Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Prepare for Resistance
Making Change, A New Year sermon series from Luke, Week 2 of 6
Preached January 17, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship
From Advent and Christmas, through Lent all the way to Easter, we are reading and preaching from the Gospel of Luke. Last week, Caitlan and I launched a new sermon series from Luke 3 to 9 called “Making Change.” We are studying the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry and looking at the steps Jesus took to make change. Can we imagine using those same steps to make whatever good effective change we know we need to make in this New Year in our lives and communities?
Last week, we read Luke 3. Jesus began his public ministry by finding a mentor, John, who was already making the change Jesus wants to make. John’s way of blunt truth-telling and insistence on words and actions that grow the good fruit of God’s Kingdom becomes Jesus’ way of speaking and acting in the world. We learned the first step in making change is… find and follow a mentor.
Today, we turn to Luke 4 and listen for a second step in Making Change. Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord…
Scripture Luke 4:1-15
4:1 Jesus, full of Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by (Holy) Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days Jesus was tempted by the devil. Jesus ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus 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. 6 And 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.’”
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, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not even stub your toe on a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of (Holy) Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
Sermon Prepare for Resistance
In Hebrew, it is usually “ha satan” or simply the enemy or the adversary. Based on stories of the Hebrew Bible where ha satan enters, it could be better be interpreted or translated as the trickster, the cheater, the slanderer, the distractor.
In Greek, it is often “ho diabolos” or the diabolical one. Based on the stories and letters where ho diabolos is used, it could be better interpreted and translated as the tempter, the liar, the false-accuser, the mis-representer.
We most often hear it translated as Satan or the devil.
There are stories in the Bible where ha satan, ho diabolos is not a creature or being on his own, but someone we know. Remember when Peter suggests to Jesus he doesn’t have to go into the city where they might try to kill him? Remember what Jesus says to his friend and disciple? “Get behind me, Satan!” When Judas betrays Jesus, he is called Satan. When Ananias lies to Peter about money, Peter calls him Satan.
There are other stories in the Bible where this evil is not a being or in a being, but a feature of creation or society itself. In the first garden was a serpent who tricked and tempted Eve and Adam into disobeying God, who lied to them that it would be okay if they tried to know what God alone can know. In some of the letters of the New Testament, the problems and sufferings God’s people go through are caused by the way satan, diabolos is in the systems and structures of religion or government, what Paul calls the principalities and powers. In another letter, we are warned to resist the devil’s schemes in rulers and authorities.
There are stories in the Scriptures where ha satan, ho diabolos appears to be a being on his own. Satan attends the God council as one of God’s angels and convinces God to allow him to torture Job. In some of Jesus’ parables, he imagines the faithful following their shepherd and the unfaithful following satan to their own demise.
And then, there are stories in the Bible about satan, diabolos like this. Not someone else, not in systems and structures, not a separate being on his own wreaking havoc, but a force from the inside of a person, inside us, tempting and lying to us, trying to distract and persuade us off path. Whatever Satan, diabolos is, it doesn’t like when we begin to make good change.
Jesus has just found a mentor in John. He will be attempting to make good change in the world, to show people a more healthy, holy, beautiful way to do life and community. Jesus knows some, many will resist him, laugh at him, ridicule him, hate him, even want to kill him. So, his next step in making change is to retreat, to prepare, and to practice a strategy for how to keep going despite whatever pain or resistance might come.
Making good change is hard. I don’t know why, but it is. Jesus knows the change he wants to bring to the world will be accepted by some, ignored by some, mocked and ridiculed by some, and violently attacked by some. So, before he begins, he retreats to the desert, the wilderness. He feels and faces the temptations that will come when change begins. He practices the ways he will act later when it gets really hard.
The first temptation just before change begins is the suggestion you won’t have to suffer or sacrifice to make change. “Go ahead, turn the stone to bread. Don’t wait. Take the short cut. Grab it now. Change should be easy and fast, and if it isn’t, it’s not really worth all those hunger pains. Just let it go. Eat, and be merry.” Jesus practices his resistance to that internal temptation. “No. I will not take the shortcut. I will not give up.”
The second temptation just before change begins is the suggestion change only happens with force and fight. “Then do whatever you need to do to get the power that can make change happen. Lie if you need to. Cheat if it helps. Bend the rules, break them, ignore them. Nothing ever gets done with weakness. With enough power, you can make everyone do what you want.” Jesus practices his resistance to that internal temptation. “No, I will not do this with force or violence. I will not bend the rules, sacrifice my principles, or break my promises.”
The third temptation just before change begins is the suggestion to rush in unprepared. “Then go ahead. Get in there. Throw yourself into it. Put it all out there. Give it everything you’ve got. Don’t worry. If you’re really on the right side, things will go smoothly, because God protects those doing good from harm.” Jesus practices his resistance to this internal temptation. “No. I will prepare. I will practice. I will be ready. Making good change is always hard, and even when it gets really hard, impossible, and I feel like God has forsaken me, I will trust.”
Rosa Parks was arrested on a bus in 1955. But the Women's Political Council was founded in Montgomery in 1946 and had practiced carefully challenging Jim Crow laws for years before Ms. Parks resisted and was arrested. They had written, planned, organized, coached. They had prepared, imagined, and trained for change. Some of Ms. Parks’ strength of conviction was because of those years brave women and men spent in the desert, preparing to resist the temptations of giving up, using violence, or rushing in unprepared.
In 1960, John Lewis and others organized sit-ins in Tennessee. African Americans bought food and sat down at counters where they weren’t welcomed or allowed. They ate, read, studied, did their homework, wrote sermons. John Lewis and others had practiced for a long time the rules they would honor when resistance arose… "Don’t strike back or curse back,” “Don’t block entrances to the stores or aisles,” “Sit straight and always face the counter,” “Remember the teachings of Christ, Gandhi, and King,” and “Remember love and non-violence.” When they were attacked, they honored those rules and resisted the temptations of giving up, using violence, or rushing in unprepared.
In 1965, John Lewis and Hosea Williams attempted to march a crowd of protestors from Selma to Montgomery to protest systemic racism blocking people of color from voting. The world saw the violence that came upon them that Bloody Sunday. A few days later, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others from across the nation, arrived at the same bridge and were confronted, forced to back down. King was criticized by some as being weak or giving up. But later that year, in August, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. They spent years training and practicing how to resist the temptations of giving up, using violence, or rushing in unprepared and saw good change happen.
Good change is always hard to make. There is almost always resistance. Sometimes it comes from others, and sometimes it comes from inside ourselves. Find a mentor, then retreat for a bit. Anticipate the resistance you will face. See it. Feel it. Prepare your strategy to keep going no matter what resistance might come, without sacrifice your principles. The second step of making good change is to prepare for resistance.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown