This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: It’s Pentecost!

I don’t know when I heard this or who told me, but there is an old joke that goes like this:

The disciples were gathered in Galilee on top of a nearby mountain awaiting Jesus. Jesus showed up and gave them the Great Commission.

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Jesus had no sooner departed when the devil snuck up and said to the disciples, “And remember to build really big expensive buildings where you can all hang out with each other.”

This is less a joke than a criticism of the way the “church” is defined by many. The church is a building, right? So, if we want to be the church, we need to have a building where all the churchy stuff happens. Where we can be disciples of Jesus. But here is the problem, Jesus did not say to the disciples, stay on this mountain, build a building and wait for folks to drop in so you can tell them the Good News. No, Jesus said go! What does that look like in 2020? You might be surprised. Listen to Pastor Jeff talk about it in his message “A Re-birth of the Church?” on Sunday at 9:30 on the JMPC Facebook Live stream. You can also watch the service later on Facebook our the JMPC YouTube channel. Join us – virtually!

How does God give us hope? Thoughts on what the resurrection means.

How does God give us hope?

My daughter shared a tic tok video with me last week.

If you don’t know what tic tok is, ask your kid or grand kid.

Anyway, in this video, a young woman wanted to prank her boyfriend.

He was a big fan of condiments apparently, particularly ketchup.

Which he would be using that evening.

She had heard that baking soda and ketchup were an explosive mixture, much like the schoolroom volcanos we all made in science class.

She decided to put baking soda in the plastic ketchup bottle in her refrigerator.

Her hope was that when the boyfriend opened the bottle, the ketchup would explode out of the bottle and scare the heck out of him.

The problem was, she did not know how much baking soda to use.

So … she kept adding a little more and a little more to make sure there would be an explosion.

She hoped one thing, but something different happened.

It exploded right there in her hand.

The pop scared her so much that she fell over backward wide eyed and open mouthed.

I still chuckle.

There was ketchup all over her apartment.

Things had not turned out as she hoped.

But was that really hope?

Not really.

What she had was a wish.

A prospect.

A desire.

Something she wanted to happen but was uncertain it would.

And ultimately, it didn’t.

That is how we think of hope, right?

When we hope for something, we want it to happen.

But there is no certainty it will happen as we would like.

We aren’t sure it will happen at all.

That is not how God wants us to hope.

God wants us to hope in something that is certain.

Something sure.

That is the hope God gives us.

Which brings us to our scripture.

Luke 24: 36-49

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

You might be wondering what this passage has to do with hope.

Let’s give it some context.

The disciples have been with Jesus for three years.

He has taught them that he came to release the captives, bring good news to the poor, give sight to the blind and declare the year of God’s favor.

He healed and taught and challenged the powerful.

But now he was dead.

Crucified and buried.

Two of his followers on the road to Emmaus said this:

“[W] had hoped that he was going to be the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

That was the hope.

But as far as they knew, it had not happened.

Jesus was dead.

But they soon found out it was Jesus they were talking to.

We now join our text.

The disciples are talking about the women who went to the tomb and found Jesus to be alive.

The guys from the Emmaus road were back and saying the same thing.

The disciples were skeptical, to say the least.

Then, there he was!

Right there in the room with them.

This was not what they had hoped for.

This was not what they expected.

Jesus was dead and this … ghost? … was just terrifying.

But wait … this … man? … has flesh and body and has the scars of crucifixion.

And … he eats.

Ghosts don’t have flesh and don’t eat.

But still …

Then Jesus opened their minds.

It was Jesus.

Alive again.

And now, for the first time, they understand what the plan had been all along.

What they had hoped for in Jesus was the redemption of Israel.

A poor nation.

A captive nation.

A blind nation.

An unredeemed nation.

But Jesus didn’t come to do that, Jesus came to lift up the spiritually poor, to free the captives to sin, to enlighten the ungodly, to redeem humankind.

More than what they hoped for.

And this was not just wishful thinking.

Jesus himself was the proof.

He was dead and was alive again

He had the power to do the things he said he would do, not because they were good ideas, but because he said so.

And death was not going to stop him.

The disciples now had a new and different hope.

Sure and certain of something they couldn’t see.

Sure and certain because of something they could see.

Death was not the end.

For them.

For anyone.

And because of that hope, they would be witnesses to that hope.

But there was more to that hope than the reclamation of humankind.

There was a sense that God had the power to make all thinks new.

God had taken a broken, scarred and dead Jesus and made that same Jesus new.

God could do that for all creation, too.

That is a certain and sure understanding as well.

Hope that it will happen.

And they were to be witnesses to that as well.

But neither of those things had happened to them yet.

They were still looking to the future.

And had to live in the present.

That is us.

We are still living in a world that is cracked.

Our hope is that God will not just mend the cracks but to make the world new again.

Make us new again.

That is our hope.

That is the promise of resurrection.

So, what do we do?

We learn a couple of things from it.

First, we learn what the scriptures mean.

Jesus, the incarnate God, came to give us hope.

Hope that God loves us and cares for us.

That God can make the world new.

That God can make us new.

And that is what will happen.

Certainly and surely.

And Jesus gives us a way to live until that happens.

Kate Bowler is someone I have talked about many times.

She has a daily meditation on her website.

This week it is on hope.

She describes hope as God’s anchor.

While she does not say this, I think Jesus is the line between the anchor and our boats.

It’s not an anchor that holds us in place, like we have arrived at our destination.

She says God’s anchor is way out in front of us with a winch that is reeling us in.

Close and closer to the new creation.

It is a long journey.

She then likens it to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

There is this big goal that is overarching.

Destroy the ring.

But there is also the daily life inside it.

Joy and sadness.

Courage and fear.

War and peace.

Not to mention second breakfast and 11sies.

That is what our lives are like.

A journey toward the God’s new creation.

And we do what we can to invite people to come along.

We invite people to hope.

In this time of pandemic, I feel like we have lost hope.

We are stuck in our “sheltering” and can’t see beyond the daily recitation of medical and political news.

Will this ever end?

What will that look like.

We hope that it will be s it was before.

But what if it is better?

What if it is like these things?

As I sit in my son’s old bedroom looking out the window from the desk where I write this sermon, I see people walking about.

Walking dogs.

I actually saw a guy walking a cat.

Walking with their kids.

Walking with spouses.

I see them giving each other space, putting a mask on, yet saying hello with a smile.

“We are all on this journey together.”

I also see people trying to support local businesses.

Lots of take out from the restaurants.

I see people setting food out in front of their houses for pick up by JMPC and other food suppliers.

I see kids using chalk to write inspiring of just funny messages on sidewalks.

I have reconnected myself with old friends through the magic of Zoom.

My family has gathered.

Karen’s family has gathered.

Our church groups have gathered.

And what I have found is that even the smallest amount of connection to others lifts me up and gives me hope.

A sure, certain hope.

I think that is how the disciples understood Jesus’ resurrection.

It was a great thing, but it was not the last thing.

There was more to do.

There was the waiting on the Holy Spirit.

There was proclamation to be done.

The message of God’s hope needed witnesses.

And the disciples were the first ones.

Then they went.

The long journey.

The overarching goal.

With the daily life included.

A sure and certain hope that God was with them, even when the times were tough.

And that God love them and cared for them and would make them new in the end.

That was their hope.

That is our hope.

Thanks be to God.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (May 17, 2020)

If you have ever suffered from insomnia, you know how frustrating it can be. Wide awake in the middle of the night. Anxious that you will be tired and cranky the next day. So, you get up and turn on the TV to see if you can find something relaxing that will make you drowsy. And then … you see it. An ad for a drug that will put you to sleep. Soft, soothing music surrounds the image of a pretty woman with a whimsical smile laying down on a bed with her eyes closed. Immediately we jump to the next morning. The woman is waking up with that same smile, arms stretched over her head, ready for the start of a delightful day. And you say to yourself, “I gotta get me some of that!” But then comes the second part of the commercial. The fastest talking human being you have ever heard starts telling you about the potential side effects.

Daytime drowsiness, dizziness, feeling hungover, problems with memory and concentration, anxiety, depression, nervous feeling, headache, nausea, stomach pain, aggression, agitation, changes in behavior, thoughts of self harm, hallucinations.

Wait … what? I might go to sleep, but the possible side effects might be worse than a few sleepless nights. Do you take the pills and hope that the side effects won’t happen? Or is that just wishful thinking? That is the difference between “hope” in the form of hoping for things that might or might not happen and “hope” in the promises of God. Hope in the promises of God is a certainty that they will happen without any potential harm or failure. No fast-talking disclaimers. Pastor Jeff will explore this Sunday May 17 when he preaches “How does God want us to hope?” at 9:30 on Facebook Live which will be recorded and also posted on YouTube later in the day. Tune in. (Is that what we call it?)

How does God want us to eat? Thoughts on sharing what God created and provided with others.

How does God want us to eat?

Back when I was practicing law, I was representing a local hospital in a medical malpractice case.

The primary defendant was a neurosurgeon, who, the plaintiff claimed, had harmed her in some way during surgery.

During her deposition she told us about what happened when she woke up after the surgery.

The neurosurgeon was by her side checking the incision.

She said to anyone who was listening, “Thank God I’m alive!”

To which the neurosurgeon replied, “Don’t thank God. Thank me.”

While we were all dumbfounded.

 Later, when we asked the neurosurgeon, he readily admitted he said it.

 It has been my experience that neurosurgeons have big egos, but this was a bit much.

But, in looking back on it I think maybe they they were both right.

It’s kind of like this:

God heals but provides others with what they need to do it.

God healed the woman, but it was done through the knowledge, experience, and skill that God had provided the neurosurgeon.

Thank God.

Thank him.

We can expand this thought to other human needs.

God provides but uses us to help.

One of the most important things God provides is food.

And God uses us to help produce and provide that food to others.

Which brings us to our scripture reading.

Luke 9: 10-17

10 On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. 11When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

12 The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ 13But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ 14For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ 15They did so and made them all sit down. 16And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

There are a couple ways to read this story.

First, Jesus performed a miracle.

He took five loaves of bread and two dried fish and fed a multitude of people.

The second is that Jesus set an example to all present by sharing the little bit of food his disciples had with as many as possible which encouraged people so share the food the people had brought with those who brought none.

But I wonder.

Couldn’t it be both?

Let’s look at what is going on in the story.

The people are in a deserted place.

They don’t have enough food.

The disciples are worried that the people will get “hangry”, maybe, and ask Jesus to send them away.

Jesus tells the disciples to feed the folks.

They can’t.

Jesus then intervenes.

16And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17And all ate and were filled.

This sounds almost sacramental.

But ultimately, Jesus is thanking God for what he has and then gives some of it to those who don’t have enough.

I would like to think those folks were thankful to Jesus for taking what God had given him and sharing it with them.

Thank God.

Thank Jesus.

Jesus is not just feeding the people.

Jesus is teaching them.

Lesson number 1.

Jesus is the divine food provider.

Like God, Jesus has created food from nothing.

God did it in Genesis when God created the garden.

God did it in Exodus when God created manna.

God did it here when the loaves and fish were multiplied.

All of these events use food as the illustration of God’s provision for God’s people.

God feeds God’s people.

So … thank God!

But there is a second lesson.

We are to help.

While Jesus might be able to create food from nothing, we can’t.

But we don’t need to.

God has already created the food.

All we need to do is distribute it.

Share what we have with those in need and there will be enough for everyone.

Make no mistake.

Some will have more than others because they have different opportunities, skills, or abilities, there is enough for everyone.

God will make sure of that.

All we need to do is gather all the food there is and share it with everyone so that everyone has enough.

That is what the early followers of the Jesus way learned from this story.

We read about it in Acts.

In the early communities of Jesus disciples, there was an understanding that everyone who had more than enough of what God had made would share with those who did not have enough.

Thee was sort of a community chest.

The people could not create something out of nothing, but they could share what they had.

They thanked God and thanked each other.

Like the patient and the neurosurgeon, both are right.

We thank God for creating the food.

And we thank ourselves for making sure everyone gets enough of it.

That’s the Jesus way.

It’s kind of like what we say when we pray before we eat.

Thank you God for this food and thank those who prepared it and gave it to us.

While as Jesus said, there will always be people in need, this COVID-19 pandemic presents us with an opportunity to live this lesson.

More folks are in need now than any time in our lifetime.

Like the crowd following Jesus, they feel like they are in a deserted place without the means to meet their needs.

They are out of work.

The have food insecurity.

They feel like they are being sent away into seclusion to manage their needs alone.

They are frustrated.

They are angry.

We pray to Jesus to intervene.

His response?

“I already have.

There is enough for everyone.

Your job is to get it to the people who need it.”

Our response is, “We can’t.”

But again, Jesus has shown us the way.

Get organized.

Make a plan.

