The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
GRACE LEADS US TO NEW BEGINNINGS
First Sunday during Lent, March 10, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?
What are you doing here on this Sunday morning after losing an hour of sleep?
Partly, you are here is that you are good people practicing a good habit on a Sunday.
You are also here for the good reason of being with friends and family.
And some of you are here because you like music, this room offers you a
spiritual feeling and offers you memories of other sacred moments in your past.
But, what is your primary desire, as you enter this sanctuary each Sunday?
What are you doing here?
I propose to you that when you enter this sanctuary, your desire should be the same
desire expressed by Jesus when he entered the desert for 40 days.
Jesus didn’t go into the desert to be tempted. Jesus didn’t go into the desert to fast.
Jesus went into the desert to solidify his relationship with God at the center of his life.
Jesus didn’t enter the desert to give up something for Lent. Jesus entered the desert to push everything aside which may have prevented his relationship with God from being his first priority. And this should be your desire as you enter this sacred space.
Why did Jesus take so long for this? Why did Jesus stay in the wilderness for 40 days?
Jesus accomplished victory over death in only three days.
It seems as if he should have been able to put God in first place within a day.
In The Bible, the phrase “40 days and 40 nights” is used often.
In the story of the flood, it rained non-stop for 40 days and 40 nights.
Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights to receive the commandments.
The Israelite spies took 40 days to investigate Canaan.
Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to slay him.
Elijah fled from Jezebel, traveling 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb.
There were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
And, here, Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.
Ancient civilizations saw 40 days as a way to divide the year into nine equal months.
They did not keep time as specifically then, as we do now. The phrase, “40 days and nights” came to mean a long period of time – like ‘umpteen’ or ‘a month of Sundays.’
It was the time needed to accomplish what needed to happen. Ancient people emphasizing numerical symbolism viewed 40 as an important number. Forty, the product of 5 and 8, meant grace leading to new beginnings; (5) signified grace and (8) symbolized a new beginning.
This story of Jesus going into the wilderness to prioritize his relationship with God is described as lasting forty days and forty nights – or, as long as it needed to last for Jesus to experience the grace necessary for a new beginning.
BELOVED, THIS IS WHY YOU GATHER IN THIS ROOM.
YOU DESIRE TO PRIORITIZE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD ABOVE ALL OTHER
THE NEXT 40 DAYS PROVIDE YOU WITH ALL THE TIME YOU NEED TO EXPERIENCE THE
GRACE NECESSARY FOR A NEW BEGINNING.
I like the words Annie Dillard gives us in her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk:
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT…we should all be wearing crash helmets…god may draw us to where we can never return.”
—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
(New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.
Beloved, when you enter this sanctuary, you do not need to desire the hope of God.
You need to desire the God of hope.
You do not need to desire the peace of God.
You need to desire the God of peace.
You do not need to desire the joy of God.
You need to desire the God of joy.
You do not need to desire the love of God.
You need to desire the God of love.
The Talmud presents a story which was used in The Chosen:
Once upon a time, a king had a child who had run away.
The king’s child squandered money, lived recklessly and damaged the king’s name.
The king sent numerous messages and messengers imploring the child to return home.
The child finally sent a message expressing a desire to restore their relationship.
Yet, the child added there was an inability to return home.
The king sent a return message saying, “My dear child, travel toward me as far as you can and I will travel the rest of the way to meet you.”
Welcome to a season of forty days, offering you plenty of time to experience God’s grace leading you to new beginnings.
Amen and AMEN.