One does not live by bread alone, but by every word, or closer to the Greek, every saying, rhemati, every saying that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus says food isn’t enough to live on; we need sayings. Good sayings. God’s sayings.
What sayings of God do you live by, or would you want to live by? Rely on for strength, for calm, for hope, for courage. For joy? What if we thought of Lent, thought of Jesus’ statement here, which is, by the way, lifted right from Deuteronomy (He had many unoriginal thoughts, which gives me, a purveyor of unoriginal thoughts, great comfort.); what if we thought of Lent as an opportunity to discover—or rediscover—such a saying? To learn it, partake of it, be nourished by it, come to rely on it . . . in Jesus’ words, to live by it.
It doesn’t have to be long and complicated. The sayings of God Jesus shares tend to be simple and brief, including in this exchange with the devil. If this were central casting, the bigger role in this drama belongs to the Tempter, who has more than twice the lines in this conversation—100 words compared to about 45 for Jesus.
What saying from God, from Scripture, from the wisdom of the ages or the community would you carry through Lent that might in time carry you through Lent, and even beyond, maybe to Easter; maybe . . . to the end of your days?
There’s Psalm 16: You, Lord, are all I have; you give me all I need; my life is in your hands.
Psalm 46: Be still and know that I am God.
Paul in Philippians gives us this saying: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
The tax collector in one of Jesus’ parables gives us a saying fitting for a time of war, of tumult and turmoil, a front row seat on humanity’s capacity for inhumanity: Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.
More times than I can number I have been with you in the work when we didn’t have quite enough—enough casseroles, enough cookies or punch, enough volunteers, enough money . . . And we would turn to each other and say what we wanted to believe: loaves and fishes, remembering the gospel story in which scarcity turned to abundance; or I should say one of the million in which that happens. Loaves and fishes, we would say to each other. And then, somehow . . . there was enough. The money came in, or the food, or the volunteers. And we would turn to each other again and say the very same thing, this time not as a petition but in praise: loaves and fishes.
A prayer we prayed in here some time ago: Make me a channel of your peace.
A song the choir sang, and we all felt, three weeks ago: Order my steps in your Word.
What would be your saying? The Bible, the hymnal, the tradition, all offer their treasures, their reliable companions for life. None are proprietary—they are ours for the partaking.
The German theologian Karl Barth possessed one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. He crafted a colossal systematic theology; 14 volumes published across 35 years. The set contains six million words—that’s no brief saying. I wonder if he had a reliable saying. Actually we don’t have to wonder. He was asked once to summarize his faith. He answered, Jesus loves me—this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
What’s God’s saying for you? And in time, in you. And in time, from you, through you, forming you—all you are and do and choose and give and receive. Lent may be a good time to discover it, imbibe it, learn to rely on its truth, assurance, power.
Marilyn McEntyre grew up in a missionary home, the family living perpetually at the edge of subsistence. When they had acute needs, the next gift of provision always came; from somewhere, from someone, it always came.
The angels keep their ancient places. On the mountaintops, in the valleys, in the wilderness, and certainly wherever we’re giving ourselves away in Christ’s name. Years later in a workshop Marilyn was asked to write a faith autobiography. I found it captivating. So much so that I thought I’d read it to you today. I’ve never read a whole book during a sermon before, but we’ve got some time. Oh—the stipulation for Marilyn’s assignment was that the autobiography could only be six words long. Are you ready? Eat the manna. More will come. As sayings go, that’s a good one. You could have that. In fact, later this hour, you will.