Lent 1C – Opportune Times
February 16-17, 2013
“…the devil… departed from him until an opportune time.”
That’s gotta be one of the creepiest lines in the Bible.
Scholars say that “the opportune time” Luke is referring to here
is a very specific time in Jesus’ life.
It’s about 3 years later,
just before Passover,
when Luke writes that Satan enters Judas.
Judas is offered a reward to betray Jesus and
and we hear that in stark contrast to the way Jesus responds to temptation,
Judas consents to the evil.
From then on, we’re told, he looks for the opportune time to betray him.
Far be it from me to dispute these scholars,
but I would propose that evil finds many opportune times to meet up with Jesus
in the gospel of Luke.
In fact, it seems that
that evil is never far away from him.
As we heard a couple of weeks ago,
Jesus preaches justice and his hometown friends
decide this is the opportune time to throw him off a cliff.
Jesus heals a paralyzed man,
and the synagogue leaders take this as the opportune time to accuse him of blasphemy.
Jesus eats dinner with “tax collectors and sinners,”
and the religious scribes take this as the opportune time to condemn him.
It was the Spirit who led Jesus to practice justice, to preach good news, to heal…
And it was the same Spirit which led him into the wilderness to confront evil.
It’s hard to imagine following the Spirit –really following the Spirit –
and not being pursued by evil at the same time.
I don’t think it’s much different for us.
When we follow the lead of the Spirit,
we’re going to end up in some wilderness.
Maybe that’s why in our baptism service,
before the water is splashed,
before the prayer for the gifts of the Spirit is said,
we are asked to renounce evil.
Three times in fact – in different ways – we’re asked to renounce evil.
First we’re asked: Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
Second we’re asked: Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
A third time, we’re asked: Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
And (hopefully) we respond after each question, “I renounce them.”
We renounce evil three times before receiving the Spirit at baptism.
Why? Because where the Spirit leads, evil finds an opportune time.
Before receiving the Spirit at baptism, at the same time we prepare ourselves for confrontation with evil.
Because when the Spirit comes, the Spirit will often lead us into places we’d rather not go –
the Spirit will lead us to wilderness.
I was invited to listen to a couple of wilderness stories this week.
Wilderness stories aren’t just about evil of course.
Wilderness stories are also about strength, and resilience, and faith
in the midst of the wilderness.
And these stories had all of those qualities.
Hearing these stories came about because over the past couple of months,
our teens have been sharing troubling news
about racism in our community.
Fights at school.
It’s been eye-opening and heartbreaking.
One of our members here at St. James
suggested that I allow her to introduce me to some of the other members of the black community in Gettysburg so I could hear their stories about being black in Adams County –
I’ve heard some true wilderness stories.
Stories of hurt and prejudice,
and also stories of power and grace.
I will share with you just part of one.
This is from Sarah.
Sarah was born in Georgia.
Her family worked in the fields down south, picking cotton and peanuts.
Word came, that there was opportunity for families to work the migrant circuit.
It was an attractive option because families could stay together and work in the orchards.
So Sarah ended up moving north to work in the orchards in Adams County.
Her baby slept in an apple bin with a blanket on top,
while she worked dawn to dusk picking fruit.
After 10 or 15 or 20 years of this back-breaking work,
Sarah heard of the FHA loan program.
It was 1967 and she was determined to get a federal loan to buy land, and build a house for her family to live in.
She was approved for the loan
and then went looking for land in Adams County.
She saw a sign saying “Lots for sale,”
but when she went to the realtor,
he wouldn’t allow her to go into his office.
Evil was taking this as the opportune time.
The realtor met her outside in back of one of the businesses in the square,
and then said, “You are mistaken – there are no more lots for sale there.”
Lots were for sale, but just not for her.
He tried to steer her to one of the “black” neighborhoods,
but she refused.
Every single day, she passed by the land she wanted and she prayed fervently.
(At this point in the story, Sarah laughs and says, “God will never fail you!”)
The Spirit was leading, but the evil of racism was nevertheless pursuing.
One day Sarah stopped the car in front of “her” lot.
She found an old fork in her car, got out, and dug three holes in the ground with the fork.
They represented the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
She covered them back over again.
It wasn’t long afterwards, that Sarah decided the Spirit was speaking to her.
She decided she wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.
She drove to Chambersburg to the realty’s head office.
The manager welcomed her into his office,
listened to her story,
told her to get into his car and they drove back to Gettysburg.
He told her to point out the lot she wanted,
and then asked her to give him a dollar for the contract – the paperwork would be drawn up – it was hers!
Sarah built a house on that land.
And Thursday night, I was her guest in that same home.
“the devil departed from him until an opportune time…”
It is a creepy verse… and a challenging one.
These things that have happened at the high school,
may be just blips – they may be highly unusual events – or they may be a sign of something more pervasive.
In any case, this is an opportune time.
This is an opportune time for us as individuals and a congregation
to listen and learn and reflect and also to act.
As I hope you know, our congregation is developing a five-year mission plan.
We’ve sought input from the congregation,
and the church council continues to pray and talk about it.
One thing I think from today’s text that we need to consider
as we develop our mission plan,
is that if we’re truly following the Spirit,
evil will likely be close behind.
If our goals and hopes and dreams are comfortable;
if we’re not concerned about the possibility that evil will confront us;
if we’re not in the wilderness at times as we try to live out our mission plan,
then I would suggest that perhaps we’re not following the Spirit after all.
When we are filled by the Spirit,
expect to end up in some wilderness.
Wilderness stories aren’t just about evil..
Wilderness stories are also about strength, and resilience, and faith in the midst of the wilderness.
These qualities give us hope.
And they give us resolve.
as we live in an opportune time.