That’s what Jesus did.

He sat folks down in groups and then handed out the food to the groups.

And here is what I find encouraging.

If you look around, you see people getting organized and making plans to distribute food to those who need it.

And we at JMPC are helping.

Let’s take a look at some of these organizations.

First 412FoodRescue.

Here is what they say about themselves.

We work to address the disconnect between the fact that we waste 40% of our food while 1 in 8 people are hungry.

  • We partner with food retailers, volunteer drivers, and nonprofit organizations to connect surplus food with individuals and families who are experiencing food insecurity. With the help of 2 trucks, 1 van, and thousands of volunteers who we call Food Rescue Heroes, we are able to rescue perfectly good but unsellable food that would otherwise be wasted and redirect it to people who need it.
  • Our food donor partners range from grocery stores, wholesalers, caterers, and everything in between. Our nonprofit partners include housing authorities, daycare centers, churches, community centers, and more.
  • Our model of food recovery and redistribution not only enables access to healthy food, but it allows us to bring food to where people already are – overcoming barriers to food access like transportation and time. 87% of the food we rescue is fresh food; primarily produce, meat, dairy, bread, and more.

Doesn’t that sound a little like our scripture reading?

Food God created, that was heading to a landfill, redirected to people who don’t have enough?

Here is Family Promise.

What have they been doing?

This is what they say.

Coronavirus hit Greater Pittsburgh, and everything changed. Our traditional model of shelter provided by host church partners was no longer an option… the safety of our families and our volunteers is paramount.

After weighing our courses of action, our Board of Directors determined that the best way to serve the four families (4 moms and 10 kids) currently sheltered with us was to move them to an extended stay situation. …

We are delivering groceries and supplies to the families, taking care to limit exposure between our adults and the volunteers. Staff checks in with the moms daily to make sure everyone is okay and nothing is needed.

We’re also checking in with our families who successfully moved from Family Promise to homes of their own. In the short run we’re helping with groceries, in the long run we may be helping some families to make rent payments.

People who don’t have enough, getting what they need form those of us who have more than we need.

Thank God.

Thank us.

We also support Hello Neighbor.

Here is what they say.

We are a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania committed to supporting our newest neighbors, recently resettled refugee families. The families we support all have kids under 18 …

This week, Hello Neighbor partnered with 412 Food Rescue and The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to distribute food to refugee families in our programs.

Through our partnership with 412 Food Rescue, we were able to rescue 50 halal meals from Salem’s Market and Grill … and Hello Neighbor staff members completed contactless trunk deliveries … before sending them off to distribute meals to families.

[We] partnered with The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to pick up 50 shelf-safe boxes of food for our families in need. Hello Neighbor staff met at the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank pick-up site to collect boxes, and then distributed them … in various neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh.

People in an unfamiliar place getting what they need from those with more than they need.

Thank God.

Thank us.

Then there is SHIM.

This from Jim Guffey, the executive director.

Dear friends,   To say this has been a challenge is an understatement. But everything hard we’ve undertaken, we’ve been able to do because of you. Thank you to our generous donors. Thank you to our selfless volunteers. And thank you to the neighbors who are working hard to make a better life for their families.
Our March to Sack Hunger, Pack Hope is having the greatest impact of any campaign in our history. Because of you.   Record-breaking $110,000 in generous donations97% increase in online donations when the coronavirus pandemic shut down food drives21% increase in neighbors seeking help with basic needs in March 2020 alone.In SHIM’s history, we’ve never seen numbers like this. But rather than face the continued increase in need with fear, we are unwavering with hope. Because in tough times, the South Hills comes together.   Thank you for being part of something bigger than all of us, Jim

Being part of something bigger than all of us …

Thank God for the resources.

Thank us for sharing.

This gives me optimism and hope.

People responding the way Jesus taught us to.

We take what God has given us and shared it with others.

And we might have another opportunity here at JMPC.

This pandemic is having a financial impact on our community as well.

It is possible that there are members of this congregation who currently have financial needs.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a fund of dedicated money that could be used to meet the financial needs of those folks?

We could help them pay certain bills.




Car payments.

The kind of things that set a family back for years.

What if someone in those circumstances could come to JMPC and get a small grant to get them through this or some other difficult time?

The Mission Ministry Team is discussing how we might do this.

As a congregation, we have more than we need.

Jesus teaches us to share it with those who don’t.

