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It begins when he's hungry. Not "I skipped lunch because I was too busy," or "I'd love to lose a few pounds" hungry. Not even, scouts, "I've been on a campout and I didn't plan as well as I should have," hungry. Forty days. Can you even begin to imagine the gnawings in one's stomach, even more in one's spirit? As chapter 4 begins Jesus is led - the Spirit leads him to be tempted - into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tested by the devil, diabolos in Greek, the slanderer, the accuser. It's translated from the Hebrew ha-satan, from which our word Satan comes, not as the proper name of the devil but meaning the tempter, the adversary. We don't need a red guy with horns and a pitchfork- that's too easy, and gives us someone to blame. The church has always struggled with a way to articulate the sin which is within us, our failings and misplaced motivations, and the evil we feel in the world, in anger and violence and mistrust, which is much bigger than us. Much of the bible envisions the world as the battleground between the forces of good and the forces of evil, humanity caught in this cosmic struggle.
The synagogue was packed that day, chairs down the aisle, standing room in the balcony. You can't blame the folks in Nazareth for getting excited when the famous guy comes home. In my hometown in the mountains we had a couple of famous people who had been brought up there - Brad Daugherty, who came to UNC to play basketball before the NBA; Brad Johnson, who won a super bowl as the quarterback for Tampa Bay, and the singer Roberta Flack. Whenever any one of them did anything, people went crazy. In the grocery store, pumping gas. You see our boy win the super bowl? You see that - Black Mountain girl wins a Grammy! In the markets, working in their shops. You hear about Joseph's son? He's become quite a preacher.
Our Luke story is a bit like this: A young man attends seminary, graduates, and returns to his home church to preach. Everyone is so proud of him, the son of members who are leaders in the local church. Look at him now, they say, standing in front of his friends, his mentors, his Sunday School teachers and pastors, ready with his new knowledge to preach the Word of God! He reads the Scripture and then starts into the sermon. But his words seem harsh. They hear him saying that they are not following God, and they will not reap the benefits of being the children of God, that someone else will get that reward. Almost all of them then become angry at this young man and begin hurling insults and wadded up bulletins at the pulpit until he left and walked out the door. It might not happen in a Presbyterian church, since we are the Frozen Chosen, but it could happen!
"It was a frightening sight for many," the report began about a week and a half ago, "when a man carrying a rifle walked through the doors of a Fayetteville church during a service on New Year's Eve, but congregants describe what happened next as a holiday miracle." I bet many of you have seen this on the news, but it's worth mentioning. Folks had gathered at Heal the Land Outreach Ministries in Fayetteville on New Year's Eve when an armed man walked in, and Pastor Larry Wright was the first to see him. In our present environment, with too much of this stuff on the news, and many churches - I've had some conversations with our African American brothers and sisters who, post-Charleston, are thinking quite seriously in their congregations about security - many churches are afraid, then their worst nightmare seemed to be coming true. A man walks in with a gun.
It felt like one of those slow motion movies, the kind when time seems to flow like molasses and your senses absorb all the information - the light of early dusk, the smell of late summer, the air that blows just enough to kiss the back of your neck. I was driving on Mangum Street downtown, passing over the railroad tracks, soaking in the beauty of our city when I saw a beautiful sight in the glow of a setting sun. As I approached it, I opened my window all the way and turned off my radio to make sure I could get the full effect. Standing outside, cheering and waving, shouting "I love you," jumping up and down, a broad swath of God's people sent messages of relentless devotion way, way up to the tiny-slotted windows of their imprisoned beloveds. The county jail courtyard swarmed with what could only be described as unconditional love. It seemed that whatever wrong had been done, whatever crime committed, whatever sin singed into history and heart - at that moment, letting the locked up and lonely know they were loved was all that mattered.