed like an eternity, as temperatures dipped below freezing from a unprecedented winter storm in the southern portion of our country, that is more used to tropical temperatures rather that snow and ice. This catastrophic event revealed systemic issues of infrastructures that are supposed to support people in times of chaos, yet provided situations that reveal dramatic inequalities of privilege within society.  This winter storm produced issues of food shortages, power outages, water issues, and heating sustainability. Leaving many looking for some sense of relief and solace, with those in poverty suffering the most from this situation.  And while people sought to restore energy to cities to keep white collar business running, many homes were left suffering in the cold.  And that is not to say that energy should not be restored to all, but people should not be treated as expendable. So our nation looks on and in the midst of their chaos, we are looking for a word of hope from the Lord – where God might bring hope and relief.

No matter how you look at it, if we are looking at our personal lives, our actions as the local church, the direction of our society and nation, or our actions as the larger global, connectional church – We are waiting on a word from the Lord.  We are waiting on a word from the Lord.

 III. Dedication to Prayer And Fasting

So we, as the people of God, take this time in this season, to enter into this time of prayer and fasting in Lent. Because we remember that before Jesus stepped out into the world to do ministry, before he journeyed from Galilee to Jerusalem, he went out into the wilderness and prayed and fasted.  So we decide to give up something that might distract our attention from God or we take on something that might direct our focus.  For example, if we give up something we may refrain from eating during the hours of sunshine, or maybe we only eat fruits and vegetables, or maybe we give ups sweets, or maybe we give up screen time or certain show, or just certain habits that blockade us from seeing God clearly – all so that we might make a deeper connection, uninhibited, seeing God clearly.  Or we might add something like affirmations, journaling, or meditation that we might dig deeper within our relationship with God to grow.  And we pair these habits with intentional prayer that we might bring our concerns before God, that we might be intentional about building relationship with God, that we might learn how to communicate with God, and that we might genuinely listen and wait on a word from the Lord.

 IV. Jesus Prepares Through Prayer and Fasting

In our scripture, Jesus has just been baptized, which marks the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, the moment where the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and claimed him as the Son of God.  And before Jesus began to do anything: before he chose his disciples, before he cast out a demon, before he healed the sick, before he fed taught the disciples, before he fed the 5000, and before he took his journey into Jerusalem that led to his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit rested upon him and drove him out into the wilderness.  Mark’s gospel speaks of Jesus’s journey with such brevity, saying he went out into the wilderness for 40 days and was tempted by Satan.  However, if we want to dig deeper to get a visual of what happened out in the wilderness, if we want to envision what Jesus might have endured out in the desert, if we want to try to intimately understand the experiences of our Lord and savior, we might have to look to Matthew and Luke to give a more well-rounded interpretation of this wilderness experience.

Jesus is out in the wilderness, among the wild beasts, the things that crawl on the earth, that things that growl and make the most terrifying sounds, the mysterious things that can cause danger through bite which might even be poisonous, the things that make our skin crawl, the things that make us shutter within the darkness of night. Jesus is out in the wilderness, at one with nature in its purest and rawest state.  In addition to being within the wilderness and being away from any sense of human civilization he is fasting.  So his stomach is empty, probably so empty that it is growling and twisting within him feeling as if it was inside out. The dryness in the air around him was likely drying out the skin on his lips causing them to crack, the heat was excruciatingly beating upon the skin on his neck.  Jesus was in the wilderness, out in the wild, away from all of society.

Jesus had retreated from all things that could distract him from connection to God, he retreated from the whole world. And Satan came to tempt him in that moment, tempting him that he might be thrown of the task that God had for him, telling him to break his fast and turn the rocks to bread.  Jesus is in some ways on a journey to prepare himself for the journey ahead, to prepare for the time he announces later in the text, the time that has been fulfilled, the moment where the kingdom of God has come near.  Jesus was about to proclaim the reign of the kingdom of God that is both the reality of now and eternity.  Jesus was about to do a new thing in which all the world is proclaimed as the kingdom of God because all have been offered salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we have the ability to build beloved community, where all can love one another through the teachings that Christ taught us, the hungry are fed, the lame can walk, the blind can see, and the imprisoned are set free. But before all that could happen, before all that could occur, before the ministry of proclaiming the reign of the kingdom of God could begin, Jesus had to head out into the wilderness with a time of prayer and fasting that he could prepare for the journey ahead.  Jesus had to retreat from society, dedicate himself to prayer and fasting, resist temptation, and wait on a word from the Lord that prepares him for the journey ahead.  So we too, follow the direction of God, intentionally entering into a time of prayer and fasting that we might wait on word from the Lord.

 V. Listen For What God is Saying

In this time of transition, we too are on the precipice of a journey ahead, we too are preparing to take action once we receive a word form the Lord, we too are waiting to take dramatic action that proclaims that the Kingdom of God has come near, that the reign of the Kingdom of God is here on earth, that Beloved community is created, that brother and sister love one another, that hate no longer divides us, that God’s love seeks to connect the world and tear down the barricades that hold us back, to proclaim that there is hope in the midst of sorrow, and lives are transformed and made new.  So we are standing in this position of life hoping to do our part as the people of God to proclaim this to be true, to do ministry that makes a difference and does the work of Christ.  So, we enter into this Lenten season with a faithful heart, doing exactly what Christ did, to go to a place where we might prepare, where we might remove all the things that might distract us from God, that we might prepare ourselves for what God will have us to do, and prepare ourselves to open our ears and heart that we might hear a word from the Lord.  However, as we take on this journey of prayer and fasting, we must realize that just like it wasn’t easy for Jesus, it will not be easy for us.  Just like Satan came to tempt Jesus, Satan may also try to tempt and distract us during this time of prayer and fasting.  Because it is not the desire of Satan for us to succeed, for us to do the work of the Lord, for us to strengthen our relationship with God, or for us to do phenomenal, miraculous, and transformational things in the name of Jesus Christ within the world. But we must stay focused, we must make sure we continue to pray, we must make sure that we are intentional about building relationship with God, we must make sure we are intentional about growth in faith, and we must make sure we are intentional about hearing a word from the Lord.  So, there may be times that we slip up on our fast, and that is okay, but we must remember to be in prayer and be intentional about connecting with God.

So the message this morning is this, we are going into a time of prayer and fasting that we might follow the direction of Jesus Christ to wait on a word from the Lord.  As we look to what the faithful response of the people of God is in this moment, as we seek to proclaim the Kingdom of God here on earth, we are standing in this moment of fasting and prayer that we might grow in our connection with God and clearly hear what God is saying to us that we might take action on what God has called us to. Let us take this moment as a time for dedication and an opportunity to see and hear God clearly. Let us intentional prepare to hear a word from the Lord. Amen.