United Church of Christ

OGHS Notes March 10

Lectionary Preaching Notes from the lens of UCC Humanitarian and Development Ministries
(Disaster, Refugee and Global Sustainable Development)

These ministries are made possible by your participation in the
One Great Hour of Sharing Offering (UCC)

Year C

March 10
Luke 4: 1-13

Preaching Focus

In Jesus’ struggle with his identity, style of ministry, and definition of God’s reign, he embraces power ‘with’ rather than power ‘over.’  Natural disasters create a wilderness in which we also must struggle with our relation to God, to one another, and to the nature and style of our ministry in that wilderness.

Interpretation and Informing Stories

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness sets the stage for self-reflection during the first Sunday of Lent each year.  The story is set at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, offering us an intimate view of Jesus discerning the nature of that ministry.  He is in the wilderness, a place of isolation, disruption, danger.  In this space, the presence of evil makes itself known. Fred Craddock, in the Interpretation Bible Commentary series, notes that it is those most engaged in the ways of God who experience the opposition of evil with the most intensity (page 53). That certainly is true of Jesus. Here, Jesus is confronted with social and physical temptations (bread), with temptations of power (authority), and with yearning for security (protection).  In each of these temptations, Jesus emerges with a deeper understanding and equipped to practice ministry ‘with’ and ‘for’ the people rather than ‘over’ and ‘to’ them. Ministries made possible by the UCC’s One Great Hour of Sharing Offering (disaster, refugees and global sustainable development) model themselves on this ministry ‘with’ and ‘for’ of Jesus. 

Natural disasters, by their very nature, create wilderness; destruction of people’s social and physical well-being, of property, of a sense of safety and security. Impacted people often experience a crisis of meaning and purpose.  All of this is so in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that struck the Atlantic Ocean, including Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017. Large scale infrastructure damage and destruction of homes created physical and social hardship (bread). Political and cultural conflicts over who was to respond and how, intensified the damage by slowing the immediate response and the beginning of long term recovery (power). Pre-existing economic crises and debt accelerated the displacement of people away from the island and onto the mainland with few resources nor safety nets (protection).

Responses through UCC Disaster Ministries took all these realities seriously and sought paths to recovery that build a different story. This long-term disaster recovery continues strong.  While the public narrative centered on blaming the victims and creating isolationism, the church response emerges from a perspective of Puerto Rican self-determination and accompaniment.  People in Puerto Rico need to make the decisions for how to recover, and also, need access to resources not available on the Island.  Therefore, UCC Disaster ministries have helped church partners of the Iglesia Evangélica Unida de Puerto Rico (IEUPR) to build their capacity to respond to this disaster. On-going connections of the UCC with government and non-government disaster response systems has enabled the leveraging of resources and relationships. This has enabled the IEUPR to access FEMA-provided building materials for homes. And volunteer mission groups from the mainland have joined local volunteers and staff to repair and rebuild homes. Local initiatives for solar power projects in the interior of the island are supported through Global Ministries’ partners. Evacuees from Puerto Rico arriving in Pennsylvania access support through UCC coordination of region-wide civic efforts to extend welcome. The OGHS offering theme of “more than we can imagine” is embodied as each action is done through partnerships and through accompaniment of people who are most vulnerable and most impacted by the destruction.

In the telling of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, gospel writers Matthew and Mark end on notes of comfort.  Not so in Luke.  Luke’s telling of the story propels Jesus into his public ministry with a foreshadowing of his passion. Disaster recovery in Puerto Rico is long and complex.  Perhaps, the correspondence with Luke’s wilderness story is appropriate. Disaster recovery, therefore, continues strong and accompaniment continues, building a story of bread, of power, and of protection that is empowering for the people and life-giving for the community.

Hymn  Love Divine All Loves Excelling

Engagement -Join the Conversation
Name three ways that ministry “with” people rather than “to” people empowers communities.