The Mr. Rodgers meme – “Look for the helpers” – applies here.

When people look for the helpers, let them see us.

Let them thank us.

And let us all thank God.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (May 10, 2020)

I recently conducted a funeral for an old friend. Wanda was a member of my first church. She was in her 90s when she died. One of the stories I heard about was her generosity to people who were in need. She learned that as a little girl. She lived near railroad tracks and often men (always men) would walk off the tracks and up to the back door and ask for food. They were almost always given a sandwich and something to drink. This was not uncommon in those days. There were lots of folks unemployed during the Great Depression who “rode the rails” looking for work and, by necessity, food. People were generally generous to these folks when they came calling. Often there would be a mark put on the property to identify folks who were generous. Some might think that was a sign that the resident was some kind of patsy, but It think it was a sign of respect and honor.

These days, we are a much more skeptical bunch. We are often skeptical of panhandlers. We are far less likely to share what we have with others for a variety of reasons. Who really needs our generosity? Who thanks us for it? Are we being taken advantage of? During the COVID-19 pandemic, many are in need. Folks who would never have thought such a thing would happen to them. If we read the paper each day, we see that the number of people who need financial assistance, food, and emotional support is growing. So, what do we do?

Maybe address this issue the way Jesus did when he had his disciples use five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish jerky to feed over 5,000 people. Magic? Hardly. A better way? You bet. And it was enough. Actually, more than enough. Tune in (is that what we do?) to the JMPC Facebook Live worship service at 9:30, Sunday morning, May 10, 2020 and hear Pastor Jeff talk about it.

How does God want us to gather? Thoughts on the temptations of impatience.

How does God want us to gather?

This from the Los Angeles Times on March 29.


With the coronavirus quickly spreading in Washington state in early March, leaders of the Skagit Valley Chorale debated whether to go ahead with weekly rehearsal.

The virus was already killing people in the Seattle area, about an hour’s drive to the south.

But Skagit County hadn’t reported any cases, schools and businesses remained open, and prohibitions on large gatherings had yet to be announced.

On March 6, Adam Burdick, the choir’s conductor, informed the 121 members in an email that amid the “stress and strain of concerns about the virus,” practice would proceed as scheduled at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church.

“I’m planning on being there this Tuesday March 10, and hoping many of you will be, too,” he wrote.

Sixty singers showed up. A greeter offered hand sanitizer at the door, and members refrained from the usual hugs and handshakes.

“It seemed like a normal rehearsal, except that choirs are huggy places,” Burdick recalled. “We were making music and trying to keep a certain distance between each other.”

After 2½ hours, the singers parted ways at 9 p.m.

Nearly three weeks later, 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or ill with the symptoms, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead.

There are similar stories elsewhere.

This is the COVID-19 pandemic.

The way we are living our lives is much different.

We are subject to stark limitations on our daily lives.

We feel we have lost control and freedom.

In an effort to prevent rampant spread of the virus, we have “sheltered in place”, exercised “safe social distancing”, “self-quarantined”, and “stayed at home”.

All non-essential business and services have been closed.

Many are not working.

Those who are working are at risk for infection.

We are wearing masks.

Many are sick.

More are getting sick.

Many have died.

We can debate whether we are overreacting, underreacting or just right reacting, but the civil authorities and medical experts are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have.

We won’t know if we did it right for some time, if we ever know at all.

But for now, we want it to end.

We want to go back to work.

We want to go to the stores.

We want to get together with friends.

We want our sports back.

We want our freedom back.

And many of you have expressed a strong desire to get back to church.

A place where we can have fellowship and worship and peace.

But we are impatient.

We want our lives back to – NOW!

Many of us are saying that we should just get on with our lives and trust God to keep us safe.

Such a point of view can be tempting for those of us who are at the end of our ropes.

We want to gather back together in our busy and interactive world.

As Disciples of Jesus, what do we do?

Well, Jesus was tempted.

What did he do?

Luke 4: 1-13

4Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ 4Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And 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. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ 8Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’

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, 10for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,
   to protect you”,
“On their hands they will bear you up,
   so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
12Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

This is a story about temptation and testing.

And what Jesus does when he is tempted and tested.

Let’s set the stage.

Jesus has been baptized by John.

The Holy Spirit descended on him and God proclaimed, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

It was time for Jesus to get started with his ministry.

What was that ministry?

As we heard last week, to proclaim that:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

I suspect that Jesus wanted to hit the road running.

But that is not what happened.

The Holy Spirit that was upon Jesus, took Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting.

And then Jesus was tempted.

Turn stones into bread and you won’t be hungry.

Worship me instead of God and you will rule over all the earth.

Jump from the highest wall in Jerusalem and let the angels catch you.

What was going on here?

In the wilderness, Jesus is hungry, helpless and human.

The devil, whatever you understand the devil to be, makes a few suggestions that will satisfy these “deficiencies”.

Feed yourself.

Take over the world.

Be equal to God.

The temptations are all about Jesus.

His hunger.

His power.

His divinity.

But Jesus did not come for his own comfort.

He came for the comfort of everyone else.

The temptation was that Jesus be selfish.

But the mission was that he would selfless.

The temptation was to disregard God’s authority.

But the mission was to proclaim God’s kingdom.

The temptation was to test God.

But the mission was to obey God.

And Jesus does what you would expect him to do.

He recites a bit of the Torah.

4Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’


‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’


‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

All from Deuteronomy, by the way.

Matt likes it when I talk about the Old Testament.

Taken together, all three demonstrate Jesus’ faith that God would use him to complete the mission of bringing the people into God’s kingdom.

And we want to be like Jesus, right?

Whatever the circumstances, we want to take people into God’s Kingdom.

But if we are to do that, we need to act like Jesus.

He was not reckless.

He was methodical.

His healed, fed and taught those who would follow him.

And he did that almost always away from the danger of those who could cause his people harm.

So, now we are in a wilderness.

We are hungry for our normal lives.

We are feeling powerless.

We want a miracle.

These all generate temptation.

We need to be like Jesus.

We cannot gather dangerously, taking risks rational people would avoid if possible.

And as disciples of Jesus, we certainly don’t want to be the source of danger to others.

There are circumstances that might require some to risk themselves to care for the rest of us.

They are the ones still working.

We should pray for them and honor them and thank them.

But we should not make their circumstances riskier than they already are.

God has given us what we need.

All the necessary safeguards available to protect ourselves and others.

God has given us people who can tell us what we need to do stop the spread of the virus.

We should not disregard their expertise.

And we should not test God.

We should not claim that God will protect us with some kind of miracle.

When that does not happen, it pushes people away from God’s kingdom.

If we are disciples of Jesus, we should do what is best for our neighbors.

We can help each other economically and physically and emotionally, but we cannot do that while risking the lives of others we are supposed to love.

How does God want us to gather?


And that is what we are doing now at JMPC.

We are gathering safely.

While we are not in close physical proximity, we are in close spiritual proximity.

With God and with each other.

Even though it is virtually.

And we must continue to do so until we can be as sure as we can that no one will be harmed by worshiping in our sanctuary.

We don’t want to succumb to the temptation to ignore risks and refuse minor inconveniences that reduce risks.

Tolkien in his book, The Lord of the Rings, offers this conversation between Frodo, the one chosen to destroy the evil ring, and Gandalf, his mentor.

It takes place in the wilderness during the long and dangerous journey to the place where the ring is to be destroyed.

 “Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

That is what we must do.

Decide what to do with the time we that is given us.

To live the Jesus way.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church, May 3, 2020 (late entry). What does God have to do with this sermon series.

When we sign on as disciples of Jesus, it is our hope that we will live the Jesus way and be … well … like Jesus! Then we read this scripture and wonder if we actually can do that. Jesus is tempted to depart from the divine plan for his life. Make bread from stones so his hunger will be satisfied. Give authority to the ruler of this world so that Jesus can rule over the entire world. Prove his faith by jumping off a building so that God can prove his love by saving Jesus. Jesus could do all these things, but didn’t. Jesus’ response to the temptation was to look to his father for guidance. And then he took his father’s advice. Is that how we respond to temptation? Even when we want to be like Jesus, like Jesus, we are tempted to do something un-Jesus-like. So how do we respond? Like Jesus! Some years ago it was fashionable for people to wear bracelets that said “WWJD”. That was actually a good plan to make choices on what we should do in every circumstance. Before we act, ask ourselves what would Jesus do? Jesus checks in with God. And so should we. Watch and listen this Sunday, May 3, at 9:30 on Facebook Live as Pastor Jeff will preach “How does God want us to Gather?” based on Luke 4: 1-13.