First Sunday in Lent 2019, Year C — Preaching Notes
With All Your Heart Worship Series: GOD'S GENEROUS HEART
First Sunday in Lent — March 10, 2019
As the first Sunday of Lent arrives, we find ourselves at a border with the ancient Israelites in our reading from Deuteronomy. We are standing on the edge of the wilderness, looking with great anticipation toward the Promised Land. Just in front of us is the Jordan River Valley, where Jesus’ cousin will baptize him centuries later and God will name him (and every child of God) as Beloved. This river marks the boundary and entrance into a land flowing with God’s promise and presence. It is a sight for sore and somnolent eyes.
Even as we begin our journey into the wildness of Lent where our parched souls are dry and weary, we are reminded that though we are asked to wander these 40 days, our journey is not aimless. Our “promised land” lies in our rising with Christ. We would do well to remember that as we explore the wilderness inside our own hearts, we will need God’s “mighty hand and outstretched arm” to give direction to our sojourn. We will need to be reminded over and again who we are and to whom we belong. During these 40 days, we will need to rehearse the story of our faith and find our grounded-ness in the very heart of God.
The passage from Deuteronomy contains many dominant themes that we normally connect with the season of Lent – wilderness, journey, difficulty, sacrifice, and memory, to name a few. Any of these themes would be fertile ground to begin your way into the generous heart of God this first Sunday in Lent. Perhaps one idea speaks to you more loudly than another. It seems, however, that the commandment that resides at the heart of all these themes is the mandate to remember. The Greek word for this powerful action is anamnesis, literally “to call to mind.” Our story as a people of God is firmly rooted in the call to do and remember.
Precisely at the heart of this reading, we find a story that the Israelite people are asked to repeat over and again as they bring their first fruits to the priest to be consecrated. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor . . . ” their story begins. It is a reminder that even when they have inhabited the land for such a long time that they come to the Temple with their arms laden with the fruit of their harvest, they never forget to whom the land truly belongs and the story of how they came to be. It is a story that grounds them in a tale of survival and struggle, even when (perhaps especially when) they begin to get comfortable and are tempted to forget that it is God from whom all blessings flow. These were a people who were shaped by the memory of being nomadic, rootless, and dispossessed, even as generation upon generation put down roots and settled in the land. But the rehearsed story wove them into the fabric of their past. The work of remembering the past calls for present action.
The recitation that begins with the “wandering Aramean” calls to mind that at some point, at some time, we have all been hungry, rootless wanderers dependent upon one another and God for comfort, care, and for our very survival. Perhaps this has not happened in our lifetimes, but in the lifetimes of those who have come before us. But their story is our story. Their call is our call. And that call comes out of the generous heart of God. That call is to embody justice and joy.
The Deuteronomy text ends with a celebration – a feast – where those who cannot or do not own land will feast with those who do! The priests, the immigrants—and if you extend the reading just a few more verses—the widows, and orphans are included as well. This is a journey that ends in all being fed. This is the “promised land.” This is heaven come to earth. This is remembrance with an empathic purpose. When we are able to recall our own vulnerability, our own desert wanderings, then we are more apt to include those on the margins who know too little of joy, too little of compassion, and far too little of kindness.
When we remember, powerful things happen. Our hearts as well as our tables become more open, more generous. We recognize the abundance of gifts we have been given is meant to be shared. Suddenly, our hearts and tables begin to look more like God’s heart and Christ’s table. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Christ says. Tell this story, eat this bread, drink this cup, share all that you are and all that you have in Christ’s name. This is the Word that Paul says in Romans is “near you, on your lips and in your heart.”
At the time of this writing, there are an estimated 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  That is equivalent to 44,400 people a day, two people every second, fleeing their homes because of persecution and conflict, lest we think that wandering peoples in search of their own promised land and a full table is a phantom of the past and not a reality of the present.
Global Migration Sunday
In 2017, the Council of Bishops designated December 3 as Global Migration Sunday. This one-time special Sunday recognized the millions of men, women, and children who have been forced to leave their homelands and migrate to new lands in search of safety. General agencies created worship resources, including prayers and music suggestions, as well as advocacy pieces. Although this special Sunday was not designated again for 2018, the world continues to see global migration as a very real crisis. Click here for information on how to help the United Methodist Committee on Relief's efforts on global migration.
On our Lenten pathways, how might we remember in such a way that calls us to spread a wider feast for those who are amid difficult journeys? How can we remember in such a way that we can authentically use our own versions of “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien . . . ” to compel us into action in solidarity with those who are without home or homeland? How does memory stretch us to look into our hearts and around our tables and dare to ask, “Who is not here yet? How do we extend an invitation that includes all?” As we embark this Lent, let us remember, let us wander, and let God’s generous heart beat within us as we search together for justice and joy.
 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Figures at a Glance. November 21, 2018, https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html.
Rev. Todd Pick is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, serving in the Central Texas Conference. He is a pastor, poet, and painter. He has contributed many articles on worship, creativity, and beauty to Worship Arts Magazine. In addition, his art and poetry were featured in the December 2018 issue of Magnet Magazine, a Christian publication in the UK. Todd is an accomplished artist who has created stage visuals for many United Methodist conferences, including the 2012 and 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is a featured worship expert on Dr. Marcia McFee’s Worship Design Studio. Holding a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School, he was artist-in-residence there from 2007 to 2009 and was twice awarded the Hoyt L. Hickman Award for Liturgical Studies. Todd and his wife, Jennifer, enjoy a partnership in life and ministry. Together, they enjoy writing, planning worship and leading workshops and retreats across the country on multi-sensory worship.
Rev. Jennifer Pick is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving in the Central Texas Conference. She is a pastor, worship planner, biblical scholar, and writer. She has a Master of Literature in Biblical Studies from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She has studied biblical archeology in Greece and Turkey through Cambridge University. Rev. Pick graduated with a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School with an emphasis in Early Christianities. She is a recipient of the Lawrence E. Toombs Prize for Old Testament History, the George R. Crooks Prize for excellence in Homiletics and the Warren Memorial Prize for excellence in Greek New Testament Studies. Rev. Pick was a Ministry Fellow through the Fund for Theological Education, where she studied holy space and Christian pilgrimage throughout Europe. With a particular passion for incarnational preaching and worship, Rev. Pick has found creative ways to engage facets of emergent worship within large and small congregational settings. She draws upon all the senses in liturgical movement and ritual to create worship experiences that involve whole-bodied devotion.